Just to the North of the Cloudesley Estate, at the junction of Liverpool Road and what is now Barnsbury Street (see old maps), was St Mary's Workhouse.  The workhouse was a grim but important feature of Georgian and Victorian life, especially after the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.  The history of workhouses is well documented in a remarkable website compiled by Peter Higginbotham, here.  Of particular interest to Cloudesley residents is his section on Islington Workshops, here, from which much of the following, including images, has been taken.

The building of St Mary's Workhouse started in 1776 and by 1814, according to Higginbotham, "there were 407 inmates, 95 men, 186 women, 64 boys, 48 girls, and 11 lunatics [sic] with room for about 50 more".  In other words, a huge establishment.  In 1869 a new, larger workhouse was built on St John's Road near Archway.

St Mary's, Liverpool Road WorkhouseSt Johns Road Workhouse

Life in the workhouses was of course grim.  Inmates were kept in spartan conditions and were assigned hard labour such as the mindless task of preparing "oakum" - tarred fibre used for caulking - by unravelling old ropes.  On the other hand, there was probably a huge variation in conditions from workhouse to workhouse, and at St Mary's the staff at least appeared to have meant well and attempted to do the best for their charges with the limited resources available to them.  Higginbotham includes an extract from a review by The Lancet in 1865 which paints quite a cheery picture - see below:

Extract From Lancet Review of St Mary's 1865oakumpickingwomen 2Workhouse Meal

Perhaps a better impression of the reality of workhouse life can be glimpsed by studying the records of individual inmates.  It is possible via Ancestry to access workhouse admission and discharge records and the St Mary's Liverpool Road entries for 1866 are available here and offer a horrifying insight into the appalling and shattered lives of many islington residents at the time, as the following screenshots show.  The admission records reveal that inmates came from neighbourhoods all round the Cloudesley Estate, particularly from Caledonian Road (see the George Gissing description, here) and Copenhagen Street, often whole families at a time, and hint at the underlying tragedies involved.  The discharge records are scarcely less dismaying, with common destinations including "Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum", "Infant Poor House", "Fever Hospital", and of course "Died".

Download Records

 As the last image in the download starkly reveals, between April 27 and May 5, 1866, Mary Ann Jones, Charwoman and widow, aged 78, was admitted from No 2 Cloudesley Street.  "Cause of Seeking Relief" is, as usual, listed as "Distress".  Apart from this, however, cursory examination of the records reveals no other instances of Cloudesley Estate residents being admitted to the workhouse in 1866.  This might suggest that the area was relatively well off compared to neighbouring streets such as Caledonian Road.  Similarly, although there are several instances of inmates being discharged into "the service of [name and local address]..." no such examples involving households in the Cloudesley Estate have been found, although no doubt a steady traffic both out of and into the area would have occured over the years.

Finally, to end on a slightly more uplifting note, from other sources entirely we learn of one Charles Arthur Holland-Goodwin who was born as an illegitimate child to his mother Elizabeth in 1902 in the St John's Road workhouse.  But by 1961, he has married Rose Juliff, enjoys presumably steady employment as a Stationery Checker, and is living at ...  16 Cloudesley Square! (My house - Nick).  More on this redemptive story later!