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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): WABG
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1836-1933
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 53.26 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Wandsworth and Clapham Poor Law Union x Wandsworth Poor Law Union x Wandsworth 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.

Wandsworth and Clapham Union was constituted in 1836 and consisted of the parishes of Wandsworth, Putney, Clapham, Battersea, Streatham and Tooting Graveney. In 1904 these parishes were amalgamated into one parish to be known as the Parish of Wandsworth Borough. The title of the Union was altered to Wandsworth Union. The Wandsworth Union was the largest in London, supporting a population of more than 350,000.

Saint John's Hill Workhouse (also known as the Wandsworth and Clapham Union Workhouse) was constructed in 1838. In 1886 a new, larger workhouse was constructed in Swaffield Road. This allowed the older workhouse to become a dedicated infirmary or hospital, known as Saint John's Hill Infirmary.

Source of information: Peter Higginbotham at The Workhouse website.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Wandsworth Poor Law Union, 1836-1933, including minutes of meetings of the Board of Guardians; minutes and reports of various Committees including the Assessment Committee, Schools and Institutions Committee and Boarding Out Committee; correspondence with the Local Government Board and the Ministry of Health; contracts; orders of the Poor Law Board; settlement examinations; orders of removal to and from other Unions; registers of the Swaffield Road Workhouse and Saint John's Hill Workhouse; registers of apprentices; registers of children at the Intermediate School, Swaffield Road and the Anerley School, North Surrey; financial accounts; staff records; maps of parishes in Wandsworth; floor plans of Saint John's Hospital; registers of relief given to the wives and children of interned aliens [foreigners], First World War.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

WABG/001-086: Minutes; WABG/087-092: Committees; WABG/093-101: Correspondence; WABG/102-124: Settlement and Orders; WABG/125-148: Workhouses and Institutions; WABG/149-175: Schools and Children; WABG/176-188: Financial; WABG/189-200: Staff; WABG/201-206: Plans and maps; WABG/207: Register of relief to aliens.

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:

Received in multiple accessions between 1954 and 1996 (AC/54/093; AC/55/075; AC/55/085, ACC/3768).

Allied Materials

Related material:

For the records of the London County Council, who took over Wandsworth Board of Guardians institutions, see reference LCC. Further records are held by Wandsworth Heritage Service, Battersea Library, 265 Lavender Hill, London SW11 1JB.

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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