The Master’s Entertainment

Judge’s Comments – WINNER

I like the perspective of this coming from a member of staff rather than an inmate. I also like the casual mention of missing fingers, which hints at how often injuries like this happen at the workhouse. That’s a great example of ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’, and adds depth to the piece. I love the description of the workhouse and its ‘high, bare walls’ and lack of light, and the Poor Law was also cleverly woven in there.

The Master’s Entertainment

By Madison Connor

The clock tolled midday, a series of chimes ringing out an ear-splitting harmony. No one was in the ward, so I had no excuse yet to put down my novel and accompany the rest of the staff to the Master’s place for his briefing. My morning hadn’t been a busy one; a couple of missing fingers and a gash down the side of someone’s brow, compared to last week where it seemed as though I was running marathons around the ward.

The corridors were deserted, dinner was always served at midday in the dining hall, located farthest from the Master’s place on the north side of the complex. Thankfully, the hospital ward was a short walk away, nothing caused me more distaste than walking amongst the bare high walls of the workhouse, dim from the windows six feet above the floor, cutting off the inmates’ ability to look out. That alone was enough to make a sane man feel claustrophobic, as though trapped inside a prison; which in some ways I suppose this was.

First to reach the Master’s place, I took a stand at the back of the room, joined by the teacher, Chaplin, porter and lastly the Matron strode in, positioned closest to the desk. Our bodies automatically stiffened as the Master walked in, causing us to stand just that little bit more upright. He took his seat and proceeded with the same message as always, though this action was rehearsed many a time. We were informed about the current situation inside and out the workhouse; we were just as shut away from the outside as the paupers, something I rather disliked. The Master informed us about the latest news from the Poor Law Union; their message unchanged. Make the workhouse as unpleasant as possible to discourage more requests of help from the poor. Of course, this was very much achieved through the Master himself, constantly attacking and punishing paupers, never sending them to my ward afterwards for help.

“Send me his medical report straight away!” a voice boomed out, cutting off my daze.

Looking up bewildered, my eyes met an ice-cold stare, realising that he was directly addressing me. I asked whose report he required, having not caught the name the first time, only to find that this displeased him even more.

“Hankinson,” he spat, “John Hankinson. He’s persistently claimed he cannot work as a hand loom weaver due to rheumatic pains! I’ve punished him but I’m tempted to send him to prison for hard labour!”

I committed the victim’s name to my memory, praying for the pauper that his medical report would excuse him, even still, the Master would send him there for entertainment anyway.

Return to Workhouse Voices Creative Writing