West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
The Spike Heritage Centre
Guildford Union Workhouse
Vagrants and Casual Ward
Friday 20 May 2016
Our successful visit here is a Timeshift – both in the
physical sense and the mind of our Victorian ancestors who wrestled
with similar problems that we hear of daily today: the needy, the
destitute, the infirm, etc. It is our Local History – since the
Guildford Union Workhouse served many villages around our Cranleigh
area. Those who knew St Luke’s Hospital in Guildford were in part
of the old Workhouse before its demolition.
“The Spike” was not demolished and is a true Heritage piece, giving
insight to a place of “overnight stay” for those e.g. walking from job
to job on manual projects – roads, construction, etc. - facilities
still used to this day. It was built in 1838 as a result of the
Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.
Our Heritage “Re-enactors” took us through life in this institution in
1906. Yes little more than 100 years ago! “Tramps” would
queue outside until the bell rang at 6pm when the queue would be
admitted. Each person was logged, stripped, clothes washed and
they were bathed! They were fed with a gruel type meal and then
locked in a cell. Yes – a cell! They were rough and ready
folk, often worse for alcohol consumption, who easily picked fights so
this was the best method of keeping Law and Order!
Who paid for their night’s sleep? If you could pay your penny the
next morning you were free to leave and be on your way the next
morning. If you were penniless – you must work for your
stay. See the grills at the end of your cell? You needed to
break the rock and pass the small broken pieces through the grids to
the outside. This could be used for road surfacing. Or you
might saw the wood! Women picked “oakum” - old rope (yes money
for old rope!).
We were immersed into the life of The Spike by an excellent DVD which
re-enacted the life therein.
Although the context of this visit is not a cheery subject, it gave us
all the perspective to our current lives of relative luxury and made us
We all enjoyed a magnificent lunch provided by the Museum! It was
a good opportunity for everyone to exchange thoughts on “life, the
universe and everything” - including the hard times witnessed!
Text by Gwen Wright
Photos by John Wright
Related Links (open in new windows):
Heritage Centre website
The Spike Tour
Guildford Union Workhouse - Early Years
Luke's Hospital Heritage Project
The Workhouse - Tramps and Vagrants
Charlotteville Jubilee Trust - Saving the Spike
The latest group of "vagrants"
(some familiar faces among them?)