Finding Old Poor Law records
Most of our Old Poor Law documents can be found in the parish collections under ‘L’. For example, ‘P68/L’ is the reference for Poor Law administration for Claverley.
Records found within the parish collections may include:
- Overseers’ accounts (if you can’t find these under ‘L’ it is worth looking to see if they have been included with the churchwardens’ accounts under ‘B’)
- Settlement examinations, certificates and removal orders
- Bastardy papers including bonds, warrants and orders
- Apprenticeship records
These are fairly easy to find if you are browsing by area and most (that is, settlement, bastardy and apprenticeship records) are catalogued with names so can also be found if you are name searching. Overseers’ accounts are not currently catalogued by name, but we are in the process of exploring options for adding a name index to each volume. The accounts can be particularly useful as in addition to recording relief payments, they often include lists of rate-payers in the parish.
You can find an updated list of covering dates we have Old Poor Law material for each parish here:
Poor Law Union records
Likewise, if you are looking for a specific area or institution, New Poor Law records are reasonably straightforward, and are catalogued by Union, ‘PL1’ is Atcham, ‘PL2’ is Shrewsbury and so on. Some Union records also include bundles of examinations and certificates that may pre-date the New Poor Law.
The workhouses website is a great place to start as it lists all of the workhouses in each county and gives you a lot of detail into what life was like in them:
If you can’t find your ancestor in these sources, but suspect they were poor (or you have found them here and want to explore their life further), there are other places to look for these records. The following is designed to help you find them (however please note that it is not a comprehensive list!)
As the overseers of the poor were an administrative body in the parish, typical Poor Law material as mentioned above can also be found in the following Borough collections in the parish section:
Wenlock Borough – WB (WB/H/1 and WB/H/4)
Ludlow Borough – LB (LB/15/2)
Bridgnorth Borough – BB (BB/G/1)
Shrewsbury Borough – 3365 (3365/723-743, 3365/756-757 and 3365/2717)
Quarter Sessions records
These are worth looking at if your ancestor moved around a lot for work (for example if they were listed in the parish registers as an agricultural labourer or soldier) or if you have an ancestor born out of wedlock, as the authorities may have issued a bastardy order to the reputed father.
Of most use are:
Sessions Order Books – QS/1
These summarise appeals against removal and bastardy orders and give the eventual verdict. Often you will find the same paupers appearing in two (or more!) consecutive Quarter Sessions so as to give both parishes the opportunity to appeal…
As there is one volume for several years, these are the easiest place to begin searching the Quarter Sessions records. We have them from 1709 and in the search room also have a book of printed abstracts.
Sessions Rolls – QR
The court generated a considerable amount of paperwork and settlement examinations are often included in the sessions rolls, even if the outcome was not disputed and therefore not recorded in the order book.
Even if the Poor Law records for the parish you are interested in don’t appear to have survived, you may still find them in the sessions rolls, as if settlement examinations were dealt with through the court, the records are likely to have been filed there. Sometimes they are duplicates of those in the parish collections; however, as not all have survived, you may find these to be the only copy. ‘QR/134’ for example, (the April 1783 session roll) has over 200 settlement examinations, well over half of which are for Whitchurch, which doesn’t have any surviving material in the parish collection. These are not currently catalogued individually so wouldn’t come up if searching for the people named in them.
Sessions Files – QS/6
Similar to sessions rolls, these may contain additional documents relating to bastardy and settlement cases. From 1781 to 1803 these have been catalogued individually.
PROJECT UPDATE: I will be beginning to catalogue the Old Poor Law documents at piece level within the Quarter Sessions over the next few months to make them more widely available.
I found a particularly interesting example of a settlement dispute in the sessions order book that covers the years 1783-1789, QS/1/6. It consisted of an appeal from the parish of Titterley (in Chester) against the removal of George Owen, his wife and children from Ightfield (in Shropshire) to the said parish of Titterley. According to the appeal, George Owen had in 1857 been settled in Titterley when at the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a shoemaker in Ightfield. It then gives a full transcription of the indenture, from which we learn that his father Roger Owen agreed to continue providing food and clothing for his son during his apprenticeship. It then transpires that during the 5 and a half years George served as an apprentice, he lodged with his master during the working week in Ightfield, going home to his father at weekends. ‘The pauper never continued forty days together in either of the said parishes or places but lived and resided as above more than forty days in both.’
The decision reached by the court was to uphold the original order of removal to Titterley. In reaching that decision however, the sessions order book had given us the names of George Owen’s wife, children, father and apprentice master as well filling in a considerable amount of his life story. From the information given in the order book, I was also able to find the removal order, details of the appeal and a copy of the apprenticeship indenture in the session files, QS/6/4/307 and QS/6/4/313.
Sometimes Poor Law documents come into the archives as part of a private deposit. These tend to be kept with the other records they came in with, rather than moved to parish collections, so can be difficult to find. Below is a list of some of the collections with substantial Poor Law material.
2089 – Moseley collection
The Poor Law records are in the parish section, ‘2089/7’, as follows:
2089/7/1/6 (26 Poor Law documents including settlement examinations, bastardy records and apprenticeship indentures – Buildwas parish)
2089/7/2/5 (poor rate assessment – Shineton parish)
2089/8/4/70 (poor relief assessment – Enville/Enfield parish)
D3651 – Salt solicitors’ collection
D3651/G/15 (miscellaneous bonds, some of which relate to bastard children)
D3651/B/2/6/1 (churchwardens’ accounts for Bitterley which include overseers’ accounts at the back of the volume)
6000 – Manuscript collection
6000/121 (various Poor Law documents relating to the parish of Battlefield)
6001 – Manuscript collection
6001/266 (overseers’ account book, Shrewsbury St Julian’s parish, 1766-1767)
6001/4485 (assessment for poor rate, borough of Shrewsbury, 1713-1714)
6001/369 (assessment for poor rate, Shrewsbury St Chad’s parish, 1792)
6001/5362 (poor rate book, 1844-1845)
321 – Giles and Horton
This is currently an uncatalogued collection, but a basic list of documents can be seen in the search room. It includes a volume of settlement examinations for Ellesmere, Loppington and Middle covering the years 1792 to 1833.
There are also various additional Poor Law documents in other collections (this includes Union records if you are interested in the New Poor Law) so please do ask if you can’t find what you are looking for, as there may be further records elsewhere.