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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): POBG
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1813-1940
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 66.98 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Poplar Poor Law Union x Poplar 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.

Poplar Poor Law Union was constituted in 1836, consisting of the parishes of Bromley, Bow and Poplar. Poplar High Street Workhouse had been built in 1735. The Union took over management of this institution and began expansion and improvement works, with a complete rebuilding taking place in the 1850s. From 1871 onwards the workhouse accepted only able-bodied men, who were put to hard labour. Men from other Unions were accepted if spare space was available, while the aged and infirm from Poplar were sent to the Stepney Union workhouse and those in need of hospital care sent to the joint Poplar and Stepney Sick Asylum. The workhouse was forced to open for all classes on inmate in 1882 due to increased demand. In 1913 the workhouse was renamed Poplar Institution.

The Poplar Union purchased the Forest Gate School from the Forest Gate School District when the latter body was dissolved in 1897. The Union used the school both for training and as an overflow workhouse. The Union also managed a farm in Dunton, Essex, which housed unemployed men and their families. The men were employed in farm labour, thought to be more productive than the usual workhouse activities of oakum picking or stone breaking. In 1906 the Union constructed a cottage homes training school in Hutton, Essex. Cottage schools were small, family-home style houses laid out like a village, which were considered better for children than a large institution.

Source of information: Peter Higginbotham at The Workhouse website.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of Poplar Poor Law Union, 1813-1940, including minutes of meetings of the Board of Guardians and various Committees; annual reports and statements of account; statutes and bye-laws; reports on Guardian's visits to institutions; papers relating to the enquiry by the Local Government Board into the administration of Poplar Union; orders and correspondence from Government departments; contracts; deeds; settlement examinations; orders for removal to and from the Union; applications for relief; registers of lunatics; lunatic reception orders; registers for Poplar High Street Workhouse; registers for Dunton Farm Colony; registers for Forest Gate Branch Workhouse; registers of children, including those at Poplar Training School, Forest Gate and Langley House Children's Home; plans of Poplar Workhouse; financial accounts and staff records.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

In 13 sections: Board and Committees; Reports; Orders and Correspondence; Contracts; Settlement and Relief; Lunatics; Workhouses and Institutions; Schools and Children; Finance and Statistics; Staff; Vaccination Officer; Emigrants; 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/55/062).

Allied Materials

Related material:

For Stepney Union see reference STBG. For the Forest Gate School District see reference FGSD. For the Poplar and Stepney Sick Asylum District see reference PSSAD.

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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