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Poor Law records

Easebourne's Budgenor LodgeThe Poor Law system

Before 1834, the poor were managed by the parish and its officials: mainly the churchwardens and overseers of the poor. Money was collected from local residents through the poor rates and used to look after the sick, elderly, widowed, unemployed or destitute.

After 1834, parishes were grouped together to form unions, each run by a Board of Guardians.

What records might I find?

If you are trying to trace an ancestor who may have fallen on hard times or learn more about the Poor Law system, we have records that can help. The records include:

  • settlement papers (settlement examinations, removal orders, settlement certificates), usually amongst the parish records;
  • bastardy papers;
  • vagrancy papers (usually amongst the parish records);
  • apprenticeship records;
  • overseers’ accounts and rates (usually amongst the parish records);
  • workhouse records (‘creed’ registers, admission and discharge registers, births and deaths registers); and
  • Board of Guardians’ minutes (from 1835).

The records are particularly helpful for the period 1660-1835: notably for settlement (the process for establishing which parish was responsible for the maintenance of each individual pauper), apprenticeship, boarding out of children, bastardy and militia service.

Union workhouses

Between 1835 and 1948 paupers were maintained in the workhouses of the Poor Law Unions, each catering for a group of between 10 and 25 parishes. Registers of births and deaths, and creed registers, have survived for 8 out of the 11 West Sussex Unions and are listed below. For full details of the parishes involved and references, see ‘Sussex Poor Law Records: A Catalogue’ by J M Coleman.

Union Births Deaths Creed
Cuckfield 1914-1944 1914-1949 1901-1930
East Grinstead 1880-1940 1880-1948 1869-1936
Chichester 1896-1933 1896-1936 1896-1935
Horsham 1914-1935 1914-1939 1914-1931
Midhurst 1847-1883 1835-1914 1894-1910
Midhurst 1914-1933 1930-1972  
Petworth 1866-1926 1866-1916 1914-1930
East Preston 1869-1951 1870-1934  
Thakeham 1866-1930 1866-1936  


How to access the records

Many of the original records are in a fragile condition and so a microfilm version is available for reference (for Overseers Records, see MF 983-1004).

Published and online resources

There is a Poor Law Database of information concentrating on the records of settlement and removal 1662-1835, available on the public access computers.

Settlement certificates (but not removal orders) from the East Sussex parish record collections have been published by M J Burchall in ‘Eastern Sussex Settlement Certificates 1670-1832’, available in the Record Office library (Lib 7299).

Amongst the Quarter Sessions records are cases where parishes disputed the settlement of paupers. See M J Burchall's published abstracts from the Order Books:

  • A Catalogue of Sussex Quarter Sessions Settlement Orders and Cases: Part 1 1661-1700 (WSRO Lib 6352)
  • A Catalogue of Sussex Quarter Sessions Settlement Orders and Cases: Part 2 1701-1729 (WSRO Lib 9753)
  • A Catalogue of Sussex Quarter Sessions Settlement Orders and Cases: Part 3 1730-1749 (WSRO Lib 9751)

Visit Peter Higginbotham's 'The Workhouse' website, where you can search for information on workhouses in Sussex and across the country.

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