Spike History
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The Spike then
and now


Work started on the construction of the Guildford Spike in 1905 and the architect, E Lunn, was well known in the Guildford having carried out much work on the workhouse site.

The Spike, and the murky history it conjures up, is a fascinating building.  Towards the end of the 19th century the then current casual ward, which still exists on the St. Luke’s site, was considered too small and the decision was made to build a “modern” purpose built building, now known as the Spike.

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 did not recognise what the Elizabethans called “sturdy beggars” and the Victorians knew as “casuals” or “vagrants”.  This need was satisfied around 1837 when casual wards were provided within each workhouse union.

This presented an immediate problem however as the vagrants were “filthy, crude and coarse, regularly in gangs, they drank, fought, cussed and swore”.  They brought an air of disruption to the organised workhouse routines and many were confidence tricksters who were wholly untrustworthy.  As a result of this poor behaviour, the casual wards were eventually contained in their own building and this, in the majority of cases, (as at Guildford) were sited on the boundary of the workhouse property as far away from the main house as possible.

These wards were designed to discourage, as was the Workhouse.  The ethos on comfort and amenity was that they must be “worse than the conditions of the lowest farm labourer”.  As far as we know the Guildford Spike was one that did not provide beds.  Vagrants would have been given a blanket each and would have slept two to the cell (8’ X 4’6”).  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”.

By the 1870s most able-bodied men and women vagrants who were capable of work used the casual ward system with less and less being housed in the workhouse.  The casual wards around this time became known as ‘spikes’ and this is where most of the workhouse labour (known as tasks) now took place, this meant that larger casual wards were required and new ones were built, the Guildford Spike being a fine example of one of these purpose built ‘modern’ casual wards.

Vagrants were given ‘tasks’ to do to pay for their keep these included:

-          oakum production (often using a spike as a tool)

-          rug and carpet beating

-          log chopping

-          stone breaking

-          corn or maize grinding

We know that the Guildford Spike was used for stone breaking and wood chopping as four of the original grills remain.  The grills, designed by Lunn, are multipurpose and could be used either for stone breaking (stone chips fed through grills) or wood chopping (kindling fed through slots at the bottom of the grills).  It is these grills that make the Guildford Spike unique, as these are the only grills known of this type.

Further research will discover if other ‘tasks’ were also carried out there.

The high level of unemployment between the First and Second World Wars finished off the poor laws and by 1937 they had been replaced by the Unemployment Act and with that hard labour in the Spikes became a thing of the past although the Guildford Spike continued to be used as a hostel for casual workers and vagrants into the 1960s.


The Guildford Union Workhouse buildings were incorporated into the hospital that had developed from the Infirmary that was started in 1838.  The hospital was to become St. Luke’s one of Guildford’s main hospitals where many local children were born until the maternity ward closed in 1991.

During the last 30 Hospital/NHS years, part of the Spike was used for storing hospital records but it was also used as offices and a maintenance workshop for this large and busy hospital.  In the 1970s the five lantern lights were removed from the roof as they had become unsafe.


It has been the mission of the Charlotteville Jubilee Trust to improve community spirit and to encourage residents to socialise, help and support one another.

At one time Charlotteville had seven shops, with the majority of residents working locally and with this, the community “happened”.  People met in the shops, the pubs, at work, in the street and of course at the community centre.

One by one the shops closed, now there are none.  Local residents built the original community centre around 1913 together with a small chapel.  Both buildings were pulled down, despite much protest, in the late 1960s.  The replacement housing association building contains a small hall and chapel that were to be available to the residents.  This undertaking has never been honoured; both hall and chapel remain for the exclusive use of the housing association’s residents.

After the demolition of the centre the residents used Coyle Hall on the adjacent St. Luke’s Hospital site.  Whilst this was not a community centre it was somewhere where birthday parties, wedding receptions etc. were held.

In the 1990s this hall was threatened by the development of the hospital site.  With great foresight the Borough Council negotiated with the owners for the inclusion of a community centre in any new development.  In 1996 Coyle Hall was closed to be demolished some years later.

The community is grateful to the two schools in the area for the conditional use of their halls; however, whilst these are suitable for meetings and jumble sales they do not lend themselves to uses such as parties and general socialising.

It took nearly six years and more than £1.6M but we have created a very special Community Centre which opened January 2008 and Heritage Centre which opened in July the same year.