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Collections at The Workhouse and Firbeck Infirmary

A picture of a child's shoe under a spotlight, its fabric worn, at The Workhouse, Southwell, Nottinghamshire
A child's show at The Workhouse | © National Trust

Not many people realise that The Workhouse has a collection of over 1,000 objects rarely seen by visitors. From coils of oakum to lost shoes, even everyday items have a story to tell and memories to spark. Discover what’s in the collection and the highlights voted for by visitors.

On the 20th anniversary of The Workhouse and Firbeck Infirmary being acquired by the National Trust, we marked the milestone through a display of objects co-curated with visitors.

A child's shoe

Among the artefacts in the collection is a child's shoe, most likely worn by a boy or girl living in the bedsit accommodation within the former Workhouse building.

According to visitors, the shoe evoked memories of their own childhoods, as well as provoking thoughts about what might have happened to the shoe's wearer.

'Such a poignant object - I wonder if the child was upset by losing the shoe and whether they were allowed to look for it?'

- Visitor to the '20 objects' exhibition

Children in The Workhouse

Children lived at this workhouse site for over 150 years and records show that in March 1847 there were 74 children here. They received an education and training so that they could begin work or an apprenticeship at around 12 years of age.

Even after this building was no longer in use as a workhouse, the local council used the former women's dormitories to temporarily house homeless women and children into the late 1970s.

'It's the same design as the Clark's sandals worn by me (now 80) and my children!'

- Visitor to the '20 objects' exhibition

A silhouette of a hand ringing the bell at The Workhouse, Southwell, Nottinghamshire
A silhouette of a hand ringing a bell | © National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Births and deaths register

Workhouse records are often scarce, with so many having been destroyed or lost over time. Our collection includes a register listing births and deaths for the period 1914 to 1940, when The Workhouse had become known as Greet House.

Once one of the many records kept by the Master, it now provides a rare glimpse of the individuals who stayed here.

Repairing the register

The register was discovered in the upstairs ceiling during restoration work. It has been repaired and conserved following a kind donation by the North Nottinghamshire National Trust Association.

'I wonder about the lives of the people who were born and died here. What brought them to The Workhouse? I also like looking at the handwritten entries and to see how writing styles have changed over time. It makes me think about the person who entered the details and what their lives were like too.'

- Shelley, Adminstrator at The Workhouse

Exterior of The Workhouse and Infirmary, Nottinghamshire
The small objects on display tell a wider story of The Workhouse | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Workhouse mug

Although the diets of The Workhouse inmates were originally designed in keeping with the concept that life inside should not be better than life outside, the food received was often better than those living in poverty would have eaten daily.

This mug may well have held a pauper's tea allowance. While it was not permitted for everyone, inmates over 60 years of age received 1oz. of tea per week according to the 1835 Poor Law Commission.

Shelf with a Bakelite radio and cleaning products in one of the 1970s bed-sit rooms at The Workhouse, Southwell, Nottinghamshire.

The Workhouse and Infirmary's collection

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at The Workhouse and Infirmary on the National Trust Collections website.

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