Poor people. The poor.
Even in today’s hard times, Joolz reflects, these words still don’t have the same meaning in modern, gentrified Islington as they did back in the days of The Workhouse.
I’ve been researching what it must have been like for women residing in north London Workhouses in the 18th century for a new London Undercurrents poem, and found this fantastic reference point: http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Islington/
It has uncovered some distressing but interesting facts, and given me some shocks too. The biggest shock came from seeing a picture of a Workhouse in Islington that was built in the late 1700’s. I did a double take – it was the beautiful redbrick house in leafy Barnsbury that I’ve gazed at often and coveted for many years. It blew my mind.
According to a report made in 1865, the building had an infirmary with a “thoroughly bad edifice with wards ill built, too small, too low, badly lighted and badly ventilated…”
Thankfully, the report goes on to say that the wards “…have yet an aspect of cheerfulness and comfort. The walls were coloured cheerfully; there were prints hanging on the walls, and a few ornaments about the fire-places. In every window were a few flower-pots or flower-boxes.”
It does however throw the grim reality of life in Workhouses that weren’t so cheery, into stark relief. Poor people.