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Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Cleveland Street Workhouse, Or: An Appeal

Some weeks ago I was urged to sign a petition for a good cause. The petition was to prevent redevelopment to a site in Cleveland Street, London, upon which currently stands an old workhouse.

The Cleveland Street workhouse, however, is not a typical workhouse. Here is some information taken from the petition site:

The Cleveland Street workhouse was originally built in 1775 and it is the best preserved Georgian era workhouse in Central London, one of only three remaining in the Capital.
The building has witnessed a unique evolution in the medical care of the sick and poor, being a workhouse infirmary for most of its existence, with purpose-built Nightingale wards added a century after its inception. Then, at the end of the workhouse era in the 1920s, it became part of the charitable Middlesex Hospital.
The Cleveland Street Workhouse has survived largely unchanged since the Georgian era. Its austere appearance is a rare testimony to the bleak and utilitarian institution it was designed to be. Its back yard was a graveyard for the poor, full of dead to a depth of at least 20 feet.

The Workhouse Today
The building embodies the evolution of health-care for ordinary Londoners since the days of King George III and is rich in historical interest.
Complete redevelopment of the workhouse site has been proposed. If these plans go ahead, this important historical building will be totally demolished.  A very large-scale private residential development, quite out of character with the street and its historical surroundings, will take its place.

Yesterday, I received an email from the Cleveland Street Workhouse group with further news regarding the Workhouse, coinciding somewhat with my last post here. The email contained the following news:

Charles Dickens lived only 9 doors away from the workhouse!! His address was in a street called Norfolk Street, which is now the southerly part of Cleveland Street, and is now included in its numbering. None of the biographers seems to have noticed this - they knew the address, but did not notice the workhouse. Remarkably, the house still stands, on the corner with Tottenham Street. The fact that there was a workhouse so close to his home (he lived there twice before he wrote Oliver Twist, and for over four years in all) of course means that your support for the workhouse was not for just any old workhouse, but for the very one which may have been the inspiration for the most famous workhouse in the world!!

The Dickens Fellowship is supporting our efforts to get a blue plaque on the house.

we have made an appeal with new evidence to the government Minister, which thankfully 
has been greeted with a request to English Heritage to re-consider its earlier report. The earlier report recommended listing for preservation, and we are hoping the reconsideration will too - especially as the new evidence includes the Dickens connection. English Heritage is about to submit its report any day, and the Minister will then consider it. Of course we are hoping for the best.

Being the kind of thing that interests me, I signed it happily. The petition to save the workhouse currently has in excess of 2000 signatures, but before the petition is given to the minister mentioned, the group would like to achieve at least 2,500 signatures.

So, please visit the links below, all of which contain the petition, and please sign it to save an important bit of our heritage.

The Cleveland Street Workhouse Petition can be found here here

You can keep up to date with news about the workhouse (and read about workhouses in general) AND sign the petition at www.workhouses.org - the petition is there too!

Finally, you can read a bit more about the workhouse, and Dickens at the Dickens Fellowship Website

Hopefully you can help!

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