Wit and wisdom from the "tramp cells"

Birch Hill Hospital was built as Dearnley Workhouse and opened its door to the poor of the area on 1st November 1877. It replaced several smaller workhouses at Spotland, Marland, Wardleworth, Hollingworth & Wardle at a cost of £85,000. This new workhouse included a tramp’s ward. Tramps were originally unemployed men who walked the country looking for work.

In 1902 a hospital block was built, and later in 1931, a maternity home and children’s ward. When the National Health Service was formed in 1948 the hospital and workhouse were joined together into one service.

Today much of Birch Hill Hospital has been sold for private development and most services have transferred to the Infirmary.

This is a selection of grafitti from the cells in the tramps ward of the Dearnley Workhouse.
Some is funny, some is poignant, some is downright rude. All give us clues about the people who came and went through the workhouse system.

The transcribed graffiti from the cells is reproduced below.

Cell 2

Oh let me like a mucher fall
Into some good old spike
With a can of Skilly in my hand
And some hard up in my pipe

The pauper is a bloody shit
Worse than the master

This is a cold cell but a good porter

Cell 3

Starvation Villa near Rochdale

Blessed is the man who has a chest
And money to put in it
The man is a fool who enters this hole for 1 day and 2 nights

Hark, Misery & Co Starvation Villa near Rochdale

The pauper is worse than the master, he is a whore.

Cell 4

O’er memorys altar let me throw
This little wreath of rhyme
In future years twill serve to show
The rapid flight of time

Rochdale Spike is a tidy shop.

No. 1384 Trooper J. Evans B Troop 9th Lancers, came home from Umballa, India Service 7 years and 4 months.

Rochdale Spike is not so bad.

Whether be of nobler in the mind of man to suffer the pangs ?? of an outrageous fortune, or be in the Bosom of the Ocean Buried.

Oh death where is your victim

Tho’s Rollinson, 4th May 1890
I am a poet, I suppose you don’t know it.
Liars go to hell
A Sabbath well spent
Brings a week of content
And health for the trail of tomorrow
But a Sabbath of profane
Whatsoever shall be gained
A certain fore runner of sorrow

O you c you for being in this spike to snap demands for slop water and dry bread.

Bad luck to Rochdale Spike

What have you in your pockets, Pipe, Knife, matches, money inside there, strip

A Mucher is like a watch that wants both hands. As useless going as standing.

Muching is what I have often sighed for Even cried for
Sometimes lied for
That should I let it slide for
Home Sweet Home

Jack Tripper here on Sat. June 2 going to Manchester then to hill with a girl I know.

Cell 5

Rochdale spike is a good one, so people seem to say. I am not quite sure upon that point Brification therefore delayed for the present
Yours sincerely
Moses the Jew...
From Petticoat Lane

When apples are ripe they want plucking
When girls are out they want f……

This is a whore of a spike

Home Sweet Home there is no place like Rochdale spike. Good suppers Ham and Eggs. Good breakfast ditto.

To hell with spikes I am broken-hearted

Rochdale spike is a shite

Spikes is the last place God made

Whoever planned this, planned it well and I hope his soul will be planed in hell

Cell 6

Joseph Hough from Salford near Manchester. Born May 5th 1844

Oh you Salm singing hypocritical preaching sons of Judas, what think you of this.

Beware of the shower bath at Rochdale
Old Scoty Hunter the dam’d old dog
The Rev. A. A. Jones, St. Paul’s Vicarage, Llanilly South Wales writes:-
Your medicine has been most successful in alleviating pain, removing infirmities and some instances curing the pocks as proved in the instance of my wife the flaming old whore

Cell 7

Poor Patsy kept in a cold cell all day picking wool

William Ewart Gladstone first Lord of the Treasury slept here on the 5th March.

Oh isn’t it a sin and shame to write upon this wall your name
With boys blood that I spilt thousands last night that I kilt

Cell 8

Beware of the shower bath at Rochdale.

Jack Ninter, poor old bugger locked up all day

For soft stone this is the best spike.

To the memory of a poor old tramp who departed this life from the effect of repeated overdoses of grub in this workhouse

This is the spike to get fat.

Cell 9

J.A. was in this spike on the 30th June and he likes it very well.
Coffee for breakfast and Tea for supper
Soup, for dinner and the work is nothing.

J.A. says he likes this spike, I hope he will get enough of it. J. M. August 12th ’84.

Rochdale is a horrid hole.

This ... is a tidy place.

Education is a fine thing. It rises the child from the gutter, it makes the boy write c- on the wall, and the girls write prick on the shutter.

Poor Jack from Warrinton is very hard up, he is 35 years on the road poor beggar.


Cell 10

Spider from Sheffield.

Fred Mallunson from Leeds, this is the end of Gambling, drinking, horse racing. Now I am only 21 years old, so what shall come I cannot tell.

J.S. is here the 16, 17 and 18 and poor beggar has to get to Glasgow yet

Though dark my path and sad my lot
Let me be still and murmer not ‘much’ But breathe the prayer divinely taught, thy will be done.

God bless me wonderfully in this spike.

This is the best spike in Lancashire, the best meals you have no work to do, they will dam near kill you and claim your wish -

Cell 11

Michael Doyle was in 1st March 1888, signed, By Order.

This is a rotten spike.

This spike is a cold hole, farewell spikes.

There is a fountain filled with Skilly, drawn from a copper hob, and tramps plunge beneath its flood and scoff the bloody lot.

God is our prophet, Priest King

God is Love

No more spikes by the help of God.

Blessed be the name of Almighty God and his blessed mother the Virgin Mary

Cell 12

This is a perishing crib, it wants throwing over. Bedad.

I will remember 1886, the year my mother died
And you ought to have died also.

C**t is a funny thing
It makes a man a fool
It takes away his appetite
And wears away his tool
Signed I. Thomas

Rochdale spike best in England bar none. I proved it so far I’ve been in every spike in England this last 25 years
Yours truly
Jack the Ripper.

This is a prison not a spike, signed Andrew Hougrynobs Esq,
The Muchers Avenue


Cell F2

This place wants burning down and all like it. Caper: Mornlight

Harry Meadows was here on the 17th April ’88, it is a home of a place

.... from the boy mucher and (t)his brother Sam.

J.S. at aucher in Peace in the haven of rest.

This is a good spike, whoever comes in it ought to be buggared.

See the latest welcome to Church Protestant, Presbyterian, Jew and Atheist, all are welcome but a Rapist.
Whosoever wrote the above done it well for the same is written on the gates of hell.

Cell F3

Of all the spikes which detains tramps for two nights Burnley spike is the best of all the lot, it is the warmest and most comfortable.

Of all the spikes which detains tramps for two nights this is it for ??

12 June ’89 I.S. here again poor bugger.


Cell F4

Thomas Andrew’s from Manchester here Jan. 9th 1887

God help the tramps

No. 2522 Private William McCarrow Y Company 2nd Batt. Royal Inniskillings Fusilier’s 108 Reg. Served in South Africa, Zululand, Singapore and ...

Cell F8

As a hot bed is to a garden, so is a spike to a prison, Proverbs xxxxch.49 v1

The Nuns Prayer
Holy mother we believe
Without sin thou didst conceive
Holy mother thus believing
Can we sin without conceiving
Yes my daughters but you’d better
When your sinning use a letter
Holy mother in that we trusted
But whilst we sinned the dammed thing busted.

Cell F6

Poor Joe from the South.

All tramps are dam’d scamp’s,
yours truly A. Simpson.

Plenty of boys about this spike.

Cell F10

Rochdale spike very good.

My dearest 2 shillings.

Damnation to you who keep this spike.

Jack Buckley Howarth, 63 Manchester Reg: was in here on the 8th Feb 1888

Cell F7

Britains never shall be slaves.

Poor King has been doing one month for mouching. Spike same night role on boys, J.H. 16.4.1890 Hard up.

Bradford muck on the road to hell.

Cell F12

Peter Emmett from Dover, cheer up for Chatom.

My dear little sister you had a blister which caused in your belly much pain.

My dear little sister you had a blister which caused in your belly some bones, you had a stiff prick put into your nick, and your horse-hole well battered with stones.

Bad spike April 22. 1888

In picking cotton one fine day, in this here spike so macky, I managed to pick the biggest lot, and cop’d half an ounce of baccy, Joe Blobb.


Cell F5

Of all the trades in England,
Munching is the best,
for when your tired and hungry,
you can sit you down and rest.

source: www.rochdale.gov.uk