Despite the growing wealth due to trade and commerce, working people lived and died in poor conditions.

Our exhibition uses original archives, 3D models and digital interactives to bring to life the stories of the poor from prisons, workhouses, industrial schools and hospitals.  Lots of the original archives have been digitised and are available online from the Manchester Collection on Find My Past.  The collection is completely free to use from any Manchester Libraries computer. Access to the index is free from any computer but access to details and images from home is by credit or subscription.

Workhouses were where people who had no home or job could work in exchange for basic food and shelter.  Often these homeless people were orphaned and abandoned children, the sick, the disabled, the elderly and unmarried mothers.  Living conditions were deliberately made harsh to put people off entering, the workhouse was the last resort for desperate people when nobody else could or would help them.  We hold records for workhouses in Withington, Crumpsall and New Bridge Street, many of these are available online.

In this interview from the Greater Manchester Sound Archive a female interviewee describes life in Salford Workhouse in 1920.  She spent six months there when hard up and pregnant, and describes the hardship and isolation she felt.  She left the workhouse to give birth at Hope Hospital. 

This is an extract from a full-length interview conducted in 1960 by Paul Graney.  It is available at Manchester Central Library (GRANEY/28). Image of Salford Workhouse DPA/1313/61.

Withington Workhouse, 1856
Strangeways Prison gate, 1895
Prestwich Asylum Register 1900

Archives+ holds the archives of Prestwich Asylum which opened in 1851 to accommodate 500 patients. By 1903 the site could handle 3,135 patients from Salford, Manchester and South Lancashire.  While some patients were placed in the Asylum for alcoholism and delusion, some were kept there for reasons that were less medical including poverty or because they were due to become unmarried mothers.

The case records personalise the experience of the County Asylum patients and reveal a forgotten history of those suffering from mental health problems.  If you find an entry in the Prestwich Asylum Admission Register that is held by Greater Manchester County Record Office, you can book an appointment to view the full record in our search room.