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Living the Poor Life in Great Britain

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Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

Great Britain’s National Archives has recently completed an extensive effort to digitize and index poor law records from the Ministry of Health. These records, which cover the period from 1834 to 1871, are from letters, memoranda, reports, and other correspondence between the Poor Law Commission, the Poor Law Board, and the Local Government Board with Poor Law Unions and local officials. Twenty-one poor law unions from almost twenty counties in England and Wales are represented in the papers.


Of immense interest to historians, genealogists will also find a great deal of information in these records. Many documents involve cases submitted from local authorities to the Poor Law Board. The case of John Stanner of the parish of Radstock, for example, left a question that could not be answered locally. Widow Amelia Pratton was a pauper belonging to the parish of Holcombe, but resided at Radstock. She was “irremovable in consequence of her industrial residence there for five years” (She rented her house there for several years.) John Stanner married her, and at the time of the 1853 correspondence had become a pauper. The question was whether he was entitled to assistance based on his residence there with Amelia (who was irremovable), and whether he was disqualified because she herself was a pauper at the time of her residence. The case includes the fact that “Amelia Pratten was a Widow the fourth day of January 1849.” It also stated that “John Stanner married Amelia Pratten the seventh day of Feby 1853.”

Not every record is directly about people on the poor rolls. For example, some reports contains lists of people from whom poor law rates could not be collected. These people themselves were likely on poor, but not so destitute as to need government assistance. Such reports can be used to document residence in a particular parish for a certain timeframe.


The eighteen-month project to digitize these records involved more than 200 volunteers from across the country. The database is keyword searchable, and images of the original records can be downloaded from the TNA website. Thanks to the efforts of these volunteers, TNA can make the database available free of charge. For more information, visit the 19th Century Poor Law Union and Workhouse Records on the TNA website.


Posted by Michael Leclerc at 11/06/2010 02:16:35 PM | 


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