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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): SHBG
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1848-1944
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 41.08 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Shoreditch Poor Law Union x Shoreditch 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.

In 1774, the Shoreditch Parish Vestry were authorized by an Act of Parliament to construct a new workhouse for the parish of St Leonard's, situated on Kingsland Road and administered by the Parish Poor Trustees. When the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was introduced the parish did not fall under its jurisdiction because of the pre-existing Parish Poor Trustees. However, in 1847 inspectors found that the workhouse was badly overcrowded and unsanitary. The Trustees began alterations and modernization works, and built a separate infirmary wing. Nevertheless, in 1859 the Poor Law Board (later the Local Government Board) set up a separate Board of Guardians of the Poor to oversee the infirmary. In 1861 the Guardians commissioned a new workhouse on the same site.

The Trustees were also responsible for the construction of Brentwood Industrial School, Essex, which was later shared with Hackney Union under the Brentwood School District. In 1855 the provision for children was expanded with the addition of Hornchurch Cottage Homes, Essex, a development of family-home style houses, arranged like a village and intended to be more friendly than a large institution.

Source of information: Peter Higginbotham at The Workhouse website.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of Shoreditch Poor Law Union, 1848-1944, including minutes of meetings of the Board of Guardians and various Committees; Committee reports; deeds; programmes of sports day at Hornchurch Cottage Homes; rules and regulations; orders and correspondence from Government departments; settlement examinations; orders for removal to and from the Union; registers of interned aliens, First World War; registers of lunatics; lunatic admission orders; registers of the Union Workhouse; apprenticeship registers; registers of children; plans of the Hornchurch Cottage Homes; financial accounts and staff records.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

In 11 sections: Board and Committees; Reports; Board papers; Orders and Correspondence; Settlement and relief; Lunatics; 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. Further records received in 1955 (AC/55/062).

Allied Materials

Related material:

For the Brentwood School District see BSD. Further material is held at St Bartholomew's Archives and Museum , West Smithfield, London EC1A 7BE.

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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