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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining and illuminating read
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...
Published on 5 Feb. 2007 by Bookworm

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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Inaccurate and poorly composed
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...
Published on 17 Nov. 2009 by Dog in a Flat Cap


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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining and illuminating read, 5 Feb. 2007
This review is from: The Workhouse: The People - The Places - The Life Behind Doors (Hardcover)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Workhouse, 9 May 2015
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
I picked this book up by chance, and was very interested to have a read of it. Having read novels such as those by Dickens which show the workhouses in action, this seemed a good opportunity to see how workhouses really fitted into English history.

Although there had been Poor Laws since the time of Queen Elizabeth I, it was really in Victorian times that aspects of the care of paupers really became so strongly entrenched in the workhouse ‘mentality’. Parishes and local authorities were responsible largely for their own people, so workhouses grew up throughout the country and were run often in quite different ways from other workhouses elsewhere.

The book looks at various aspects of the workhouses, concentrating largely on the period from around 1830 to the First World War, beyond which workhouses as they are largely thought of disappeared from the social landscape. The growth of a welfare state offered a different way of treating those who could not, or indeed would not, look after their own welfare. The book offers the following chapers:
The World of the Workhouse – how workhouses came to be, and the settings under which they were created.
The Life Behind Doors – how those who inhabited workhouses came to be there, and their experiences
‘Harnessed to the House’ – the staff of the workhouses
‘Fit for Purpose’: the Able-bodied Poor – those who were thought to be able to work were found work, but to what end?
Suffer the Children … - the way children were treated in workhouses, and the likelihood of any release to a better life.
Sick Bodies and Old Bones – those who were sick or elderly often found workhouses to be their last residence.
Casual Encounters at the ‘Spike’ – casual stays at workhouses, or the ‘Spike’ as it was known.
Closing the Doors at Last – what happened after the First World War.

Workhouses were a place of last resort. That’s all they were really meant to be, and for many people, life and death outside the workhouse was preferable to any kind of life in a workhouse. Some workhouses were run in a humane manner, and for some people I’m sure they must have offered a refuge and a place to claim some kind of peace. But some workhouses were run badly, or cruelly, and there are instances enough in this book of those who staffed workhouses behaving abominably towards their charges. It’s no wonder that photos that exist showing workhouse inmates seem to show them with the life gone from their eyes; sad, haunted, patiently waiting for the next kindness or cruelty to be meted out to them. The experiences of those who worked at, lived in, visited for health or overseeing purposes, workhouses differed greatly over the years and at different workhouses themselves. It’s easy to see why the thought of ‘going to the workhouse’ would bring horror and dread to so many, but it’s also clear why it was thought that such measures were at one time felt to be necessary, in theory, even if in practice they fell short of the motives of rational and humanistic care for all. A slice of social and cultural history that’s vitally important to remember, and this is a wonderfully insightful and interesting book with which to familiarise oneself with that history.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding volume on one of the aspect of life, we want to forget., 6 Feb. 2007
This review is from: The Workhouse: The People - The Places - The Life Behind Doors (Hardcover)
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating for the general reader, 12 Sept. 2011
By 
I read this simply because a passing reference to workhouses in a TV documentary pricked an interest which I was keen to follow. The book does not disappoint - its descriptions of conditions in many workhouses are more powerful for being presented in an unfussy and unsentimental way, with judicious use of quotations from primary sources. I imagine a serious researcher would have been happier with footnotes and detailed references, but these were unnecessary for my purposes. I would have liked a more extensive treatment of the twentieth century workhouse experience, but I'm sure I'll find this by following some of the useful suggestions for further reading.

Reviewer David Williams writes a regular blog as Writer in the North.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Inaccurate and poorly composed, 17 Nov. 2009
This review is from: The Workhouse: The People - The Places - The Life Behind Doors (Hardcover)
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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35 of 49 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing similarities of wording to uncredited sources, 25 Jan. 2007
By 
Peter Higginbotham (West Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Workhouse: The People - The Places - The Life Behind Doors (Hardcover)
Strangely for a work of this type, the book gives no specific source references for any of the material it presents.

However, the wording of certain sections of this book is disturbingly similar to already published content on the website [...] with no attribution or acknowledgement given. More details are given at workhouses.org.uk/Fowler
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good book, 25 May 2013
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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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5.0 out of 5 stars Workhouse by Simon Fowler., 20 Jan. 2013
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This is the book for anyone who wants to read what life in the Workhouse was really like. Horrific place.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An honest account, 25 Oct. 2014
By 
atticusfinch1048 - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
The Workhouse – A trip into the harshness of Victorian England.

The Workhouse by Simon Fowler is one of the best and well researched books on The Workhouse something that hung over the poor like Damacles Sword and sent fear through the massed ranks of the poor. The publication of this book is well timed especially when people are researching their family tree’s and find that ancestors were sent to the workhouse, many want to know what the workhouse was. If one was to look at the former workhouse in Hampstead Workhouse now you would never understand what passed as life there looking at the expensive apartments that have been converted from the building.

Today as we look back at what the Workhouse was we can think of Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist or the stories of the past of a harsh and unforgiving place. Whether we can ever understand how the workhouse was able to strike fear in to the poor and poverty striken this book goes someway to break down those barriers to our understanding.

The chapters are broken down in to easy to use, easy to understand the workings of the workhouse and where possible evidence is given to back up the statement on life or the lives of the inmates. One of the first things that Fowler does is explain how Britain and especially Victorian Britain ends up with the workhouse system under the Poor Laws of the 19th Century when there were Poor Law Guardians appointed to protect the Parishes with the poor and poverty stricken. It must be remember that at the time Britain was going through acute change from Industrial and agraian revolutions which meant there were more people than the work that was available.

It was also clear of the thinking of the Christians of the time when there was no welfare state, the rich expected the poor to stand on their own two feet and that they were responsible for being poor and could work their way out of their situation. Fowler again uses the evidence of the Poor Law Guardians of their thoughts on the poor and that relief was corrupting the independant nature of the poor.

Fowler provides examples of what life was like behind the doors of the workhouse and he does not pull any punches and gives examples of the various workhouses that covered the country. He explains the hierarchy of the workhouses with the masters and matrons and how they dealt with the people in their care. Fowler also explains how the inmates were treated within the walls and that entering the workhouse was meant to be humiliating and that they would be accepting humiliation on them by the authorities.

In two chapters explains the attitudes to children and those sick and elderly. What must be remember that children made up one third of the workhouse population. They were also the only set of workhouse inmates that the Victorians had any sympathy with. By the end of the ninteenth century the workhouse population comprised the sick and the elderly and their care was very insitutionalised even though harsh had quite a success rate in their treatment, which is often forgotten again something that Fowler highlights.

Simon Fowler has written an excellent account of life in the workhouse and he does not hold back any punches, he shows both the good and the bad so we get a fair account of the Workhouse. I know from this account I would not like to go back to that provision and its harshness which comes across at best as unChristian response by Christians to caring for the poor. I am sure the Bible says something about the poor, the rich and heaven as well as taking care of neighbours. An excellent book well worth reading if you require understanding of being poor and in the poorhouse.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Workhouse, 4 Aug. 2010
An excellent book, fascinating, readable and informative. A must for any social historian, or family historian but also relevant for anyone with an interest in sociology.
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The Workhouse: The People - The Places - The Life Behind Doors
The Workhouse: The People - The Places - The Life Behind Doors by Simon Fowler (Hardcover - 31 Jan. 2007)
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