Life in the Victorian and Edwardian Workhouse


Life in the Victorian and Edwardian Workhouse (The History Press, 2007)

Workhouse Front Cover

The poor in Victorian times

With the explosion of interest in family history, more and more people are discovering ancestors who were workhouse inmates or who worked as staff in workhouses.  This book has been specifically written for these family historians who want to find out what life was really like for their ancestors.  No two workhouses were alike so the popular view that life in the institution meant a brutal existence does not always ring true. 

Using workhouse records, contemporary sources and oral testimony, this book presents an accurate picture of what daily life was like for inmates.  It also looks at the living conditions and duties of the staff who, in many ways, were prisoners of the workhouse. 

Signed copies of Life in the Victorian and Edwardian Workhouse are now available direct from me.  This would make a great gift for someone with pauper ancestors, or why not treat yourself?  Visit the shop for more information.


“Daily life…is recounted in this book with both historical detail and sympathy, aided in both aspects by numerous first-person accounts and many specific details from workhouses around the country.” 

Your Family Tree

The bell, Stourbridge Union Workhouse
The bell at Stourbridge Union Workhouse which would have rung relentlessly to mark the various times of the daily routine.
Bakewell Union Workhouse
Bakewell Union Workhouse.  Note the large grounds, part of which would probably have been cultivated to grow food for the workhouse.

“Michelle Higgs’s study is based on testimony, photographs, oral history and workhouse records and establishes a true picture of what life was like in key workhouses in England and Wales, for both inmates and staff.” 

Practical Family History

“…a very readable account of the miseries experienced by the inmates, along with the problems faced by those administering the under-funded system.” 


Instruction of Pauper Children
The instruction of pauper children at the South Metropolitan  District School, Sutton.  This district school was set up in the early 1850s to house children away from the workhouse.  The children are being taught tailoring skills.  (The Illustrated London News, 4 May 1872)
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