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Uncomfortable Scavenger Hunt

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JERICHO: Location 1

Wellington Square, OX1 2HY

You are currently standing on the site of the former Oxford workhouse. 

The Oxford Workhouse

Map of the City of Oxford, 1789.

Source: Bodleian Libraries

In 1771, a local act of parliament united the eleven parishes in Oxford and gave them charge of the city poor relief efforts. The parishes elected a board to oversee poor-relief, titled The Guardians of the Poor within the City of Oxford.

As part of their efforts a General House of Industry was erected at a location then-known as Rats and Mice Hill. Today, the place is known as Wellington Square, and it hosts the administrative offices of Oxford University.

Initially, the University and its colleges did not pay poor-rates, as they were legally external to the parishes. This caused increasing resentment from the city as the burden for poor-relief continued to mount. In 1843, the overseers of St. Michael's parish even attempted to seize the silver from Exeter and Jesus colleges in a frustrated bid to force contribution.

This house of industry was two storeys and could accommodate 200 inmates. Over time it became overcrowded and dilapidated, as increasing numbers of poor and infirm inmates were brought in.

It was shut down the 1860s, and a new workhouse was built in East Oxford.

Initially constructed between 1869 and 1876, Wellington Square was later rebuilt as residential housing. Terraced houses and the garden square were designed on the footprint of the old workhouse. However, a portion of the paupers' cemetery remained untouched and unused.

 

Over time, with no headstones to mark the graves, the land’s original purpose faded from memory into obscurity – until 1994, when work done on Rewley House revealed a number of bones from adults and several infants. The bones were re-interred with a burial ceremony at the St. Giles Church nearby.

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Scavenging with friends or family? Take a few moments to discuss the following:

 

In 2019, ten of Oxford's 83 neighbourhoods were found to be among the 20% most deprived areas in England. To see an interactive map of deprivation in Oxford, click here.

 

  • What are the modern forms of 'poor relief'?

  • How is poverty distributed across Oxford today?

  • Why do you think these shifts in location have occurred?

 

Post your answers and pictures on social media:     Twitter @UnOxProject

Instagram @uncomfortableoxford

Facebook @uncomfortableoxfordproject

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