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Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Thursday, 19 August 2010 13:57 UK
Life in the Workhouses
Women dustmen at the turn of the last century
Life was harsh in Victorian workhouses

Documents revealing the harsh life led by people in Devon's Victorian workhouses have gone online.

Researchers have spent months examining letters and reports from 19th century archives.

It's all part of a National Archives project called "Living the Poor Life".

The documents reveal conditions at work, home life and the diet that the workers, both male and female had to live on.

Oakum picking around 1900
Conditions were horrendous for the men, women and children

The records comprise letters, reports and memos passed between local and national poor law authorities and help shed light on the lives and experiences of the Victorian poor.

Dr Paul Carter, Project Director and Principal Modern Records Specialist says: "The importance of this series of records cannot be overestimated.

"The Poor Law Union correspondence is unrivalled in giving us that window in the archives to examine the lives of the Victorian poor."

Conditions were intentionally harsh, families were divided and paupers given uniforms and made to work.

The records cover a tumultuous time in British history and provide a rich new source of material on opposition to the workhouse system, industrial strikes, Chartism, wages, the treatment of children and more - essential to any study of Victorian life.

As part of the 18-month project, volunteer editors were given access to the digitised correspondence of 21 Poor Law Unions, from the region and elsewhere in the UK.

The result is an invaluable new resource for researchers and historians containing numerous tales of family breakdown, corruption and blackmail and the previously untold stories of the poor, left behind by Britain's Industrial Revolution.

Visitors to The National Archives website can now access more than 115,000 scanned images of original records from 108 volumes of Poor Law Union records, searchable by place, name and subject matter.



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