A thin grey man demanded, "What do you want?"
"Shelter, and food for the little ones."
The mistress entered, a resolute looking woman who had seen too many paupers to be swayed by emotion. She took their names and briefly told them to follow her to the washhouse where they were stripped and made to wash all over with cold water in shallow stone troughs. Their clothes, such as they were, were removed and workhouse uniforms provided. They were a course grey serge cut to fit almost any size of person. There were a variety of odd shoes. No undergarments were provided. Then their heads were shaved.
They were taken to the Masters office for segregation. Everyone dreaded this moment and four strong inmates were brought in to take the children away. Rough hands were laid on the children. She heard the sounds of screaming children and doors banging. Then she heard no more. Over the next four years, one by one, they all died."
It took a bit of hunting around but I was determined to find the Southwell Workhouse while traveling through Nottinghamshire. This particular facility is now restored by the National Trust whose docents and displays gave us a full history of English poor law as well as daily life in the workhouse. Having read and watched Call the Midwife and Larkrise to Candleford we had a good idea of the horror with which people regarded these institutions. From what we have since learned it was well-founded.
This whole visit set off a series of rabbit trails, researching more books and websites. I believe Oliver Twist will be next.
Some rabbit trails I have followed: