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Take a Look at the Lives of People Who Were in the Guildford Union Workhouse in 1881

Published on: 1 Nov, 2023
Updated on: 1 Nov, 2023

By David Rose

The Spike is a fascinating heritage attraction off Warren Road, Guildford. It’s a time capsule that’s a surviving part of the Guildford Union Workhouse where vagrants could get a bed for the night.

A team of volunteers have been researching the lives of inmates at the workhouse who were there on the night in which the 1881 census was taken. And now you can find out who they were and read about their often sad lives.

Spike Lives is a website that’s a biographical database of the lives of Guildford Union Workhouse inmates.

This began as a wider project started in mid-2019 by Norfolk Museum Service under the name More Than Oliver Twist.

The project ran for just over two years and involved six workhouse-based museums researching workhouse inmates found on the 1881 census.

The project was greatly affected by the pandemic with the resulting exhibition being online:

The family history researchers at The Spike decided they would like to continue with research of the 1881 Guildford Union Workhouse census and the project was given the title Spike Lives.

Over the past two years or so there have been up to 12 volunteers working on the project at any one time.

Their research is now complete and The Spike has started loading the biographies onto a fascinating website:

Newspaper headline reporting Jane Elizabeth Blake’s suicide.

You can read about the tragic life of Jane Elizabeth Blake, a sub-postmistress from Albury Heath, researched by Sue Driscoll and Mike Brock.

The more interesting biographies have been selected and written up more fully under a section named Selected Biographies.

All the other biographies can be found under the Biographies Database section.

Uploading all 230 or so records will take some time but the Selected ones are now fully uploaded.

Sidney Attfield.

Read about the sad life of Sidney Attfield, researched by Diann Arnfield.

This is a great resource for anyone interested in Guildford’s social history and those researching family history and wider genealogy.

The general manager of the Charlotteville Jubilee Trust, John Redapth, said: The next phase, nicknamed Spike Rules, will be started in the new year and will research the staff and members of the Board of Guardians wherever they were on April 3, 1881.

“There could be some interesting biographies here as the board of guardian members were often drawn from the gentry of the day!”

The Spike building was given Grade II listed status in 1999. The Charlotteville Jubilee Trust, a self-funded organisation, re-opened this important historic building for public use in 2008 after spending more than £1.6 million on its refurbishment.

It is open for guided tours on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10am to 4pm. Group visits can also be booked on others days, and these are popular with schools, history societies and so on.

If you haven’t visited, make sure you do, it is well worth it!

For more details see The Spike website, call 01483 598420 or send an email to

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Responses to Take a Look at the Lives of People Who Were in the Guildford Union Workhouse in 1881

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    November 1, 2023 at 11:26 am

    Real history that everyone should read.

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