County Durham residents will soon have the chance to find out if any of their ancestors had connections to the region’s workhouses.

Workhouses were notorious institutions where those who could not support themselves were sent. Families were separated, the inmates were forced to work at menial tasks for no pay and living conditions were harsh.

Workhouses became widespread after the introduction of the New Poor Law in 1834 and did not completely disappear until the National Assistance Act was passed in 1948.

A session in Durham County Record Office’s Branching Out Series will teach attendees about what life was like in the workhouses.

There will be the chance to learn how to use records for personal research and how to trace inmates and staff. Those employed by the workhouses included doctors, teachers, chaplains and administrators.

The education archivist at Durham County Record Office, Dawn Layland, said, “The Victorian working classes dreaded the workhouse and with good reason.”

“It was a very strict, institutional place where, for example, married couples were sent to separate male and female wards and parents were separated from their children.”

“This talk will tell you more about the workhouse, but also how to trace ancestors who were inmates or staff. It has been an extremely popular topic in previous sessions.”

 The sessions will take place on Thursday 21st March from 10.00 am to 12.00 noon and on Monday 25th March from 6.00 pm to 8.00 pm.

As with all Branching Out sessions, attendees will have an hour after the talk in which they can browse and use the Record Office research facilities with help from an archivist.

Tickets, which cost £10 per person, must be booked in advance. You can book tickets by going to or by telephoning 03000 267 619.

(The featured image is a photograph of staff at Lanchester Workhouse taken around 1900. The master and matron, believed to be Walter and Mary Brotherhood, are in the centre.)

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