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Disappearing Lewes - Lewes Workhouse

In Victorian times Lewes used to have its own workhouse, built in 1868 in the space where the Ousedale Estate now sits. The workhouse was a catch-all institution for those unable or unwilling to work, designed as a deterrent to the work-shy. Conditions, famously described by Jack London and Charles Dickens, were desperately harsh. Families were separated, food was basic (usually a thin porridge called gruel), forced labour was imposed. The work-house was not a prison - ‘residents’ could leave if they managed to find work - so they tended to be collecting points for those who were unable to find work: the insane, the old, the infirm, the orphaned, the physically or mentally ill and unmarried mothers. A 1881 census shows that the Lewes workhouse had 142 residents, many of whom had ‘handicaps’: 25-year-old Sarah Bailey is registered as ‘blind’, 32-year-old Samuel Best as ‘imbecile’, 20-year-old Elizabeth Jennings as ‘idiot’, 27-year-old William Lucas as ‘deaf and dumb’. Ages ranged from two to 87.

The institution was closed in 1898, and became a reformatory for drunkards following the passing of an act of that year enabling the compulsory detention of ‘criminal inebriates’. The reformatory divided inmates into wards according to their behaviour, ranging from ‘well-behaved’ to ‘very troublesome.’ It was closed down in 1910 - eventually the buildings were knocked down in 1960 to make way for the flats which are there today. DL


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Lewes’ Victorian workhouse, later used to house the
‘criminally inebriated’ was pulled down in 1960 to make way for this
new estate (put cursor on image)