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Things to see and do at The Workhouse and Infirmary

A room with blue wallpaper and a variety of old objects from around the 1960's that recreate the atmosphere of the time. There are four beds on one side of the room and a few other essential appliances such as a sink and tables.
Go on a journey through time at The Workhouse | © National Trust

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.

Visitors at The Workhouse, Southwell, Nottinghamshire
Visitors at The Workhouse | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

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. 

The Childrens Dormitory at The Workhouse, Nottinghamshire
The Childrens' Dormitory at the Workhouse | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

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.

Exterior of The Workhouse and Infirmary, Nottinghamshire

Discover more at The Workhouse and Infirmary

Find out when The Workhouse and Infirmary is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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