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Poor law and workhouse records

Records of poor relief are a valuable source for family and local history. They show details about people who would otherwise have disappeared from the written record.

Before 1834

Poor relief was a parish responsibility until 1834.  Officials called ‘overseers of the poor’ were in charge of paying poor relief. The money for poor relief was raised by a poor rate – so it was in the interest of people who lived in the parish to keep the rate as low as possible.   Paupers were often examined and removed from one parish to another.

Records relating to pre-1834 poor relief are found in the parish collections.  Ludlow is an exception as most records are in the Ludlow Borough Collection (LB15). There are also records relating to poor relief in the Wenlock Borough (WB) collection.

After 1834

The old system of poor relief was not suited to an industrial society, so in 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act changed the way in which relief was provided.

Under the new law, parishes grouped together in poor law unions, supervised by a local board of guardians. Each poor law union built a workhouse, and poor relief was only to be given to those desperate enough to enter it. Each poor law union has its own set of records.  Shropshire Archives holds records for the following poor law unions:

  • PL1 Atcham
  • PL2 Shrewsbury
  • PL3 Bridgnorth
  • PL4 Church Stretton
  • PL5 Cleobury  Mortimer
  • PL6 Clun
  • PL7 Drayton
  • PL8 Ellesmere
  • PL9 Ludlow
  • PL10 Madeley
  • PL11 Newport
  • PL12 Oswestry
  • PL13 Shiftnal
  • PL14 Wellington
  • PL15 Wem
  • PL16 Whitchurch

Unfortunately, sometimes information relating to workhouse inmates hasn’t survived for some of these poor law unions.

Later records (Public Assistance)

Under the Local Government Act, 1929, the unions were abolished and the County Council took over many of their functions.   Following the Public Assistance Act of  1948,  medical duties were passed to the Ministry of Health and local authorities remained responsible for the care of children and the elderly. After this time, many workhouses became hospitals.  Shropshire Archives holds records of some of these Public Assistance Institutions.

Finding and using poor relief documents at Shropshire Archives

Our online catalogue includes records of poor relief. Sometimes, mostly in the case of pre 1834 documents, names of people receiving relief are given on the online catalogue. In other cases, you may have to check through volumes or bundles of papers.

Most of the information is original so you’ll need to view documents in our Search Room. Some records have been copied onto microfiche and the catalogue will indicate if this is the case.

Please be aware that data protection applies to records which include personal information about people who may still be living (assuming a lifespan of 100 years) so there can be restrictions on what you can view.

Find out more

For background information, what types of documents are most useful for family history and how to find them at Shropshire Archives, check our guides to the poor relief before 1834 and poor relief after 1834 on our printable short guides page.

Our archive intern is working on poor relief records, supported by Shropshire Family History Society. Check her posts on our poor law project blog to find out more about the fascinating material she’s discovered.

Or why not buy a more detailed guide to the pre 1834 records from our shop?

There’s also lots of detail on the Workhouses and Children’s Home Records websites.

Information in other places

The records of the Poor Law Commission, Poor Law Board and Local Government Board are at The National Archives, in the MH (Ministry of Health) department.