Ancestry UK

Popular Myths about the Workhouse

Myth 3 - Workhouse inmates were made to wear uniforms to dehumanise them.

Workhouse inmates were issued with "workhouse dress" (the word uniform was never used in official regulations) which was to be made out of 'such materials as the Board of Guardian may determine' and 'need not be uniform either in colour or materials'. For those arriving at a workhouse, perhaps in little more than vermin-infested rags, who needed serviceable clothes to wear and to work in, and that were going to be washed each week, the issuing of a "uniform" was an entirely practical matter. Inmates' own clothing was generally washed and disinfected and then put into store to be returned to them when they left. Because workhouse clothing was either bought-in in bulk, or made by the inmates themselves from large bales of cloth, it would inevitably tend to be of a similar style. However, photos of inmates usually show some variation in their clothing.

Holborn Workhouse inmates, 1896. © Peter Higginbotham

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