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Workhouse Museum & Garden

The grim atmosphere of the Workhouse Museum has been carefully maintained in order to give visitors a sense of what life in a Victorian Workhouse could have been.

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Opening Times: Workhouse Museum, Courthouse Museum and Prison and Police Museum open 10am – 4pm Full opening times →

Plenty to see at the Workhouse Museum

The atmospheric Workhouse Museum has expanded.

Start your visit in the original Gatehouse building,  which contains the Guardians’ Room, Bathing Area, Vagrants cells and Receiving Ward for inmates. 

Then take a look around the new Main Block where you can see the Master's study and dining room, the pantry, classroom and inmates dining hall. Visitors to the main block will be able to view a new artwork commissioned by Ripon Museums which explores the dining experience of Workhouse inmates, read more about Consumption.

During your visit save some time to look at the original Workhouse Kitchen Garden, located to the rear of the Workhouse Site, this would have been tended by the inmates and been used to feed them and we use 1860's gardening techniques to cultivate heritage crops.

A visit to the Workhouse reveals the history of what life was like for the not so fortunate...

"Hush-a-bye baby, on a tree top. When you grow old, your wages will stop. When you have spent the little you made. First to the poorhouse and then to the grave."

This rhyme tells the story of many a working man's life in the 19th Century. The rather elegant building in Allhallowgate, standing in grounds graced with flower beds, trees, lilacs and even a passion flower, seems far removed from the dreaded Workhouse in Oliver Twist.

A feeling of doom or at best hopeless resignation must have fallen on many passing through the Gatehouse arch and hearing the door shut behind them. They knew they would leave only in the regulation coffin, 'with two handles, name of the person with the year of their decease inscribed'. Coffins were ordered in bulk.

Nor was it only labourers who entered. In 1861 the 'former master wheelwright', 'former gentleman's servant', 'master shoe-maker', butcher, farmer and many who had known better times found themselves in old age, or when widowed, in a similar predicament; as did the 24 children under the age of 12, the youngest inmate being Matthew Colby aged two weeks.

Past Ordnance Survey plans and original accounting documents provide some insight into workhouse history.

A Workhouse has stood on this site since 1776. By 1832 there was national concern at the expense of maintaining the poor and a Commission of Enquiry was appointed. Ripon was found to have 33 inmates, 11 men, 11 boys, 9 women and 2 girls. Only one of the men was not 'able bodied' at 68 years of age, but those able spent 8 hours a day breaking stones to mend roads.

The present building was completed in January, 1855. The Workhouse was almost a self sufficient world of its own with its own teacher, chaplain and doctors, chopping its own fire wood, doing its own laundry, growing its own vegetables, having its own infirmary and its own van to transport lunatics to asylums elsewhere if they became unduly violent.

Vagrants presented a special problem and in 1877 a separate block of buildings was provided where they could have an evening meal, a bed for the night and leave the next day after completing a designated task.

With the coming of the Welfare State, the building was renamed Sharow View and an astonishing change took place. Locked doors were opened, warm fires and bowls of flowers, chintz covers and hangings did everything possible to disguise the high bare rooms and staircases of the Institute. It is presently used as a centre for Social Services.

The museum is housed in the former Male Vagrants section and Receiving Ward where there are 14 cells where these unfortunates were locked in for the night. These provide a harsh touch of reality and an insight into what poverty once meant to the poor.

Prices

Adult (16+) £6.50*
Concession (60+/Students) £6.00*
Child (6-15yrs) £5.00*
Child (5yrs and under) FREE
*Admissions are inclusive of a donation. If you are not a UK taxpayer or do not wish to make a charitable donation the admission prices are as follows: Adult £5.90, Conc £5.40, Child £4.50

Did you know?

Until 2 years ago the workhouse garden was an over-grown wilderness

"

I really enjoyed it, some parts were a bit emotional but I loved finding out about what it was like in the olden days.

Emma, Birmingham