Brits: Tell me about the "spike"

This 1931 essay or article by George Orwell recounts a night he spent in a “spike,” which apparently is a kind of overnight homeless shelter, but a very peculiar kind, such as I’ve never heard of in the U.S. – everybody is locked in at night, and guests are allowed to have no money to their name at all – “You’d get seven days for going into the spike with eightpence!” Does this kind of shelter still exist in Britain? How did it get started?

The Spike was the tramp wing of the old workhouses.

Never heard the term until now.

Workhouses were nationally abolished in 1930, though some continued under local authority control until 1948.

Oddly enough, we “Brits” also have running water, electricity, don’t cram strangers into wicker effigies and burn them, and have largely given up painting ourselves blue and slaughtering Romans. Except for the Scousers, that is.

Oi! I resemble that remark.

Never heard of it! Guess I should read more 1930s Orwell!

Tramp wing?



Wing (definition #10)


A workhouse is a building in which people were put to work and provided accomodation, normally unpleasant but mostly pointless work and accomodation with curfews, seperation of families, and so forth. People would be provided with food and would have little choice in the matter and little chance of escape. This was, I believe, established under the New Poor Law.

A tramp is a homeless person, once upon a time something which required excessive amounts of walking, or tramping.

A wing is a part of a building, traditionally an auxiliary part of a building adjacent to the main part of the building, often distinguished by different size, architectural style, orientation, or time of construction.

A tramp wing in an old workhouse is a wing for tramps in a workhouse.

Which by the 1930s was around a hundred years’ old! :slight_smile:

So you’d have us believe.

What about that business with Lord Summerisle?

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 was an attempt to modernise the Poor Law of 1601, which had become hopelessly out of date for an industrialised society. Outdoor relief (or welfare payments in modern terms) was to be restricted to the smallest number of people possible. The workhouse [sometimes called the union in contemporary literature, because parishes united to finance one] was to be the only form of aid to the destitute, if possible, and its conditions were deliberately made unattractive to ensure that it was a last resort rather than a first resort. The casual ward admitted itinerants, for a single night only to discourage them from stopping there permanently, and a vagrant could not return there before a certain period had elapsed, which encouraged him to keep on the move, supposedly looking for work. Luke Fildes’s painting, Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward depicts such a scene. The gradual evolution of the welfare state abolished the workhouse, as such, in 1930, though frequently the institution just took on another name and continued to operate much as before, until the National Assistance Act 1948 ended the remnants of the old Poor Law. Even then the mental hospital or old people’s home frequently occupied the old workhouse building, in this town it did until the 1980s.

This effectively describes a run-of-the-mill holiday with my partner when I’m over his way near Portsmouth.

By the end of the Victorian era the workhouse had lost most of its original “punish the work-shy” function, and instead was used as a combination of old-peoples’ home, free (but basic) infirmary and a place where unmarried mothers could give birth to their babies.

[QUOTE=BrainGlutton;13446929which apparently is a kind of overnight homeless shelter, but a very peculiar kind, such as I’ve never heard of in the U.S. – everybody is locked in at night,[/QUOTE]
That’s true of many current homeless shelters – people are admitted up to the closing time, then everyone is locked in for the night, and then in the morning they have to leave.

For gods sake I killed half a dozen Romans on one occasion and people never let me forget it.

And the woad was for a skin condition.

Stop picking on me.

You woad say that! :rolleyes:

It is also common policy in several shelters that all the personal belongings of the clients have to be secured by the staff. Can’t say I disagree entirely since it cuts down on theft or fights over items, but some are ridiculous, not allowing any items such as books or magazines.