Hampshire Archives and Local Studies

Poor Law in Hampshire

Before 1834, providing for the poor was generally administered at parish level with a poor rate paid by those better off and paid out (disbursed) by the Overseers of the Poor to those in need (called outdoor relief). The infirm, orphaned, or chronically sick would be housed together in the parish workhouse (called indoor relief). To minimise the burden on ratepayers, Overseers were involved in organising apprenticeships, making fathers pay for the upkeep of illegitimate children, and ensuring that only those with a proven settlement in the parish received poor relief.

The main parish poor law records are the account books showing 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 mostly described individually on our online catalogue.

Poor law records do not survive in large numbers for all Hampshire parishes. Parishes with large collections include Bishopstoke, Brockenhurst, Fawley, Fordingbridge, Kingsclere, Lymington, Lyndhurst, Milton, Minstead, Odiham, Titchfield, Winchester St Peter Chesil and Winchester St John.

A few groups of Hampshire parishes joined together under private Acts of Parliament (Southampton, Portsmouth, and the Isle of Wight) to help manage the poor more efficiently. Other groupings (Alverstoke, Farnborough, Headley and Winchester Incorporations) took advantage of Gilbert’s Act of 1781-2 to do the same. These paved the way to a countrywide system in 1834.

Union workhouses

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 (outdoor relief still persisted, however). 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.

Please note: due to the sensitive nature of these records, general public access may be restricted for up to 100 years.

In 1930 the powers of the Boards of Guardians were 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, the year in which central government took over control of social welfare.