Books of Clothing Provided by the Parish (BC)

The right hand page of register-like clothing book, listing what clothes were distributed to whom Westminster Archives Centre, St Clement Danes, Clothing Books, containing the names of paupers, May 1785 - 1796, Ms B1251, LL ref: WCCDBC355000006.


Clothing Books were frequently kept by individual parishes as part of their administration of the system of relief under the Old Poor Law. Items of clothing formed one of the most significant areas of expenditure by parishes along with cash pensions, accommodation and medical care.1

These books could take a number of different forms, the two most common types of which are illustrated below. These are a register type clothing book of the sort maintained by the parish of St Clement Danes in the latter half of the eighteenth century, where the information is organised in a grid pattern; and a notebook type in which each individual pauper is given a page or half a page, with a list of clothing entered below. This second sort of clothing book was created by the parish of St Dionis Backchurch from 1788 onwards.

See also Clothing Books, With Names of Children at Nurse (BN), kept by St Clement Danes for the children they placed with nurses in Enfield from 1790-1800.


The existence of a register type clothing book tends to reflect a more bureaucratic parochial system, in which clothing was distributed from a central store and the types of clothing available were limited to a few basic items. A register type clothing book will normally list the names of paupers in receipt of various items of clothing in a vertical column on the left hand side of the page. A date and page title reflecting the sort of individuals listed (women, men or children) can usually also be found at the top of the page. The different types of clothing distributed are then listed from left to right along the top of the page. In the example above most of the components of a full set of a working woman's clothes are included: Gowns, Coats, Shifts, Hose, Shoes, Check aprons, Caps, Handkerchiefs, Corse aprons, Stays, etc. The pattern of the lists of names and clothing types is used to create a grid, the boxes of which are ticked to indicate who was given which items of clothing. Because of the difficulty of representing this grid pattern in the transcribed text, users should view images of the original page in order to assess which types of clothing are associated with individual names.


The left hand page of a notebook listing the clothes issued to Susannah Harrison in 1789 London Metropolitan Archives, St Dionis Backchurch, Clothing Book, 1788, Ms 11269/1-2, LL ref: GLDBBC306000019.

A notebook style recording system reflects a more ad hoc approach to parochial administration, and is usually restricted to smaller parishes with a less extensive poor relief system. In these smaller parishes individual items of clothing were normally purchased or distributed from a slop chest in response to the requirements of the individual pauper. As a result notebook style clothing books are structured around individual paupers, with a pauper's name entered at the top of the page, or after a clearly indicated break, and the items of clothing distributed to them listed underneath. The date on which the pauper received the clothing and the value of the item are also normally recorded.2

Introductory Reading

  • Hitchcock, Tim. Down and Out in Eighteenth-Century London. 2004, ch.5 & 6.
  • Jones, Peter. Clothing the Poor in Early Nineteenth-Century England. Textile History, 37:1 (2006), pp. 17-37.
  • King, S. A. and Payne, C., eds. The Dress of the Poor, 1700-1900. Special edition of Textile History, 2002.
  • Styles, John. The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England. London and New Haven, 2008.
  • Tomkins, Alannah. The Experience of Urban Poverty, 1723-82: Parish, Charity and Credit. Manchester, 2006.

Online Resources

For further reading on this subject see the London Lives Bibliography.

Documents Included on this Website

  • St Dionis Backchurch, Clothing Supplied to the Poor, 1788-93, London Metropolitan Archives, Ms. 11269/1-2, LL ref: GLDBBC30600, Tagging Level: C
  • St Clement Danes, Clothing Book, 1785, Westminster Archives Centre, Ms. B1250, LL ref: WCCDBC35500, Tagging Level: B
  • St Clement Danes, Clothing Book, 1785-89, Westminster Archives Centre, Ms. B1251, LL ref: WCCDBC35501, Tagging Level: B
  • St Clement Danes, Clothing Book, 1789-93, Westminster Archives Centre, Ms. B1252, LL ref: WCCDBC35502, Tagging Level: C
  • St Clement Danes, Clothing Book, 1793-96, Westminster Archives Centre, Ms. B1253, LL ref: WCCDBC35503, Tagging Level: C
  • St Clement Danes, Clothing Book, 1793-96, Westminster Archives Centre, Ms. B1253, LL ref: WCCDBC35504, Tagging Level: C

Back to Top | Introductory Reading


1 For an excellent analysis of the significance of clothing in the economy of paupers, see John Styles, The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England (London and New Haven, 2008), ch. 15 & 16.

2 For an informative collection of articles surveying the full breadth of themes around the issue of clothing the poor, see S. A. King and C. Payne, eds, The Dress of the Poor, 1700-1900 (Special edition of Textile History, 2002).