As part of my research for the Meeting Point project where I will be making work for the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds I visited The Workhouse at Southwell, now a National Trust property. Conservation Officer, Fiona Lewin, treated me to an incredible personal tour of the museum and archives. I was surprised by the enormous scale of the museum and by the breadth of history embodied in the fabric of the buildings. Most of the rooms are empty, as little has remained of workhouse furniture and fittings; poor quality and shameful associations generating a determination to destroy them and expunge painful memories. I was told (and witnessed myself) that visitors are sometimes disappointed not to find interiors crowded with artefacts and furniture as in most NT properties. I found the atmosphere in the large empty rooms uniquely poignant, providing space for my imagination to repopulate it with the past.
I also photographed the 1871 infirmary block and 1925 mortuary behind the main workhouse building. The interior of the infirmary that provided residential accommodation for the elderly up until the 1980s, is in a dilapidated state prior to the NT deciding how to preserve and present this aspect of the history of the site to visitors. These interiors, with their peeling paint and mouldy floral wallpapers are also incredibly moving, not least because of the immediacy of their history.
The experience was highly informative and deeply moving and I will definitely travel the 300 mile round trip to visit again.