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Workhouse Records

Thu Nov 03, 2016 8:21 pm

Has anyone found information about pauper ancestors from workhouse records such as guardians minutes or workhouse master's records? I'm not entirely sure what's likely to be included in these.

I'm stuck trying to find what happened to an ancestor, his last known place was in a workhouse in the 1881 census.

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Re: Workhouse Records

Thu Nov 03, 2016 8:40 pm

Yes, I suspected that my ancestor had abandoned his young family after the death of his wife as the boys were shown in the workhouse on the census.
I consulted the guardian's book for the Wilton workhouse, held at the Wiltshire RO. It took quite a while scanning many pages of financial detail (such as the amount spent on meat and bread etc). However, eventually I found an entry stating that the guardians had been unsuccessful in their search for the father and they intended to pursue him for financial support for his sons. I'm intending to continue my reading on a future visit in case there is further information about the family up until the time they left.

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Re: Workhouse Records

Fri Nov 04, 2016 9:11 am

Have you tried www.workhouses.org.uk ?

Re: Workhouse Records

Fri Nov 04, 2016 11:02 am

Having first got a lead about ancestors of mine being in the workhouse from a newspaper article, I investigated workhouse records. I found that Gloucester Archives held the Minutes of the Board of Guardians for Westbury-on-Severn Poor Law Union for the relevant time period, so - as part of a short holiday to the Forest of Dean - I went to have a look.

Here are a couple of direct transcriptions from the records I looked at:

"2 May 1922 – Children of Oliver Bowdler
It was reported that the children of this man were still in the House, and that his wife had been removed thereto on 29th ultimo. Oliver Bowdler appeared before the Board and asked that the children be discharged. After further discussion it was resolved that the children should be detained in the House until proper provisions for them could be made. It was further resolved that Bowdler be called upon to contribute £2 8 shillings per week towards the maintenance of his children – and a further sum of 10 shillings per week towards the maintenance of his wife should he receive that amount from the Ministry of Pensions."

"14 November 1922 – Oliver Bowdler
The Clerk reported proceedings had been taken against this man under the Vagrancy Act for neglecting to maintain his wife, and that he had been committed to prison for one month with hard labour."

In total there are 13 entries spanning nearly a year, so my ancestors were clearly quite a difficult case for the Board of Guardians to deal with! It's important to note that minutes of Boards of Guardians won't automatically mention everyone in the workhouse - you'd need to look at admission and discharge records for that. The Board of Guardians would only have discussed inmates where there were particular problems or issues that needed to be dealt with, as in this case. This will often relate to money: some people were truly paupers, in which case the Poor Law Union footed the bill. In other cases, such as my family, it was because a person was incapacitated in some way (here, through mental illness) and someone was expected to contribute towards the cost of their stay.

In terms of finding the information, these particular details were easy to locate as there was an index in the front of each book of minutes. So I was able to look up the name 'Bowdler' and quickly find all the pages where they were mentioned. I was probably lucky on this score though.

Re: Workhouse Records

Fri Nov 04, 2016 11:31 am

Yes, it's true that many inmates are never mentioned but as the guardian's minutes are often the only record to survive they're well worth a look. Janey was lucky to find an index; the record I was reading was from the 1870s and I had to check every page. They do give some interesting historical background however. I was surprised to read of several cases where the inmates had been encouraged to emigrate. In each case the guardians provided them with a new set of clothes to take. Presumably this was considered 'a good investment' compared with the possibility of ongoing financial support.

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Re: Workhouse Records

Sat Nov 05, 2016 7:47 am

Thank you for all the replies.

I'll definitely give the guardians minutes a read then. It sounds like they will at least give me some idea of what the particular workhouse was like.

My ancestor was 85 in the 1881 census, so I doubt he lived much longer which should narrow down the time period to search. I have searched the register of deaths for the workhouse but he's not listed in there, I can't find a burial record or even an entry in the GRO death index. The other workhouse records are the last place I can think to look for any information.

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