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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): WOBG
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1861-1932
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 44.48 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Woolwich Board of Guardians x Woolwich Poor Law Union


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 Woolwich Poor Law Union was founded in 1868 when the Lewisham Poor Law Union (parishes of Charlton, Kidbrooke and Plumstead) and the Greenwich Poor Law Union (parish of Woolwich) were merged. A workhouse was constructed in 1870 on Tewson Road on the south side of Plumstead High Street. It was first called the "Woolwich Union Workhouse", then in the 1920s the "Woolwich Institution", while the infirmary was renamed the "Plumstead and District Hospital". From 1899 the Union also managed the Goldie Leigh Children's Homes at Bostall Heath. This later became a hospital for skin conditions and a home for mentally disabled children.

Source of information: Peter Higginbotham at The Workhouse website.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Woolwich Board of Guardians, 1861-1932, including minutes of meetings of the Board; correspondence with government departments including the Ministry of Health; orders for settlement, removal or relief; registers of lunatics; Woolwich Institution (workhouse) registers including admission and discharge, creed and deaths; Medical Officers record of examinations of inmates at the Woolwich Institution; registers of children in care including baptisms at the Woolwich Union Chapel, apprenticeship indentures, boarded out children, children at Roman Catholic establishments, children in the Infirmary, children in the workhouse and children held in outlying establishments (ones outside the Union); registers for Plumstead Workhouse, including admission and discharge and creed; admission and discharge registers for the Goldie Leigh Cottage Home for Children; quarterly returns of the British born wives and children of interned aliens [foreigners]; financial accounts and registers of staff.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

WOBG/001-053: Minutes; WOBG/054-057: Correspondence; WOBG/058-060: Orders; WOBG/061-086: Registers; WOBG/087: Returns of aliens; WOBG/088-095; WOBG/096-099: Staff.

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 financial records received in 1955 (AC/55/075).

Allied Materials

Related material:

For records of the Workhouse Infirmary, later Plumstead and District Hospital, later Saint Nicholas' Hospital, see H20/NIC. For the records of the London County Council, who took over Woolwich Board of Guardians institutions, see LCC.

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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