A visit to a new museum exhibition should dispel any doubt that life is better now than in centuries past.
The display tells of the miserable existence of the paupers and vagrants who were reduced to the Cuckfield Union workhouse in the grim days before old-age pensions and other benefits.
The able-bodied up to the age of 70 had to work for their keep with hard graft such as breaking stones for road mending and picking oakum threads from old rope to fill ships’ timbers, according to the display at Cuckfield Museum.
Families were broken up to live in separate men’s and women’s quarters when poverty drove them to the workhouse, while complaints and outbreaks of disorder over the quality of food were common, even up to the 1930s.
Cuckfield Museum is staging an expanded exhibition on the workhouse at the start of its new year following the annual winter closure.
The museum’s curatorial team has discovered plans that show the workhouse layout in the late 1920s when a new young master, Joseph Blunden, and his wife took over. They show their ideas for the segregated living quarters for men, women and children and the reception area where the casuals who came in for the night would be washed and de-loused. There were also cells for any unruly arrivals.
Those visiting the museum can also learn more about the wartime period when the workhouse became a Canadian military hospital, and later the District General Hospital until it closed in 1991 to be replaced by the Princess Royal.
Today, the workhouse’s Victorian main block, two lodges and the chapel remain and have been turned into homes that make up the turn of this century’s Chapelfields housing development.
Other displays include the Light of Day – items from the museum’s storerooms not normally on display. They include an 1810 anti-Napoleon jug, a 1930s lace bridal veil, a local Home Guard bomb box (minus bomb!) and a Union Workhouse man’s bedpan.
The museum opens on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am to 12.30pm and Saturdays from 10am to 4pm.
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Weather for Haywards Heath
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 12 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: South east
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: South west