Institutionalising the Poor
Almshouses, Infirmaries, the House of Correction and the Asylum
Workhouses were not the only institutions that housed the poor, particularly before 1834 when paupers were dealt with by the community. Other institutions where you might find them include:
Almshouses relied on charitable donations and were usually run by religious houses or organisations. You might find reference to them in the churchwardens’ or overseers’ accounts, as well as various other collections.
Sylvia Watts’ book on Shropshire almshouses (C 37.2 Reading Room), gives a good overview of the ones that existed in this county.
Two that we have fairly extensive records for are:
- Clun – Trinity Hospital and Almshouses: material includes nominations to fill vacancies in the hospital, title deeds, accounts and correspondence. See the Powis collection, 552/20/1612-1949 and box list for 8603.
- Shrewsbury – Millington’s Hospital: see printed lists for 2133 and 6269, papers and accounts in the Salt Solicitors collection (D3651/F/7/3) and Millington’s hospital, a brief history (D37.2 v.f.)
Intended to provide long-term relief for the poor, almshouses were much like parish poorhouses, many of which became forerunners to the Union workhouses. You can often find the elderly and widowed housed in them. Poorhouses were maintained by the overseers of the poor so most of the information relating to them is in the overseers’ accounts.
Infirmaries were similar to almshouses in that they were usually charitable institutions, set up to provide free medical advice and treatment for the deserving poor.
At the archives, we have records for:
- The Royal Salop Infirmary: founded in 1744, see search room lists 3909 and 5764 – records include administrative material, plans and photographs and some records of staff.
- Bridgnorth Infirmary: founded in 1835, see search room list 2740 – records include minutes, accounts and surgeons’ visiting books. We also have 2 copies of Gillian Waugh Pead’s new book, The Bridgnorth Infirmary: Philanthropy, Prejudices & Patients 1832-1948, which gives a complete history of the institution, with fascinating stories of some of the individuals involved. If you’d like your own copy of the book, it can be purchased here: https://twitter.com/logastonpress?lang=en
House of Correction
The House of Correction and the gaol were both maintained by the Quarter Sessions. While the gaol was primarily a place of detention, The House of Correction detained and set to work rogues and vagabonds, punishing them if they were idle.
In the 18th century, it seems that many of those detained in the House of Correction were deserters from the militia and fathers who refused to pay maintenance for illegitimate children.
In the Quarter Sessions files (QS/6), which contain the administrative and judicial paperwork of the court, you can find quite a lot of information relating to the House of Correction, including regular lists of the prisoners in custody, as seen here.
In this example, two of the prisoners, Margaret Garbett and James Bourn, have both been detained for having bastard children.
Wandering paupers who were continually a nuisance were also sometimes held in the House of Correction until their removal, as this stopped them from absconding. Settlement and removal orders can be found in the parish Poor Law collections and in the Quarter Sessions rolls. Hannah Brumer’s settlement examination and removal order states that she has already been ‘removed from place to place’, and has now been apprehended and ‘committed to the House of Correction’.
Paupers with mental health issues were not understood and were often labelled as lunatics or imbeciles and put in the asylum. At the archives, we have registers of pauper patients at Shelton Asylum covering the years 1845-1906 (9161/1-5). These records are incredibly detailed and as well as basic information list the date of admission, Union, county or borough to which they were chargeable and their supposed cause of insanity, complete with details of any attacks they had suffered. They also give the date of removal/discharge or death.