Genealogical Abstracts from the City of London Parochial Poor Law Records.
These poor law records were originally deposited in the Guildhall Library, London, but are now deposited at London Metropolitan Archives. Volumes I - VII.
Poor Law records are a major source for those interested in both local and family history and touched almost every aspect of the lives of those who had fallen on hard times or whose predicaments drew them to the attention of the parish officers.
The parish officer / overseer of the poor was expected when necessary, to feed, clothe, house and find work for his poor inhabitants. He apprenticed pauper children and diligently pursued the fathers of illegitimate children born in the parish. But ultimately he protected his parish from the claims of paupers who were not his responsibility.
Thus these records can allow you to prove relationships between both members of the same family and between families and places. A large number of families lived a hand to mouth existence, illness or death of the main wage earner or a bad harvest or other disaster could cause a family to become dependent upon poor relief. Poor Law records can provide the means to help you to follow these 'pauper' ancestors through their trials and tribulations.
These poor law abstracts (summaries) contain a complete summary of the details contained within each entry and includes all details including names and places plus incidental information such as relationships and occupations where found in the original documents.
Poor Law background
It was in the 16th century, during the reign of Henry VIII and following the dissolution of the monasteries and the closing of almshouses and charity hospitals run by monks and nuns, that the parishes first became responsible for supporting their own poor with the vestry acting as the parish governing council. The office of overseer of the poor was officially created in 1572 to collect and distribute parish poor relief, the Poor Law was funded by a local tax (Poor Rate). Subsequent Acts of Parliament changed the system from being a purely voluntary measure and introduced new rules and regulations to help maintain and control the poor.
The system radically changed following the great reform act of 1834. The main difference was that the relief of the poor was changed from a local responsibility into a group one. Groups of parishes were consolidated into Poor Law Unions so removing the local community responsibility. Out relief was discouraged and the workhouses, which had been in existence for the previous two centuries, became the primary source of relief. Throughout the remainder of the 19th century the laws were tightened and modified until the administration was transferred to the Ministry of Health in 1918. It was not until 1930 that the poor laws were finally abolished.
Poor Law Glossary
See Bastardy Bonds/ Examinations
Apprenticeship (Pauper) indentures
The Statute of Apprentices in 1563 forbade anyone to enter a trade who had not served an apprenticeship. Whilst the full rigour of this statute was modified by subsequent Acts of Parliament and by legal judgements, it remained on the statute book until 1814. Children of poor families, orphans and widows children were often apprenticed at the parishes expense to masters in other parishes. This was seen as a way of disposing of possible future problems by altering their legal settlement status. If they served their full term of seven years then their legal settlement would be at the place of their masters settlement.
Information given: name and parish of master and apprentice, term of apprenticeship and trade (with the exception of some of the earlier indentures). Often includes age of child.
Bastardy bonds / Examinations
When an unmarried woman was expecting a child, parish officials pressured her to reveal the father’s name so the father and not the parish, had financial responsibility for the child’s care. A "bond of indemnification," also known as a "bastardy bond," was the father’s guarantee of responsibility for the child. Churchwardens sometimes bypassed the bond with a gentlemen’s agreement, records of which are among churchwardens’ accounts or vestry minutes. A bastardy or affiliation order could also be made by a Quarter Sessions or Petty Sessions court, requiring the father to pay for the child's upkeep - failure to pay could result in a prison sentence.
Information given: name and parish of mother and father; sometimes also sex and date of birth of child, and occupation of father.
Bond between the parish officers and one or more guarantors. The guarantor(s) agrees to indemnify the parish from any costs if a certain individual (or family) should become chargeable to the parish rates.
Quarter sessions and Quarter sessions appeal
Information given: name(s) and parish.
Quarter sessions were the main judicial and administrative bodies of the English and Welsh counties from the 16th century onwards and typically met four times a year. Between 1597- 1834 a considerable amount of time was spent at each Quarter session dealing with offences against the Poor Law. As it was in the interests of a parish to keep the Poor Rate as low as possible, the Parish Officers frequently attended the Quarter sessions to obtain Bastardy Orders, Removal Orders and to seek aid in disputes over settlement and pauper apprenticeships.
Settlement and removal (Settlement Act 1662)
Quarter Sessions Appeal
These appeals covered a wide range of topics and could include: Appeals by individuals against the rate for poor relief being levied. In settlement cases a petition from the parish appealing against a removal order plus the order of the court quashing or confirming the removal order. Appeals could also be made to Quarter Sessions by individuals against, for example, committal on a JP's warrant to the House of Correction as a rogue and vagabond, or against a bastardy order. An apprentice might petition the court alleging infringement of the terms of the apprenticeship.
After the introduction of the Settlement Act of 1662 it was mandatory for each person to have a parish of legal settlement. This was the only place in which they were entitled to receive poor relief. The parish of settlement was usually a person's parish of birth, or where they had lived or worked for at least a year. A person had to undergo a settlement examination by the vestry or Justices of the Peace in order to obtain legal settlement in a different parish. If successful, they were granted a settlement certificate. If someone required relief when living in a parish where they did not have legal settlement, the overseers could issue a removal order to have them transferred back to their parish of settlement.
Settlement examination information given: whatever is deemed relevant to establish where the pauper has settlement status; varies but can include place of birth, age, information about immediate family, apprenticeships or employment.
Settlement certificates information given: name(s), parish where they have settlement status; usually also the name of the parish that the certificate holder is moving to. Occupation and ages of children can also be included.
Removal orders information given: whatever is deemed relevant to establish where the pauper has settlement status; varies but can include place of birth, age, information about immediate family, apprenticeships or employment.
Court order issued by Justices of the Peace to convey a vagrant to their place of settlement. Similar to a removal order, can also include settlement examinations.
Workhouse admission and discharge
Information given: name(s), parish arrested, parish of settlement and next parish vagrant is to be sent to, any punishment inflicted.
The creation of workhouses as a means of providing accommodation for paupers had been incorporated into early poor law legislation. See also Poor Law background.
Information given: may include name(s), birth year or age; occupation, original parish; record type (admission or discharge).
More information, Volume Introductions and Notes: About London Poor Law Abstracts 1581–1899