Workhouse Voices: Creative Writing Competition

Please note:

The competition is now closed for new entries. Due to the incredible response to the competition, we will be extending the judging period until the end of January to ensure there is enough time to read each entry properly. The winners will be announced shortly before February half term. Many thanks for your patience. We look forward to reading your stories!

Are you interested in the following?

  • Sharpening your creative writing skills  
  • Exploring the real stories of people contained in original historical documents 
  • Delving into the historical background of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens 
  • Entering The National Archives first ever creative writing competition for school pupils at Key Stage 2, 3 and 4  

What do I have to do?

To enter our creative competition, you will need to write a short story which describes life in a Victorian workhouse or an experience of the Poor Law drawing your inspiration from the real people who wrote the letters in our new online collection: Workhouse VoicesWhat did paupers say about the Poor Law?  

In the words of those who wrote these letters it was a harsh, difficult, inhumane experience: 

‘They put soap in the provisions that dogs will not eat’

‘If any of our parents bring anything, we are not allowed to have it’

‘Take me out of this workhouse, I do not like to be in here’

What makes a good entry?

  • Realistic characters, good background detail on the workhouse system to make your story believable, sense of location, interesting language, description and dialogue which reflects the time. Use one, several, or all the letters to inspire you.  
  • Start by reading the letters in Workhouse Voices the collection. We will also be adding sound to these documents during the competition period. They already are transcribed to help reading the handwriting. Do not forget to look at the resources and links below to help with your research before you begin. 

Who can enter?

  • Anyone in Key Stage 2, 3 and 4 may enter the competition.
  • There will be three winning students in each Key Stage who will receive a £25 book token and a goody bag from The National Archives Shop. 
  • Stories will be judged by a panel from the Education Service at The National Archives and our special guest judge, Sharon Gosling, author of The Diamond Thief, The Golden Butterfly and The House of Hidden Wonders. Sharon says:

“I’m delighted to have been asked to join the judging panel for The National Archive’s first creative writing competition. I have long been fascinated by the Victorian period, and the archive is rich with diverse voices and histories from that era of our past. I’m really looking forward to reading the stories the entrants come up with as they explore what life was like for those in the workhouses, so come on – start scribbling!”

Terms & conditions

  • Your story should be 400-450 words. 
  • Entries must be received by 30 November 2020. (Please note, this deadline has been extended from the previous deadline of 31 October.)
  • Only stories with an entry form will be accepted Entry form (PDF, 0.16MB), Entry form (Word document, 0.06MB). 
  • Entry is open to all students in Key Stages 2, 3 and 4 for school year 2019/20 and 2020/2021. 
  • Entries must be typed or handwritten and legible. 
  • Entries must be sent to with the completed entry form. 
  • Without this form, your entry will not be accepted.  
  • Don’t forget to list on your entry form the letter(s) which have inspired your story. 
  • Your entry can be illustrated. 
  • Results of the competition will be posted on The National Archives Website.  
  • Winning entries will be showcased on the Education website with some of the letters that have inspired your writing. 
  • Prize winners will be emailedin February 2021 and will receive their prizes via post. (Please note, this date has been extended from December 2020.)

Please note: due to the amount of entries received in our Workhouse Voices Creative Writing competition towards the end of the deadline, we will be extending the judging period until late January. We want to ensure we have enough time to read each story properly in each category. We are overjoyed by the response to our competition and can’t wait to read the hundreds of fantastic entries that have been sent in. We will be creating a shortlist for our guest judge, author Sharon Gosling, and will contact the winners by email in February 2021. The winners’ stories will be displayed on our website shortly before February half term alongside some of the historical documents which inspired their work. Thank you all for your brilliant writing. Keep an eye out for the announcement soon.

For further inspiration: – Find out more about Charles Dickens, his experience of poverty and purpose in writing his novel Oliver Twist. The story of an institution. – Beneath the surface: A country of two nations 

Submit your entry