The Workhouse, Southwell

This National Trust property is the first workhouse of its kind, the one on which most other 19th century workhouses were modelled, and is the most complete example in existence. From the interpretation point of view it presented an interesting and paradoxical challenge. Many visitors said they liked the bare, silent rooms. Bringing the workhouse back to life would have meant turning into a bustling, noisy place. We needed to find a way to reveal the realities of workhouse life (and to contrast poverty then and now), while somehow preserving the atmosphere that visitors prized.


The concept we developed used three main elements. Rooms would have a ‘focus area’, where furniture, props etc. would give a ‘window’ into how the room would have looked, while the rest of the room remained bare. Large-scale graphics would lay a ‘ghost’ of the room over the room itself. At the heart of the concept was the use of audio drama, creating a central persona who was a combination of an informed observer, an avatar of the visitor and the spirit of the workhouse itself. This persona would interact in an indirect way with inmates of the workhouse, evoking their innermost thoughts and feelings, without their realising it.


This is a work in progress. Certain elements were selected to be installed as Phase 1 of the interpretation. Phase 2 is yet to be carried out.

with Motivation Ltd.