We perform Rita & La Serva Padrona in a restored Victorian workhouse in Guildford.
A restored Victorian workhouse, this place is atmospheric and seeped in fascinating history. The Spike was purpose built in 1905 as a casual ward for vagrants. Casual wards had previously been part of the main workhouse unions, but as the vagrants were “filthy, crude and coarse, regularly in gangs, they drank, fought, cussed and swore” and brought an air of disruption to the organised workhouse routines, the casual wards were eventually contained in their own buildings which became known as “spikes”. The wards were designed to discourage, and the ethos on comfort and amenity was that they must be “worse than the conditions of the lowest farm labourer”. The Guildford Spike probably did not provide beds. Vagrants would have been given a blanket each and would have slept two to the cell.The choice was to either use the blanket on the cold concrete floor or as a cover, a hard choice indeed in the middle of Winter. George Orwell colourfully recounts his experiences of staying in Spikes in his book “Down and out in Paris and London”. We performed downstairs to an audience of 60 in one of the larger (now comfortable!) rooms of the building with a fantastic acoustic, but upstairs the cells still remain intact, providing a fascinating glimpse of life in a workhouse.