This database includes abstracted details of the admissions and discharge registers for St Luke Chelsea for two periods: 2 February 1743 to 14 July 1769 and 1 January 1782 to 31 December 1799. The relevant register for 1769 to the end of 1781 has not survived. In total 4,342 lines of data are included, each of which represents a single entry and exit from the parish workhouse. The database was created between 1991 and 1994 by Tim Hitchcock and John Black. The full database can be accessed as a single table through The Workhouse website.
The original volumes were organised into letter tabs for the convenience of the workhouse master, who was charged with keeping the register up to date. This tab system groups all entries by the first letter of the surname of the pauper; so the entries relating to people whose surnames begin with B are all on the same page. On any single page entries are in date order from top to bottom. This organisation facilitated finding a specific pauper's entry, regardless of how when they came into the house.
When paupers presented themselves at the workhouse, the master filled in the left hand page of the register, entering their full name, age and the date of entry, and giving a brief description of the reason they were admitted. When the inmate later left the house, whether alive or dead, the master completed the line on the right hand page of the register, recording the date they left and a brief reason.
The database is organised into nine fields, but where fields are blank these have been suppressed in the version displayed here. Where information is available for each possible field the record will include:
- Unique Project ID: Unique identification number.
- Male OR Female
- Age: Age, given in years and in decimal form for months.
- Date of Entry: Date of entry in the form DD/MM/YY.
- Date of Exit: Date of exit in the form of DD/MM/YY.
- Reason for Entry: A brief statement of circumstances on admission.
- Reason for Exit: A brief statement of circumstances on discharge.
The date recorded is given with the year starting on 1 January throughout.
A typical entry includes the following information:
- Unique Project ID: 1784
- Surname: Chevalier
- Forename: Ann
- Male OR Female: F
- Age: 39
- Date of Entry: 01/08/65
- Date of Exit: 07/08/65
- Reason for Entry: Returnd from ye Hospital
- Reason for Exit: had Leave to go out and did not return
Located in Middlesex, but just beyond the fully built up area of London, Chelsea in the eighteenth century had perhaps as diverse a population as any parish in the country. By the start of the nineteenth century it had a population of twelve thousand people, its housing stock having grown from 350 buildings in 1717 to 2,300 in 1809. With an economy dominated first by market gardening and then by light manufacture (the Chelsea Porcelain Works opened in 1745), the parish necessarily attracted paupers embedded in the urban world of London, as well as the world of seasonal agriculture. As importantly, it was also home to the Royal Hospital at Chelsea, opened in 1692. With its 476 pensioned soldiers, or "in pensioners", and perhaps one thousand "out pensioners". who took up temporary residence every six months as they converged on the area to receive their allowances and medical attention, the Hospital ensured that elderly soldiers and their families are heavily represented among the workhouse inmates.
These registers were created to service and reflect the management of the parish workhouse, first opened in 1737. The house could accommodate up to seventy people, and the population was made up of the sick and disabled, widows and their families, children and spouses deserted by parents and partners, illegitimate children and their mothers, the old and infirm, and deserted or orphaned children.
The volumes reproduced in this database are part of a complex and nearly complete set of parochial records that encompass the whole range of interactions between the parish and individual paupers. Account books, vestry minutes, workhouse committee minutes, outdoor relief accounts, pauper apprenticeship records, and a comprehensive set of settlement examinations, along with a plethora of miscellaneous documents, survive for Chelsea for the mid-eighteenth century, and are preserved in the London Metropolitan Archives
The individuals whose experiences are recorded in these registers were paupers, and they are most likely also to appear in records associated with poor relief. Many will have been subject to a Settlement Examination, and their names are very likely to appear in the Settlement and Bastardy Examinations for Chelsea, 1733-1750, available online.
A significant proportion of paupers were removed from or to another parish. Where the other parish was St Clement Danes, St Dionis Backchurch, or St Botolph Aldgate, their name should appear in the relevant parish records. Where the parish of settlement or removal was St Martin in the Fields, their name is likely to appear in the St Martins Workhouse Register (SWR) and Settlement Examinations (SET).
There is a smaller chance that the inmates of the St Luke Chelsea workhouse were caught up in the system of vagrant removal or in the criminal justice system, as either victims or perpetrators. If so, their names would also appear in the Sessions Papers (PS) for Middlesex, the Old Bailey Proceedings, and perhaps in the records of Bridewell if they were charged with vagrancy in the City of London.
- Boulton, Jeremy. The Poor Among the Rich: Paupers and the Parish, in the West End, 1600-1724. In Griffiths, Paul and Jenner, Mark S. R. (ed.), Londinopolis: Essays in the Cultural and Social History of Early Modern London. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2000, pp. 197-225.
- Hitchcock, Tim and Black, John (ed.). Chelsea Settlement and Bastardy Examinations, 1733-66. London Record Society, 33. London: London Record Society, 1999 for 1996.
- Hitchcock, Tim. 'Unlawfully begotten on her body': Illegitimacy and the Parish Poor in St Luke's Chelsea. In Hitchcock, Tim; King, Peter; and Sharpe, Pamela (ed.), Chronicling Poverty: The Voices and Strategies of the English Poor, 1640-1840. Basingstoke and London: Macmillan, 1997, pp. 70-86.
For further reading on this subject see the London Lives Bibliography.