Boy of the Workhouse

Judge’s Comments – WINNER

This is cleverly constructed – I appreciated the ‘show rather than tell’ nature of the introduction before we meet the main character, Daniel. Rebecca describes the character’s emotions and trauma very well, particularly when it comes to his memories of being taken from his mother, and the short sentences towards the conclusion really do a good job of conveying the sense of hopelessness Daniel has about his situation. The way he is so matter of fact about the death and hardship around him is very moving.

Boy of the Workhouse

by Rebecca Turner

“Help! Help me!”

Despairing cries were ringing around the barren exercise yard. All heads turned blankly in an owl-like manner towards the haunting wailing noise, which was now a whooshing sound, followed by a searing crack and an agonized screeching. To complete the ghastly scene, the man flogging ol’ Albert was Mr Cane. Or, at least, that’s what us ‘inmates’ call him. His real name is Lord Brimstone. When we heard Cane finish tormenting Albert, men flooded round him. Not for a good reason, for many.

“Did you see his expression?”

“He’s such a meater!”

Ol’ Albert was lying still on the floor. His hands were coarse and bloody, and his back gave the appearance of a man who had angered a tiger, and who had had claws scraped down his back. Bailey, the Matron, strode up. She raised her eyebrows.

“Just leave ‘im. ‘E’ll come round.” Kicking him, she swaggered off, sniggering unpleasantly. My name is Daniel. Daniel Troy. I am a prisoner. A prisoner of the workhouse.

When I first arrived here eight years ago, I was a pitiful scrap of bones bundled in ragged blankets. I lived with my mother for two years, until I turned seven. I hated that day. Torn from her arms, screaming. Never saw her again. The only thing I remember about her is her eyes. And how gentle she was with me. Apparently, in those years, my personality shone through. It seems I was strong but kind. I don’t know. I’ve never felt strong. Or, according to someone else, (three guesses who) I became an ungrateful troublemaker. Mother died a year ago. Consumption. Workhouse had got a large lot of money to pay for her treatment. It was a huge sum: fifty pounds. Fifty! Cane didn’t spend any on her. Not a sixpence. He spent it on a large new couch and a fancy suit. Gold trim ‘n’ all. He’s a spiteful man. Often I want to strangle ‘im. I’d use me bare hands.

I went in for lunch. It was stale bread with gruel. Saying was proved true ‘gain. Lizzie (an inmate) died in the night. Left in a coffin. Most of ‘em do. We sleep on the floor here, by the way. Without mattresses. It’s very cold and my back always aches. I have been flogged many times by Cane. I am now scarred, and will be for life. My only friend, Roy once wrote to a rich lady. E’ was taken off to ‘er mansion. N’er came back. E’s ‘appy now. Maybe I’ll give it a try…

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