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
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.
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
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
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
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.