A museum home to thousands of archives is to have its dark past as a parish workhouse revealed in a new exhibition.

'The workhouse: life on the edge in 18th century Walthamstow' opens up Waltham Forest's archives to uncover what daily life was like for the poor and destitute and those who tried to help them between 1730 and 1981.

The two-storey brown stock brick building, which now houses the borough's largest collection of local archives, was built at the cost of £343 12s and 3ds in 1730 after the Vestry purchased an acre of land in Walthamstow Village for £6.

Conditions were harsh and it was a place of last resort for many.

Yet, for the unemployed, sick, elderly, pregnant or orphaned children who lived there, it provided a place of refuge when there was nowhere else to turn.

The ground floor room to the left of the front door was used for Vestry meetings and the rest of the building was occupied by the paupers.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Illustration by Thomas Rowlandson of the Vestry Room in 1806 (credit: The Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University)

A stone-inscribed plaque above the museum's entrance to mark its completion still remains today, and reads: 'if any would not work neither should he eat'.

After its life as a workhouse, it was a police station and private house owned by the Maynard family until 1912 when it passed over to Miss Constance Demain Saunders, JP.

The remainder of her lease was offered to the council in 1930 where it was decided it would become a museum.

Curator Rowan Bain, said: "Many people’s knowledge of workhouses is based on popular fiction, particularly Oliver Twist.

"But small parish workhouses like this one actually reveal a more complex picture.

"Although the workhouse was a place to be feared, it also provided shelter and a home for many that had no other options."

Council leader Chris Robbins described it as a "thought-provoking exhibition" and said visitors will be fascinated by the stories of the poor.

The exhibition will run from September 19 to January 17.