Local Government Board and predecessors: Correspondence with Poor Law Unions and Other Local Authorities
This series consists of correspondence of the Poor Law Commission, the Poor Law Board and the Local Government Board with Poor Law Unions and other Local Authorities. It covers the years 1834 to 1900.
Poor law unions were collections or groups of parishes brought together to administer poor relief. Earlier 'unions' were refered to as 'incorporations' and some of these existed until the 1860s (which is why for some areas there are no correspondence until the old incorporation was dissolved and the new union organised).
The Victorian poor law was predicated on the 'workhouse test'. This is where poor relief would be offered via the 'deterrent workhouse', designed to be an institution of last resort. Most Victorian workhouses were built in the late 1830s/early 1840s. However, a small number were built later and many additions were made to existing workhouses throughout the ninteenth and twentieth centuries.
The papers range through the whole field of poor law and (after 1871) local government and public health administration. The material will refer to all aspects of poor relief; workhouse administration, finance, indoor- and outdoor poor relief, information on individual paupers etc.
Digital copies of selected 19th Century Poor Law Union and Workhouse records from MH 12 can be searched and downloaded.
The arrangement of the papers is an alphabetical one under counties and unions. This arrangement, originated by the Poor Law Commissioners, continued after the advent of the Local Government Board so that it is necessary in seeking papers on a Municipal Borough, or other such Authority, to know in which Union Area that Authority is situated. The Census Indexes of Names and Places provide an easy means of reference.
Each union also has an identifying number, with one series of numbers being used throughout England and Wales. These are quoted in the catalogue. However the registers of correspondence that used these numbers have not survived.
Poor Law Board, 1847-1871
Poor Law Commission, 1834-1847
In addition to its specialised duties the Poor Law Department of the Local Government Board was responsible for a long period for business not carried out by other departments and was soon known as the General Correspondence Department. These general duties were later taken over by the Chief Clerk's Department, the General Correspondence Department then becoming known as the Poor Law Administration Department. The main work of the department was the supervision of poor law administration by the poor law unions outside London and, after 1873, of related medical services for the poor.
In this work the administrative staff were aided by a number of inspectorates responsible for the maintenance of direct contact with the poor law unions and the inspection of poor law institutions; from 1886 to 1913 the assistant secretary in charge of the department also held the post of chief general inspector. Poor law matters in London were dealt with by the Metropolitan Department until 1884, when that aspect of its work was taken over by the General Correspondence Department.
The Metropolitan Common Poor Fund was administered by the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund and Loans Department, the Architect's Department dealt with poor law buildings, the Order Department with legal matters relating to poor law authorities, the Audit Department with the audit of the accounts of those authorities, and the Paid Officers Department with the employment of poor law officials.
The department was originally formed by the Poor Law Board to deal with correspondence and accounts in connection with the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund established by the Metropolitan Poor Act of 1867 to equalise the burden of the poor rate between the richer and poorer districts of London. At this stage it was called the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund and Loans Department. In 1878 it took over from the Sanitary Department the supervision of the management, use and repayment of loans advanced to local authorities by the Public Works Loan Board, and included an inspector of loans and local acts who undertook enquiries into loan appropriation and the exercise of powers under local acts.
The department was not concerned with loan sanction, which was dealt with by the Sanitary Department, except in cases of appropriation of existing loans. It also considered the form of local acts and, after 1894, Metropolis Water Acts, which the board had power to vary. After 1882 work relating to the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund was undertaken by the retired permanent secretary and ceased to concern the department. In 1884 it was absorbed by the Audit Department but was again separated in 1892 under the title Local Loans and Local Acts Department.
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