Things to see and do at The Workhouse and Infirmary
Explore the atmospheric Workhouse building and the Firbeck Infirmary. With guided tours sharing the history, activities for families and exhibitions, you can uncover the stories of the people that lived and worked here.
What was The Workhouse?
This austere building, the most complete workhouse in existence, was pivotal in the development of our national health and welfare system. For decades it was where the poorest in society had to work and where they received food, shelter and medical care.
Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist painted a bleak picture of life in the workhouse. Here in this rural workhouse at Southwell, we show that – although harsh and monotonous – aspects such as education, medical care or diet may have been better inside The Workhouse than for the poor in their own homes.
Begin your day with a welcome tour
Before the house opens, why not join the volunteer-led welcome tour at 11am? The behind-the-scenes tour explores some of the outside areas not usually seen by the public and recalls the history of the buildings.
Plan your Workhouse and Infirmary journey
When the house opens, the journey begins at the Visitor Hub where you’ll be able to collect a digital device. These devices are triggered when held over specific objects within The Workhouse and Infirmary and tell the story of how past inmates were treated. You can then explore the main buildings, chat to room guides and learn about those who lived and worked here.
Family activities at The Workhouse and Infirmary
Younger visitors can enjoy children’s trails and games that tell stories from a historic and contemporary perspective. There are opportunities to dress up as pauper boys and girls in specially recreated costumes.
The Women's Quilt at The Workhouse
'The Women’s Quilt' is made up of 598 patches, one patch for each woman who was killed as a result of domestic violence between 2009 and 2015. This emotive and evocative quilt, which can be found within The Workhouse itself, commemorates the lives of these women.
Firbeck Infirmary at The Workhouse
The infirmary has been recreated with different spaces to chart how it might have looked at its start in the 1870s, to a later 1970s care ward. You can also see a room used by the last resident when the building finally closed its doors in the late 1980s.
There is also a library space, with a searchable database where you can explore Workhouse records including census returns, statistics and inspector's reports along with workhouse reference books and genealogy books.
Florence Nightingale Comes Home
Explore new exhibition boards that are displayed in the Firbeck Infirmary about Florence Nightingale. Find out about Nightingale's life and the major events that lead her into becoming a pioneer of many aspects of public health, nurses' training and much more.
She was an influencer of her day and opposed workhouses and what they stood for, arguing that ’the principle must be not to punish the hungry for being hungry’.
A joint venture
The Florence Nightingale Comes Home project is a University of Nottingham joint venture between the School of Health Sciences and the Department of History.
Funded by the AHRC, it was timed to coincide with the national celebrations of Nightingale's birth in 2020. The project was designed by Professor Paul Crawford and Dr Anna Greenwood and the funding was awarded in 2017.
The Workhouse is one of a number of partners involved in the project, including Florence Nightingale Foundation, Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust.
Learn about the concept and the history of The Workhouse and Firbeck Infirmary and the role that they played.
From plot to pauper plate, explore the recreated Victorian vegetable garden and admire the range of heritage varieties grown.
The Workhouse and Infirmary is a one pawprint rated place. Discover all you need to know about visiting The Workhouse and Infirmary with your dog.
Take a sneak peek into the treasure trove that is the collection of The Workhouse and Infirmary and learn what these objects tell us about the history of this special place.
Historic buildings are a treasure trove of stories, art and collections. Learn more about what makes these places so special and plan your visit.
Explore the diverse range of houses and buildings in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, from historic churches and country houses to a Victorian workhouse.