The weather has gone from very nasty to feckin' horrible today so I've been hunkered down in front of the laptop reading up about Workhouses...and then I found John's advice about writing round a photograph so I've been practising that as well...

I found a couple of stories about Workhouses which I thought interesting...one concerned the Master of a Workhouse in Yorkshire who was accused of murdering his wife in 1845. She died from arsenic poisoning and as it was said he hadn't been very kind to her...he used to lock her in the Workhouse Mortuary apparently...he was the immediate suspect.

He was found not guilty though after another Doctor said her death could have been caused by the frequent application of skin ointments which contained arsenic...

Fifty years later the same Workhouse took on some new Governors who decided it would be a good idea to send some of the inmates who'd worked particularly hard helping with the running of the establishment on a seaside holiday. The original Board members were horrified at the thought but the new people over-rode them and took some money out of the main account to send two of the women away to Morecambe for a week.

In the following years they took groups of the older inmates for day trips out to the seaside in the summer...one lady who went on such a trip was ninety-two...

It wasn't all rosy of course...the able-bodied men were put to work turning huge iron wheels which operated a grinding machine to grind corn...the handles for the wheels were situated beside the iron cots they slept on...whether that was so they could lie down while working is highly doubtful!

Another Workhouse in Norfolk was just for children and run much in the same way as an Orphanage would have been. In 1880, during its annual inspection, the Governors wrote a glowing report about how well the children looked and the fact that in the past thirty years that it had been in operation there had never been an outbreak of any serious disease. The boys were taught agriculture and shoe-mending and the girls were taught to sew and launder. It wasn't purpose built like many Workhouses...it was just a big old farmhouse at the edge of the village.

I was pleased it didn't sound too awful 'cos two of Himselfs relatives were brought up there.

But they weren't always well run and caring places to be...at another...also in Yorkshire... the inmates were reduced to eating the mice they caught and stealing poultices from the sick room to chew on because the food rations were so low. The Master was dismissed eventually but not until after a visiting Doctor had complained about the inmates being on the verge of starvation. And it wasn't at a time when food was generally scarce...the Master was simply selling off the supplies to line his own pockets.

Workhouses in Ireland during the Great Famine were horrendous places...over-flowing with desperate people who'd been turned out of their homes for non-payment of rent and with nothing but rags on their backs, gathered in crowds around the Workhouse gates pleading to be allowed in. They were so heavily over-crowded that diseases were rife...typhus in particular swept through the Workhouses killing very many of the inmates who were already weak.

Perhaps one of the most unpleasant stories about the Workhouses during the Great Famine concerned the bones which were broken up to be used as the foundations for new roads...it was generally presumed the bones were animal from the local slaughterhouses until it dawned on one of the Inspectors that no animals were being slaughtered. They'd either died from starvation...like their owners...or had been eaten long before.

A Black Market had stepped in to provide work for the inmates and cheap foundations for the roads...famine victims were being rendered down and it was their bones being broken up. As if that were not awful enough...the men doing the breaking were so famished from hunger they were sucking the marrow out of the bones before smashing them up...

It wasn't the fact the Workhouses had food supplies when the people were pleading to be allowed in...it had more to do with safety in numbers and it was slightly better than sleeping in a ditch.

Some of you will have read this already because I've written about it before...but for those who haven't...I was stunned one day to receive a letter from an old man who had written in response to my asking for personal information about the cillins. It wasn't the information he gave me about his local cillin which had me fascinated, but that he told me he could clearly remember his Grandfather telling him when he was a little boy about his father having the task of gathering up the dead every morning and taking them to the local cillin to be buried. He used a canvas sling to put the body in and then threw it over his shoulders to walk across the fields where his brother would be waiting with a spade to dig the grave...he'd leave the body with his brother to take care of it and back he'd go to pick up the next dead person...and so on throughout the day. Those two men ate at the local soup kitchen so they cannot have been in the best of health themselves.

Mmm...better think of a cheerful subject for tomorrow...