Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Hellish Toil of Nightmare Job

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Hellish Toil of Nightmare Job

Article excerpt

Byline: By Ray Marshall

This week Big Brother set housemates a task based around taking jobs in a workhouse. Thankfully, these places no longer exist. ELEANOR GREGSON talks to the author of a new book inspired by the cruelty and poverty of a workhouse in the North East

THE grim reality of Tyneside workhouses is recalled in a new book, which evokes the fascinating but cruel world epitomised in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist.

Shadows of the Workhouse was written after its author, Jennifer Worth, was inspired to remember the true-life stories of people she met when working as a nurse at Newcastle General Hospital, which was once known as the Newcastle Union Workhouse.

"It is based on the fear and terror that surrounded the buildings and follows the story of three children who grew up in them and how their experiences affected them for the rest of their lives," she explains.

"The book refers to the shadows spread over the last century in people's minds."

Jennifer, 69, was just 17-years-old when she left her home in the South of England to work as a nurse in Newcastle in the 1950s.

By this time, workhouses had been closed for 30 years but the suffering and pain of those unlucky enough to end up in them still loomed large over the hospital and all who worked there.

The author, who has two daughters and three grand-children, describes the building as a threatening and intimidating place to work, and adds its dismal appearance had not changed much from its previous incarnation when she took up her nursing role.

Jennifer, who now lives in Hertfordshire with her husband Philip, 73, said: "Part of the hospital on Westgate Road was the old workhouse, these were the oldest parts of the building and were not used for patients.

"It was still, however, a frightening area to be in. It was not long after the war and everything still looked and felt grey. There were ghosts of suffering and pain, and anyone who came in was absolutely terrified.

"The building was stone-walled and had a cold feel to it. The windows were purposely too high to be able to look out of and it was surrounded by an enormous wall and big gates to shut the inmates out from the rest of the world. …

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