Croydon Library recaptures the Victorian era workhouse where children were well fed, unlike the grim picture painted in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
Taking quotes from Oliver Twist, Librarian and historian, Janice Hendry, compared historical records of Croydon Workhouse and workhouses across London. She made this remark during a talk held at the Norbury Library, Croydon on Monday, June 10, as part of the events marking the Croydon Heritage Festival.
Hendry pointed out that Croydon ‘inmates’, as those living in workhouses were termed, were better fed than Oliver was in the novel. She described Croydon as: ‘a jewel dotted with pieces of rare gems and blessed with landmark buildings that are pieces of history worth keeping’.
Although she said that Dickens’s portrayal of the harshness of workhouse life was generally accurate, but Croydon inmates’ experience was different. According to her, Oliver Twist would not have had cause to ask for more in Croydon.
The talk coincidentally was held a day after the 143 years of Charles Dickens’ death on June 9, 1870.
The first workhouse in Croydon was built at Duppas Hill in 1726 and the union workhouse on which the talk was based was opened in 1866 in Queen’s Road. The union workhouse was transformed in to the Queen’s Road Hospital in the 1930’s, specialised in geriatric care until it was closed in 1987. What remains of the building has now been transformed into an apartment block.
Dickens in his Directory of London published in 1879, described Croydon as “A favourite suburb with men of business,…has favourite race meet- ings.,.. healthy, and though greatly built over is still within walking reach of the open country”.
Hablot Knight Browne (better known as Phiz) who illustrated many of Charles Dickens’s books, lived in Croydon.
More information on the Croydon Workhouse can be found on www.workhouses.org/croydon