Reflect on the past

Peeling wallpaper in Workhosue old infirmary building

One in ten of us have a workhouse connection in our family history. A visit to The Workhouse often stirs personal memories and many of those who have shared their recollections have helped us understand more about the later history of the institution.

Recording history

For the past eighteen years volunteer researchers have recorded memories of those with connections to the site. Those who can recall as far back as the 1920s have been able to provide invaluable descriptions of buildings which no longer exist, such as the vagrant wards and piggeries. Recollections present a balance of both cruelties and kindnesses of staff and friendships with other children.

Discover Greet House

These memories are often triggered by a visit to Greet House, the old infirmary building which evokes the overwhelming smell of Jayes’ fluid and the experience of isolation and stigma. Greet House is not usually open to the public but on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 September 12noon-4pm, visitors will be able to explore the building for themselves and find out more about those who lived there during the twentieth century.

Old sink and window ledge in Firbeck infirmary taken as part of 'Workhouse Through A Lens'
Butterfly on window ledge with sink to one side in Firbeck infirmary

Workhouse to Welfare

The continuing exhibition ‘Workhouse to Welfare’ in the main building charts the evolution of our health and social welfare system. It often comes as a surprise to visitors that The Workhouse was still providing social care into the 1970s. The bedsit in the main building has been reconstructed using the testimonies of individuals such as Susan, who lived in the bedsits from 1967-1971. You can hear her first-hand account of her mother's despair and the ways in which she escaped the reality of bedsit life on your visit.

The 1970s bedsit was furnished with the help of those who once lived here
The 1970s bedsit recreated from oral history testimonies

Re-imagining The Workhouse

The ‘Re-imagining The Workhouse project’ is currently drawing on the memories and reactions of visitors to help us shape how we tell our history. The Ballad for Southwell has drawn on visitor and volunteer reflections, inspiring creative fellow Chris T-T to produce a collection of sound pieces which will be premiered on Heritage Open Day on Saturday 10 September. The 'Voices of Need' initiative is bringing together those who have a connection to local welfare provision to produce a published body of work reflecting individual experiences.

We are always looking for people to share their memories, if your visit evokes memories or you have a family connection please get in touch.