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The Workhouse (Paperback)

The People, The Places, The Life Behind Doors

P&S History Social History Women of History Victorian Era

By Simon Fowler
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 214
Illustrations: 15 black and white
ISBN: 9781783831517
Published: 11th September 2014
Expected Re-release Date: 28th February 2021


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'The stories of those who lived in the shadow of the workhouse'

During the nineteenth century the workhouse cast a shadow over the lives of the poor. The destitute and the desperate sought refuge within its forbidding walls. And it was an ever-present threat if poor families failed to look after themselves properly. As a result a grim mythology has grown up about the horrors of the 'house' and the mistreatment meted out to the innocent pauper.

In this fully-updated and revised edition of his bestselling book, Simon Fowler takes a fresh look at the workhouse and the people who sought help from it. He looks at how the system of the Poor Law – of which the workhouse was a key part – was organised and the men and women who ran the workhouses or were employed to care for the inmates.

But above all this is the moving story of the tens of thousands of children, men, women and the elderly who were forced to endure grim conditions to survive in an unfeeling world.

'A poignant account ... draws powerfully on letters from The National Archives ... [Simon Fowler] brings out the horror, but it is fair-minded to those struggling to be humane within an inhumane system,' The Independent

'A good introduction,' The Guardian.

The history of workhouses and poverty ('misery history') has recently been prominently covered on TV shows like WDYTYA? and ITV's Secrets from the Workhouse, and referenced in historical dramas like The Village and Ripper Street.

Author article on the workhouse employee as featured in

WDYTYA? Magazine, December 2016

When you think of a 19th century workhouse, it's inevitable that Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist will spring to mind...Certainly, they weren't holiday camps and inmates were expected to do something towards their keep, but as Richmond author Simon Fowler argues convincingly, workhouses don't deserve the bad press they've been stuck with. For many paupers and desperately-in-need people, they were a safety net, without which many would have certainly starved. When viewed in the context of a welfare state where dwindling resources have to be matched to growing needs, the workhouse should be seen as a social policy tool that was probably ahead of its time.

Surrey Life Magazine

Simon Fowler has written an excellent account of life in the workhouse. ... Well worth reading.

Paul Diggett

If you want to find out about daily life for your ancestors in the workhouse, this authoritative book provides some excellent background information. There is also a useful section on Poor Law and workhouse records, plus an extensive bibliography if you want to delve deeper into the subject.

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine

As seen in Essence Magazine.

Essence Magazine

About Simon Fowler

Simon Fowler is a professional researcher specialising in the records of the two world wars and central government. Over the years he has researched hundreds of men who served during the First World War and this book is very much based on his experiences in doing so. He was written a number of other guides for Pen & Sword including Tracing Your Army Ancestors, Tracing Your Navy Ancestors and Now the War is Over: Britain 1919-1920.

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