The fear of the Workhouse – New Poor Law of 1834

 

Poor Law

I wanted to share with you today a little about the Poor Law of England and Wales before I incorporate this into an expanded new module in my English/Welsh family history tutorials.

For years the ecclesiastic houses up and down the country were responsible for looking after the poor and so as consequence of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, the problem passed to the government.

The old Elizabethan Poor Law was devolved to the Parish Vestry to administer. This was a council of officials from the parish and an arm of local government with responsibilities that covered more than just the church whose vestry they may have used in which to meet.

While the funds used to support the poor of England and Wales were collected in a standard manner, by charging rates to land holders, the individual parishes had discretion in how to deal with their paupers. This is explained in more detail at the beginning of a fascinating webinar by Paul Carter, from the National Archives, in his online seminar: http://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php/webinar-people-fear-victorian-workhouse/

The expense of looking after the poor had been growing year by year up to 1834 and as it was being funded by the middle and upper classes in each town there was a real suspicion amongst this section of society that they were paying the poor to be lazy and avoid work.

After some years of annoyance to the rate payers, a new Poor Law was introduced by the government in 1834 and this new Poor Law was meant to reduce the cost of looking after the poor and also bring in a universal system across all the country.

Under the new Poor Law, parishes were grouped into unions and, if they hadn’t already got one, then each union was required to build a workhouse to serve its area. Except in special circumstances, poor people could now only get help if they were prepared to leave their homes and ask to go into a workhouse.

Conditions inside the workhouse were made to be unpleasant and deliberately harsh, so that only those who were so desperate for help would ask to be admitted. Families were split up and housed in different parts of the workhouse, males and females in different wings. The inmates were made to wear a uniform and the diet was monotonous, while breaking the rules could deprive a person of the normal rations as a punishment.

Southwell Workhouse

Inmates, male and female, young and old were made to work hard, often doing unpleasant jobs such as picking oakum or breaking stones. To get an impression of what it was like you can visit the National Trust’s Southwell Workhouse as I did. The damage that unpicking old ropes, to recycle the oakum, did to the hands of people who may once have worked in Nottinghamshire’s silk and lace industry meant that they would not be able to get work again and seems rather harsh. You can see what picking oakum looked like from my picture in the post I wrote after my visit to Southwell.

Children or the poor may have been hired out to work in factories or mines by the Board of Guardians of the workhouse, something that we find hard to understand today.

As many of our ancestors would have been poor, it is a sobering thought that this feared institution was a huge threat hanging over a worker should they became unemployed, sick or old. Not surprisingly the new Poor Law was hated by the poor as it seemed to punish people for falling on hard times even when it was through no fault of their own.

 

A well recommended website for doing more research is Peter Higginbotham’s http://www.workhouses.org.uk/

 

If you would like to learn more about English and Welsh ancestor research then you may be interested in taking a look at my family history course.

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Twiggy’s Family History on Who Do You Think You Are?

 

wdytya2014_twiggy  In the last of the present series and in a show that was the 100th from the BBC of the gripping genealogical programme, we were treated to 60’s icon, model and fashion designer Twiggy.

And what a great show it was.

Twiggy’s Who Do You Think You Are? research revealed that she has a family history story filled with colourful characters, leading lives as eventful as her own has been.

The story of her great-great-grandmother who turned to crime “uttering forged coins” (passing them in payment) and spending time in a Victorian prison. The same woman and her daughter who were prosecuted for stealing a significant amount of money from the girls employer. The mother, having taken all the responsibility and being convicted, doing hard labour.

Others who ended up in the workhouse and the tale of the parish, when faced with having to support the inmates of this harsh institution, prosecuted the husband for abandonment of his wife and children and had him committed to jail with hard labour.

The fact that the convicted man’s occupation was that of a Slater, a hard job dependent on seasonal employment and from his death records we discover that he had a strangulated hernia. All of which point to another era when the welfare state did not exist to provide the safety net that we all so much take for granted today.

So why did the Workhouse exist? Why was there such fear on the part of the administrators of the Parish Poor Relief that they made conditions harsher than those that a labourer on the outside had to endure?

Workhouse tasks
Picking oakum (pulling apart old rope) was a punishment in prison for Twiggy’s 2x great-grandmother. It was also the task given to Workhouse inmates.

 

 

For centuries in England, those who fell on hard times would become the responsibility of their parish. The old poor law system had coped well enough until around 1800 new demands on the system caused the government to think again.

Unemployment had risen to new heights, a consequence of the growing industrialisation of the country that now needed less men to make the goods that previously had been created in the old cottage industries.

Another pressure on the poor law came from the disaster of a succession of bad harvests that meant those who subsisted in rural areas found it difficult to feed themselves.

Then, on top of this, the ending of the Napoleonic Wars caused a great many soldiers to return from France with no work to go to.

In today’s United Kingdom, we often refer to a North South divide with the balance being towards the richer South. In the 1800s the industrial north, with its large cotton mills and other factories, fared better than the South where fewer industries existed to employ those people who had previously worked on the land and were no longer required.

As the situation got worse for the government, by 1832 they believed that they had to overhaul the poor law system and the way in which the poor relief was distributed. A Royal Commission was asked to look into it and as a result parliament passed the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.

A belief was widely held in the country that the poor were often undeserving of the money. That they were idle if they had no work. Under the new Act Parishes were compelled to ban together into Poor Law Unions that often covered a 20 mile radius and each Union a Board of Guardians were chosen to administer the new system.

The biggest result of this change that could have affected your ancestors was the provision of a workhouse in each Union.

Five hundred plus of these Union Workhouses were constructed during the next 50 years with two-thirds of them having been built by 1840.

Although workhouses were not a new phenomenon, under the old system most of the unemployed would have received poor relief while continuing to live in their own homes (so called “out relief”).

Any parishioners, now needing help after the passing of the new law, were compelled to live inside the workhouse, where conditions were made as harsh as possible so as to discourage all but those who were desperate from applying.

Families were split up. Men and women segregated with children over seven separated from their mothers and forced to live in the children’s section.

On admission the poor would have to undress, have their clothes taken away from them until they were discharged. They would have had a thorough wash and then dress in the workhouse uniform of rough shapeless material. This stripping away of identity was all part of the discouragement from claiming indoor relief.

 

I have more on the Poor Laws, the Workhouse and Crime and punishment as just some of the many topics covered in my comprehensive Family History Researcher Academy course for anyone researching their English/Welsh family history. At the moment there is a Special Offer trial from the link on this page of £1 for the first two weeks!

Read what some of my past members have said:

“I am finding the course very useful, even though I have been doing family history for many years.  Kind regards. ” H.Stephens

“You communicate in an understandable way! Thank you for the modules that I have had so far” P.Martin.

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Who do you think you are? Family history programme delights many fans.

Mary Berry

This week’s Who Do You Think You Are? on the BBC was a bit more traditional in tracing Mary Berry’s family back through various record sets. From what I can see, on the forums and on facebook, this has please many people who don’t like the recent trend of just one ancestor being looked at in a programme in more depth.

I have to say that I really enjoyed this week’s, with Mary Berry being a great choice to investigate with some interesting  ancestors that made use of a large number of resources from the family history researcher’s tool box.

In defence for those other programmes, with the single subject, I would just like to say that one of the points that I was taught (and which I myself now teach in my own family history course) is that family history involves looking at the social context of our ancestors, as well as collecting names, dates and details.

We need to understand the world in which our ancestors lived and what was happening to make them be the people that they were. Perhaps these editions were simply trying to show this and in the confines of an hour long programme this naturally excluded all the other generations that  would appear on the celebrity’s family tree.

That said, it would seem that the popular vote is for the later type of WDYTYA? Viewers from the genealogy pages on facebook  would prefer to see a family tree being traced back and a little bit of detail being fleshed out on the poor unfortunate person who had fallen on difficult times or who had shown great grit.

As long as when we come to research our own family tree that we don’t make the mistake of simply collecting names, dates, perhaps an occupation and place or two and then move on to the next generation without thinking a little about the social context of our ancestors, then my vote is also with the Mary Berry type of programme, but only narrowly in favour!

 

As I wrote this post today I was casting my mind back over the show and counting off the data sets and resources used for which I have modules in my Family History Researcher course.

There was her ancestor who was the baker with the contract for supplying bread to the Workhouse and the Outdoor relief paupers (not really made clear in the programme as to what each were, probably because of time constraints). My module on the Poor Law explains the difference between indoor and outdoor relief.

There was also Christopher Berry Junior’s wife and 6 children who ended up in the workhouse with some of the children dying while inmates, but the segregation that would have taken place between children and parent was not mentioned. See my module on the Workhouse.

Mary Berry was shown the Trades Directory and especially the one that her ancestor had published. In my course I have a module on Trade Directories written by Mary Bayley of TheGenelogist that uses that website’s great resources to explain their usefulness to the family historian.

Mary Berry had an ancestor of the same name as her who was identified in the GRO vital records as having had a number of illegitimate children. The Parish Registers also confirmed this fact. I delve into these three areas in separate modules on the Birth Marriage and Death certificates (lesson 2), the Parish Records (5 and 8) and Illegitimate children (21).

Then there was old newspapers (lesson number 42), Bankruptcy (lesson 29), apprentices (lesson 15), death records (lesson 25) and probably more!

If anyone is new to our fascinating subject, or is a seasoned family history researcher who would like to be refreshed on English/Welsh researching then I have a £1 trial for two weeks on offer at the moment.

Click the image below to find out more.

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Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2014

 

Who Do You Think You Are? Live

Its here!

The largest family history show in the world!

 

This week (Thursday 20th, Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd) Who Do You Think You Are? Live comes to Olympia with stands from all the major genealogical websites, family history suppliers, expert advice, talks from celebrities from the TV programme and a myriad of workshops.

The Nosey Genealogist will be there too on stand 56 showcasing our Family History Researcher Beginners English & Welsh Family History Course. As a special show offer we have re-introduced the popular £1 trial membership of our course that gives you two weeks lessons and some free bonus content.

To take advantage of this either come along to our stall, number 56 on the ground floor, or head over to our special trial webpage at http://www.familyhistoryresearcher.com/WDYTYAcomp/

The Nosey Genealogists has gathered together in one fixed-term-membership site a collection of 52 weekly lessons that will aid the beginner in English & Welsh family history to become a more knowledgeable researcher.

Also of great value to the more advanced, the course explores the different resources, data sets and documents that can reveal more about your English or Welsh ancestors.

 Nick Thorne

Written from the practical point of view by Nick Thorne, an advanced beginner (as even the most experienced researcher is always learning more) and, with the aid of some lessons penned by professional genealogists, this course is delivered by email to your inbox to do at your own pace.

 

Topics covered in the 12 months include:

  • The census collections
  • The Parish records
  • The Parish Chest
  • Dade Registers
  • County Record offices and what valuable treasures they contain
  • Nonconformist
  • Religious records
  • Clandestine marriages
  • City and Town Directories
  • Census substitutes
  • Apprentices
  • Professionals
  • Army
  • Royal Navy
  • RAF
  • Merchant Navy
  • Illegitimacy
  • The Workhouse
  • Poor Law
  • Death records
  • Burial
  • Wills
  • Rural ancestors
  • Bankrupts
  • Black sheep
  • Genetics and DNA
  • Occupations
  • Maps and Charts
  • The National Archives
  • Other depositories
  • Family Search Centres
  • Passports
  • Manorial records
  • Newspapers
  • and more!

 

If you are attending the show then do please come over and say hello and tell us that you read this blog. You will then be able to enter our competition to win a free copy of our next product due out soon!

 

WDYTYA?LIVE Olympia 2010

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The Idle Poor and the Deserving

 

Southwell WorkhouseI have just been to Southwell Workhouse in Nottinghamshire to look over an actual workhouse that is now run by the National Trust as a museum.

By doing this and seeing the layout of the accommodation, with its day rooms and exercise yards, my understanding of how these institutions worked has become clear.

 

In past times, before Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the care of the poor members of the community fell to the monks in the various religious houses throughout England and Wales. With the reorganisation that the dissolution brought, those poor ancestors of ours who had the misfortune to fall on hard times, would then have become the responsibility of their parish.

Under this parish system, the old poor law had coped well enough until around the year 1800 when, under increasing demands being made on the system the authorities were forced to review the process for supporting the poor.

The situation was that unemployment had risen to new heights, as a result of the burgeoning industrialisation of the country. Britain now required less men to make the goods that had previously been manufactured by workers in the cottage industries.

On top of this the disaster of a succession of bad harvests that meant those who subsisted in rural areas found it difficult to feed themselves, added to the demand placed on the poor law system as it had been constituted.

As if this was not enough for the Government, the ending of the Napoleonic Wars had meant that a great number of soldiers now had come back from France and they had no work waiting for them at home.

The Deserving Poor.

In my family tree I was, at first, surprised that none of my ancestors seemed to have ended up in the workhouse. As I found more and more forebears I had become complacent that all my lot seemed to make it in the world without having to “Go On the Parish” and then I found one.

It was a sad shock for me as the lady in question had been the wife of a Master Mariner, the mother of several children who had all married and were making their way well in the world. But there she was in one of the census spending the end of her life in the workhouse!

Her husband was nowhere to be found in the census and so I speculated that he must have died abroad, not being able to find his death record. She, poor woman, had nowhere to go but into the workhouse.

But the workhouse was also a place where medical care could be given to those with little means in a time before the availability of free hospitals or medical insurance. So perhaps this explains why she was there? The deserving poor were segregated from the idle poor having different quarters and exercise yards.

The Idle Poor.

The number of workhouses had grown after the enactment of the Workhouse Test Act of 1723. The thinking behind this was that this new Act would help to prevent irresponsible claims being made on a parish’s poor rate. Something that concerned those who had to find the money to run the system as the funding of it was paid for by the wealthier members of the parish.

By the 1830s, in England and Wales, most parishes had at least one workhouse to send its poor to.

So what would any of our ancestors, unlucky enough to have found themselves in this position have faced? Those poor unfortunates who had no option but to seek “indoor relief” would have to endure unpalatable conditions inside the institution. It was designed to be thus so as to put people off from entering the workhouse unless they had run out of alternatives for survival outside.

Families were split up. Men and women segregated with children over seven separated from their mothers and forced to live in the children’s section.

On admission they would have to undress, surrender their own clothes until they were discharged, have a thorough wash and then dress in the workhouse uniform which was usually made of rough and shapeless material. This was all aimed at discouraging people from entering the system by stripping away part of their identity.

The belief, at the time, was that the undeserving poor were idle and so they were made to do tedious jobs. Inmates who were not aged or infirm would have to work for their keep. The jobs given to them were deliberately chosen to be monotonous and boring. At Southwell they would grind corn, pick oakum or, for the females, do laundry work.

Workhouse tasks

The picture to the left is of an old rope from the docks that the inmates would pick apart so that the fibres could be sold back to the docks to be used in the caulking boats and ships.

 

 

So what about the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 and how this shook up the system?

There will be more detail about the workhouse inside my course on English and Welsh family history at: http://www.FamilyHistoryResearcher.com

 

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Rate Books for Family History Research

Ancestors in Thorne Family treeFollowing on from the last article here I got a comment posted by James McLaren of the Channel Island Family History Society regarding using Rate books both in his specialist area of Jersey family history research and also for London by using the Land Tax assessments and the Electoral Registers on Ancestry.co.uk.

As my interest was piqued I have done a bit more research on the subject and share some of my findings here.

A rate book is a document that was used to record the payment of property taxes that was applied to both residential and business properties in the U.K. until its replacement with the council tax during the 1990s.

As a resident of Jersey I am well aware that, in our island, Rates are still levied by our civil Parish administration along with a recent addition of an island wide rate collected at the same time. Some part of that rate pays for the upkeep of roads, lighting, bins emptied while a small part of it is still used to upkeep the ancient Parish Church in each of the twelve parishes of Jersey.

I was, therefore, interested to find that rates in England and Wales were originally a levy for the parish church that, by the time of Henry VIII’s Reformation, were also being used for non ecclesiastical purposes such as repairs to bridges and local goals. Many rates collections were to support the Poor Law to maintain the workhouses and provide money for the elderly or incapacitated parishioners.

The theory of rates was that a property would be assessed at what its annual rental value was and each year I am intrigued to see what my house in St.Helier has been deemed to be worth in rent – if I didn’t need to live in it, that is!

Returning to my look at rates collected in bygone England and Wales, some householders will no doubt have objected to the level of assessment of their property. Appeals were then heard by the Justices of the Peace.

The collection, of these land taxes, would have been the responsibility of the parish constable, until the establishment of professional police forces when a full or part-time rate collector would have done the job. It was up to the constable to record the payments, and any arrears, in rate books which were then perused by the parish officials.

My investigation revealed that the earliest rate books stretch back as far as the 16th century, but you would be very lucky to find one from then. Most seem to begin in 1744, which was the year when ratepayers were given the right in law to inspect the rate records. Needless to say not all will have survived the passing of time and so gaps will occur.

So where does one look for rate books? The answer is in the County or City Record Offices and also at local history studies libraries.

The websites that I use the most at the moment are Find My Past and The Genealogist.co.uk. To Take your family history further I recommend that you too consider a subscription to these websites. Take a look now and see what great data sets they have to offer:

 

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online



Disclosure: The Links in the above are Compensated Affiliate links. If you click on them then I may be rewarded by Findmypast.co.uk or The Genealogist.co.uk should you sign up for their subscriptions.

 

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Map tool at FamilySearch.org is great for family historians.

maps.familysearch.orgI’ve been using a great map tool at the LDS site, familysearch.org, this weekend and I have to say it has proved to be really useful so far. My attention was drawn to it by an article in this month’s Who Do You Think Tou Are? Magazine (Issue 59, April 2012) dealing with 50 Ways to get more from FamilySearch.org.

Tip number 7 is Explore Maps of English Jurisdictions. The idea is to see several types of jurisdictional boundaries, such as parish boundaries, poor law unions, counties, diocese and more on a map tool on your screen. By using different layers you are able to see the borders of each superimposed on to a Google map, or click to see Satellite or an 1851 Ordnance Survey Map instead.

I found using the “Radius Place Search” one of the most useful features in my quest this week. It is interesting to find out how far away from the parish, where my ancestors lived at one time, were the other Parishes in the area. I could specify 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 1, 5, 10 miles, or 20 miles radius to plot those within walking, or perhaps horse riding distance from the first.

I was using this tool to look at a line of forebears who suddenly turn up in one town and feature for a few generations, in the registers of the parish. My investigation is now to find out whether they moved in from the surrounding countryside and so I can specify a start parish and then, using the information box that appears on the map, then select the tab called “Options”.

Next I selected “Radius Place Search”. I was then able to select, from a drop-down menu, the various distances from between 1/4 mile to 20 miles and be provided with a list of parishes that fitted the criteria. I also made sure that I had selected the Parish and County options from the “Layers” tab on the left hand side. This, so that I could see the jurisdiction’s borders marked on the map.

By now selecting the tab “List” I could hover my cursor over the named parish and a pin would appear on the map at the place marking the parish. By changing the map from a modern Google map to the 1851 Ordnance Survey I was able to find a hamlet or area name that was of interest to my family and then go on to find the nearest parish to it that was within walking distance.

This is a really useful tool and the best thing is that it is FREE!

Go to http://maps.familysearch.org and try it yourself.

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Finding Ancestors Up To 1837 In An English & Welsh Family Tree

The National Archives at Kew

The National Archives at Kew

Why do we talk about the year 1837 in English & Welsh Family Tree research? Well this is when the General Register office or GRO was founded and That’s when and civil registration took over from the church in England and Wales.

The reasoning behind it was that the powers that be wanted to centralise data on the population. Consequently two Acts of Parliament were brought in to law by the Whig Government of the time.

1. The Marriage Act – which amended existing legislation for marriage procedures and brought in the addition of the registry office marriage; that allowed non conformist to marry in a civil ceremony. It is for that reason that you may sometimes see this piece of legislation referred to as the “Dissenters Marriage Bill”

2. Act for Registering Births Marriages & Deaths in England – which repealed previous legislation that regulated parish and other registers.

The new laws brought with them a change with 619 registration districts coming into force. These districts were based on the old poor law unions and so England & Wales were divided up into these districts for the purpose of civil registration.

For each of these districts a superintendent registrar was appointed. Further sub-districts being created within the larger unit and so from the 1 July 1837 all births, civil marriages and deaths had to be reported to the local registrars, who in turn sent the details on to their superintendent.

Every three months the superintendent-registrars would then send on the details gathered in their own returns to the Registrar General at the General Register Office.

So what was the case for church marriages? Well the minister was, in a similar manner, charged with sending his own lists to the GRO where the index of vital events were complied. This system means that many of us are able to simply find our ancestors in indexes and order copies of certificates back as far as the third quarter of 1837.

But how do we get back before 1837? That is a subject for another time.

Help Me Get Back Before 1837 in England & WalesHow To Get Back Before 1837 in England & Wales Audio CD is available now for £12.47.

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Family Tree Research Before 1837 in England & Wales

St Nicholas', Gloucester Parish Records are at County Record OfficeIn 1837 the General Register Office (GRO) was founded in England and Wales and civil registration took over from the church in this part of the UK. Two acts of Parliament were brought into law by the Whig Government of the time as they wanted to centralise data on the population…

1. The Marriage Act – which amended existing legislation for marriage procedures and brought in the addition of the registry office marriage that now allowed non conformist to marry in a civil ceremony instead of in the Church of England as previously required of all but Quakers and Jews. It is for this reason that sometimes you will see it referred to as the “Dissenters Marriage Bill”

2. An Act for Registering Births Marriages & Deaths in England – which repealed previous legislation that regulated parish and other registers.

The new laws brought with them a change whereby 619 registration districts came into force across the land. Based on old poor law unions that existed they divided up England & Wales into these various districts. A superintendent registrar was appointed for each district, with sub-districts created within the larger unit. And so from the 1 July 1837 all births, civil marriages and deaths had to be reported to local registrars, who in turn then sent the details on to their superintendent. Every three months the superintendent-registrars then sent their returns to the Registrar General at the General Register Office.

In a similar manner for church marriages, the minister was charged with sending his own lists to the GRO where the index of vital events were complied. This system means that many of us are able to simply find our ancestors in indexes and order copies of certificates back as far as the third quarter of 1837.

But if you want to get back before 1837 without the benefits of the centralised government records, then here are some pointers for you.

From the 16th century up until 1837 the parish church carried the responsibility of collecting records of its parishioners. While baptism was more important to the church than actual birth dates and burials were noted as opposed to deaths, the church was essentially an arm of local government collecting information.

Baptismal registers will normally give you the name of the child and that of its father, plus the date of the christening. Occasionally you may also see the mother’s name, most particularly if the child was illegitimate. In this case you could see the terms “base born” “bastard” or “natural born” on the record. Sometimes the godparents or witnesses also appear. This all goes to show how there was no standard format to baptismal registers until in 1812 Rose’s Act became law in England and Wales and standardised the information to be recorded on specially printed registers.

It should be noted, however, that Rose’s Act did not apply to Scotland or Ireland. These new standardised registers asked for more details than before and so now the clergy had to obtain the mother’s Christian name, the father’s occupation and his abode.

Churches kept parish registers locally. They were not collated or sent to any central depository but were retained by the churches themselves. In some cases, now, the registers have now been left to the county record offices and so you would be well advised to take a visit to the relevant record office to further your research and see the records most probably on microfilm or fiche.

The churches had a strong lockable box, known as the parish chest and into which it deposited its records. It was not just the registers that were kept in the parish chests, however, as the church was responsible for other types local government  and so various other interesting documents that may contain your ancestors’ names could have been locked away in these chests.

If you a beginning to trace your family tree before this then prepare your self for some brick walls. I found it frustrating that the Parish Records listed one of my ancestors marrying in Plymouth as a Mariner and gave no Parish from where he came. Presumably he sailed into Plymouth and married the girl, but where did he come form?

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