Review by Pat Ross, March 2023. Having been forced in the past at school to read Charles Dickens (in particular I can remember Oliver Twist) and having watched films and TV depicting life in Victorian times, it was refreshing to be asked to review this Faversham Paper detailing a century of experiences in the Selling, Faversham and Blean workhouses. It is a fascinating read – and most interestingly it is fact, not fiction. Wendy has looked into the lives of 12 of her ancestors who unfortunately became inmates between the 1830s to the 1930s.
In those days, there was no welfare state. Assistance was organised at a parish level to assist anyone in need. The workhouse was not meant to be comfortable, however, but designed to get people back on their feet and supporting themselves asap. Families were separated.
There were rules and regulations to be adhered to. Children were given some fairly rudimentary schooling. Uniforms were worn, but the emphasis was on hard wearing, rather than comfort and fit. If you were an ‘unchaste woman’ your dress was described as ’ignominious’. Most commonly women worked in the laundry and kitchen, and men in corn milling and stone breaking.
The main constituent of the workhouse diet was bread. Although the quantity of food was adequate, the quality was not consistent. Hygiene would be best described perhaps as a foreign concept.
It is good to know though there would appear to have been a genuine wish among wealthy and middle class Victorians to improve the lot of those members of society who had fallen on hard times.