This weeks ‘Where to?’ took me to the National Trust Workhouse in Southwell. I have previously been to the workhouse however not for a couple of years and wondered if they had anything new and to cut a long story short there was so much more to see than our visit before. The sun was shining so the workhouse looked beautiful from the outside on the walk up and the vegetable garden at the front made it look like a fancy manor house. The history of the building told inside couldn’t be further from first perceptions.
The courtyards surrounding the outside and separated into yards for different genders (back in the 19th Century) were filled with chatty groups and visitors at the time I was there yet the information told a different story of those who had come across hardship, poor health or age that previously filled the dull spaces.
During this visit there were so many more rooms open for the public compared to last time. Speaking to a volunteer he explained that in the years he had been there the National Trust were able to open more of the workhouse as time went by. The higher floors were filled with the later years of the workhouse going into the 1960’s and 70’s where it became a temporary home for those who had lost theirs. For me it brought home how history can change drastically but it many ways still be the same; keeping it as a home for those who need it even over 100 years.
Let’s be real now. If you haven’t already guessed I am not a historian. The timeline mostly confuses me and I don’t tend to go researching historical battles and kings of Britain in my spare time (my best friend on the other hand has a history degree, I know right) but visiting National Trust sites I am able to take in information in bite-sized chunks. I saw it here at Southwell workhouse more than other sites where stands of information were visible and included ‘in case you were wondering’ extra notes which I thought were great. A huge bonus to that was the little snippets on the fabrics and seating throughout the building making sure there was information everywhere and no one missed a beat.
There was something for everyone and as explained there was a range of age groups. I wanted to weigh the potatoes on the scales to see how much the tenants ate per day, pump the water in the courtyard and pull apart the rope in the day room.
A recurring theme throughout was poetry and the many poems that were written about the mood, spirit and life in the workhouse. Prints were up in many of the rooms so visitors got an image of what life was like at the time. This was the theme of one of the main events of the day. An actor playing Mr Beecher, the founder of the workhouse, made an appearance reading poetry including that of Lord Byron. This was a great addition to the day and shows understanding of the difference between reading from the history books and making the teaching visual, active and oral and therefore suitable for many more people. As a side note I found it extremely enjoyable that he stayed in character walking around the workhouse and that the National Trust team greeted him as Mr Beecher.
It is the ‘little’ things that the National Trust do on top of opening their doors that I love. The cart of vegetables grown in the workhouse gardens has produce that can be exchanged for a donation and my latest obsession is their household cleaning range, I clearly need one of everything!
I hope you enjoyed reading my insight into the National Trust Southwell Workhouse and let me know if you’re planning a trip somewhere soon.
Until the next adventure,