Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Workhouse Museum

A series on historic residential buildings around the world that have been turned into museums.

For much of the 19th century, Britain's most impoverished citizens were herded into cell-like rooms in poorhouses, where they were forced to work for food. Inmates at the Union Workhouse in Ripon, Yorkshire - now a museum and a member, along with the Tenement Museum, of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience -were locked in at night, and their jailors made sure they had little reason to leave: an in-house teacher (13 children lived in the house), chaplain, doctor, and vegetable garden provided all the basic necessities. In the mid 20th century, when England underwent a period of social reform, the Ripon house turned from prison to spa (sort of), with unlocked doors, lit fireplaces, and welcoming decorations, all designed to disguise its unpleasant past, according to the extensive history of the building on the museum's website.

Left: The museum, which preserves a block of cells and hosts a photo exhibit on working-class life in 19th century Britain, is currently undergoing a major restoration, scheduled for completion later in the summer. Center: an 1890 ordinance plan of the building. More historical documents here. Right: the historic "market town" of Ripon, pop. 15,922, has an economically diverse population.

-posted by Liana Grey

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