The Industrial Revolution and Living History Learning

This year, the Rumble Museum is working with a Year Eight History class, exploring ways to introduce artefacts and Living History learning into the curriculum.

The Year Eights have been learning about the Industrial Revolution and life in the workhouses, and the Rumble Museum helped design a Living History lesson on the Victorian workhouses.

 The Victorian workhouses were portrayed most famously and influentially by author Charles Dickens in his novel Oliver Twist. We began by placing the contents of a typical workhouse meal on each table. Everyone was given a spoon, and set in front of them was a bowl of gruel and some bread. In the rather ironic menu, butter was listed, but this was not on our menu list for Tuesday after all (and also not offered to men), so it was simply bread and gruel!

The food produced mixed reactions – some of the students were horrified by its taste and appearance, whereas others thought it didn’t taste too badly, particularly when bread was added to the gruel to thicken it up.

You can read more about the workhouse diet here.

After discussing the diet in the workhouse, and the connection between being poor and underfed and being short, the group then headed outside with chalk to draw outlines of the workhouse in pairs on the concrete. Some excellent outlines were created, with colour codes for different sections and carefully labelled rooms. Chalking the layout reminded the group of the strict separation for families who entered the workhouse. Mothers were separated from their children, and husbands were separated from their wives, as there were living quarters for men, women and children.

We returned to the classroom to discuss the impact of this sort of separation, and to explore the role of the workhouse in society. We discussed how wealthy people may have felt that the workhouse should have been a difficult and unpleasant place to be, because that would mean people would work hard to avoid ending up there. Others may have felt it to be cruel and inhumane.

We finished by watching these two clips from two different film versions of Oliver Twist, where the main character draws a short straw and is forced to ask for more gruel. The overseer reacts with rage and disbelief, and the film gives an impression of cramped, miserable living conditions.

You can watch the clips here and here.

You can explore more of our work with this group on the class blog here.