Victorian Powys for primary  schools
Powys Digital History Project
The workhouse  
  Crushing stone and picking oakum

From 1882 all workhouses were given a list of tasks that inmates were supposed to undertake.

These included among other things crushing stone and oakum picking (unravelling lengths of rope).

Drawing of stonebreaking in a workhouseStones were crushed by pounding with a long heavy bar of iron about four feet long (1.2 metres). The stones had to be broken into small enough pieces to pass through the metal grille in the window shown in this drawing.

Oakum picking was commonly done by small children, (as in the photograph on the right) and the very old. Both tasks left the hands covered in blisters and bleeding.

The notice below set out the strict rules for "casual paupers", who were people without jobs staying for a short period in the workhouse.

Cwt. - short for hundredweight, a weight equal to 50.8 kilograms.
Pounds - one pound is about 0.45 kilograms.

Child in workhouse

Photo of notice board"As regards Males, for each entire day of detention -
The breaking of seven cwt. of Stones..
or The picking of four pounds of unbeaten or eight pounds of beaten Oakum;
or Nine hours' work in digging or pumping, or cutting wood, or grinding corn.

As regards Females, for each entire day of detention -
The picking of two pounds of unbeaten or four pounds of beaten Oakum;
or Nine hours' work in washing, scrubbing and cleaning, or needlework."



Back to top
Back to workhouse menu