The Poor Laws Project

There have been a number of Poor Laws passed by Parliament dating back to 1547. The purpose of the Poor Laws was to provide a level of protection to those who had fallen on hard times; wives whose husbands had deserted them, breadwinners suffering major illness, etc. Workhouses were built to provide shelter to the needy, and taxes were levied on the better off to pay for the running of the workhouses. Determining if an individual or family was entitled to Poor Law relief was the job of Overseers of the Poor who were appointed by each and every parish, and the concept of a person's "settlement" was introduced to determine which parish had the responsibility to pay this relief.

Hence, whenever there was any doubt as to which parish should be providing the required relief, there would be a formal "settlement examination" of the head of the family involved. These were run by Justices of the Peace, and would be signed by the examinee. Because the examinations were all about where the examinee was born, who their dependants were, where their parents lived, who were the fathers of illegitimate children, etc they are extremely valuable records for doing family history.

The main problem with Poor Law records is that there was never any legal requirement to keep particular records, nor any central filing of the records. The records were simply part of a large quantity of administrative paper work being produced at parish level, and subject to the vagaries of each church choosing to retain its records or not. Hence for West Middlesex as a whole only a fraction of the original Poor Law records are available today, with most, but not all, of them now available at the London Metropolitan Archives.

We have done our best to summarise the West Middlesex position on our Poor Law Records page under the Research tab. The detail for each parish shows where the records can be found. In the lockdown of COVID-19 the availability of records previously transcribed by members of the Society has been very welcome. As of February 2021 it can be reported that some 5,500 Poor Law records have been digitised, with final indexing well underway, and these will be placed on the Society's database during March 2021, and submitted to Find My Past at the same time.

This phase 1 took a long while to complete as settlement examinations typically run to a page each, requiring a lot of selective typing for each record. Phase 2 is to visit the London Metropolitan Archives and transcribe a further 5,000 settlement examinations. Anyone who is ready to help undertake this major task should make themeselves known to the Projects Co-ordinator.

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