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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): CBG
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1763-1930
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 90.25 linear metres
Name of creator(s): City of London Poor Law Union x City of London Board of Guardians
East London Poor Law Union x East London Board of Guardians
West London Poor Law Union x West London 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.

City of London Poor Law Union was constituted in 1837 and comprised 98 parishes. The Union at first refused to construct a workhouse, preferring to provide out-relief in the form of money and food, or to 'farm out' paupers to institutions outside of the City - for example, children were sent to a school in Norwood. However this system proved impractical and in 1848 a new workhouse was constructed at Bow Road. In 1869 when the City of London Union merged with the East London and West London Unions, the Bow Road Workhouse became an infirmary, although it was closed in 1909 as the larger infirmary at Homerton was preferred. In 1912 it was reopened as the Bow Institution, providing medical care for paupers from other Unions. It later became Saint Clement's Hospital. By 1871 the Union also managed the Thavies Inn Casual Ward at Holborn.

The East London Poor Law Union was formed in 1837 and comprised the parishes of Saint Botolph, Aldersgate, Saint Botolph, Aldgate, Saint Botolph, Bishopsgate and Saint Giles, Cripplegate. In 1852 the Union constructed a workhouse at Homerton.

The West London Poor Law Union was formed in 1837 and comprised the parishes of Bridewell precinct, Saint Andrew, Lower or City Liberty, Saint Bartholomew the Great, Saint Bartholomew the Less, Saint Bride's, otherwise St Bridget, Fleet Street, Saint Dunstan's West and Saint Sepulchre, Newgate. In 1864 the Union constructed a workhouse at Cornwallis Road in Upper Holloway. This workhouse was taken over by the parish of Saint Mary, Islington, when the West London Union merged with the City of London Union.

In 1869 the three City Unions were amalgamated under the name City of London Union, comprising 112 parishes.

Source of information: Peter Higginbotham at The Workhouse website.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the City of London Poor Law Union, 1763-1930; including minutes of meetings of the Boards of Guardians for the East London Union, West London Union and City of London Union; minutes of various Committees; Union year books; correspondence with Government departments; plans of Union buildings including the Homerton workhouse; orders of removal to and from other Unions; registers of lunatic admissions; registers for the Bow Road Workhouse and Infirmary, Bow Institution and Infirmary, Homerton Workhouse, Lower Clapton Workhouse and Thavies Inn Infirmary; apprenticeship indentures and registers; registers of children at the Central London District School; financial accounts; staff records and papers of the West London Union, including minutes, correspondence, financial accounts and inventories of Thavies Inn Workhouse and Holloway Workhouse.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

In 11 sections: Board and Committee minutes; Board papers; Orders and Correspondence; Contract plans; Orders of Removal; Lunatics; Workhouses and Institutions; Schools and Children; Finance and statistics; Staff; West London Union.

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. Additional East London Union material received in 1954 (AC/54/018) and additional West London Union material received in 1998 (B98/070).

Allied Materials

Related material:

For the records of the London County Council, who took over City of London Board of Guardians institutions, see LCC.

Publication note:

Andrea Tanner article "The Casual Poor and the City of London Poor Law Union, 1837-1869" (Historical Journal, 42, no. 1, 1999). 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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