Before 1834, provision for the poor was generally administered at parish level. A poor rate was paid by those better off and paid out (disbursed) by the Overseers of the Poor to those in need. This was called outdoor relief. The infirm, orphaned, or chronically sick would be housed together in the parish workhouse. This was called indoor relief. To lower the burden on rate-payers, Overseers organised apprenticeships. They also made fathers pay for the upkeep of illegitimate children. They ensured that only those with a proven settlement in the parish received poor relief.
The main parish poor law records are the account books. These show poor rates received and monies disbursed. Other records such as:
- apprenticeship indentures
- bastardy bonds
- settlement certificates (provides a person’s place of settlement)
- settlement examinations (gathering of facts to determine a person’s place of settlement)
- removal orders (for the removal of a person to their place of settlement)
can provide detailed information about individuals or families. These documents are described on our online catalogue.
Poor law records do not survive in large numbers for all Hampshire parishes. Parishes with large collections include:
- Winchester St Peter Chesil
- Winchester St John
A few groups of Hampshire parishes joined together under private Acts of Parliament to help manage the poor more efficiently. These were Southampton, Portsmouth, and the Isle of Wight. Other groupings used Gilbert’s Act of 1781-2 to do the same. These were Alverstoke, Farnborough, Headley and Winchester Incorporations. These paved the way to a countrywide system in 1834.
The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 established unions of parishes throughout the country, each with an elected Board of Guardians. The intention was to provide indoor rather than outdoor relief. So each Poor Law Union built a large workhouse to house all the poor together (but outdoor relief still persisted). Parishes remained financially responsible for their poor and continued to collect the poor rate.
Few records survive for many Hampshire’s Poor Law unions. Useful histories and survival of records are described online for each workhouse. The best record survivals are for Alton, Kingsclere and Winchester workhouses. Winchester’s include a near complete set of registers of admission and discharge, births, and deaths, see PL5/11.
In 1930 the powers of the Boards of Guardians transferred to County Councils and County Borough Councils (through Public Assistance Committees). Many workhouse infirmaries continued to care for the elderly and/or chronically sick up to 1948, when central government took over control of social welfare.