The St Pancras Workhouse

Object: Iron Keys

Found: Donated by someone who found them in gardens at Coopers Lane Estate

Date: unknown

People in the area were terrified of being sent to the workhouse. It was a punishment for poverty. The first workhouse in St Pancras was opened in 1731 on what was then King’s Road and is now St Pancras Way. It moved for a time but in 1809, it returned to King’s Road, close to the old church, in a building designed by Thomas Hardwick. There were hundreds of people living here and conditions were awful: poor food, brutal work, no ventilation. Every one there from inmates to staff suffered sickness – sometimes fatal – from diseases that spread through the fetid air. Children lived – and suffered – here. Nominally they were educated. A report to the Poor Law Commissioners in 1843 complains about the poor state of education at the workhouse school. Mr Haselwood, churchwarden of St Pancras reports, of his 12 and 13 year old boys – ‘They were taught too much of the history of Guy Fawkes and that nonsense’. Mr Williams, a vestryman, concurred, stating that their examination appeared to be consisting in only some multiplication and the history of Guy Fawkes. 

Mr White, Headmaster of St Pancras Workhouse School, noted: ‘None of my pupils know anything of the number, distance or extent of our colonies, such as New South Wales. They were examined in English History, only as to the knowledge of Guy Fawkes.’ They are also occasionally beaten with the cane. 

By Esther Leslie

Further information on workhouses