A prompt response for ~ Inspiration Monday Emergency Nickname



Image courtesy of Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse


by John Yeo

  “Meet Foundling,” said the man commonly called the Beadle, “Foundling has been in this institution for 20 years now, she knows no other life but this, a move would probably destroy her completely.”
I shook hands with a tall young woman, her hair was brushed but hung lank down to her shoulders. Dressed in the plain issue clothes of the Workhouse, her obvious charming beauty, shone through.

“Hello Foundling, you have an unusual name, I have never heard anyone answer to a name like that. How did you come by it?”

“I don’t know Sir, I have always had that name, I have never been called anything else.” At this moment the Beadle broke in and explained.

“Foundling was abandoned on the doorstep of the Workhouse, as a baby, we took her in and as is usually the case, we gave her an emergency nickname. We did try to get her officially named, but she refuses to answer to anything other than Foundling. It is not our policy to force our residents into anything they are not happy about so she has been christened Foundling Smith.”

“What an incredible story!” I gasped, turning to Foundling, I said, “Are you sure you are happy about this unusual name? It could label you for the rest of your life when you get away from here.”

“Yes Sir, it’s OK, I have no intention of going anywhere,” Foundling said.

I turned to the Beadle and said, “You will have to break the news to the residents that I am here to close this establishment down. The government has decided that Workhouses have outlived their usefulness.”

The Beadle shrugged his shoulders resignedly and nodded. “The results of this drastic action will be in the hands of God.” He said sullenly.
It was then I realised how the effect of the closure would resonate throughout the whole establishment. The Beadle would also feel the effects.

Over the next few years, the old Victorian Workhouses were closed in England.
I was enjoying a happy retirement in Dorset, when I was intrigued to read in the Daily Times an announcement of the marriage of a Miss Foundling Smith, to the Earl of Richester.
That unusual name brought the memories flooding back. I have often wondered what became of the Beadle. I have a sneaking suspicion he was more institutionalised than any of the inmates.

Copyright © Written by John Yeo ~ All rights reserved





Image provided by Gressenhall Workhouse


by John Yeo 


He started on the work gang I am associated with, Roger East, he called himself. A rough, dirty incredibly offensive fellow who would truck no nonsense from anyone. He worked hard, he played hard and he swore volubly and offensively at anyone who crossed him. I have heard tell he struck someone with a spade, severely injuring them, hence he had arrived at the workhouse on his release from prison.

   He was sadly uneducated and spoke in monosyllabic sentences. Yet the Guardians thought the world of him. He was second in charge of the institutional farm and by golly his clothes reeked of cow manure. A harsh hard man who worked alone in all weathers, a survivor, who lived hard and always slept alone on the floor of the dormitory in the clothes he stood up in.

    My colleague in the records office had no prior information on him whatsoever. He had been released from prison into the workhouse to get sustenance and all his earnings were squandered on drink. A legalised life sentence of interminable work with shelter provided. A permanent institutionalised inmate. A man who would be dismissed with nothing at the end of his working life or his working abilities.


     I am Roger East from Norfolk in East Anglia. It’s been a rough ten years since I left the army. I was a Signalman in the Royal Signals for two years. I got on well there. After I had completed my basic training. I was shipped off to fight in the Crimean war for a year, before I was hit in the leg by a sniper in the battle of Balaclava and returned home to a base job. At the end of two years I was discharged into civvy street, with a limp, wearing a standard demob suit and very little money. I got digs, but the money quickly ran out, and I found myself living by my wits. I drifted around doing odd jobs for a while, mainly on farms. My spare money went on drink in the local pubs, I enjoyed supping a few pints. I got into a few scrapes over the next few months. I would doss down where I could, sleeping in empty railway carriages in the goods yard, there were quite a few of us sleeping there, with nowhere else to go.

    Some nights a gang of youngsters began to jeer at the people sleeping in the carriages, and one old fellow was severely beaten. I carried my spade everywhere, then about a week later I was approached and the gang began to push me around. I picked up my spade and wrapped it around the head of the biggest lout, then I began swinging around at the rest of the gang. They ran for it carrying the injured leader with them, I never gave chase, I was too breathless to bother. 

    The next night the police arrived and arrested me for assault. I was hauled into court and the magistrate sent me to prison for six months. I survived the rough violent days and nights in prison, the conditions were harsh and the days dragged by. 

     As it became near my time for release, I was up before the Governor for an interview, there was another man in the office at the same time, who introduced himself as Mr Potts.

      “Well East, you will be leaving us soon. What are your plans? Where will you go?” Asked the Governor. 

     “I dunno yet, I will find work I suppose.” I said.

     “That’s not good enough East, I think you will be destitute and living on the streets, of the parish. I am going to recommend you to be detained in the workhouse at Gressenhall, where you will work for food and shelter, until you have somewhere to go.”

       “I am not sure I like the sound of that Sir, but I will give it a try.” I replied helplessly, I knew there would be no sense in arguing.

       “Good! Mr Potts here is a Guardian from Gressenhall and he will look after you and escort you to your new home. I don’t want to see you back here again. Good luck to you!”

       “Thank you Sir.” I responded with a great deal of apprehension.

   That’s how I finished up here in the ‘Spike,’ I can look after myself, but the conditions here are not much better than jail. The food is simple, basic bread and gruel, with beans for a treat. We are not allowed out at all and drink is strictly forbidden. I have been allocated a job on the farm and I look after the animals, lately I have been shunned by some of the other workers who say I smell of cow muck. I never worried about that as I don’t mix with people very well anyway. I was tricked by the Guardians who sent me to the sick bay, where I was forcibly scrubbed by three other workhouse inmates. I will deal with them individually later.

   I have been made second in command on the farm now and I can save a bit of the money I never see. I was able to get hold of some money from the office to buy soap and toothpaste, but my friend who visits the farm sneaked in some drink for me and I gave the money to him.

    I am not sure where I would go if I didn’t live here now, or what I would do. I have become a forgotten nobody, serving a legalised life sentence of interminable work, with shelter provided. A permanently institutionalised number. A man who will probably be dismissed with nothing at the end of my working life or abilities.

Copyright © Written by John Yeo ~ All rights reserved 


This is one of the stories I put together on a Creative Writing Day at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse in Norfolk.


I concentrated on JOHN PLUMMER, Writing from this brief introduction.

“John Plummer decided he wanted to. Become a tramp when he turned 16 in 1938. The Guardians didn’t want John to do this as he would be dependant on the workhouse system. This would cost taxpayers’ money. They found John a job but he ran away. He was brought back to the workhouse and sent to Wallingford Farm Training School.”   


by John Yeo

  I have been forcibly returned here to take part in a training course at Wallingford Farm Training School.

 I was on the road for a while before they caught up with me, at least I will be working in the open air. I couldn’t stand working in that bloody factory any more! I ran away. I have developed this chesty cough now and I have to regularly attend the sickbay. The nurse says I have to use this strange china thing whenever I get clogged up with mucus. Apparently it is filled with hot water and I breathe it in before I go to bed at night or in the morning, before I go to work. I slept rough for the time I was on the road and the Matron thinks that is where I became ill, from the damp and cold. I spoke to the Doctor when he visited last.

      “What happened to me?” I asked.

  “You are a victim of your own stupidity.” Replied the Doctor.

    “Me stupid? Never. At least I got free from the chemicals that were swirling around that factory.”

    “You will have to continue to use the inhaler morning and night in future. The fresh air working on the farm will do you good. I will see you again in a month.”

  I like working outside but I do have this chesty cough that keeps me awake at night, I have to take the inhaler to bed now. The man in the next bed didn’t wake up today. They took him away and he disappeared. I think he died of TB, someone said it is a curse of the age.

 It is my birthday next week. I will be seventeen. 

Copyright © Written by John Yeo ~ All rights reserved