Nineteenth Century Poverty in England and Wales Project

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One of the key sets of records for those undertaking local, family, social and other historical studies are the poor law union ‘correspondence’ volumes held at The National Archives, England. The collection, consisting of 16,741 large bound volumes, includes hundreds of thousands of letters, reports and memos that tell much about how the poor of England and Wales lived throughout the Victorian period. They include instances of workhouse disturbances, allegations of cruelty to individual paupers, letters referring to children sent to the northern mills, reports on medical matters, accounts of those suffering breakdowns and other mental health problems, and so much more.

The National Archives has funded an eighteen month project, starting in October 2008, for the purpose to catalogue and make available digital scans of the 105 volumes relating to 22 poor law unions (and 20 areas) across England and Wales. The records will be keyword searchable and more easily available to a wide variety of academics, family and local historians, colleges and schools.

Currently, more than 200 local and family historians have volunteered to coordinate the activities of those who are transcribing the information from the digitized images of the records. They are reading through the letters, reports and memos and creating detailed descriptions of each one including who they were to or from and what they were about.

The time period covered by this project is mainly from 1834, when the Poor Law Commission was established, to the 1850s. The poor law unions included in the project are:

  • Berwick upon Tweed, Northumberland
  • Tynemouth, Northumberland
  • Reeth, Yorkshire North Riding
  • Keighley, Yorkshire West riding
  • Basford, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire
  • Mansfield, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire
  • Mitford and Launditch, Norfolk
  • Blything, Suffolk
  • Wolstanton and Burslem, Staffordshire
  • Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire
  • Llanfyllin, Montgomeryshire
  • Kidderminster, Worcestershire
  • Bromsgrove, Worcestershire
  • Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire
  • Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire and Essex
  • Truro, Cornwall
  • Clutton, Somerset
  • Cardiff, Glamorgan
  • Rye, East Sussex and Kent
  • Axminster, Devon and Dorset

The Liverpool Vestry in Lancashire is included in the project. Even though it's technically not a poor law union, it retained its vestry status though the 19th century. Southampton, Hampshire is not a poor law union but is included because it's an earlier incorporation.

Learn more about the project by clicking here or contact the project administrators.
Paul Carter
Natalie Whistance