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Peter Higginbotham is a British expert on workhouse history.

He is the author of "Workhouses of the North" 2006 and "Workhouses of the Midland" 2007 both printed in "Images of England" series.

He has also written "The Workhouse Cook Book" 2008 and "The Prison Cook Book" (2010).

He has developed the website www.workhouses.uk.org

The Welfare Museum

On 11th. of April 2010 Peter Higginbotham visited the museum. After returning to Britain he wrote this letter to curators at the Workhouse Museums in Britain and Ireland:

Last weekend I had the very great pleasure of visiting Svendborg and meeting Maria and her colleagues at the museum which has recently undergone a major refurbishment. The building, erected in 1872, was Denmark's last operational workhouse, finally closing in 1974.

There are remarkable parallels between the English and Danish poor-law systems and also between their institutional buildings. The Svendborg workhouse, one of 450 in Denmark, as well as segregating males and females, had sections for the "deserving" poor (the elderly, chronic sick, etc.) and the "undeserving" poor (the able-bodied, vagrants, alcoholics, etc.). It also provided accommodation for homeless families. The able-bodied were required to perform work such stone-breaking and wood-chopping. There were also workshops were mat-weaving and the pasting of paper bags etc. were carried out. The workhouse had its own garden where inmates grew vegetables etc. and where pigs were kept. There was a comprehensive list of workhouse rules, a strict dietary, and a refractory cell for rule-breakers.

The workhouse building is now wonderfully preserved with an amazing number of original features surviving such as the bathroom and clothing fumigation box, furniture and kitchen equipment, even a substantial collection of inmates' clothing. Whole rooms are fully furnished more or less as they were half a century ago, including an inmates' day room and the master's bedroom.  The mat-making workshop, which has its original equipment is particularly impressive. The survival of the dividing walls between the various sections of the internal courtyard particularly conveys the workhouse atmosphere. Maria has also managed to put together a stunning collection of artefacts from other workhouses across Denmark including much material on poor-law children's homes/orphanages and their archives which are the subject of a major ongoing exhibition ("You must not think of your father or mother") and project at the museum. Particularly moving is a door rescued from one former children's home on which, amongst other scratched graffiti, is the word "MOTHER".

For anyone with an interest in workhouses, Svendborg is definitely a "wow!" experience - that was certainly the word that kept passing my lips! If you can manage to get over to Denmark and visit the museum, I'm sure you will very glad that you did...

All best wishes,
Peter Higginbotham


Opening hours

13. February - 30. April
Tuesday - Sunday 10-14
Monday closed

1. May - 30. September
Tuesday - Sunday 10-16
Monday closed

1. October - 31. December

1. November - 13. February
Open for groups of min. 8

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