LIFE in Wiltshire’s Victorian workhouses was explored at a talk at the Central Library yesterday.

Archivist Margaret Moles delved into the bleak history of the institutions and the varied backgrounds of the inmates populating them.

Their significance in Swindon’s history has become evident to residents researching their family tree over the years, according to Margaret.

“With the growth of family history people are finding out that they had ancestors in the workhouses,” said the archivist at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, based in Chippenham. “The one for the Highworth and Swindon area was in Stratton St Margaret. Inmates could be of any age. Some were sent there because they were elderly, some because they couldn’t support themselves and others because they had mental health problems.

“The women would work on the laundry and in kitchens or would sew. The able men did stone breaking or separated ropes, which is called picking oakum. It was physical manual work.”

The Central Library hosts monthly historical talks. For more information call 01793 463238 or email