Archaeologists have unearthed what life of the poor was like in the old St Pancras Workhouse more than 200 years ago - and have realised it was not as harsh as shown in popular culture.

Excavations have been completed at the two-acre Oriel site under Camden Council’s planning consent where the new Moorfields eye health centre is being built.

The site in St Pancras Way has been excavated by the Museum of London Archaeology where the old workhouse buildings once stood, before the site became St Pancras Hospital in 1929.

The original buildings from 1809 onwards were finally demolished after part of the site was hit during a German air-raid in the 1940 London Blitz.

“The survival of walls 3ft high with fireplaces and brightly-coloured plaster is extraordinary,” archaeologist Gwilym Williams reveals.

“Previously, little was known about these buildings other than the shape marked on parish maps. These discoveries give us a vivid picture of life in early 19th century workhouses.”

Islington Gazette: Original fireplaces with blue painted plaster walls have been uncoveredOriginal fireplaces with blue painted plaster walls have been uncovered (Image: MOLA)

Construction of a workhouse began in 1809 with several expansions throughout its 150-year history to support the poor but also to “deter people from taking advantage of the State”. So-called ‘inmates’ often ended up doing repetitive tasks or hard labour in harsh conditions.

But the archaeologists at St Pancras have discovered the workhouse may have had more focus on support rather than deterrence.

They uncovered fireplaces in the original 1809 building, suggesting they were installed for the comfort of inmates.

Islington Gazette: Institutional crockery was also foundInstitutional crockery was also found (Image: MOLA)

Walls were found coated in vibrant blue-painted plaster, a different picture to the dark, dingy workhouses often depicted since.

Items have also been found that were used in the workhouse. One room contained institution crockery such as plates with an image of St Pancras and the words ‘Guardians of the Poor St Pancras Middlesex’. Remains of a bone toothbrush with horsehair bristles showed that personal hygiene was important.

Islington Gazette: Yorkshire stone flooring has been revealedYorkshire stone flooring has been revealed (Image: MOLA)

Free healthcare was provided from 1812, when the first infirmary was built. Sick wards were later added for inmates and also for the local population of the parish, up to 1929 when the workhouse was turned into Pancras Hospital.

The site has uncovered a wealth of gems about life in the old workhouse.