Monday, 29 November 2010

The Workhouse

In February 1911, a writer on “Tramp life” stayed in the Workhouse at Boston for a night and described his experience. He said the institution was known to the ordinary tramp as a Spike, a Grubber or a Derrick. The bed is a Lay down, and the food supplied termed Scran, Tommy, Rooty or Grub.
“Now, Boston Spike,” an old man said to him as they trudged along the Spalding Road, “is a good un. It’s a fine lay down, an’ you could stand yer spoon up in the skilly (referring to the thickness of the porridge). On entry into Boston Workhouse (pictured below) he found himself in the company of nearly a dozen vagrants. Some were very old, one claiming to have been 40 years on the road. Others were younger, one a stripling of eighteen, having been released the day before from Lincoln Prison.

When the reporters turn came, he gave the porter his name, age, occupation, place journeyed from and destination, also he handed over his pipe, tobacco and matches etc. for smoking was strictly prohibited in the workhouse.
Next he had to take a bath, which he didn’t mind but as one tramp expressed it “When you get a bath every night for a fortnight, you’re likely to be washed away,” while another said, “it let the cowd awful in his bones”.
Then he went to his bed in a small, cell like room with three rugs as a covering. His supper consisted of 8 ounces of bread and a drink of hot water, and he said that he slept well.
About 6. 30 a.m. the next morning he was woken and ordered to dress and by 7. 00 a.m. had received his breakfast, a pint of the famous Boston “skilly” with 6 ounces of bread, and an hour later he was paraded for work.
At about 11’o’ clock, after 3 hours of either breaking stones, picking oakum, sawing wood or gardening they were all released. Once outside the gates, pipes were produced, and a smoke indulged in, then the motley crowd set out on their ways.
In concluding his article he stated that Boston Tramp Ward amply fulfilled all the requirements set forth by the Local Government Board, he praised all the officials and said the rooms were very clean.


  1. It's a bit like the M.P.'s of today who go and live on dole money for a week and say it's plenty to live on. A different story if you have to do it as a way of life.

  2. Billy..I have copy of reciept for 'Beef' given to the Workhouse by Herbert Ingram......

  3. Hi Billy
    I went to the old workhouse school before the new kitwood boys school was opened,what a frightening place that was for a young lad, just come out of junior school(Park Board) to there. our classroom was on the top story (3 floors I think), the wooden floor boards were that worn and rotten you could see and hear the class below, we used to drop things through the holes on to the heads of any body below.
    cheers John Clayton

  4. Yes my elder brother went to it as a school too. I remember in the 1970's it was also used to house unmarried mothers, I was a coalman at the time and had to carry the sacks of coal up the stairs, I couldn't do it now!!