The 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?
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)
- Board of Guardians’ minutes (from 1835).
Between 1835 and 1948 paupers were maintained in the workhouses of the Poor Law Unions, each catering for a group of 10-25 parishes. Registers of births and deaths, and creed registers, have survived for 8 out of the 11 West Sussex Unions and are listed in the table below. For full details of the parishes involved and references, see ‘Sussex Poor Law Records: A Catalogue’ by J M Coleman.
How to access the records
Many of the original records are in a fragile condition 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 in the Record Office.
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.