Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Spike


Thanks for popping in.

From the 1600s, the poor in Society were looked after in small properties within local parishes but by 1834 when the cost of looking after them was rising such that the system would become unworkable, it was decided that it would be cheaper through economies of scale, to build purpose built workhouses, where larger numbers of the poor could be accommodated and so the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed.

Designed by George Gilbert Scott and  William Bonython Moffatt, work houses to accommodate 300 people were rolled out across the country.  The Guildford Poor Law Union came into existence in 1836 to manage the area which now included 21 parishes, the building of the workhouse was complete in 1838.  From the people's viewpoint, workhouses were a last resort - a harsh place to discourage everyone from applying,  families were split into gender and age groups, meals were eaten in silence, no time for recreation.  The costs, however, dropped from £22,000 to £10,066 by 1845 by having workhouses.

An Infirmary was needed and built on the site to care for the sick and by 1906 a Casual Ward designed by Edward Lunn was built to cope with vagrants and those who were lump labourers, only being hired on a daily basis and away from their home area.  This Ward was known as The Spike.

Eventually by the 1930/40s, the Workhouse and attached buildings became a hospital, later at the forefront of cancer treatment and then it was demolished when a new state of the art hospital was built in a different part of Guildford and the site was turned over to residential houses.  Only The Spike is left, it had been used as an NHS archive and has survived as a rare and important piece of history.

Let's have a look.

Those needing to stay at The Spike would queue up by the wall, ready for the door to open.  They would only be able to stay there one night in thirty and would have to walk continuously from one Spike to the other, spaced 12 miles apart.  Chalked on the walls were marks, codes from the tramps to their fellows to indicate what sort of place it was - food, cells, fierce dogs, call police.

Inside, there's a small pretty garden near to the rooms where the Tramp Major and Mistress lived who superintended the Ward.

After a wait, the needy would enter the building, passing the laundry where each of the inmates clothes would have been kept overnight to be fumigated.  This wasn't always carried out properly, so if you didn't have fleas when you went in, you probably did have when you left! Men and women went to separate wings, the women's rooms being bigger to include space for their children.

Next they went to the registration room, details taken, food given - gruel, bread, water - and then they were seen by the Doctor.

After that they went off for a bath in everybody else's bathwater, using just the one towel between them all whilst handing over their clothes for fumigation.

Wearing a nightshirt, they were allocated a cell.  If they could pay to stay as they were working, they went on the right, if they couldn't pay, on the left as these rooms incorporated a work area as they had to do 4 hours Labour to stop them being idle and to pay for their lodging.

I loved all the peeling paint and shiny brown tiles.

You can see where the bell system used to be.  The filled in cement section used to have a flag which popped out when the inmate pressed the button to alert the officer.

This is a cell on the right in the men's ward, the women's section has now been turned into a community centre for the new houses.  There are recordings of people's stories of how they came to be there.

This is a left hand cell which incorporates a work room to break up stone for road use, chop kindling from logs or pick opium (breaking up old rope using a spike).

The grill in the wall where the light comes in, is where the small pieces of stone should be fed through to make sure they were the correct size.  Wood could also be fed through the bottom of it and below are the grills from the outside.

Each person was locked into their cell when they arrived for their own protection and let out when the job was done next morning or if they were off to get hired, e.g. fruit picking.  Then, of course, they would have to walk 12 miles to the next place to stay the next night. How awful.

I couldn't help but draw comparisons with Reading Gaol where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned which I visited last year.

The Spike is a very interesting place, tours run on Tuesday and Saturday and cost £6. There's a teeny shop but no café.



  1. I haven't heard of places like this before, only workhouses. Always good to learn more about our history!

  2. So fascinating and yet so upsetting too. I've been in the Workhouse at Southwell(NT) it was very different to this one and yet basically the same routine on arrival and etc. I found an ancestor of mine in a workhouse in 1901, just a few more years and Mr Lloyd George had introduced an old age pension which may just have kept him out of there:)

    1. Fascinating, it's so interesting looking back to the ancestors and how they used to live. I really enjoy Who Do You Think You Are on the TV. 😊

  3. It was a really interesting visit, the place smelt of carbolic soap which must have been a big improvement on how it used to be!