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More than just Gruel…

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Life as an interpretation officer at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse working with more than 10,000 Norfolk schoolchildren a year is never dull. But in April 2014, Rachel Duffield prepared for the biggest challenge of her career: living the workhouse diets of more than 100 years ago for three weeks.

Rachel swapped her modern day sweet tooth and soft spot for a cuppa for the diet of an inmate living in the Gressenhall workhouse in 1797, 1834 and 1901. It was a diet consisting of milk broth, onion gruel, pease pottage and boiled meat dumplings, among other dishes. Of the 21 meals, 12 involve beer ... and five meant beer at breakfast for Rachel.

“My job is about bringing to life the stories of the people who lived and worked in the workhouse, and food was an important part of their lives” said Rachel. "This is a great way of experiencing a little of how they lived, as well as doing a bit of myth busting. Oliver Twist’s gruel is here and in 1834, things went Dickensian and grim but food had improved in 1901 with the arrival of suet.

“The hardest thing for me is going to be missing my cups of tea - there is a lot of tea in 1834 but no mention of tea in 1797, so the first week is going to be tough for me because I have a very sweet tooth and I'm a real tea pot.

“The more people say ‘you’re doing what?’ the more I look at the recipes, and start to think, I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this for three weeks." So, could she do it for three weeks?!

Follow Rachel’s progress via:
The Workhouse Diet Blog -
On Twitter @workhousediet
On Facebook -
Or via the Living the Workhouse Diet channel on YouTube