Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy

6/7/2004

Poor Law Records, 1834-1871

Domestic Records Information

1. Commission of Inquiry 1832
Agricultural unrest and acute concern over the English system of poor relief led to the appointment of a Royal Commission in 1832 to investigate the working of the poor law. No working papers of the commission survive among the public records, but both the resulting report and evidence taken by the commissioners were printed for Parliament: Report of the Commission for Inquiry into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws 1834 HC xxxvii (report) xxviii-xxx, xxxiv-ix (appendices and evidence).

2. Poor Law Amendment Act 1834
The main recommendations of the inquiry were incorporated in the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 (amending the Act for the Relief of the Poor 1601, known as the ’43 Elizabeth’). A new administrative unit called the union replaced the parish for poor relief purposes. The union (an amalgamation of parishes) was run by an elected board of guardians with representatives from each parish, together with ex officio members. Indoor relief in workhouses replaced outdoor relief (money or goods), and workhouses were made repellent to encourage the able-bodied to maintain themselves and their families outside.

3. The Poor Law Commission
The whole organisation was centrally controlled by three Poor Law Commissioners based at Somerset House in London, with Assistant Commissioners acting as their agents in the country. This central administration replaced the previous control through parish officers by quarter sessions and individual magistrates loosely responsible to the Home Office.

The Poor Law Commission (PLC) sat from 1834 until 1847. The initial commission was for 5 years, with annual reviews until 1842 and then for a further 5 years. After a series of scandals (particularly the Andover scandal of 1845), the PLC was replaced in 1847 by the Poor Law Board (PLB), which lasted until 1871.

For further information go to http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/

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