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The Workhouse: The People - The Places - The Life Behind Doors [Hardcover]

Simon Fowler
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

31 Jan 2007
This powerful and poignant book takes you behind the workhouse doors to explore all aspects of institutional life. It reveals the real experiences of inmates, including the scandals that rocked society, and the guardians and staff who governed inmates lives. Reports and novels, ballads and graffiti, as well as rarely seen images from The National Archives, bring workhouses across the country vividly to life.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: The National Archives; 1st Edition edition (31 Jan 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905615035
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905615032
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 15.6 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 423,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


Simon Fowler's Workhouse breathes life into [the] subject -- Mark Crail for Ancestors magazine

This is an ideal read for any family historian wanting a proper,
rounded understanding of the workhouse system.
-- Mark Crail for Ancestors magazine

From the Inside Flap

Workhouses cast deep shadows over Victorian Britain and
terrified the poor for generations. Known for their soul-numbing routines,
deprivation and cruelty, they were after 1834 almost the sole source of
relief for paupers across the land. For old couples and orphans, starving
families and single mothers, these institutional monsters became what the
New Poor Law Act intended - the last resort of the desperate.

This compelling book takes you through the workhouse doors to reveal the
reality behind the legend. It explores all aspects of institutional life,
from everyday details of food, uniform and the daily grind to the scandals
that shocked society and were an impetus for change. It traces the
experiences of the guardians and staff who governed inmates' fates and
celebrates the men and women who tried to improve on the official regime.
The narrative describes how workhouses preoccupied literary giants such as
Charles Dickens and George Orwell, were condemned by celebrities like
Florence Nightingale, and yet became deeply rooted in their communities.

The many personal stories told range from that of the anonymous 'Indoor
Pauper' to accounts from famous figures like Charlie Chaplin. Reports and
complaints, ballads and graffiti, as well as rarely-seen images from the
National Archives and local sources, bring workhouses across England and
Wales vividly to life.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
THE word 'workhouse' has resonance: unfeeling, mean and bleak, casting a terrifying shadow over ordinary lives. Read the first page
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining and illuminating read 5 Feb 2007
This book explores, in an easy and amusing style, how and why the workhouse came to be a byword for last place you would wish to find yourself in the nineteenth century (and well into the twentieth). On the other hand it also shows how sometimes the workhouse was able to do some good. I hadn't known, for instance, that before universal education workhouse children often got a better one than the children of the "respectable poor" outside it, nor that workhouse hospitals eventually started to provide what was sometimes the best medical attention in some areas. The food however, always an interest of mine, seems to have been quite as dreadful as you might imagine!

This is an impressively well-researched book. It gives a very good picture of how and why the workhouse came into being, what it was like inside it for those running it and for the inmates and the gradual changes that took place.

There are some typos but these don't detract from the author's convincing arguments. I would have liked too to be able to tie some of what is said to a particular source (of which there are many) but there are no footnotes. The book is clearly aimed at the general reader though, and not the academic one, so perhaps the editors were to blame for the decision not to have any.

Thoroughly recommended.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
This excellent book will fascinate a wide range of readers and should help local, social and family history researchers.

Simon Fowler looks at the whole experience of the pauper in the workhouse and clearly explains the reasons why they were so treated.

The author's style is excellent, his narrative is easy to read and is quite often amusing with some very useful and humorous anecdotes that make it different from other titles on the subject.

Although the workhouse often had a bad name, which was not helped by a number of scandals in the 1830s and 1840s as well as novels such as Oliver Twist. Some good often came out of it and, as the author points out, many children did in fact receive a better lifestyle and education in these institutions, than they would have done had they remained with their parents or extended family in the hovels of the poorer areas of the country.

There is no doubt that this book has been well researched. It provides the reader with a good insight into how these establishments came about and also how they were managed and run too. The best chapters relate to children and the sick and elderly which really gives an idea of how they were treated and the fact that in most places conditions improved during the 19th century.

I read a previous review and can agree this is a not a volume aimed at academics, yes there are one or two spelling mistakes here and there, but for the general reader it is fascinating -so much so a history lecturer friend of mine has already borrowed it and one or two others have asked where they can get it from!

Get more stocks in Amazon - this will be a success.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Inaccurate and poorly composed 17 Nov 2009
I was very disappointed in this book which is by no-one's standards 'excellent' (as described in some other reviews here) nor even adequate. It seems to be largely composed of truisms and misapplied presumption, which in turn seems to betray a lack of empathy, understanding and genuine engagement on the part of the author. There is a great deal of 'wandering' within the text, when the author seems to ramble at length without focus and with a tendency to repetition. Considering the author writes under the auspices of The National Archives at Kew, it is remarkable how little case-study and archival material is used at the expense of vague generalisations and, too often, trite and unsympathetic observations about the plight of the individuals involved. If you are considering buying this book, I would recommend instead Norman Longmate's 'The Workhouse', which is similar in scope and accessibility but more carefully and engagingly written.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good book 25 May 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was researching a lecture on the workhouses of East Anglia and needed some extra background information of the times. This book provided it.
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