On Tuesday February 9th BHT’s Heritage Research Group cooked and sampled food from a typical workhouse diet, to support the clients’ research into the history of homelessness.
The group was inspired by a document that they recently viewed at The Keep; the 1822 Rules & Regulations for the Government of the Brighthelmston Work-house [Ref: AMS 5660]. The booklet, which relates to the Church Hill Workhouse built in 1821-2 on a 14-acre site to the north of St Nicholas Church, outlines the Weekly Bill of Fare. The workhouse diet heavily consisted of plain, stodgy food, designed to fill the inmates up and provide sufficient energy to complete their laborious duties. The detailed routine of three daily meals showed that breakfast did not deviate from milk porridge or gruel, dinner consisted of boiled meat soup or stew, and supper was milk porridge or bread with cheese or butter. The menu only changed on Christmas Day, Good Friday, Midsummer Day and Michaelmas Day, but this was dependent on availability of different foods.
The Heritage Research Group researched a recipe for a potato-based gruel, with 4 small potatoes, 2 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of flour supposedly providing enough for 4 people. The recipe was prepared, cooked and tasted by the group, which actually found it to be more palatable than had been expected, but agreed that this was probably due to the paste-like consistency of the gruel. Had it been thinned-down to the watery, sloppy consistency that was typical of the workhouse, to make the ingredients stretch, they would have struggled to stomach it. And that was without the rat droppings and dead insects that were reported to have often been found in the rations!
The group also measured out how much bread and cheese they would have received as their evening meal, to give a more real and visual idea of the workhouse diet. The standard amount of 6oz of bread provided around 3 slices, which if stale, the elderly or sick would have struggled to eat.
The clients discussed how they could understand that the poor, limited diet would have significantly impacted on the inmates’ health due to malnutrition and hunger.