The Cornice and the Arcade: Re-viewing an 18th-Century Institution through Virtual 3-D Reconstruction

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 3:30 PM
Diplomat Ballroom (Omni Shoreham)
Susannah R. Ottaway, Carleton College
Austin Mason, Boston College
In the front room of the east bloc of the massive building that was once the Gressenhall House of Industry, there is a fine timber molded cornice of the sort we would expect to find in an elegant upper-class hall. Along the eastern wing of the building, one can still see the architectural features of an open arcade that formed an elegant walkway of the like we are accustomed to see in Cambridge colleges and Continental monasteries. Why were such features included on a structure that was custom-built to keep the poor at work -- whose residents spent their days making sacks, spinning, and working in the farm fields that surrounded the institution?

Making a digital 3-D model of the House of Industry, built in 1777, has allowed us to peel back the historical residue of the post-1834 Poor Law Union Workhouse (which involved major changes to the House of Industry's structure) and reengage these architectural features. Along the way, we have had to significantly revise our assumptions about the functioning of this institution. By creatively reconstructing the life of the residents of this period, using every piece of the scattered documentary evidence we could uncover, we have re-conceptualized our sense of Gressenhall - and similar workhouses - as both enclosed spaces of labor discipline and important public spaces. In this paper, we will discuss how the modeling and our more traditional archival research have together shaped a new approach to the history of the Old Poor Law's institutions for the poor.
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