A Workhouse at the top of the hill

Workhouse Loneliness

I have grandparents who were sent to the workhouse as children. While scavenging at a car boot sale, I came across an old dirty book with this touching observation by Michael Fairless.

At the Top of the Hill

There is an old couple in our village who are past work. The married daughter has made shift to take her mother and the parish half-crown, but there is neither room nor food for the father, and he must go. If husband and wife went together they would be separated at the workhouse door.

The parting had to come; it came yesterday. I saw them stumbling lamely down the road on their last journey together, walking side by side without touch or speech, seeing and heeding nothing but a blank future. As they passed me the old man said gruffly, “Tis far eno’ ; better be gettin’ back ;” but the old woman shook her head, and they breasted the hill together.

At the top they paused, shook hands, and separated ; one went on, the other turned back ; and as the old woman limped blindly by. I turned away, for there are sights a man dare not look upon.

She passed, and I heard a child’s shrill voice say, “I come to look for you, Gran” ; and I thanked God that there need be no utter loneliness in the world while it holds a little child.