Heritage gardening

Growing broadbeans
Our gardens are maintained by a team of dedicated volunteers who use Victorian horticultural practices combined with a focus on environmental sustainability. We grow heritage varieties, including flowers and vegetables, which give the gardens an authentic appearance and produce some of the same crops that Victorian workhouse inmates would have eaten. Some examples of the crops grown in our kitchen garden can be found below.
Wooden rods in the garden

Life in the workhouse 

The garden accounts for the workhouse reveal that pea rods were purchased every year from 1895 to 1899, for 2 shillings from a Mr Steel.    

Today we grow our own bean poles. The hazel plants around the edge of the garden are coppiced each year and the cut branches are used to support climbing beans. 

Root vegetables 

Accounts from this garden in the 1880s show that carrots and turnips were grown here and fed to the workhouse inmates. They were added to broths and stews.   

Varieties grown in 1890  

  • Carrots –¬†Chantenay¬†Red-cored, Mr James‚Äô Scarlet Intermediate¬†¬†
  • Turnips – Snowball, Golden Ball¬†¬†
  • Swede – Champion Best of All, Green Top‚Äôd Yellow.¬†¬†
  • Parsnip – Half Long Guernsey, Hollow Crown¬†¬†
  • Beetroot – Egyptian turnip-rooted,¬†Tonda¬†di Chioggia¬†¬†

How to grow  

Sow seed directly into a 1cm deep watered trench of fine soil; rake to cover seeds; thin seedlings when large enough to handle so the roots have room to grow. Successional sowing of small quantities every three weeks will give a longer harvesting period. 


Dietary guidelines produced by the Poor Law Commission in 1835 show that potatoes were served regularly to workhouse inmates with meat.   

They were a useful, cheap, energy source for the workhouse and were stored in the cellar. 

Varieties grown in 1890  

  • First¬†early (ready 100 days after planting) – Duke of York¬†¬†
  • Second¬†early (ready 110 days after planting) – British Queen¬†¬†
  • Main¬†crop potatoes (ready 125 days after planting) – Fellside Hero¬†¬†

How to grow  

Before planting, sprout seed potatoes by keeping them in the light and cool (called chitting). When shoots are about 3cm long, plant them 20cm deep in the soil. Then build banks of soil around the base of the plants when the stems have emerged. 


In 1856, Worcester Workhouse sought permission to substitute cabbage for potatoes in their inmates’ diets to use up their garden crop. In 1901, cabbages are listed in the ingredients for workhouse broths and stews.    

Varieties grown in 1890  

  • Spring cabbage – Flower of Spring, Mr Wheeler‚Äôs Imperial¬†¬†
  • Summer cabbage – Large Drumhead, Golden Acre¬†¬†
  • Winter cabbage – Holland Late Winter, January King¬†¬†¬†
  • Red cabbage – Red Drumhead¬†¬†
  • Kale – Hungry Gap, Nero di Toscano¬†¬†
  • Cauliflower – Autumn Giant, Snowball¬†

How to grow 

Sow seedlings in a seed tray of damp compost covered with about 1cm of soil. When seedlings have their first true leaves, prick out and grown on in small pots until they have 5-6 true leaves, and the roots fill the pot. Plant out into the soil about 50cm apart and protect from pigeons and slugs. 

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