Life in the workhouse

In addition to historical information about particular workhouses at, you may learn more about how well the workhouse was managed by looking through its Board of Guardian minute books, or the parish vestry books before 1834, and masters’ journals at the local archives.

Ministry of Health files at The National Archives in series MH 12 contain correspondence between Poor Law Unions and the central authorities, with eye-opening reports about life inside some workhouses, and individual cases of relief or cruelty suffered at the hands of unscrupulous workhouse masters.

Records for 23 unions have been digitised, and are listed on this archived web page. Paupers’ names can be searched using Discovery, and records of particular Poor Law Unions are found using the search box here.

The British Newspaper Archive contains thousands of reports published in local rags about incidents inside workhouses, from Christmas concerts to suicides and scandals.

Many former workhouses are now in private ownership and have become care homes or residential apartments, so it may not be possible to gain access to sites where buildings survive. The Workhouse Museum at Southwell in Nottinghamshire is the most complete in the country, and worth visiting to experience the atmosphere.

Online sources
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