The Dyson family and the workhouse

In the 1890s there was no unemployment pay and the only safety net for those whose friends and family could not help was still the workhouse. It was two generations since the Union Workhouse system had been set up with a remit to make life inside them so miserable that people would do anything rather than seek their shelter. Half a century on, the regimes were a little less harsh. It was now generally accepted that the elderly, the infirm and orphaned children should be cared for rather than blamed.

When the Dyson family left West Ham Union Workhouse, their young son George was sorry. He had always had enough to eat there, and the teacher was kind. His baby brother Walter had been born in the workhouse infirmary – George had been allowed to visit his mother and the new baby. The worst things about living in the workhouse was only seeing his parents on Sundays. Now the family was returning to their Essex village, as the job their father had been promised in Walthamstow had only lasted a few weeks. The children’s grandfather had a good job as a farm bailiff at Stambourne Hall, a local manor house and farm, and was able to get work for his son to tide him and his wife and children over until they were ready to try their luck in London again.

This resource looks at conditions at the Union Workhouse in the 1890’s. Using this resource, children are asked to imagine a week in the life of Edith and George Dyson, in the week when they learn that the family is splitting up and some of them are moving to the workhouse.

Click on the link below to download the resource.

The Dyson family and the workhouse