Martin Wills is the curator in charge of the Workhouse Museum’s exciting expansion plans. This new part of the original site, which housed the dining room and dormitories, will open up to visitors this summer. We asked Martin to explain what his plans are and what visitors will be able to see when the main building first opens.
Gruel. Oliver Twist. Child labour. Backbreaking work. For a lot of people, these are the first things that spring to mind when they hear the word ‘workhouse’. But over the next 15 months, my job is to look at our newly acquired ‘dining and dorm’ building with fresh eyes.
Built in 1854, the workhouse was home to Ripon’s poor, elderly and infirm for around 100 years before it was closed down following World War II. The new building includes the original Master’s wing, the male and female dormitories, the main dining room (which also doubled up as a chapel), the kitchen and male and female yards.
Up until recently, it has been used as council offices but with generous support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we have been able to purchase the main block of the workhouse site.
Now’s our chance to open it up again to the public. But in what form? Whilst working on this project, I will be talking to local people, visitors, community groups and pretty much anyone who wants to share their opinion, in order to create exciting and engaging uses for this fascinating building.
The first section of the main block opens to visitors up on Wednesday 19 July 2017, which will give you chance to see the master and matron’s living quarters, the inmates dining room and also some of the original features such as the dual staircase in the female wing.
But it will be after the initial opening that I will start to look at other interesting and exciting attractions that the building can host.