"the spike"

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Senior Member
Russian, Spanish
What is the meaning of "the spike" here? Thanks:

"Turnips, appels, hops and peas /
And the spike when times are slack,
"Fifty years I've tobied it
"For these clothes upon my back."

(George Orwell: "A Dressed Man and a Naked Man", The Adelphi, October 1933).
  • velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    It's in our dictionary (Collins):

    British slang
    another word for dosshouse

    These were places where tramps could sleep, but for one night only and then they had to move on .


    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    This OED entry surprised me:
    slang. The workhouse. Also spec. the casual ward of a workhouse; an institution affording more or less temporary accommodation for the homeless.
    Could be right. Many people in hard times back then resorted to the workhouse.


    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Orwell himself (who had personal experience of them of course) tells us all about the "spikes", that he also calls workhouses, here:

    These places are about twenty kilometres apart, and no-one can stay in any one spike more that once a month. Hence the endless pilgrimages of tramps who, if they want to eat and sleep with a roof over their heads, must seek a new resting-place every night.
    A Day in the Life of a Tramp
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