Mysteries of workhouse are explored

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A MORPETH author will tell of a darker side to the town’s past in her third book in three years.

Bridget Gubbins has previously penned The Curious Yards and Alleyways of Morpeth and The Drovers Are Coming to Morpeth Town.

Now she is about to launch her latest book, The Mysteries of Morpeth’s Workhouse.

The workhouse stood for more than 100 years in Newgate Street, providing basic shelter for the destitute from some 70 parishes. It closed in 1943 and was demolished eight years later.

But when Mrs Gubbins came to research it, she found virtually no official records existed.

“It was all very mysterious. I began to wonder why this should be and who had destroyed them. Was there a sense of shame – a feeling that this was part of Morpeth’s history that was best forgotten?” she said.

The author eventually found two minute-books and ledgers and trawled through newspaper cuttings and photographs, as well as the National Archives.

An appeal for personal stories in the Herald brought some success when reader John Wharrier got in touch.

“Mr Wharrier’s aunt Julia had a shop opposite the workhouse and at Christmas she would make him go over with a box of goodies for the inmates. He was really scared and didn’t like going because it was smelly and the men would shout at him,” said Mrs Gubbins.

She spoke to several people about their workhouse memories and even tracked down someone who was born there.

There were many tragic stories, including a child beating, suicide and improper behaviour, but there was also some cheerful tales, such as dinners and dancing.

The book, which is published by the Greater Morpeth Development Trust and illustrated by Victor Ambrus, will be launched at Morpeth Town Hall on Friday, April 5, at 2.15pm, to tie in with the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering.

Mrs Gubbins will sign copies at Morpeth Waterstones on Friday, April 13, from 2pm to 4pm.