WP_20150508_13_43_47_ProOur final garden visit whilst travelling home from the Lake District last week, was to Southwell workhouse, Nottinghamshire.

We’d begun, you might recall, with the landed gentry at Kedleston Hall, then seen something of Victorian commercial and scientific endeavour at Biddulph Grange. It somehow seems appropriate, then, to find ourselves in the midst of gardening at the other end of the social spectrum- the poor.

Built in 1824 as a place of last resort for the destitute, it’s architecture was influenced by prison design and its harsh regime became a blueprint for workhouses throughout the country. We went round this fascinating building with the benefit of a number of helpful room guides and an audio tape guide- they say the best pictures are on radio, and the sparsely- furnished rooms came alive in the colourful descriptions and ‘real time’ excerpts from the workhouse regime. The garden is, as you might expect, exclusively for food growing, and though it is more of a demonstration of more general Victorian horticultural pratices, it captures the spirit of how gardening was practiced in the workhouse.

The cultivation of a garden and the rearing of livestock was frequently a feature of workhouse operation. There were a number reasons for this, mostly aimed at reducing the cost of providing poor relief. First, a garden could provide the workhouse with a cheap and ready source of food. Any surplus or unwanted produce could be sold off and provide funds for the running of the house. Another benefit of a garden was that it offered a convenient and regular form of employment for the inmates of the workhouse. Finally, training pauper children in agricultural or horticultural work could equip them with skills that would make them employable in their later life, rather than being a drain on the parish.

WP_20150508_14_43_04_ProSources and further information:

National Trust website

Workhouse Gardens and Farms

Old School Gardener