Home » The House » Carran’s Working Diary 12: Porters and Visiting Hours


Carran’s Working Diary 12: Porters and Visiting Hours

Objects from Scratch Performance

Objects from Scratch Performance

I have spent nine days in a new section of the working house this springtime. It was a sunnier room, not exactly on a hill but it was south facing[1]. However my restless mood made me close the curtains so the builders couldn’t see my activities. The authorities must have got some money because there are extensive developments happening around the site. They say the house will soon become a hospital. The builders, bricks and mortar together with the clanging make an interesting accompaniment for my work. Drumming from other inmates went into the mix towards the first weekend.

During my nine days stay I had one visitor. Amongst many things we talked together about space, levels and what a lot of stuff I had to commit to memory. Memory is a key driver for me. It was a helpful visit and made me feel less solitary. There was one moment I showed the visitor that day which I need to work on more and which I failed to include in the scratch inspection because it needs some wool. I was sorry that I didn’t have the time to complete the knitting here.

After Easter they put me back in the blue-black room. I moved the entire contents of the sunny room myself and practised my preaching as “a conduit, a porter, a carrier of stuff”[2].

It was heavy work and it was amusing to see a professional porter watching me. I am training to be a portress so it was important he didn’t interfere or comment on my activity. I have learned that job descriptions are very explicit and it is important not to step outside of your responsibilities. If you keep you head down you don’t get into trouble.

However because I actually needed some help there was a terrific explosion of falling furniture in the green corridor near the stairs when I took the wheelchair thinking I could balance the heavy objects on it to make the transportation easier. The proper trolley was padlocked to the staircase railing and the professional porter didn’t have a key. In the end I decided on the physical technique I use in The House: close contact with the floor, work with gravity and the weight of the object levering with muscle. I hasten to add there is a lift in the building, which I used several times during the transportation.

The transportation was a worrying activity for me. One has to keep a close eye on equipment. Both the physical exertion and the worry made me sweat. One’s valuables are given up in the house and may not be secure from pilfering. Although there are eyes in the CCTV cameras I have been advised never to leave anything valuable unsupervised for any length of time. I also learned from another inmate that they can watch what you are up to in the blue-black room, which is slightly disconcerting especially when undressing for the bath.

During the next two days in the blue-black room I prepared for a visit of some 25 important inspectors/guardians/guests. To help with the preparation I received three individual visitors prior to the event[3]: one helped with playing the soundtrack offering some useful feedback; one helped with the technical realisation using the manual I had written as a guide and my regular visitor came to help with the fundamentals of the forthcoming visit and to see me demonstrate my actual activities as well as committing the work to a digital record. This third visitor often brings me books. I like the ones with the big writing and the ones with instructions on how to do things. I also like the ones that tell you how it is and that include spelling mistakes.[4]

The inspection went well and people travelled from as far away as Dorset and Shropshire. I now have to collate the responses together with my regular visitor as I sign out of the working house again.   More casual work is offered elsewhere so I will be going on a journey southwards towards the sea.

On Friday last my regular visitor and I spent some time out of the house in another part of the building sharing the outputs[5] with a clever bunch of cultural ambassador-learners. I also met my visitor’s visitor who had attended the scratch inspection earlier in the week. Visitors keep an eye on what their charges do. It’s a helpful activity. Visitors are kind people with your interests at heart. They are guardians of your soul and well-being. I now have three committed visitors plus the main visitor’s visitor who drives an electric trolley and who came to the scratch inspection aforementioned.


“I have been working for 74 days on this house and today is my 75th.

I am not here all the time. I have times outside when I do other work that is not housework.

When I am in I do housework. When I am out I do research: visiting, travelling, reading, editing, thinking, planning, blogging, writing and chasing ancestors.”[6]



Post Script:


Alas one part of my casual labour has fallen through. However I will be going to the sea. I had applied for a hand-out but the out-relief has been refused by the authorities so I may be returning to the working house sooner than expected. I have to wait the statutory 28 days before I can return so that will mean I may be able to go back to the sunny room or the blue-black room towards the middle of May.


“I like it here. They feed me. They give me jobs to do. I get a bath and a bed. Sometimes I go to the larder when they’re not looking.   I’m happy here.”[7]






Some of the books and pamphlets I have read so far while I have been in the Working House:


Bartley, George C.T. A Handy Guidebook for the Guardians of the Poor (1876)

Cole, John Down Poorhouse Lane – The Diary of a Rochdale Workhouse (1994)

Digby, Anne British Welfare Policy – Workhouse to Workfare (1989)

Edwards, Christina Lexden and Winstree Union Workhouse (St Albrights’s Hospital London Road, Stanway (2009)

Hardy, Sheila The House on the Hill – The Samford House of Industry 1764-1930 (2001)

Higgs, Mary Glimpses Into the Abyss (1906)

Light, Alison Common People – The History of an English Family (2014)

Nevinson, Margaret Wynne Workhouse Characters and Other Sketches of the Life of the Poor (1918)

Higgingbotham, Peter Indoor Paupers by “One of Them” Life Inside a London Workhouse (1885)

Palmer, Roy Working Songs: Industrial Ballads and poems from Britain and Ireland 1780s –1980s (2010)

Palmer, Roy Poverty Knock: A Picture of Industrial Life in the Nineteenth Century Through Songs, Ballads and Contemporary Accounts (1974)

Roberts, Ronald Pea Soup on Friday: Some Personal Notes on the History of Birch Hill Hospital (1982)

Smith, Edward   A Guide the the Construction and Management of Workhouses: Together with the Consolidated Order of the Poor Law Board (1870)

Twining, Louisa Recollections of Workhouse Visiting an Management During Twenty Five Years (1880)

Waterfield, Mary A Suffolk Punch – Out of the Darkness (2004)




[1] “It’s very important for the house to be built on a hill…… Waterfield, C. The House scratch script (2015)

[2] Waterfield, C. The House scratch script (2015)

[3] Scratch live performance of The House by Carran Waterfield 4pm 8 April 2015 John Thaw Studio, University of Manchester

[4] See reading list at end of this post.

[5] Outputs are the result of inputs. They are clear exchanges and balance the books.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

image of books I am reading

Workhouse Bookshelf



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