The Keys to Warwick Union Workhouse

Warwick Union Workhouse keys, next to an 'everyday' key for scale.
Image courtesy of Richard Neale

These keys were “rescued” by my father when the Workhouse, by this time renamed Lakin House, was demolished in September 1974. Although I have no recollection of the workhouse its self, these keys do evoke memories.

These include memories of my father who before he became foreman painter for the Warwickshire Area Health Authority was a partner in a small building firm. This meant he often worked renovating empty properties, or more accurately vacant properties, because they often contained “treasure” that he would bring home for my sister and I. Anything from old typewriters that weighed a ton, to historic items such as these keys. Items that would otherwise have ended up in a skip!

A 19th century link

They also bring back memories of my paternal grandmother who was born in Warwick in 1892 but spent all but five of her 94 years living in Leamington. She was always telling us stories of “The Old Days” many of which I have unfortunately forgotten. However, I do remember her talking in hushed tones of a relative who ‘ended up in the workhouse’. This would have been after the workhouse had been renamed Lakin House and had become what we would now call a home for people with dementia, but the stigma was still there in her eyes.

She would also tell us of a time around the turn of the 20th Century when she would see the tramps making their way along the Radford Road, making their way between Southam and Warwick workhouse. Apparently, these tramps would make a circular journey moving from Warwick to the workhouses at Stratford, Alcester, and Shipston before ending up back as Southam to start the journey all over again.

I have also found out in recent years that I have a family connection with Warwick Workhouse. My 2x great Aunt and Uncle were the Master & Mistress of Tramps there.

Poor conditions

The keys also make you think about how different things were before the welfare state came into existence. While probably not quite as awful as depicted by Charles Dickins in Oliver Twist, it must still have been pretty grim. I remember Dad saying that there was one part of the building where there was a wall dividing two enclosed areas, which had rows of holes in it. The idea was that the inmate would be locked in the room on one side of this wall with a pile of rocks and a hammer and they would not be let out until they had broken the rocks up small enough to go through the holes and into the room on the other side.

This article was published as part of the Warwickshire in 100 Objects project, part of Warwickshire Bytes.

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