Poor law records

Poor law records provide evidence of an early welfare system which can often be useful in tracing ancestors, particularly from the 17th century up to 1835 and the establishment of the Poor Law Union. The type of documents found among poor law records include removal and settlement certificates (for establishing which parish was responsible for the person claiming assistance), and sometimes bastardy bonds and apprenticeships.

West Surrey Family History Society has produced a database of poor law records which is available for consultation at Surrey History Centre.

If there were disputes over removal and settlements, they were often referred to the Quarter Sessions, which can also be consulted at the History Centre.

Between 1835 and 1930 the granting of aid to paupers became more structured and the infirm poor were cared for in workhouses belonging to the Poor Law Unions. Each union represented several parishes and was run by a Board of Guardians. The survival rate of the documents varies from union to union.

Surrey History Centre holds Poor Law Union records for the following:

  • Chertsey Poor Law Union, 1835-1932 (BG1)
  • Dorking Poor Law Union, (1785)-1930 (BG2)
  • Epsom Poor Law Union, 1723-1970 (BG3)
  • Farnham Poor Law Union, 1846-1930 (BG4)
  • Godstone Poor Law Union, 1835-1930 (BG5)
  • Guildford Poor Law Union, 1741-1948 (BG6)
  • Richmond Poor Law Union, 1836-1939 (BG10)
  • Hambledon Poor Law Union, 1836-1930 (BG7)
  • Kingston Poor Law Union, 1834-1936 (BG8)
  • Reigate Poor Law Union, 1836-1930 (BG9)

Searchable online indexes

Further reading about workhouses

  • M A Crowther, The workhouse system 1834-1929 : the history of an English social institution (Methuen, 1983)
  • Michelle Higgs, Life in the Victorian and Edwardian workhouse (Tempus, 2007, 15/04/2007)
  • Peter Wood, Poverty and the workhouse in Victorian Britain (Alan Sutton, 1991)
  • Kathryn Morrison, The Workhouse: a study of poor-law buildings in England (English Heritage, 1999)
  • Simon Fowler, Workhouse: the people, the places, the life behind doors (The National Archives, 2008)
  • Cliff Webb, London, Middlesex and Surrey workhouse records : a guide to their nature and location, West Surrey Family History Society Research Aids, No.31 (West Surrey Family History Society, 1991)
  • Poor and the Poor Laws (National Archives Research Guide)
  • Poor Law Records, 1834-1871 (National Archives Research Guide)

Research Guides

To see our Research Guides, simply select the filenames below:

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