Judge’s Comments – WINNER

I thought the descriptions in this were beautifully phrased, as was the way the author built the atmosphere of the workhouse. ‘Their faces were as pale as the dust of the windowsill’ stood out to me – it manages to give a lot of information in a very succinct, eloquent way. I also loved the extended metaphor of Mrs Watson’s tablecloth and the sun glinting on the snow like the silver thread running through the same. Some lovely imagery there. I also thought the way the final sentence recalled the title was very clever.


by Florence Coen

I woke up and stumbled over to the window. Violet, Eliza and Bessie were still sleeping. They were huddled up together under the thin rough brown blanket like tiny chicks in a nest. Their faces were as pale as the dust on the windowsill under my knees. Suddenly Bessie coughed, startling me.

‘Ada, come back to bed. The bell hasn’t rung yet!’

‘It snowed last night. Out there, it’s as white as Mrs Watson’s tablecloth. I wish I could go out to play in it!’

I looked across the yard and saw how the morning sun glinted on the snow, just like the silver thread in the tablecloth. Beyond the yard, I caught sight of Mr Watson’s beautiful garden. We weren’t allowed in there although people said that the garden was meant for us to use. They said that His Grace Hugh Percy, Duke of Northumberland had given the land to the Workhouse. I wonder whether he had ever thought to visit and see if we used the garden. I could see the holly trees with their beautiful red berries and their vibrant green leaves. Birds and small animals had left tiny footprints in the snow. I wanted to explore the garden and make snowballs, just like I had seen Mr Watson’s children doing.

I shivered from the cold breeze blowing through the crack in the window onto my thin nightdress. My tummy rumbled violently. I was starving…again! Last night’s supper had been cold greasy broth and a piece of mouldy bread, and foul cabbage. That wasn’t the worst though. My friend Albie had got into trouble for just whispering to other boys during supper. Matron came up behind him and pulled Albie up by his ears with such force that she tore his earlobe. He screamed as she dragged him to the Black Hole in the basement.

The bell rang and all of the girls in the long room tumbled out of bed and hurriedly put on their clothes. Then in single file we went down to the hall. Matron stood at the bottom of the stairs with Albie next to her. His eyes were red and tears splattered down his cheeks. Albie’s ears were so bruised and a snake of dried blood slithered down his neck. I felt sorry for him, but I carried on walking down the stairs so I wouldn’t get caught staring and get put in the Black Hole as well.

As we entered the hall we sat down one by one. Then we waited for our lump of bread and our pint of watery milk. Children slurped their milk and chewed bread ravenously. Nobody spoke. I could only dream about the outside.

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