The British workhouse is the stuff of literature and legend. But what exactly was it? Surprisingly, no full-scale history of the workhouse has ever been written. Here, historian Norman Longmate tells the full story, from its beginnings in Elizabethan times until its demise in the 1940s, though mainly concentrating on the Victorian workhouse in the years of its tarnished glory. He describes the circumstances in the 1830s that led to the opening of 600 new workhouses—an event that met with astonishingly little opposition among reformers. He also records the riots, the protests, and the pleadings with which the poor challenged their virtual enslavement, and the misery of their daily lives when they were finally incarcerated within the workhouse walls.