Punishment at The Workhouse

 © Stuart McIntyre

Rachel Revill, Pauper
The Workhouse

Date: 1 September 1852
Offence: Screaming and disturbing women in the house
Master’s Punishment: Three hours in refractory ward

'I am Rachel. I’m always in the refractory ward, sometimes for four hours or more. I don’t think I deserve it. Oh, how I hate that place. The cold seeps through your bones, every tiny noise makes you jump and the bodies next door….! I tell you, when you’ve been in there for hours on end your mind plays horrible tricks. What was that against my leg? A mouse? A rat? Something else? Thing is, I just can’t seem to be good. And when I’m disobedient, it’s straight into the punishment cell for me. But I’m not the only one.'

The Dead Room and punishment cell

The Dead Room was used for storing pauper bodies as there was no provision for pauper burials with The Workhouse. After a death, word was sent to the parish where the pauper had come from. There were sixty parishes in the surrounding area which fed into the Southwell Union Workhouse. A handcart or pony and cart was provided by the parish to take the body back.

The punishment cell was located in a corner of the Dead Room. Many paupers were sent to the punishment cell for various occurrences of bad behaviour.

The 1847 General Order

In 1847 a list of guidelines was distributed to workhouses to ensure that standards were met across the board. Article 130 states that the guardians can order any refractory (misbehaving) pauper to confinement for up to twenty-four hours and give them bread instead of meat at dinner. The General Order also says that no pauper can be confined overnight 'without being furnished with a bed and bedding suitable to the season, and with the other proper conveniences' - most probably a bedpan.