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Guildford Workhouse, Surrey, England

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  • Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 - 1878)
    Famous Architect - See the RIBA's Royal Gold Medal in 1859.Knighted in 1872.Designed St Andrew's Church and Vicarage, DerbyAlso the Albert memorial and St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh.Restored Lichfield...

Guildford Workhouse, Surrey, England

The Guildford Union workhouse was built in 1836 accommodating up to 300 inmates. The building was designed by George Gilbert Scott and his partner, William Bonython Moffatt. They designed many workhouses during this period.

Vagrants made up a large proportion of most workhouse populations and were usually placed in more basic accommodation than that in the main workhouse. On entering the casual ward, or ‘Spike’ as it was commonly called, a vagrant’s clothes would be seized and fumigated overnight in a sulphur or steam oven to kill any vermin or fleas – often clothes and shoes came out in a worse state than when they went into the oven. Food usually consisted of bread and water, possibly with a little porridge in the more sympathetic institutions, but casuals were expected to work hard for their bed and board.

This photo shows the grids which could be lowered from the exterior of the building to allow large rocks to be dropped into the cell behind. The grid then would be used to pass through the smaller fragments of stone broken up by the inmate.

Some casual wards even show evidence of tramp ‘graffiti’ left in the form of messages and poems, often commenting on the type of relief available in the different unions. There are even suggestions that vagrants used a system of secret signs scratched outside workhouses to warn others of the treatment they could expect.

Guildford Spike is now preserved as a heritage centre that is open to the public.