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A Seasonal Poem to put you in the mood.


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Christmas Day in the Workhouse


It is Christmas Day in the Workhouse,

And the cold bare walls are bright

With garlands of green and holly,

And the place is a pleasant sight:

For with clean-washed hands and faces,

In a long and hungry line

The paupers sit at the tables

For this is the hour they dine.

And the guardians and their ladies,

Although the wind is east,

Have come in their furs and wrappers,

To watch their charges feast;

To smile and be condescending,

Put pudding on pauper plates,

To be hosts at the workhouse banquet

They've paid for ? with their rates.


Oh, the paupers are meek and lowly

With their "Thank'ee kindly, mum's"

So long as they fill their stomachs,

What matter it whence it comes?

But one of the old men mutters,

And pushes his plate aside:

"Great God!" he cries; "but it chokes me!

For this is the day she died."


The guardians gazed in horror,

The master's face went white;

"Did a pauper refuse the pudding?"

Could their ears believe aright?

Then the ladies clutched their husbands,

Thinking the man would die,

Struck by a bolt, or something,

By the outraged One on high.


But the pauper sat for a moment,

Then rose 'mid a silence grim,

For the others had ceased to chatter

And trembled in every limb.

He looked at the guardians' ladies,

Then, eyeing their lords, he said,

"I eat not the food of villains

Whose hands are foul and red:


"Whose victims cry for vengeance

From their dank, unhallowed graves."

"He's drunk!" said the workhouse master,

"Or else he's mad and raves."

"Not drunk or mad," cried the pauper,

"But only a hunted beast,

Who, torn by the hounds and mangled,

Declines the vulture's feast.


"Keep your hands off me, curse you!

Hear me right out to the end.

You come here to see how paupers

The season of Christmas spend.

You come here to watch us feeding,

As they watch the captured beast.

Hear why a penniless pauper

Spits on your paltry feast.


"Do you think I will take your bounty,

And let you smile and think

You're doing a noble action

With the parish's meat and drink?

Where's my wife, you traitors ?

The poor old wife you slew?

Yes, by the God above us,

My Nance was killed by you!


"Last winter my wife lay dying,

Starved in a filthy den;

I had never been to the parish, ?

I came to the parish then.

I swallowed my pride in coming,

For, ere the ruin came,

I held up my head as a trader,

And I bore a spotless name.


"I came to the parish, craving

Break for a starving wife,

Bread for the woman who'd loved me

Through fifty years of life;

And what do you think they told me,

Mocking my awful grief?

That 'the House' was open to us,

But they wouldn't give 'out relief.'


"I slunk to the filthy alley ?

'Twas a cold, raw Christmas eve ?

And the bakers' shops were open,

Tempting a man to thieve;

But I clenched my fists together,

Holding my head awry,

So I came to her empty-handed

And mournfully told her why.


"Then I told her 'the House' was open;

She had heard of the ways of that,

For her bloodless cheeks went crimson,

And up in her rags she sat,

Crying, 'Bide the Christmas here, John,

We've never had one apart;

I think I can bear the hunger, ?

The other would break my heart.'


"All through that eve I watched her,

Holding her hand in mine,

Praying the Lord, and weeping,

Till my lips were salt as brine.

I asked her once if she hungered,

And as she answered 'No,'

The moon shone in at the window

Set in a wreath of snow.


"Then the room was bathed in glory,

And I saw in my darling's eyes

The far-away look of wonder

That comes when the spirit flies;

And her lips were parched and parted,

And her reason came and went,

For she raved of our home in Devon,

Where our happiest years were spent.


"And the accents long forgotten,

Came back to the tongue once more,

For she talked like the country lassie

I woo'd by the Devon shore.

Then she rose to her feet and trembled,

And fell on the rags and moaned,

And, 'Give me a crust ? I'm famished ?

For the love of God!' she groaned.


"I rushed from the room like a madman,

And flew to the workhouse gate,

Crying, 'Food for a dying woman!'

And the answer came, 'Too late.'

They drove me away with curses;

Then I fought with a dog in the street,

And tore from the mongrel's clutches

A crust he was trying to eat.


"Back, through the filthy by-lanes!

Back, through the trampled slush!

Up to the crazy garret,

Wrapped in an awful hush.

My heart sank down at the threshold,

And I paused with a sudden thrill,

For there in the silv'ry moonlight

My Nance lay, cold and still.


"Up to the blackened ceiling

The sunken eyes were cast ?

I knew on those lips all bloodless

My name had been the last;

She'd called for her absent husband ?

O God! had I but known! ?

Had called in vain, and in anguish

Had died in that den ? alone.


"Yes, there, in a land of plenty,

Lay a loving woman dead,

Cruelly starved and murdered

For a loaf of the parish bread.

At yonder gate, last Christmas,

I craved for a human life.

You, who would feast us paupers,

What of my murdered wife!


"There, get ye gone to your dinners;

Don't mind me in the least;

Think of the happy paupers

Eating your Christmas feast;

And when you recount their blessings

In your smug parochial way,

Say what you did for me, too,

Only last Christmas Day."




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Here's two more a little more light hearted.


It was christmas day in the workhouse

the snow was raining fast

a bear footed man with clogs on

came slowly dashing past

he turned around a straight crooked corner

to see a dead donkey die

he pulled out his gun to stab him

the donkey spit in his eye

next day he went to the pictures

he had a front seat at the back

he fell from the floor to the gallery

and broke a front bone in his back

a lady gave him a plumb pudding

he ate it and gave it her back

it was xmas in the workhouse

the snow was raining fast



It was Christmas Day in the workhouse

The one day of the year

The paupers hearts were happy

Their bellies full of beer

Then in strode the Workhouse Master

Within those stony walls

He cried: 'A Merry Christmas'

The paupers answered back 'Balls'

This enraged the Workhouse Master

Who swore by all his gods

You'll have no Christmas pudding

You load of rotten sods

Then up stood one old pauper

His face as bold as brass

'We don't want your Christmas pudding

You can stuff it up your arse'.


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It is a dramatic monologue, published by George Robert Sims in 1879, as a criticism of the harsh conditions in workhouses under the nineteenth century Poor Law.


Although at the time it was meant to be taken seriously, it was later parodied in music hall/vaudeville comedy performances - often very bawdy.

I believe that the original version portray's life and the Victorian attitude to how the affluent treated the poor with outstanding accuracy.

My father had been brought up in Padgate Cottage Homes and recounted his childhood experiences there and there were not many pleasurable ones amongst them.



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Just thought I'd add this one:



'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house


Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;


The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,


In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;


The children were nestled all snug in their beds,


While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;


And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,


Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,


When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,


I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.


Away to the window I flew like a flash,


Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.


The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow


Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,


When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,


But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,


With a little old driver, so lively and quick,


I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.


More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,


And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;


"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!


On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!


To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!


Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"


As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,


When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,


So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,


With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.


And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof


The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.


As I drew in my head, and was turning around,


Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.


He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,


And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;


A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,


And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.


His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!


His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!


His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,


And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;


The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,


And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;


He had a broad face and a little round belly,


That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.


He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,


And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;


A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,


Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;


He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,


And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,


And laying his finger aside of his nose,


And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;


He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,


And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.


But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,


"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night".

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