New Southwell exhibition explores paupers’ fashion

Visitors to The Workhouse in Southwell can see a new exhibition ‘Paupers, Petticoats and Pinafores’ which opens on Wednesday.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 18th March 2014, 12:39 pm

Focusing on a new female pauper costume, the display highlights the painstaking work which has gone into the creation of the outfits from archival research, through to design and construction and runs until 2nd November.

“It has been a real piece of detective work to find clues about what the female paupers would have worn, as there is little detail in our own archives”, says volunteer Angela Elmore.

“I have found advertisements placed in local newspapers in the 1830s which listed such requirements as fabric for making dresses and undergarments, as well as ready-made suits for the men and wool for knitting stockings.”

A blue gingham check linen fabric dyed to match Newark Blue has been specially woven in Ireland to recreate the female pauper dresses.

These together with petticoats, shifts, caps and aprons have all been constructed by The Workhouse volunteer Dorcas sewing group, based on instructions from an 1838 household manual.

In the 1840s it is likely that the pauper girls would have done the sewing under the supervision of the schoolmistress.

Perhaps surprisingly, the outfits were both smart and durable, a local newspaper commenting on the paupers ‘in their suits of grey, in their checked gingham and their neat white caps, a picture of cleanliness and apparent contentment’.

The exhibition is included in The Workhouse admission price and is open on Wednesdays to Sundays from 2nd April.

Visitors can also see Workhouse volunteers wearing the new pauper costumes at various events during the season including: Graft, Gruel and Good-For-Nothings day (30th July), Pop-Up Paupers (Sundays in August) and Murder at The Workhouse storytelling event (16 and 17 May).

Further details of all events can be found at: or by calling 01636 817260.