Looking For People in Poor Law Records, Especially for ‘Outdoor Relief’

The workhouse records held at county record offices and the TNA are a goldmine of information. Many of them deal with administration. However, there are a number of records that relate to individuals. The survival of records of Union Workhouses which were created after 1834, is erratic and thus it is worth searching the HRO catalogue for the place of interest

For the Romsey Union, for example, the best sources of names that have survived is the Register of Deaths (HRO, PLV/9.3) and Romsey Union Out-door Relief Lists (catalogued under several references). In addition TNA at Kew holds lists of people who were assisted to emigrate, particularly around 1840 (MH 12/10983).

The Register of Deaths list date of death, name of deceased and the parish to which he or she belongs, where the burial took place and who paid for it. Often there is a note on cause of death.

Once a month the Guardians were required to produce a printed list headed ‘Out-door Relief’ with the names of all those in the workhouse and the parish from which they came. Those in the county asylum at the Guardians’ expense were also listed – interestingly predominantly women. In addition, parish by parish the recipients of out-door relief were listed under the name of the head of household, whose age was often shown.

The number of children in the household, but without details, are also listed, and the existence of a wife, sometimes with her age. When women were head of household, they are not infrequently listed as ‘widow’. The amount of money the household was paid each week is shown as is the number of loaves for the month. The lists also give a reason why relief was justified.

The Out-door Relief Lists are thus very valuable, but are tricky to find in the HRO catalogue They tend to be grouped with whatever other documents they arrived with, or to be catalogued separately, so are not always immediately identifiable as workhouse records. The best, but not the only, way of finding them is to search Outdoor Relief and ignore the items that pre-date 1835. Some Unions have a good collection of these documents, while others do not appear to have any.

These records of the names of those receiving relief give a valuable insight into the lives of the poorest members of our rural community.

Contributed by Phoebe Merrick