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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GBG
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1836-1946
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 57.54 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Greenwich Poor Law Union x Greenwich 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.

Greenwich Union was constituted in 1836, consisting of the parishes of Saint Nicholas Deptford, Saint Paul Deptford and Woolwich. In 1868 the parish of Woolwich separated to form part of the Woolwich Union.

In 1840 the Union constructed a new workhouse at Vanburgh Hill. In 1875 a new infirmary block was added to the workhouse in order to make more space, with further extensions added in the late 1880s. The workhouse later became Saint Alfege's Hospital. The Vanburgh Hill workhouse was very overcrowded, despite the extensions, and therefore in 1899 an additional workhouse was constructed in Grove Park.

Children were placed at the South Metropolitan District School in Sutton, and at the Union's own cottage homes in Sidcup, opened in 1902.

Source of information: Peter Higginbotham at The Workhouse website.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Greenwich Poor Law Union, 1836-1946, including minutes of meetings of the Board of Guardians; reports and minutes of various Committees; orders of government departments; correspondence with government departments; orders of removal to and from the Union; medical relief registers; registers of lunatics; lunatic reception orders; register of emigration; registers for the Hospital and Infirmary on Vanburgh Hill; registers for the Woolwich Road Workhouse (later the Woolwich Institution), the Grove Park Workhouse and the Plumstead Workhouse; registers of baptisms in Saint Alfege's Hospital; registers of apprentices; registers of children at South Metropolitan School District schools; financial accounts and staff records.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

In 12 sections: Minutes and Reports; Orders and Correspondence; Contracts; Settlement and Relief; Lunatics; Emigration; Hospitals and Infirmaries; Workhouse and Institutions; Schools and Children; Financial; Staff; Plans.

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. Further records received in 1953 (AC/53/024).

Allied Materials

Related material:

See SMSD for the South Metropolitan School District, WOBG for the Woolwich Union, H43 for Saint Alfege's Hospital, and LCC for the London County Council which took over Greenwich Union institutions.

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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