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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): CABG
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1835-1939
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 63.35 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Camberwell Poor Law Parish x Camberwell Board of Guardians


Administrative/Biographical history:

Poor relief was based on the Act for the Relief of the Poor of 1601 which obliged parishes to take care of the aged and needy in their area. Parish overseers were empowered to collect a local income tax known as the poor-rate which would be put towards the relief of the poor. This evolved into the rating system, where the amount of poor-rate charged was based on the value of a person's property. Early workhouses were constructed and managed by the parish. However, this process was expensive and various schemes were devised where groups of parishes could act together and pool their resources. As early as 1647 towns were setting up 'Corporations' of parishes. An Act of 1782, promoted by Thomas Gilbert, allowed adjacent parishes to combine into Unions and provide workhouses. These were known as 'Gilbert's Unions' and were managed by a board of Guardians.

Under the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, the Poor Law Commission was given the power to unite parishes in England and Wales into Poor Law Unions. Each Union was to be administered by a local Board of Guardians. Relief was to be provided through the provision of a workhouse. An amendment to the 1834 Act allowed already existing 'Gilbert's Unions' or Corporations of parishes to remain in existence, although they were encouraged to convert themselves into Poor Law Unions. Although there was some reorganisation of union boundaries, particularly in London, the majority of Unions created under the 1834 Act remained in operation until 1930. In March 1930 a new Local Government Bill abolished the Poor Law Unions and the Board of Guardians. Responsibility for their institutions passed to Public Assistance Committees managed by the county councils - in the metropolis either the London County Council or the Middlesex County Council.

Camberwell became a Poor Law Parish on 28 October 1835, overseen by an elected Board of Guardians and comprising just one parish, that of Saint Giles. The workhouse buildings on Havil Street had been constructed in 1818. In 1873 they were extended with a new infirmary. This later became Saint Giles Hospital.

In 1878 the Board of Guardians constructed a new workhouse on Gordon Road. It was intended to house 743 able bodied inmates. Males chopped wood or broke stones; while females were employed in laundry work. In 1892 construction of another workhouse began, this one situated in Constance Road, East Dulwich, near the Saint Saviour's Poor Law Union Lunatic Asylum.

Camberwell also managed 'scattered' children's homes in Peckham. Scattered home housed children in smaller, family-home style houses rather than in large institutions.

Source of information: Peter Higginbotham at The Workhouse website.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of Camberwell Poor Law Parish, 1835-1939, including minutes of meetings of the Board of Guardians and various Committees; financial accounts; staff records; correspondence and orders from Government departments; general correspondence; plans of Gordon Road Workhouse; settlement examinations; orders of removal to and from other Unions; registers of lunatics; registers for the old and new Workhouses on Havil Street, the Gordon Road Workhouse and the Constance Road Workhouse; list of old age pensioners admitted to institutions; apprenticeship indentures and registers; registers of children sent to external schools and registers of children attending children's homes including Peckham Children's Homes.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

In 9 sections: Board and Committees; Finance; Orders and correspondence; Contract plans; Settlement and relief; Lunatics; Workhouses and Institutions; Schools and Children; Staff.

Conditions governing access:

These records are available for public inspection, although records containing personal information are subject to access restrictions under the UK Data Protection Act, 1998.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright: City of London

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Records received with the records of the successor County Council.

Allied Materials

Related material:

For the records of the London County Council, who took over Camberwell Board of Guardians institutions, see LCC. For Saint Giles Hospital see H38/SG. King's College London Archives holds some material relating to Constance Road Workhouse.

Publication note:

For a detailed history see website 'The Workhouse' (

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
April to June 2009

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