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The Workhouse System

In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed. By this act a number of parishes were grouped together into a Poor Law Union. It may have been necessary for the Union to use several small existing workhouses until a larger workhouse was built.

The Poor Law Commissioners administered the new workhouse system and it will be seen in these minutes that they were often applied to for advice in the early years. Individual workhouses were administered by a Board of Guardians. One or more Guardians were appointed to represent each parish within the Union, and the Board of Guardians, with an elected Chairman, met each week or fortnightly, to discuss any issues to do with the running of the workhouse including specific pauper cases. The Relieving Officer was the person to whom any pauper living within the Union should apply for relief. The pauper could be given "out relief" in cases of illness, or an "order for the House" in any other case. The Overseers of the Poor continued the work they had done in their own parishes before the act was passed. Medical Officers were appointed and were given a specific group of parishes, the pauper inhabitants of which they were required to visit if circumstances required. Medical certificates were given to paupers needing out relief. Other officers appointed by the Board of Guardians were the Master and Mistress or Matron of the Workhouse. These were often a husband and wife. The Master took his directions from the Board of Guardians, and was in day to day control of the Workhouse. Under the Master were the Schoolmaster and Schoolmistress, and the Porter. Finally, and perhaps the most important officer was the Clerk to the Guardians, who wrote the wonderful material that has survived to this day and which gives us a valuable insight into the plight of the paupers and the day to day running of the workhouse.

When a pauper applied for relief, several questions would be asked. Most importantly, where was his place of settlement? Had he any relatives who could pay his maintenance? Had he any income from other sources that would maintain him and his family through difficult times? Was the father of a bastard child able to support him? All these questions are posed in the minute books, and often satisfactorily answered. It is important to remember that any pauper had to apply to the Relieving Officer of the Union in which he resided. If his settlement turned out to be within a different Poor Law Union he could be removed to the Union in which his place of settlement was supposed to be. If no appeal was made against the removal order within 21 days, his place of settlement was proven, and once proved, where the pauper was relieved was irrelevant as his maintenance, either in or out of the workhouse, was paid by the Union to which he belonged. There would, therefore, be many paupers living within a particular Union whose places of settlement were in a different Union.

Bourne Poor Law Union

Bourne Poor Law Union is made up of 30 parishes all in Lincolnshire. All entries containing references to named paupers in the first two minute books (Lincolnshire Archives Reference PL2/102/1 and 2) are included in this book. The transcription has been arranged to resemble the original minute books as closely as possible.

This particular set of minutes gives an excellent idea of some of the problems that the early administrators of the new Poor Law Amendment Act had when dealing with local magistrates, and with other Poor Law Unions. Many of the cases are recorded in detail, and all kinds of problems are dealt with, from runaway boys to the grandfather who, whilst in prison for drunkenness, applied for his granddaughter only to leave her in the workhouse when he discovered that he would have to support her!

Boston Poor Law Union

Boston Union, formed in 1836, comprised the 27 parishes in the Boston Registration District. At first a number of small existing workhouses were used until the large workhouse at Boston had been built.

With thanks to the Lincolnshire Family History Society.