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Visit to

The Spike Heritage Centre

Guildford Union Workhouse
Vagrants and Casual Ward

Friday 20 May 2016

Our successful visit here is a Timeshift – both in the physical sense and the mind of our Victorian ancestors who wrestled with similar problems that we hear of daily today: the needy, the destitute, the infirm, etc.  It is our Local History – since the Guildford Union Workhouse served many villages around our Cranleigh area.  Those who knew St Luke’s Hospital in Guildford were in part of the old Workhouse before its demolition.

“The Spike” was not demolished and is a true Heritage piece, giving insight to a place of “overnight stay” for those e.g. walking from job to job on manual projects – roads, construction, etc. - facilities still used to this day.  It was built in 1838 as a result of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.

Our Heritage “Re-enactors” took us through life in this institution in 1906.  Yes little more than 100 years ago!  “Tramps” would queue outside until the bell rang at 6pm when the queue would be admitted.  Each person was logged, stripped, clothes washed and they were bathed!  They were fed with a gruel type meal and then locked in a cell.  Yes – a cell!  They were rough and ready folk, often worse for alcohol consumption, who easily picked fights so this was the best method of keeping Law and Order!

Who paid for their night’s sleep?  If you could pay your penny the next morning you were free to leave and be on your way the next morning.  If you were penniless – you must work for your stay.  See the grills at the end of your cell?  You needed to break the rock and pass the small broken pieces through the grids to the outside.  This could be used for road surfacing.  Or you might saw the wood!  Women picked “oakum” - old rope (yes money for old rope!).

We were immersed into the life of The Spike by an excellent DVD which re-enacted the life therein.

Although the context of this visit is not a cheery subject, it gave us all the perspective to our current lives of relative luxury and made us very grateful.

We all enjoyed a magnificent lunch provided by the Museum!  It was a good opportunity for everyone to exchange thoughts on “life, the universe and everything” - including the hard times witnessed!

Text by Gwen Wright

Photos by John Wright

Related Links (open in new windows):

Heritage Centre website
The Spike Tour
Guildford Union Workhouse - Early Years
St Luke's Hospital Heritage Project
The Workhouse - Tramps and Vagrants
Charlotteville Jubilee Trust - Saving the Spike

The latest group of "vagrants" awaiting admission
(some familiar faces among them?)