The Spike

The 1834 Poor Law ruled that every parish (or group of parishes) must provide a workhouse for their local poor. Conditions in the workhouse had to be worse than for the lowest class of labourer. It also stipulated that separate provision must be made for vagrants, where conditions should be worse than in the workhouse. This vagrant accommodation was called a ‘casual ward’ but was commonly known as a ‘spike’.


In Guildford the workhouse is long gone but the spike remains, and is now a visitor experience. We installed audio dramas in several of the cells and an introductory video drama. This is a moving look at the life of Victorian vagrants, revealing that they came from a wide cross-section of society, young and old, working-class and middle-class, rural labourers, soldiers and mothers with babies.

with Motivation Ltd