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Types of work expected of tramps
and vagrants in casual wards

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The following photos were taken in the Guildford Spike - see www.guildfordspike.co.uk, which has been restored on the original workhouse site, and where I also learnt additional information which applied in general terms to casual wards elsewhere. The models shown in the photos were life-size and appeared to be made of white unpainted plaster which very effectively harmonised with what was being portrayed.

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How the work varied from one casual ward to another

Life-size model of a vagrant breaking rocks in the work area behind his cell in a casual ward (also known as a dosshouse).

Life-size model of a vagrant breaking rock in the work area behind his cell. He is using an iron bar for the purpose.

It is interesting that the information about work in a workhouse rather than in a casual ward, which was written from personal experience of living with a labour master and having the Chairman of the Board of Guardians as an uncle, implied that rocks were broken with a heavy hammer rather than an iron bar of the sort shown in the photo. There are several possible reasons for the discrepancy:

In view of the malnutrition of tramps and vagrants, it would seem likely that they were not required to do the hard, physical work of the paupers in the workhouse. Orwell describes them peeling potatoes. Probably the worst job was the rope-teasing, which was highly unpleasant, but not physically taxing. The spike used for this job, probably gave rise to casual wards being referred to as 'spikes'.

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More on rock breaking

Window grids which could be lowered to act as sieves or measures for 
			the rocks broken-up by vagrants in a casual ward (also known as a dosshouse).

Outside the cells, showing the window grids that could be lowered to act as sieves or measures for the broken rocks.

The rocks which the tramps and vagrants had to break had to be small enough to pass through the 1½ inch grids in the window area of their cells. These were locked shut at nights, but in the mornings, they were swung horizontal and used as a sieve or measure for the rocks.

According to staff at the Guildford Spike, if a vagrant had not broken sufficient rocks, he was not allowed to leave - although one wonders why he would not have preferred this to leaving to tramp 20 miles or so to another casual ward.

On the workhouse page, there is a photo of a cross-section of a road built with crushed rocks.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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