Thirty year-12 students from Nelson Thomlinson School in Wigton had a date with history when they visited the Fusehill Street campus of the University of Cumbria this week to learn about the workhouse which once occupied the site.
The students were attending a masterclass on the topic, being delivered by Sue Temple who is programme leader for primary education (3-11) QTS at the university and a history specialist. Sue has carried out considerable research into the social and cultural issues during this period in the building’s timeline.
Gazing on the formidable frontage of the Victorian building, the students heard how those poor souls who no longer had the means to support themselves would arrive at the gates of the workhouse to ask for help. They would first be processed – washed and scrubbed with a rough scrubbing brush to rid them of any lice, their hair cropped, and given shapeless clothing – before being admitted. Women were housed in one side of the building, men in the other and children over the age of four were sent elsewhere to other workhouses, never to be seen again by their parents.
This introduction was followed by an intensive session which included looking at the original plans, maps, photographs and the 1881 census relating to the workhouse, giving the students a real insight into life during much harsher times than the present.
Sue commented, “The students were interested to learn about the various facilities, including a 'Disorderly Women's Room' on the ground floor - but no Disorderly Men's Room! I was able to tell them about some of the people who have lived and worked here over the years - including Jimmy Dyer who died in the workhouse and whose statue stands in The Lanes shopping centre.”
The Fusehill Workhouse opened in 1863 at a cost of £11,195 15s, roughly equivalent to £660,000 at today’s prices. It was designed for 478 inmates and was overseen by a board of 25 governors representing the 19 parishes which formed the ‘Union’ responsible for running the workhouse. It was requisitioned during both world wars to act as a hospital for wounded service men before becoming the general hospital when the NHS was established. In 1999 it was purchased by St Martin’s College to become a university, transforming into the University of Cumbria in 2007.