Ripon Union Workhouse female inmates
Ripon Union Workhouse female inmates

Ripon Museum Trust Part of New Online Exhibition Exploring Life in the Workhouse

26 November 2020

Ripon Museum Trust volunteers from The Workhouse Museum have worked on a major new online exhibition presented by The Workhouse Network called More Than Oliver Twist and presented on the Google Arts & Culture platform.

The More Than Oliver Twist project set out to discover the real stories of people in the workhouse system through the 1881 census returns. Researched and interpreted by volunteer researchers at six sites across The Workhouse Network, the stories have been used to create an amazing online exhibition, with work from artists Morgan Tipping and Mel Rye, exploring six of these lives and the contemporary echoes of their historic experiences.

The immersive exhibition combines audio narrative and visualisations, enabling audiences to encounter the multidimensional lives of people then known as ‘paupers.’ The work is drawn directly from the research, museum collections, workhouse buildings, volunteers’ experiences and related contemporary lives.

Within the exhibition, audiences will find The Life of Hannah Wade, a creative interpretation of the life of an inmate at Ripon Union Workhouse, now Ripon Workhouse Museum and Garden.

Helen Thornton, Director of Ripon Museum Trust said:

We’re delighted to see the results of this project, which our volunteers worked incredibly hard on. The content that has been created is remarkable: moving, thought-provoking and central to what we are trying to do here – to use the past to consider more deeply the issues of today.


Sharon Heal, Director of the Museums Association said:

This fantastic project brings the stories of people who lived and worked in workhouses alive. I was fascinated by the story of Louisa Ledger and her struggle, that many women past and present have faced, to raise her children against the odds. The contemporary reflections help us explore the lives of invisible people who would otherwise be forgotten and have special resonance as we live through a pandemic that is hitting those worst off in society hardest.

The project has also created the largest database of poor individuals and families yet constructed to shed light on the diverse experience of the poor. The project created over 325 biographies of these everyday people who experienced hardship and support under the very first system of national welfare. This is the largest national database of biographies of people known at the time as “paupers”.

The project is funded by Arts Council England and supported by Nottingham Trent University and The National Archive.

This exciting new Google Arts & Culture platform is available here:

All the biographies are available here:

More information via The Workhouse Network website:

About Ripon Museum Trust

Ripon Museum Trust manages three museums: the Workhouse Museum & Garden, the Prison & Police Museum and the Courthouse Museum.

The Trust is a volunteer driven organisation with volunteering at the heart of everything we do. Our team of over 140 dedicated, enthusiastic and skilled volunteers look after the three unique heritage buildings, their collections and visitors.

About The Workhouse Network

The Workhouse Network is a Subject Specialist Network (SSN) that brings together museums and heritage organisations interested in workhouse history. The Network exists to share expertise, develop skills, knowledge and understanding and to promote the understanding of the history and contemporary relevance of poverty, welfare and the poor. The Workhouse Network brings institutions that were workhouses into contact with archives, libraries, researchers, historians, creative practitioners, welfare institutions, charities and universities through its relationship with the emerging Welfare History and Heritage Association. It furthers museum workforce skills and knowledge. It enables members to enhance public understanding and to create sustainable projects.

It carries out research on contemporary issues and historical buildings, collections and archives to create diverse, dynamic and inspiring digital and physical displays. We empower our diverse network member organisations and partners to work within the current global political and economic climate to create social impact and engagement around poverty.

In 2019, the Workhouse Network received funding from Arts Council England to work on their pilot project – More Than Oliver Twist. The project provided training for six workhouse sites to research the lives of inmates in their institutions in the 1881 census. From this research, a database of ‘pauper biographies’ has been established, alongside the creation of a digital exhibition that looks in more depth at a handful of stories that hold significant contemporary relevance.

The project was supported by Nottingham Trent University and The National Archives and saw the creation of six regional volunteer research groups at the following sites:

  • Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, Norfolk Museums Service
  • Llanfyllin Workhouse
  • Ripon Workhouse Museum and garden, Ripon Museums
  • Thackray Museum of Medicine, Leeds
  • The Spike Heritage Centre, Guildford
  • The Workhouse, Southwell, National Trust

Find out more:

About Google Arts & Culture

Google Arts & Culture is a non-profit initiative that works with cultural institutions and artists around the world. Their mission is to preserve and bring the world’s art and culture online so it’s accessible to anyone, anywhere. Google Arts & Culture supports over 2000 cultural institutions in 80 countries, with more than 200,000 high-resolution images of original artworks, 7 million archival artefacts, 800 360° virtual museum views, and more than 2,000 online exhibitions curated by experts. All of this exists together in a single unified experience. It is available for free for everyone on the web, on iOS and Android.

Find out more:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.



Go toTop