Workhouse to Worship

Workhouse to Worship

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral
Central Library Hornby Room
1st August – 29th September 2017

Reviewed by John Owen

The site was occupied by the Brownlow Hill workhouse. Although demolished in 1931 it was the largest workhouse in the country, housing up to a 1000 inmates. Having opened in 1771 it occupied a 9-acre site.

Two other concurrent exhibitions are available to public, one in the Metropolitan Cathedral itself and the other at Mann Island at Liverpool’s Pier Head.

One certificate reads sold indentured labour to employer a 13-year-old apprentice William McGraw to shipping firm. – 5 years labour.

SPCC was formed in 1883, with absolutely no royal patronage here. With photos of Liverpool heroines Kitty Wilkinson and Agnes Jones, who were recommended from Florence Nightingale herself.

The harsh conditions ring out loud and clear, the severity and meanness, the kindness and stupid rules, that made it a living hell for some.

One figure stood out, was that half the population was children 42,767 out of a total 97,510.

Abandoned abused or orphaned reads the notice.

Kirkdale industrial school opened in 1845 and held 40,000 children until 1904. It later became a pensioner block in the 1950s.

Union workhouse was for the able bodies souls. Whereas the others held the aged, the infirm, the sick and children.

At 7am the bell rang for 10 hours of work which was either stone breaking, oakum picking, laundry work, sewing, chopping wood or looking after patients and young children.

Food was habitually adulterated and the lowest tender accepted for food and provisions, except for wines and spirits. Males and females were separated (families split up).

Kirkdale Industrial Schools, 1845

This was capitalism growing in Liverpool that made some people immensely rich while others languished in the abyss as Jack London wrote.

Some of the buildings are still here and have been repurposed such as Fazakerley hospital, etc.

The end of the WW2 brought an end to this set up as the welfare state replaced the parish and charity handouts like this organised on a scale Hitler’s minions would have noticed and admired.

Go see it, shout, get angry and ask yourself how much of it has changed for good. Wheel has turned full circle it seems.

Foodbanks, the homeless and victims of the economic system that gave rise to critics like Karl Marx and William Morris, urging we reform it or overthrow it! The same question is still posed today.

Whether true or not a fine old Liverpool connoisseur of its history and people, Bernie said: a riot occurred in 1929 with inmates setting fire to it. The reason was simple, they served scouse without meat.

Amen! To that Brothers and Sisters.

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