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Workhouse galleries

Stand in the evocative workhouse settings, face to face with projections of staff and inmates, and listen to first hand stories, often tragic, sometimes inspirational, from the people who once walked these whitewashed corridors.

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse is based in a former workhouse and our new galleries explore what life was like for those who lived and worked here.  The building is the perfect backdrop to discover rare surviving relics from Gressenhall’s nationally important workhouse collections – the largest workhouse collection in the country.

To find out even more about life in the workhouse, download our free app for your smartphone, or borrow one of our free handheld information tablets.

The workhouse

A combination of projections, archives and fascinating collections help tell the real stories of the workhouse staff and inmates.  These displays focus on true stories from the building’s past, many of which only came to light during the research phase of the recent re-development project, Voices from the Workhouse. Stories like those of Harriet Kettle and Christopher High; often tragic, sometimes inspirational. Stories that breathe life into the historic archives giving you a vivid insight into what life was like in Victorian Britain.

Was the workhouse a tough institution or a safety net for those during difficult times?  Find out what life was like under the regime of the workhouse clock, what food was served and the different classes of inmates.  Explore what work inmates had to do and visit the refractory cell.  Known as ‘the dungeon’, inmates were sent here if they broke the rules.  Gressenhall was originally opened in 1777 as a ‘House of Industry’.  Discover how the building developed as a Union Workhouse and throughout the 20th century.

The yards

Step into the workhouse yards where the daily tasks were completed by the workhouse inmates.  Look out for the whitewashed wall in the men’s yard, which is the original site of the outdoor urinal.

Able bodied men could spend eight to nine hours a day outside.  The wall of the boys' yard contains many examples of inmate’s names scratched into the soft Norfolk Red brick.  The boys were allowed to play in their yard and there are records that the guardians installed a swing within this space.

The laundry and Beech House

Female inmates did the washing in the laundry.  There were many young, elderly and sick inmates so there would have been a lot of washing to do.  The museum‘s engineering volunteers have helped to restore the steam powered laundry.  The washing machines had not been used since the building was a County Care Home, known as Beech House.  Discover more about this era of the building’s history within this space.

The story of Christopher High

Christopher High was a farm labourer from Whissonsett.  He lived with his wife and seven children in a tiny cottage with only two rooms.  The whole family slept in a bedroom nine feet wide by seven feet long.  This entire cottage has been recreated in the museum.

In 1864 Christopher High’s wife died.  He could not look after his children and work at the same time so the youngest children were ordered to enter the workhouse.  It was agreed that Christopher and his eldest son could stay outside so that they could work to earn money.  This helped to pay for the children’s care in the workhouse.  The sculptures in the front courtyard show Christopher leaving his children at this workhouse.  After two months Christopher was able to take his children home.  A charity provided them with proper beds and clothing.  The faces of the sculptures are based upon photographs supplied by descendants of the High family.