Year 5 Visit to the Spike

Posted: 31st August 2021

My Trip to the Spike

By Oliver G

The Spike, which was part of the Guildford Union workhouse, was the vagrants and casuals ward.  We visited it for a school trip.  Mrs. Tucknott, our history teacher, told us that we were allowed to come dressed up as a poor Victorian child.

The next day I came in, not with my usual trousers, tie, jumper, blazer, shirt, and all the other bits and bobs, but instead in a jumper, waistcoat and braces (not the ones you wear on your teeth!) and a flat cap.  Everyone said I looked too posh and I always replied,

“I’m the Artful Dodger!”

So, with our costumes on and coats zipped up, we set off. As we approached the building, I noticed some weird glass domes in the roof.  When we were in the courtyard we were divided into 3 groups, 5M went to a room in which we were told about the hospital called St. Luke’s.  Then a video started playing.  It told us that even if you had a job you could easily lose it and have to pay for a bed, food and a roof over your head in this establishment.  We investigated one of the inmate’s stories.  Mine was a character called Jim.  He had been working as a farmer until machinery and factories took over his job and he was forced to come here where he had to sleep and eat with a bunch of drunk and smelly tramps!  He definitely would not have liked them.

Next, we went into a different room and we learnt about punishments for children that could make them be sent to the workhouse.  One boy stole 13kg of iron and was sentenced to 1 month hard labour!  I think that he should have done more as that was a lot of iron.  Also, we learnt that children as young as 13 could be transported to Tasmania.

We then went on a tour and it was freezing outside. We learnt things such as that you could stay for one night every month.  This meant people would go to the next one and the next one and finally after going to 27 more they could return here.  If you could not pay to stay, you had to work there.  There were 3 main tasks.  Wood chopping, where you had to chop old railway sleepers into kindling and make the pieces small enough to fit through holes in the wall.  That was similar to the stone breaking task where you had to break flint up with metal poles, which would then be used on the roads.  Finally, there was oakum pulling.  In this you had to pull apart big ropes for filling up holes in ships and floorboards.  To do this they had a tool called a spike.  That is where the casual ward got its name.  Then we sadly had to leave.

The Spike

By Oscar T

Suddenly, my eyes opened. I got out of bed and yawned.  But then, I remembered I had lots of other things to do.  Soon enough, I was scrambling about finishing my cello practice and getting together my PE kit.

When we arrived at The Spike its huge walls towered over us.  Quickly we were separated into the groups.  Our group was first to go on the tour.  The lady that was showing us around was dressed as a matron.  She explained that the Spike was not actually a work house; it was a place where vagrants would have to do jobs such an oakum plucking and stone crushing. She also mentioned that they only kept the male side of the building but refurbished the female side.  Some quite rich vagrants paid 2D (1p) to stay a night and did not have to work in return.  There were markings on the walls outside to make vagrants understand thatr if they begged here they would either get food, go into jail or get money.

We went into the waiting room and saw a wax model, sitting on a bench as if waiting for his turn.  We watched a video telling us about the types of people who used to visit.  Steadily moving on, we went into the next room.

In that room, were told that we would be looking at a vagrant’s story.  Our group’s task was to learn about a character called Jim.  He used to have a good job as a farmer but then he had too much competition with new steam powered machinery.  He soon lost his job and was left out on the streets.  He hated other vagrants and found them drunken and annoying.

Moving on we started to look at the punishments in the workhouse.  Someone had stolen 28 pounds of iron, which must have been heavy!  But there were other tiny little mistakes you could make that you could be punished for.  One of the crimes was stealing a petticoat.  The person responsible got a severe punishment.  One of the punishments was to be sentenced to one year’s hard labour!  Children who committed crimes from all over the country were brought to an old ship called a Hulk – not the super hero!  We were given a timetable showing who all the children were and where they came from and how good they were aboard the Hulk.  When they got to the country they were heading for, they would stay at a house where they slept until they had finished their job.  Once they had finished, they were given the option to go back to Britain, or to stay.

My Trip to The Spike

by Matthew T

On Tuesday 12 January Year 5 huddled together in pairs. We were walking to The Spike, an old cluster of dormitories for tramps or vagrants which has been converted into a local museum.

My group was ushered in by a tall man who left us in a waiting room to watch a video. The video described the lives of both the deserving and the undeserving poor; it was a short documentary about an engineer whose best friend cheated him.

The man came in and introduced himself as our tour guide! He then explained the concept of crime and punishment in Victorian times by giving us worksheets to answer and detailed report sheets on child criminals which helped to provide answers for the questions.

Our guide was then replaced with an enthusiastic woman who directed us into a small cabin. She explained that these were where the tramps slept, overseen by the Tramp Master and Mistress (who were often married). She then produced clipboards and a quiz to everyone covering what we had done so far. We completed it wandering about while our new guide explained the delights of carbolic soap and laundrywomen! She then talked about chores; tramps that couldn’t afford to pay to stay at The Spike would have to pick oakum, break stones or make kindling out of long planks of wood. They would then have to walk about 12-20 miles to the next workhouse where they would repeat what they did previously.

After our quizzes we drank some squash and were then bustled into an inviting room with tables laid out. We were put into groups and were asked to investigate a certain person by some objects and an audio tape. I found out from the baby shoes that our person, Sarah, had a child who was aged 3. We then gave a presentation on our character to the other groups on what we had learnt.

We had such an interesting time at The Spike that time literally flew by and we were ready for our lunch back at Lanesborough. School suddenly seemed like a palace and made me realise how lucky I am to be born in 2006!

History Trip Report

by Magnus Barrisow

It was the day before the trip, Mrs Tucknott had asked us to bring a coat and if we could, a costume. Finally the day of the trip had come, I was bubbling with excitement as we prepared for the trip. The trip was extremely cold and when we arrived it was just as cold so I can’t imagine how tramps must have travelled and survived.

When we arrived I got sent into group one and we watched a video. At first it made no sense but later on I figured out what it meant. After that we did worksheets on crime and punishments and the first boy stole 18 pounds of iron and got one month hard labour which I think was fair because 18 pounds of iron is quite useful and expensive.

Also we then went outside and had a quiz. The beds must have been very uncomfortable because they were made out of straw! Next we went to the rooms and saw the jobs that you had to do if you had no money. The jobs were woodcutting, stone breaking and oakum picking.

Finally we split into groups of four and my group worked on someone called Tom. His leg was blown up so no one would accept him for a job, so he went to the workhouse. Finally we learnt how tramps survived. They survived by writing signs on the wall saying whether you could beg at that house or not. Sadly we had to go back to school, packed up with information.

Categories: Prep News
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