Tuesday, August 02, 2011


Yarra Plenty Regional Library kicked off National Family History Week hosting UK genealogist Lady Teviot at Thomastown Library where she spoke about Workhouses.
The following are basic notes taken at the session.

Lady Teviot presented a chronology of the history of the workhouse throughout the UK including the associated Acts of Parliament that have governed them.

Workhouses were places for people to go to who were unable to work. They provided meagre shelter and food. Residents would include children, including babies and orphans and the Aged.

Workhouses were often more full in winter due to seasonal labouring work being unavailable for many people.

Diet and hygiene differed from workhouse to workhouse but was usually meagre. Diet may have been supplemented by vegetables from the back garden.

Toilet facilities were basic. One toilet per 100 people was not uncommon.
Later soil toilets were introduced which greatly reduced the stench which pervaded sleeping areas.

Tramps and vagrants were also sometime residents of workhouses – if part time and some level of labour was usually required of them for a roof for the night and meagre food rations.

A stigma is attached to workhouses – many children were registered as being born in them, later a street address would be noted instead. Workhouses were also known under other terminologies such as Union Houses.

It was not until the years following World War 2 that the era of workhouses was totally abolished.

Some records survive for family historians, usually held locally. Some records are held at The National Archives.

Lady Teviot recommends the “Really useful Information Leaflet” from the FFHS

Workhouses in Britain (RossBret site) unable to access 2 August 2011)

Workhouses in Britain (Peter Higginbotham)

Rattle his bones
Over the stones
It’s only a pauper
Who Nobody owns
– Traditional Nursery Rhyme

Lady Teviot is a guest speaker at Yarra Plenty Regional Library throughout National Family History Week.

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