Healthy Eating and the Workhouse

Original Source: the Paupers' Extra Book

Victorian workhouses were funded by government money, and careful records had to be kept of expenses, to prove that it was being used properly.

Ripon Workhouse kept a 'Paupers' Extra Book', recording any extra food rations given to workhouse residents (known as 'paupers') in return for work they had done.  

The four images on this page show pages from the book, dated 1889, 1890, 1891 and 1892. Download a transcript of these pages .

Activity ideas:


  • Analysing and responding creatively to historical sources:
    Working in groups pupils should identify names and occupations appearing in an extract from the paupers' extra book. Types of occupation can then be researched and notes made, before groups report their findings to the class.

    Each pupil chooses one person from the page and the group construct a ‘freeze frame’. Groups should then conduct thought tracking activities in character – exploring who their characters are; how they are employed; the activities they do and the thoughts and feelings they have about their work and life in the workhouse. 
  • Comparing data:
    In groups, pupils can use the extracts from the paupers' extra books to compare the information for each year to answer the following questions:
    - How many people stayed in the workhouse for more than one year?
    - What was the average age of the people who stayed for over one year?
    - Did the amount of food the paupers ate change at all each year?  
    - What sort of food groups did paupers not receive that we would think of as essential today? 

  • Draw up questions that the source material cannot answer but which would give more detail about meals at the workhouse (eg. Why did some people get more food or different types of food to others? Why did they all get tobacco?).
  • Investigate the place of sugar in a balanced diet:
    Research food packaging to find out which how much sugar there is in different types of foods. 

    Then draw up a questionnaire to survey people about their consumption of sugar. Present information on sugar in a bar chart showing amount of sugar consumed through different foods (e.g. sweets; biscuits; cakes; drinks). Draw conclusions about sugar in our diet today and compare these to the diets of the Ripon Workhouse residents.
  • Working in groups pupils could compose and enact a scene illustrating life in the workhouse incorporating all the facts gained from their research using the source material.

Document icon Learning article provided by: North Yorkshire County Record Office | 
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