Next week sees a brand-new two part ITV series Secrets From The Workhouse, where presenter Fern Britton, actress Keira Chaplin, actor Brian Cox, actress Felicity Kendal and author Barbara Taylor Bradford go back to the sites of the Victorian workhouses where their ancestors lived to find out what happened to them.
Secrets From The Workhouse will delve into the history of the forgotten society of poor, homeless, unemployed and ill Victorian’s sent to live in squalor and work 10-hour days doing menial tasks such as breaking rocks or pulling apart ropes.
This was the only alternative way of life for these unfortunate souls who, as there were no benefit system in place at the time, would have found themselves left to starve on the streets if they did not accept this option.
Episode one will see former This Morning presenter, Fern Britton, searching through her past to find links to the workhouse where she is shocked to learn that one of her ancestors was dissected for medical research because his family couldn’t afford a funeral.
Meanwhile Brian Cox’s grandfather, he learns, was branded a malingerer by the workhouse when they refused to believe he was really ill.
Later Barbara Taylor Bradford discovers that her grandmother was sent to the workhouse to give birth to two illegitimate children, whilst Keira Chaplin learns that her grandfather was sent to a poorhouse for children after his he was taken away from his mother when she was commuted to an insane asylum.
ITV says of the series:
“For the poverty stricken, unemployed and ill or disabled in Victorian Britain there was no welfare state, no unemployment benefit and no NHS. If you were poor, desperate and in need of help you turned to the workhouse as a place of last resort – a state funded institution designed to punish and humiliate you for being too poor to fend for yourself. It was engineered as a deterrent to pauperism and intended to minimise the welfare bill to the ratepayer but quickly became a place with a toxic reputation.”
Fern says: “I always think of the Victorians as philanthropic, very religious, God-fearing, charitable, kind, and yet, if you were living on the poverty line, you were considered, scum. You were a criminal because you’d never made it up to the next rung of the ladder and, because of that, you were penalised. So much so that you gave your body when you died. That was it.”
Brian says: ‘It’s an endless assault on human dignity. We’ve got to rub their faces in it.”
Secrets From The Workhouse is due to hit our ITV screens on Tuesday 25 June at 9pm on ITV1/ ITV1 HD, watch the trailer below: