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16 November 2023
In the Workhouse – new book by Wisbech historian Kevin Rodgers
Anyone born in Wisbech with Clarkson Hospital or 33 Lynn Road on their birth certificate came into the world in a splendid Victorian building with a name dreaded well into the last century by the homeless, poor, sick and old – the Union Workhouse.
Built in 1838, the hated name was finally banned by national government decree in 1930 and in the following decades the Wisbech workhouse became an old people's home and then a maternity hospital before it was damaged by flood in 1978 and demolished in 1982.
Local history author Kevin Rodgers' latest book In the Wisbech Workhouse anchors the unforgettable workhouse scenes in Dickens' Oliver Twist with facts garnered from local documents.
Among these are the fascinating diary of the Rev Henry Fardell, vicar of St Peter's from 1831, who was chairman of the Poor Law Guardians for many years, and snippets from Star of the East, the local paper edited by fierce opponent of the Poor Law James Hill, father of Octavia Hill.
It makes a fascinating read and the first print-run – on sale at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum shop with all proceeds to go to the Museum running costs fund – is selling fast.
Kevin said: “Since the 1990s when I retired I've been writing books about Wisbech for my own amusement – it's the research I enjoy. Coming across a few facts that intrigue me will get me started. Documents conserved at the Museum have been invaluable in my search.
“A cutting from a local paper around 1980 sums up the thoughts of workhouse residents – the sense of failure, the inability to care for one's family or even support oneself. The way I see it, the workhouse system saved many from starvation but at terrible cost to society.”
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