The Workhouse: a Victorian institution through the eyes of working-class writers
Monday 11 December 2017, 6.15pm
Westminster Theatre, Chancellor's Building
The Victorian workhouse casts a long, Dickensian shadow on the history of British welfare, and research which looks at the bare details of admissions and discharges of inmates, or formal rules and committee minutes, can only go so far to amend this impression. Working-class autobiographies give an alternative view of the institution, and while memoirs do not entirely dispel the myth of Oliver Twist, they do provide a much more textured understanding of the daily rhythms and human relationships operating within workhouses. Indeed nineteenth-century life could be so challenging outside the workhouse, that for some people admission was neither a curse nor a death sentence. This lecture identifies a range of responses to workhouses among working-class authors and puts their judgement of life ‘in the house’ into biographical and historical context.