The Workhouse, Southwell | Attraction Guides | History Hit

The Workhouse, Southwell

Southwell, Nottinghamshire, England, United Kingdom

Amy Irvine

25 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About The Workhouse, Southwell

The Workhouse (also known as Greet House) in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, is a museum operated by the National Trust. Built in 1824, it was the prototype of the 19th-century workhouse, and cited by the Royal Commission on the poor law as the best example among the existing workhouses, before the resulting New Poor Law of 1834 led to the construction of workhouses across the country.

History of The Workhouse, Southwell

The Workhouse was designed by William Adams Nicholson together with the Reverend John T. Becher, a pioneer of workhouse and prison reform. Reverend Becher and George Nicholls implemented a system here whose ideas shaped the way in which the poor were treated during the 19th century. Becher’s idea was for local parishes to combine funds and build a workhouse to house the destitute rather than each parish supporting individuals with food, fuel and clothing.

This austere building, the most complete workhouse in existence, was built in 1824 as a place of last resort for the destitute. It was designed to house around 160 inmates, who lived and worked in a strictly segregated environment with virtually no contact between the old and infirm, able-bodied men and women and children. The building’s architecture was influenced by prison design and its harsh regime became a blueprint for workhouses throughout the country.

In the 1920’s, the whole site was re-named Greet House after the nearby River Greet. In 1929 the New Poor Law system was disbanded, and workhouses were handed over to local authorities. Most continued either as hospitals or, like The Workhouse in Southwell, as institutions for the poor, homeless and elderly.

After the development of the modern welfare system in 1948, the building provided temporary homeless accommodation until 1976. It was later used for staff accommodation and storage until the late 1980s, while the rest of the site became a residential home for the elderly.

The building remained in use until the early 1990s, (used to provide temporary accommodation for mothers and children) but was then bought by the National Trust in 1997 after being identified as one of the top 10 best preserved workhouse buildings in the country.

Since then, restoration work is ongoing, and many rooms have been redecorated as they would have looked in the 19th century. Buildings, walls and privies, demolished in the 20th century, have also been reinstated.

The Workhouse, Southwell today

Bring the family and experience a full programme of living history events, interactive tours and exhibitions to learn more – told from the perspective of those who lived and worked here by volunteer costumed interpreters. Younger visitors can enjoy children’s trails, games and dressing up with activities and crafts. A recreated Victorian vegetable garden can also be explored.

Getting to The Workhouse, Southwell

By car, The Workhouse is 13 miles from Nottingham on the A612, and 8 miles from Newark via A617 and A612. Free parking is available 200 yards from The Workhouse, but pre-booking is required.

If travelling by train, the nearest stations are Newark Castle (7 miles), Newark North Gate (7.5 miles) and Nottingham (13 miles). From here it’s advisable to take a taxi, although there are also regular bus services from Newark, Nottingham and Mansfield bus stations.

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