Monday, 8 October 2007

The Workhouse

I remember when I was small that the older folk of the village I grew up in and older relatives too always used to worry about going into hospital as they got older, especially those buildings which used to house one of the most dreaded institutions - the workhouse. I suppose I became aware of the workhouse through reading both historical novels and history books. One reference I particularly remember was in Lark Rise to Candleford. I read the book when I was a teenager but what I most remember was going to the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester to see a musical production of Lark Rise with music by the Albion Band. Imagine then my sadness to find out that one of my own ancestors ended his days in the workhouse at Horninglow, Burton-on-Trent.

Thomas Edwards my 3x great grandfather was born c.1797 at Ingleby, son of John Edwards and Ann (nee Lilley). Thomas married Elizabeth Adams at Barrow-on-Trent on 1st December 1817. From details in the 1841 census it would appear that they had quite a few children and were indeed a poor family working as labourers and living off the land. When one of their children, John, was apprenticed to John Godwin, a cordwainer in the town of Derby, the parish of Foremark which covered Ingleby, paid the premium for his apprenticeship, two suits of clothes and his transport to Derby. Thomas his brother and my 2x great grandfather moved to Castle Gresley no doubt to gain employment in either the coal or pottery industries. In fact, by the time of the 1851 census all the children have left home and just Thomas and Elizabeth are living in Ingleby.

It is my 2x great grandfather Thomas Edwards b. c. 1820 who by the time of both the 1891 and 1901 Census returns is living as an inmate at the workhouse. Whilst at Castle Gresley he married Sarah Foster at the parish church at Church Gresley in August 1848; by 1851 they are living at Newhall, by 1861 there are five children and by 1871 Sarah has died and Thomas is listed as a widower. By 1881 Thomas has married again but by 1891, at the age of 70, is living in the workhouse. He is still there in 1901. My next step is to find a record of his death. He had several children but it would seem that none of them, including my great grandfather, were able to look after him. My great grand parents had eleven children to look after, eight of whom were still at home in 1901, the eldest of whom was 19 and the youngest just 3 months old. So I can see why they couldn't take on the duty of looking after poor Thomas. My grandmother, their second eldest daughter was in service in Leicester, at the home of a carpenter.

Three years ago we visited the workhouse at Southwell which is now administered by the National Trust and this gave some idea of what living conditions would have been like for my 2x great grandfather. If you get a chance to go the place is well worth a visit.

Southwell Workhouse - taken August 2004

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