These pages from an account of workhouses from around Britain appear to confirm modern day conceptions of the workhouse as a private prison used to punish the poor. The diet detailed here is undoubtedly meagre and combined with the monotonous routines of menial work, such as sewing old clothes or repairing sacks, the reputation of workhouses as places of misery seems well-deserved.
For many parish paupers facing a life of hunger, illness or homelessness, however, workhouses could offer a welcome delivery from abject poverty. In spite of their strict regimes, workhouses usually offered food, warmth, clean clothes and access to medical treatment that was often unavailable elsewhere. Rather than seeking ways to avoid committal to the workhouse, evidence from the Georgian period suggests that many paupers in fact actively sought admission there and valued highly the different forms of help that were on offer there.