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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): LEBG
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1835-1932
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 49.63 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Lewisham Poor Law Union x Lewisham Boards 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 Lewisham Poor Law Union was formed in 1836, constituting parishes of Lewisham, Charlton, Eltham, Mottingham, Kidbrooke, Lee and Plumstead. In 1868 the parishes of Charlton, Kidbrooke and Plumstead separated to become part of the Woolwich Union; in 1887 the parish of Mottingham separated to become part of the Bromley Union; and in 1905 the parishes of Lee and Lewisham united and became known as the Parish of Lewisham. The Union at first decided to continue using the existing workhouse on Lewisham High Street, which had been constructed in 1817. The workhouse was expanded over time as adjacent land was acquired and later became Lewisham Hospital.

Source of information: Peter Higginbotham at The Workhouse website.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Lewisham Poor Law Union, 1835-1932, including minutes and proceedings of the Board of Guardians and various Committees; annual reports and statements of accounts; rules and regulations; orders from and correspondence with Government departments; settlement examinations; orders of removal to and from other Unions; applications for relief; reception orders of lunatics; registers of lunatics; registers of the Lewisham High Street Workhouse, the Greenwich Infirmary and the Woolwich Workhouse, Plumstead; general registers of inmates; registers of inmates chargeable to Lewisham Board; registers of apprentices; registers of children at Cumberlow Lodge, South Norwood, scattered homes at Courthill Road and the North Surrey District School at Anerley; financial accounts and staff records.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

In 10 sections: Board and Committees; Reports and Regulations; Orders and Correspondence; Settlement and Relief; Lunatics; Workhouse and Institutions; 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. Further records received in 1955 (AC/55/039).

Allied Materials

Related material:

For information regarding the Woolwich Workhouse, Plumstead, see the records of Woolwich Board of Guardians, reference WOBG. For the Greenwich Infirmary see Greenwich Board of Guardians, reference GBG. For the North Surrey District School at Anerley see the North Surey School District, reference NSSD.

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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