The immortal line penned by Dickens in Oliver Twist which was serialised from 1837. I actually have a connection to Oliver, we’re both “Workhouse Boys”, well that is to say I live in a converted workhouse, where the only deprivation suffered is if the WiFi goes down.
London as you’d expect had many workhouses throughout it’s environs, but very few survive to this day.
Probably the most famous is in Cleveland Street in Fitzrovia. It has been documented that Dickens while growing up was constantly in fear of being a workhouse inmate, given the financial instability of his family. His parents and siblings were incarcerated for a time in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison in Southwark and Dickens was forced to work in a shoe blacking factory at the age of 12. As in David Copperfield something did turn up and his father was able to secure his release from the prison due to a small inheritance, and the family located to a house in Norfolk Street, now part of Cleveland Street.
The shadow of the workhouse on the young Dickens must have made an impression and the imposing building is felt to be the model for Mr & Mrs Bumbles establishment. The building, which was part of the Middlesex Hospital, was for many years under threat of demolition, but in 2011 secured Grade II listed status. Last year planning permission was granted for the development of the site into homes and offices.