(Bermondsey Union Workhouse, Lewisham, c.1900)
For that, I am grateful - reading of the harrowing and spartan conditions in many workhouses, especially in Victorian times, it is no wonder that it really was the last resort for many.
Many of these establishments were grim and prison-like, with different accommodation blocks to segregate the genders. On arrival, families would be separated, mothers nursing children would be kept together, but most often older children were housed separately - I wonder if some ever saw each other again.
Diet was poor and subsistent - despite regulated inspectors, Workhouse overseers were largely masters of their own domain and would often seek to save money by serving low quality food.
Aside from all this, the days were long and tedious with menial tasks to be performed - it is small wonder so many inmates developed mental problems.
Census records for Workhouses list the Overseer as the Head of the 'household' and then his own family, followed by a list of all the inmates and details of their age, place of birth and occupation. Given the fact that they were housed and treated indifferently, I suppose at least with every decade-wide census they were afforded the courtesy of appearing as individuals in their own right.
This verse perhaps sums up the despair that so many tried to avoid when faced with the prospect of ending up in the Workhouse:
Hush-a-bye baby, on the tree top,
When you grow old, your wages will stop,
When you have spent the little you made
First to the Poorhouse and then to the grave.
(anonymous verse from Yorkshire)