Read about some of the fascinating research being carried out on our recently catalogued Poor Law records…our guest blogger from Clements Hall Local History Group tells us about their project.
What was it like to be poor in 19th century York? Clements Hall Local History Group is using recently catalogued Explore York Poor Law records to better understand how poverty was experienced – and to give a voice to the poor themselves.
The focus is on one parish – St Mary’s Bishophill Junior, an area both inside and outside the city walls. Researchers are looking at records of three periods: 1839-43, 1859-63, and 1879-83. The project aims to identify a sample of individuals, and attempt to track them through their lives. It is hoped to assemble a number of life stories which detail contact with the relief system, including any periods in the workhouse.
To claim relief a person had to have the right of settlement in a parish administered by York Poor Law Union. Settlement was conferred by various means including birth, marriage, residence in an area for a particular time, employment, and through various property qualifications. The project is interested in anyone applying for relief for whom St Mary’s Bishophill Junior was responsible. For example, in 1837 Joseph Spink (40) was an unemployed whitesmith living in the Shambles. A widower with four children – George, Joseph, Mary Ann and Henry – he was awarded eight shillings relief. The 1851 census records Henry as fifteen, a servant, living in Bishophill with his grandparents John and Mary Tempest.
The project aims to place an individual’s experience in context: how did the parish deal with its poor, and how much did it spend? Was a child on relief more likely to grow up to be an adult on relief ? How did a large family – or bereavement – affect reliance on relief?
Explore has one of the best collections of post-1834 out-relief records in the country. Out-relief allowed people to receive relief in their own homes, rather than enter the workhouse. Application and Report Books (PLU/3/1), catalogued by ecclesiastical parish, offer a wealth of data for research: name of claimant plus address, age, marital status, occupation (e.g. charwoman, soldier’s wife; shoemaker) and any disability. They also give the reason for seeking relief, whether relief is temporary or permanent, and details of relief from other sources such as charities. Where relief is in cash, the value and length of period of relief is noted. If in kind – for example, flour, tea or candles – quantities and period are recorded.
Outdoor Relief Lists (PLU/3/2) are also being mined. These name paupers, and total relief received weekly, plus amounts received per quarter and half year. The Lists have statistical columns; for example, for gender, marital status, children and vagrants.
These sources are supplemented for project research by other Poor Law Union records such as Board of Guardian minute books. The role of the Relieving Officer can be explored by a 19th century Manual for Relieving Officers. (PLU11/5/4/9) Census data, birth, marriage and death registers, and Ordnance Survey maps for 1836, 1852 and 1889 are among other useful sources.
Project volunteers have benefited from training from archivist Julie-Ann Vickers who also prepared a series of useful short guides to Poor Law records. Further training was provided by Kate Gibson, University of Sheffield.
For further details of the project contact e: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Clements Hall project coincides with a three year University of Leicester/The National Archives (TNA) research project is examining poverty across England and Wales. ‘In their own write: contesting the New Poor law 1834-1900’ will use a sample of thousands of letters written by paupers to give their own point of view.
You can read about the project at https://intheirownwriteblog.com/page/2/
Thanks for reading