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Making the Rounds: Stories of Workhouse Nurses Told in Textiles – Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse

March 9 - November 3

Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse opens its doors for a new season on Saturday 9 March with a new exhibition which tells the story of nursing history at the site.

The result of a year-long collaboration between Norfolk-based textile artists, Connie Flynn, and a team of volunteer researchers, Making the Rounds is a moving exploration of 150 years of local welfare history.

Featuring the biographies of nurses who worked at the site, painstakingly researched by the volunteers, alongside Connie’s thoughtful responses to this important history and items loaned or donated by family members, the exhibition gives a fascinating insight into the early days of the nursing profession and how it changed over the decades between the late 19th century to the mid-20th century and the dawn of the NHS.

Between 1777 and 1948, Mitford and Launditch Union Workhouse – now Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse – was home to some of the most vulnerable people in rural Norfolk. Its purpose was to provide accommodation, food and work for ‘paupers’ who did not have enough money provide for themselves. The NHS had not yet been created, and many people turned to the workhouse because of illness, old age, disability, mental illness, or as a safe place to give birth. It was run by just a handful of paid staff, and the day-to-day care of the sick and vulnerable inmates fell to the nurses. They were often overworked, undertrained, and isolated.

Now research by the Gressenhall volunteer team has given us an insight into their lives, putting faces and names to a previously anonymous workforce. Women such as Mary Wallin who was born in Birmingham and began her nursing career at the age of 18 as an Assistant Nurse in the children’s ward of Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital. Mary – who was also known as Polly – arrived at Mitford and Launditch Union Workhouse (as Gressenhall was then known) in 1895 with glowing references. During her two and a half years at the site, she rose to become Head Nurse at 28, becoming good friends with Ellen Winter, the previous Head Nurse, who give her a birthday scripture book which is on display in the exhibition. Mary’s great niece, Madeline Ahad, was interviewed as part of the project, adding to the richness of our portrait of this hard-working nurse.

The nurses’ stories are also brought to life by loans and new donations connected with nursing at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. These include a nurse’s belt belonging to Nurse Eileen Olive Woods (1932 – donated in 2023), the birthday scripture book mentioned above (1895 – loaned by Madeline Ahad) and nurse’s chatelaine owned by nurse and wife to Gressenhall Medical Officer, Mary Duigan who volunteered in the workhouse infirmary during the First World War (loaned by Cllr Philip Duigan).

Through the exhibition, visitors can explore the amazing stories of women who dedicated their lives to caring for some of the poorest people in rural Norfolk and find out about the pioneering careers they forged for themselves. As a thank you to the present-day NHS workforce, the museum is offering NHS workers 50% admission to Gressenhall until 31 May 2024.

Artwork by Connie Flynn, courtesy of the artist, © Norfolk Museums Service


March 9
November 3


Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse
Gressenhall, Norfolk NR20 4DR United Kingdom + Google Map