Bristol Poor Law Unions,England

From FamilySearch Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search


In 1696, eighteen parishes in the city of Bristol, plus the Castle precincts district, combined to form the Bristol Corporation of the Poor. The Act gave the Corporation the right to operate a joint poor relief system across the whole city, including the setting-up of workhouses and the appointment of paid officers.

1698 a building was rented for use as a workhouse. The New Workhouse, as it became known, was to house a hundred pauper girls. Staff were appointed including a Master "To receive in Work, and deliver it out again, and to keep Accounts of the House &c.", a Mistress "to look after the Kitchin and Lodgings, to provide their Meals at set Times", four Tutresses "to teach them to Spin, under each of which we designed to put Five and twenty girls", and a School-Mistress "to teach them to read". Servants were initially employed in the kitchen to perform cooking and washing but these were soon dispensed with and the work done by the older girls. An old man was appointed as door-keeper and general porter.

The Corporation purchased a former sugar house at the south of St Peter's church for use as a second workhouse for the elderly, boys, and young children. The building had recently been occupied by the Treasury as a mint and so it became known as the Mint Workhouse. In August 1699, a hundred boys were moved in. They were occupied in "spinning Cotten Wool, and weaving Fustians" for which they were able to generate the creditable income of £6 per week. The boys were also taught to read and (unlike the girls) to write. Next, elderly inmates were admitted. They were clothed and given "such Employments as were fit for their Ages and Strengths". Finally, young children were taken in and put in the care of nurses.

A system of parish out relief also existed for Bristol parishes to support the elderly and infirm and the city had many charitable organisations which provided alms-houses to accommodate the city poor.

In 1779 the Admiralty built at Blackberry Hill Stapleton a prison to house prisoner from the wars with the American Colonies This later housed prisoners from the war with France from 1793. It later became a second workhouse run by the city Corporation. known as the Old French Prison and Stapleton.

Prior to parliamentary enactment of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act a Royal Commission examined the St Peter's  site and Stapleton sites. After enactment of the Act from 1835-1897 The Bristol Corporation of the Poor continued to operate the St Peter's and Stapleton workhouses. The Stapleton site continued to develop, with male and female infirmary blocks being erected in about 1870.

There was a major redevelopment of the main building in about 1890.

The 1835 Poor Law changes

The Bristol City Council on formation extended the city's boundaries to encompass the parishes of St Philip and Jacob Without and Clifton, the united district of St James and St Paul, and parts of the parishes of Bedminster and Westbury-on-Trym. These changes, together with the long-standing existence of Bristol Incorporation (whose status exempted it from the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act), caused some complications in the setting-up of poor-law unions in and around Bristol. Two new unions were created: Clifton (renamed Barton Regis in 1877) included the Gloucestershire parishes in the area to the north and east of the city, and Bedminster (renamed Long Ashton in 1899) covered the Somerset ones to the south and west. The Bristol Incorporation then comprised the city parishes of All Saints, Castle Precincts, Christ Church, St Augustine the less, St Ewin, St James, St John, St Leonard, St Mary-le-Port, St Mary Redcliffe, St Michael, St Nicholas, St Paul, St Peter, St Philip & St Jacob, St Stephen, St Thomas, St Werburg, and Temple.

Subsequent Changes

In 1897, following the extension of its boundaries to cover the whole of urban Bristol, the Corporation was reconstituted as a single Poor Law Parish. It absorbed many of the parishes previously included in the Barton Regis (formerly Clifton) Union. It also took over the Barton Regis workhouse at 100 Fishponds Road in Eastville, with the much reduced Barton Regis Union building a new workhouse at Southmead. This arrangement lasted only to 1904, when the Barton Regis Union was wound up and its parishes dispersed between a further enlarged Bristol City and the Chipping Sodbury Union. The new Southmead workhouse became the second in seven years to be inherited by Bristol from Barton Regis.

In 1930, the Stapleton workhouse became Stapleton Institution and by the Second World War, the site was mainly used for the care of mental cases, and the aged and infirm. It later became Manor Park Hospital, and is now called Blackberry Hill Hospital. The St Peter's workhouse operated as an institution until it was bombed in 1940.

For further history, maps and images visit


Poor Law Unions and parishes

The Bristol Incorporation comprised the following parishes:

 Bristol St Barnabas, Gloucestershire  Bristol St George, Gloucestershire  Bristol St James, Gloucestershire  Bristol St John the Baptist, Gloucestershire
 Bristol St Jude, Gloucestershire Bristol St Mary Redcliffe, Somersetshire
 Bristol St Mary le Port, Gloucestershire   Bristol St Michael and All Angels, Gloucestershire
Bristol St Nicholas with St Leonard, Gloucestershire   Bristol St Paul, Gloucestershire
 Bristol St Peter, Gloucestershire Bristol St Phillip and St Jacob, Gloucestershire  Bristol St Simon, Gloucestershire  Bristol St Stephen, Gloucestershire Bristol St Thomas, Somersetshire  Bristol St Werburgh, Gloucestershire


  Bristol Record Office Bristol workhouse records were virtually all destroyed by bombing of the city  in 1940.


  • Anonymous (1711) Some Considerations offer'd to the Citizens of Bristol, relating to the Corporation for the Poor in the said City. (Bristol)
  • Braine, A (1891) The History of Kingswood Forest
  • Cary, John (1700) An Account of the Proceedings of the Corporation of Bristol in Execution of the Act of parliament for the better Employing and Maintaining the Poor of that City London: F Collins.
  • Large, David (1995) Bristol and the New Poor Law (Bristol Branch of the Historical Association)
  • Summers, Marian & Bowman, Sue (1995) Of Poor Law, Patients and Professionals... A History of Bristol's Southmead Hospital