My name is Jane. I’m eight years old and I live in a workhouse. The year is 1830 and I have been here for four weeks. My mother and father are also in the workhouse but I’ve only seen them twice. When we first came here the people cut off all my hair and took away my dolly.
I live in a dormitory with lots of other children, and I share my bed with two other girls, which keeps me nice and warm.
We have to get up at 6 o’clock in the morning.
For my meals I get eight ounces of bread, four ounces of meat and one ounce of cheese per day and gruel for breakfast. Gruel is like watery porridge and I don’t like it. We’re not allowed to talk while we eat.
* * *
I’m now 13 years old and wear the same clothes as the women. I wear a strong grogram gown, a calico shift, a petticoat of linsey-woolsey material, a gingham dress, day caps, worsted stockings and woven slippers. In the morning, when we wake, a roll call is taken by the matron, then we say our prayers before breakfast and start work at seven.
I have to help clean the workhouse. I scrub the floors, change the bed-clothes and wash clothes. Lunch is at 12 o’clock and we eat in silence before returning to work at one and finishing for supper at six. After supper we say more prayers, and from seven until eight I have an hour to myself. At eight o’clock we go to bed.
All my days are the same except for Sundays when we attend divine service. Yesterday Ellie Rice and Maggie Barraclough fought in the refectory and a window got smashed. Ellie was sent to jail for two months for the broken window and Maggie’s not allowed any cheese for a month. I’m worried she might try to steal my cheese as we’re all so hungry. I’m quite scared of Maggie.
* * *
I’m now fifteen and will be leaving the workhouse to go to work on a dairy farm. I’ll even receive a wage, and the two pence a week I get will be all mine. I’m very excited as I haven’t been out of the workhouse for such a long time. I’m not the only girl going from here. I was hoping my friend Nelly would be coming too, but she caught a chill and died in the infirmary not a week ago.
I’ll be glad to leave the workhouse. It’s a horrible place.
* * *
I’m eighteen and pregnant. I thought we were going to get married but he’s run away. Because I’m not married, I’ve been asked to leave my job at the farm and I have regrettably decided to return to the workhouse.
They shaved off my beautiful hair again and took all my things. I was checked for alcohol, food, letters, matches and cards or dice. I have to wear a workhouse uniform together with a yellow jacket so everyone knows I am an unchaste woman. This makes me ashamed to walk among people and they call me a jacket woman and I want to hide my face.
* * *
I’m nineteen and have given birth to a baby boy who I have named Jacob. I’ll be allowed to nurse him but then he’ll be taken from me. At least he’ll receive some schooling, which I never did.
* * *
I’m twenty-six and Jacob is seven, though I seldom see him. I’ve now been moved into the infirmary as I am too ill to work. A number of people have been taken with the same illness.
* * *
Jane died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-six.