Sunday 8 August 2010

It Was Harvest Day In The Workhouse…

After Church, we went off to the Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse – Museum of Norfolk Life. Gwen had left us a note at Cornerstones to tell us that today was”Harvest Day” at GF&W, and we thought we’d follow up her suggestion to visit. It was a brilliant idea!


Built in 1777, the Workhouse provided food and lodgings for the destitute till 1948 [when the new Labour Government introduced Social Services/Council Housing etc] Till the 1970s it was run as “Beech House” a Council OAP home. Rather a mistake, I always felt, as its elderly residents remembered their parent’s childhood threats “You behave or you’ll end up in the Workhouse” – I used to go pastoral visiting there with my Dad and one lady used to say “I don’t like being here in the workhouse, Pastor. They make me take all me clothes off an’ get in the bath!”

However, today was fun. We arrived at about 1pm, and bought burgers [well, we hadn’t had any lunch] and sat at a bench in the courtyard to eat. We sat next to the elderly guy in the dark suit on the right of the picture below. He told us that 100 years ago, his Dad had spent his childhood here, because his grandfather was Master. A real connection with history.


Then a chap called out that the Enactment was About To Begin.

DSCF0003 This was “Mr Scraggs” – the Master from Victorian times. We went into the Board Room and about fifty of us sat and waited for him to explain what would happen.

He said that with some other actors and some volunteers from the audience, he’d give us a taste of workhouse life 160 years ago. One man was chosen as “The Porter”, two children were waifs, and I was “Mrs Scraggs”

We heard the case of Ann Kendal, a girl born to an unmarried mother in the workhouse – who had been sent off into service, but then dismissed for stealing a crust of bread. She returned to the workhouse – but had to confess that she herself was “With child”


Because she was in that condition – she was made to wear a blue jacket and kept separate from other, more ‘moral’ residents.

The two children had to demonstrate to the Master that they had learned their lessons well.

You can see the guy who was The Porter behind Ann, in his ill-fitting jacket and bowler hat!

I was given a shawl and bonnet to wear. Mr Scraggs made it quite plain that he was the Master, and that I should be a quiet and obedient wife, with no opinions of my own

[Well, I am glad that relationship only lasted twenty minutes!]


Here he is helping me put on my bonnet and shawl.

After the enactment, we looked round the rest of the museum. The 1950’s home and Victorian cottage were great. There was a superb sign in the Schoolroom


The model of a village shop was fun – no that isn’t Peter Mandelson, it is a dummy!


and the blacksmith's forge



Modern day Blacksmiths made these gates


The Workhouse had a clear Mission Statement…


But paupers who died had the most basic of funerals. Bob was very taken with this exhibit



Lots of machinery to see – the clock [still working, 233 years on]


Over the road was the farm – lots of animals – and we sat in the barn amidst the tools and shared in a Harvest Festival service


We looked at pigs, cows, hens, and heavy horses – then returned, tired and happy to Cornerstones. Very grateful for today’s comforts!

Thanks, Gwen, for the suggestion.


  1. Fascinating! I wondered what a workhouse looked like since reading Lark Rise to Candleford. Thank you!

  2. What a fun outing!!

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed your day at Gressenhall, we were very impressed with all of it and spent the whole day wandering around. We too got involved with the enactment, mum played Mrs Scraggs and I was a maid called Polly. However our audience was much smaller only 5 or 6.
    Enjoy the rest of your week and I will catch up with the rest when I get back to Ooty.

  4. This looks like a fun, interesting place. I love the sign!

  5. That looks like such a wonderful place to visit!

  6. Certainly looks a fascinating place - it kinda gives me the shudders though thinking about all those poor souls who ended up there. Blessings!

  7. Can you imagine the feeling of terror as you walked up to that stark house, knowing that you be all but incarcerated there.
    It is one of the saddest times in English history.


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