We have a series of recipes used in the Aberystwyth Workhouse (which was on the site of the current Bronglais Hospital) in 1884.
Workhouses were built as a result of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. They were large buildings designed to house poor people unable to look after themselves. The name ‘workhouse’ originated from the principle that inmates were expected to work to maintain themselves. However, these people often had disabilities which prevented them working, or were very elderly and infirm, or were orphaned or abandoned young children. Only some classes of inmate (such as women with children whose husbands had left them) were capable of work. Originally, going into the workhouse was meant to be humiliating so that people didn’t go there unless absolutely necessary. The food too was meant to discourage all but the most desperate. However, the workhouse was not intended to be a cruel institution so people weren’t (usually!) starved; indeed, the portions are rather generous!
Meals were plain, boring and repetitious, but reasonably nutritious. As time went on food in the workhouse got better to reflect a more generous attitude, as people realized that the inmates were genuinely incapable of work rather than unwilling.
County Archivist Helen Palmer talks about the workhouse diet
Why not try these recipes? The food is very similar, and sometimes better than the Cardiganshire worker or farm labourer might expect to eat in the nineteenth century.
Interested in the Workhouse? See our catalogue of collections relating to workhouses in Aberaeron, Aberystwyth , Cardigan , Lampeter, Tregaron and Newcastle Emlyn.