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England Miscellaneous Poor Law Records (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Poor Law and Parish Chest Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Creed Registers[edit | edit source]

These show which religious denomination each person belonged to and next of kin.

Registrar’s Marriage Notices[edit | edit source]

In the early days the district registrar had to read Notices for Register Office Marriages at Board of Guardians meetings.

Visits To Young Persons Hired Out[edit | edit source]

Those under 16 hired or taken out as servants from the workhouse had, or were supposed to have, regular visits to ensure their welfare.

Assisted Emigration[edit | edit source]

Particularly after 1815 it was not uncommon for guardians to pay travelling costs and an allowance for food and setting up home elsewhere to able-bodied pauper families. Some guardians sponsored families to relocate in more prosperous areas of England, for example during the period 1835-1843 from Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Norfolk and Suffolk to the textile mills in Cheshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire. Australia and Canada were popular destinations—it cost roughly a month’s parish relief money to send a family to the colonies and thus get rid of each person (and their descendants) forever! It was a long term solution to the problem of too many people to feed and too little work in certain areas of England.

The southern English counties of Hampshire, Kent, Surrey and Sussex had the greatest number of emigrants; in 1832, 603 people from West Sussex left for Australia and Canada, and Salehurst in Sussex lost 20% of its population this way. The now famous scheme involving parishes around Petworth, Sussex in the 1830s was exhaustively described by Cameron and Maude in Assisting Emigration to Upper Canada: the Petworth Project, 1832-1837. Even though it was hard to leave extended family and friends, most families were far better off in their new lands (Burchall). The records show the age and place of settlement or origin of those so relocated, and usually the amount of assistance given (Montgomery).

When the breadwinner was transported to Australia, the system backfired as his wife and children were then dependant on relief from the overseers. Some astute overseers, such as those at Faversham, Kent (Stevens), found it was cheaper to raise enough money to send them to Australia too. There is a Register of Applications for Passages to the Colonies for Convicts Families in class CO 386 for the years 1848-1873 at the Public Record Office.

Orphaned and deserted children were also sent abroad to make a new start, with varying results. The Barnardo Home Children’s experiences in Canada during the period 1870 to the 1930s are recounted by several authors including Kenneth Bagnell. Boards of Guardians had to give notice on handbills or newspapers adverts of their intention of sending unwanted children abroad, as in the following example from the east end of London.

Advert for Deserted Children to Emigrate to Canada 1864

                                                           POPLAR UNION
                                                     DESERTED CHILDREN
Notice is hereby given that on the 12th day of December next, the Guardians of the Poor of the Poplar Union will proceed to consider the question of the expediency of assisting the
                                                  EMIGRATION TO CANADA
Of such of the following children as may be then maintained in the District of other school chargeable to this Union by reason of their being orphaned or otherwise abandoned, by their Parents, and who by ............ and otherwise may then be found to be eligible for such assistance.
[There follows a list of 77 named children aged from 1 to 14, some of which look like family groupings. Only a few are given here.]
BRIAN, James 9 HANCOCK, Alice 12
Mary 6
Arthur 10
Patrick 5 Herbert 8
BRIGHTWELL, Elizabeth 11 Albert 5
BROWN, Dolly 12 Olive 3
BROWNING, Samuel 7
Henry 1
Frederick 5
SHACHL, Albert 11
BYFORD, William 11
SILK, Harriet 10
Frederick 9
WARD, Mary Ann 14
                                                                BY ORDER
                                                     JAMES R. COLLINS, Clerk
Union Office, High Street, Poplar                                  September 13th 1864

Other Poor Law Records include the important Guardians’ Minute Books that mention all paupers, and Case Papers which have information on many of them. Then there are records of Aliens Wives Relief, Burial Fees and Coffins for Paupers, Coroner’s Inquests, Correspondence, Day Books, and even records of Ex-servicemen Passing Through Casual Wards.

Highways[edit | edit source]

In the Middle Ages the owners of the land adjoining the highway were responsible for its maintenance, and they required their tenants to actually do the work.

In 1555 this was changed so that parishes became obligated for upkeep of highways. Paving and repairing the highway was achieved by using statute labour, that is, each man’s contribution of four to six days labour per year, supervised by the parish waywarden. Wealthier inhabitants could pay for someone else to do the work, and were also required to provide draught animals and carts.

This basic system prevailed until 1654, when statute labour could be commuted to a highway rate, and paid labour, paupers and convicts were employed. Further improvements such as lighting, cleansing and sewers were added in the 18th and 19th centuries to the waywarden’s, now the highway surveyor’s, responsibilities.

The major roads between cities and towns were turnpiked mainly in the 18th century and each turnpike trust improved and maintained its stretch of highway, levying tolls with which to pay the costs (Hey). The turnpike trusts also employed surveyors and were allowed to use statute labour to augment their own paid labourers in widening and regularly maintaining the surface, as well as building new bridges to replace the former narrow packhorse bridges.

Appointment of Surveyors of Highways[edit | edit source]

An Act of 1555 required that a Surveyor, or Overseer, of the Highways be appointed for each parish or township at Easter. It was an unpaid position with responsible local men taking turns. He was responsible to the Justices of the Peace, empowered to raise local rates, and had to present his accounts at the end of his term. In 1835 a new system was introduced whereby the JPs appointed paid surveyors for groups of parishes.

Selection of Highway Surveyor, Whippingham, Isle of Wight, Hampshire In Vestry Minutes 10 Oct 1810

The following Persons were agreed to be returned to the Magistrates as proper to be chosen Surveyors of the Highways for the ensuing year.
James Jolliffe Esqr
John Nash Esqr
East Cowes Castle
Mr. James Hills
Mr Thos Gagg
Little Shambler
Mr. Abrm Abraham
South Quarter
Wm Clarke Esqr
Thos Hiscoll Esqr
Coppins Bridge
Mr. Robt Harris
Coppins Bridge
Mr. Jas Roach
East Medina Mill
Mr. Jno Palmer

Surveyors Rates or Assessments[edit | edit source]

The rates may be a general highway rate, or separate paving rate, watch rate, lighting rate, and sewer rate, (particularly in cities starting after the major cholera epidemics of 1831-2 and 1848). The cleansing rate was formerly called the scavenger rate in the 17-18th centuries when the street cleaners were termed scavengers and had assistants called rakers who did the actual work of removing nightsoil and rubbish.

Much of this material has been filmed, for example the rate assessments for these purposes for the township of Halifax, Yorkshire 1825-1894 are on 28 films starting at FHL film 1656656. Some highway rate lists give the occupations by inference from designations of wheelwright’s shop, malthouse, brickyard and so forth as shown below , and some give both owners and occupiers of land.

Extracts from Highway Rates in Mountfield, Sussex 1861 FHL film 1894275

An Assessment for the Repair of the Highways in the Parish of Mountfield in the County of Sussex. Made this Twenty Seventh day of March 1861. After the Rate of Fourpence in the Pound. On all Land, Tenements, Tithes and Woodlands.
The four columns give:
1. Names of occupiers or persons rated.
2. Description of the premises and property rated.
3. Annual value.
4. Sums assessed at 4d in the pound.
1 2 3 4
Ashburnham, Earl Woodland 150-17-8 2-10-31/2

Adamson, W.R. esq Mansion garden 80-0-0 1-6-8

Brickyard etc 10-0-0 3-4
Adams, James House and Garden 1-5-0 -5
Badcock, Thomas Land and Church 16-0-0 5-4


Carpenters Shop 2-0-0 -8

Extracts from Highway Rates in Northowram, Yorkshire 1845-6
FHL film 1551144

An Assessment for the repair of the Highways of the Township of Northowram for the year commencing March 26th 1845. Assessed at a Meeting of the Board of Surveyors July 1st One thousand eight Hundred and forty five.. At Nine pence in the pound.
                                                         Joseph Stocks esq, in the Chair.

This seems to be a generic form for collection of a number of rates (taxes). Of the eighteen columns only the following are filled out for Highway Rate:
1. Name of occupier.
2. Name of owner.
3. Description of property.
4. Name or situation of property.
5. Rateable value.
6. Rate at 9d in the pound.
7. Total amount to be collected.

Occupier John Haley, owner Telemachus Gledhill, a cottage at New Banks value £3.5.0 with 2/51/4 d rate.
Occupier Joseph Midgley, owner Telemachus Gledhill, a cottage at Haley Hill value £6.6.0 with 4/9d rate.
Occupier and owner Isaac Green, a quarry at Warm Lee value £5 with 3/9 d rate.
Occupier and owner Isaac Green, land and plantation at Hazzlehirst, value £4.0.5 with 3/01/4d rate.
Occupier and owner Isaac Green, a cottage and shop at Hazzlehirst, value £2.10.0 with 1/10 rate.

The lists are typically compiled in the same order year by year, thus by comparing a series of annual rates, one can ascertain who moves and when, and which men die and when. By comparing the series of highway (or any other such rate lists) with the parish registers one can often sort out to which of two families your ancestor belongs, as in the following hypothetical example. Say you have a John Thorpe who was born in this place and lived in Church Lane, but there are two possible christenings and neither died as an infant. Consult the highway tax assessments and the following information becomes available .

Comparison of Parish register and Highway Rate Information

Parish Registers Highway Rates (or other taxes)
Several christenings, including a
John 1796, to Thomas THORPE
Thomas THORPE dwelling in a carpenters shop in Church
Lane until 1826, when Widow THORPE is the rate payer.
By 1830 John THORPE is the occupier.
Several christenings, including a John 1795 to William THORPE butcher. William THORPE at butcher's shop in Mill Street paying
highway tax until 1834, when he moves to a cottage in
Blackbird Lane, and the new occupier of the butcher's shop
in Mill Street is Richard STOUT. John THORPE labourer
appears in 1834 in Taylor's Lane.

Highway Rates Income 1798-1799 Whippingham, Isle of Wight, Hampshire FHL film 1526198

[This page headed] Persons Living in
Houses of £4 a year and under
Jno Claverton Lodge
Thos Bull
Goerge Jones

Jno Flux

Jno Rumman—gone 0

Robt Stane—gone 0

Timothy Faulkner 0
Jas Snelling 0
Jas Gutridge 0

Barny Faulkner 0

Jno Wallis—aged 0
Richd Lock 0
Nathl Withers—aged 0

Jas Vine 0

Jno Hollis 0
Jno Upward 0
Henry Dashwood 0
Thos Dashwood 0
Jas Gladdish 0
Jas Bennet 0

Surveyors Accounts[edit | edit source]

Shown below are the expenses for maintaining the highways.

Various other records can be found, such as the names, minutes, patrols, and complaints against the watchmen of St. Martin-in-the-Fields 1826-1829 on FHL film 1786044.

Highway Expenses 1792 Whippingham, Isle of Wight, Hampshire FHL film 1526198

Whippingham Highway Money Expended by Thos Denham
£ d s
Feb 17
Paid Jno Moors 0 4 6
Mar 22 Paid Jno Moors 0 2 0
31 Paid Mary Young for Picking Stones at Slatewoods 0 2 6
Apr 28 Paid Jno Moors 0 4 0
May 5 Paid Mary Young for Picking Stones 0 5 0
12 Paid Jas Davis for work on the Highway 1 4 0
20 Paid Wm Burnet for Do 1 5 0
25 Paid - Jackman for Do 1 18 0
Jun 8 Paid Jas Davis 0 2 0
15 Paid Wm Burnett 0 6 9

Paid Jno Moors 0 4 0
30 Paid Mary Young for Picking Stones 0 6 0
Jul 7 Paid Jas Davis 0 4 0

Paid Wm Guy 0 3 6
28 Paid Mary Young 0 2 6
Aug 2 Paid Mary Young for Picking Stones 0 5 0

Paid Jas Bennet for Digging Gravel and Other Work 0 15 0
9 Paid Jas Bennet for work on the High-way 0 2 0

Paid Mrs Wise for A new Book 0 3 6

Paid Jas Bennet for work 0 6 0
18 Paid Mary Young for Picking Stones 0 8 6
29 Paid Jno Moors 0 3 0
Sep 14 Paid Jno Moors 0 1 0

Paid Jas Masters for making a Runney Cross the Road 0 2 6

Paid Wm Burnett for work on the High Way 0 5 9
Oct 5 Paid James Roots 0 5 6

Paid Thos Dashwood for Carpenter’s Work 0 6 0

Paid Wm Burnet for digging Gravel 0 7 0

Paid Guttridge’s Wife for Picking 3 Load Stones 0 4 6

Carried over 10 0 6


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Poor Law and Parish Chest Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.