Sir Tony Robinson comes to History Hit to present a special film about a remarkable excavation in central London, the workhouse that inspired Charles Dickens to write his famous novel, “Oliver Twist”.
In the middle of the capital, archaeologists are digging deep to find out more about the lives and deaths of the poorest of the poor, the inmates of the workhouse. Behind the workhouse building lies a cemetery where they were buried - now it is being carefully excavated as the whole site is being redeveloped. It’s a rare opportunity to investigate the treatment of London’s destitute in the late 18th and 19th centuries - a story that was repeated in great cities across the world as people poured into them in search of work.
Tony has a special connection with this story - not only has been making archaeology films for decades, he also appeared as a child actor in the first stage production of the musical, “Oliver!”. He knows digging and he knows Dickens! He explores the finds from the excavations, from humble clay pipes to dissected skeletons revealing how dead inmates could be anatomised in the name of medical science.
This film combines unique archaeology, as well as social and literary history - the care of the poor, how their plight was brought to the attention of the public and the extreme challenges created by burgeoning cities. Dickens was writing about his times, but like all good history, the heart of it remains relevant today.
To find out more, do check out the websites of some of our expert contributors:
Here is a useful website with information about the whole project - https://middlesexannex.com/
Peter Higginbotham's excellent workhouse website has a wealth of information - https://www.workhouses.org.uk/
Emily Bell - https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/english/staff/3258/dr-emily-bell
Emily also runs the Dickensian Journal
You can find out more about Paul Carter's fascinating work into the archives left by workhouse inmates - https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/author/pcarter/
Emma Griffin - https://www.emmagriffin.info/index.php