There were two coaches for this trip. Pat and I were on Coach J. Normally Jackie Arnot would have been in charge of us but she was otherwise engaged so Shirley Deering kindly took responsibility for us all.
Paul Chaplin had arranged for Coach J to proceed to Woolsthorpe Manor and then to Southwell Workhouse and for Coach P to visit in the reverse order. We in Coach J arrived at Woolsthorpe at 10:40, only to discover they didn’t officially open until 11 am. Fortunately we were spotted and were allowed in before that.
Woolsthorphe Manor was a farmhouse built in 1620. Sir Isaac Newton was born there on Christmas Day 1642, his father sadly having died without seeing his son. When Isaac was three his mother married a widower with two daughters and moved to live with him, leaving Isaac at Woolsthorpe with a nurse. When her second husband died some seven years later she moved back with her stepchildren.
She wanted Isaac to be a farmer but he was often so deep in thought that he forgot what he was supposed to be doing. On one occasion he even rode into Grantham on a horse and absent-mindedly walked back leaving the horse there. He was not an apt pupil but did get a place at Cambridge, where allegedly he just scraped through his degree.
One of the outbuildings now houses a small cinema where you can watch a short film on Sir Isaac Newton’s early life at Woolsthorpe, which is very helpful in interpreting some of the objects the house. Visitors can enter the study where he conducted his early experiments with light. I was actually more interested in the dining room, which had a sleeping cubicle next to the large fireplace. I assume it was a cubicle for a live-in servant. It must have been the warmest place to sleep in the winter.
In the orchard you can see the famous apple tree under which Isaac was sitting when an apple fell and he started forming a theory of gravity. According to the introductory film he reasoned that, if there was a force which made the apple fall to earth from a height of 40 feet, that force must still operate at much larger heights and even up to the heavens.
Those of us who had not taken picnics had lunch in the Woolsthrope Manor café before getting back on the coach at 12:30 for the 45 minute journey to Southwell Workhouse
It ended up taking us more than 45 minutes as our driver missed the turning into the Workhouse car park. However, that did mean we had an enjoyable unscheduled tour round Southwell itself with some good views of the Minster.
Southwell Workhouse was purpose-built in 1820 and housed 158 men, women and children. Entry into the workhouse was purely voluntary but only those in desperate poverty would apply. The Medical Officer would determine whether anyone entering was “old and infirm”. Adults who were not old and infirm were regarded as “idle and profligate”; if you were out of work it was taken to be your own fault and not because there was no work available. The Workhouse was funded by the poor relief paid by the ratepayers of the sixty parishes around Southwell; each parish was entitled to appoint a representative to the Board.
Children were separated from their parents, the mere fact that they were in the workhouse being “proof” that they were a bad influence. The children did receive schooling, unlike poor children outside the workhouse, and were expected to leave at 12 to take up posts as domestic servants or apprentices. When they left the Worhouse’s Board became their guardians rather than their “idle and profligate” parents.
Life in the Workhouse for those who were not classed as “old and infirm” was deliberately harsh in order to encourage them to leave as soon as possible. The only paid staff were the Master and Matron (normally the Master’s wife) and the Schoolteacher. The adult residents who were not old and infirm were required to work most of the day, the men in the garden or breaking rocks and the women on domestic chores. The work was intentionally dull and repetitious.
A tour of the Workhouse takes 1½ - 2 hours. Pat and I borrowed two of the free audio guides, which I highly recommend. I was impressed by how well the Workhouse was designed, bearing in mind its purpose and the attitudes of the time.There were two wings, one for men and the other for women. These were further subdivided into spaces for the “old and infirm” and the “idle and profligate”. The accommodation for each group consisted of dormitories, a day room, a work yard and an exercise yard. At the front of each exercise yard was a privy, providing the only (and very primitive) toilet facilities.
The centre block contained the entrance for the Board members, leading directly to the Boardroom. Immediately above that was the room for the Master and Matron with windows overlooking the garden and all the exercise yards so that an eye could be kept on the residents. The children’s accommodation and schoolroom were at the back of the central block. The kitchens and cellars were below ground level
The Southwell Workhouse became a model for the national scheme when it started in 1834. It joined the scheme in 1836 and continued as a workhouse until the 1930s. Whllst many workhouses were converted to hospitals when the modern welfare state was born in 1948, this did not happen to Southwell Workhouse. In the 1970s some of the rooms were used as temporary accommodation for homeless families. The National Trust took it over some 20 years ago.