Lottery-funded art project brings district's workhouse history to life

Volunteers Manager Wendy Hunwick-Brown with Ripon Museums volunteers.
Volunteers Manager Wendy Hunwick-Brown with Ripon Museums volunteers.

A lottery-funded art project is bringing the district’s workhouse history to life.

Yesterday, Wednesday, artist Pippa Hale filmed 50 volunteers at the original Ripon Workhouse Museum kitchen and dining hall, preparing, cooking, and eating a typical Victorian Workhouse meal in a day-long performance.

A £14,490 National Lottery grant was awarded for the project through the Arts Council England.

Pippa Hale said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be working with Ripon Museums Trust to create a new artwork within the original Dining Hall. I remember visiting the museum for the first time and being overwhelmed by the hardship faced by the poor who were interred here: the mindless work and long hours, the paltry food portions, the splitting up of families.”

Pippa’s research into the museum’s archives aims to present an accurate portrayal of a Victorian pauper’s meal in 1861 - with ingredients, recipes and preparation techniques, as well as etiquette and seating plans all drawn from historic sources.

Volunteers prepared a Workhouse lunch using a traditional menu, recipes and cooking techniques under the direction of a professional cook, Gaynor Eden.

Participants were segregated by sex, as would have happened in the 19th century.

James Etherington, Director of Ripon Museum Trust, said: “We hope that this project will draw attention to the gender, class and societal position in the latter part of the nineteenth century and bring alive the experience of living in the Workhouse for both volunteers and visitors.”