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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): ISBG
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1864-1933
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 91.18 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Islington Poor Law Parish x Islington 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.

The Parish of Saint Mary Islington had constructed a workhouse on Liverpool Road in 1776, after the passing of a Local Act. This meant that it did not come under the juridsiction of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. The Board of Guardians was not constituted for the parish of St Mary Islington until 1867. A new workhouse was subsequently constructed on Saint John's Road in Upper Holloway. An infirmary was also built on Highgate Hill, on the site of the Highgate Smallpox Hospital which had been moved. An infant's school was constructed on Hornsey Road in 1853. In 1895 Islington also purchased a disused workhouse on Shadwell Road (later Cornwallis Road) to use as an overflow institution.

Source of information: Peter Higginbotham at The Workhouse website.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Islington Poor Law Parish, 1864-1933, including minutes of meetings of the Board of Guardians and various Committees; Committee reports; Guardian's diaries; standing orders; orders from and correspondence with Government departments; settlement examinations; orders of removal to and from the Union; registers of lunatics; lunatic case papers; registers for the Shadwell Road Workhouse (later the Cornwallis Road Workhouse), Highgate Hill Workhouse and Infirmary, Saint John's Road Workhouse and Infirmary, and Liverpool Road Workhouse; registers of children, including servants and apprentices, children boarded out, children in the workhouse and at other institutions; children's case papers; registers of children at the Receiving Homes, Hornsey Rise and the Andover Children's Home, Hornsey Road; financial accounts and staff records.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

In 9 sections: Board; Committees; Correspondence; Settlement and Relief; Workhouses and Institutions; Schools and Children; Finance; 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.

Allied Materials

Related material:

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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