The Poor Law and Charity

For a pauper seeking relief, London formed a dense thicket of relieving institutions. You might seek a regular pension from your parish, or a guild, or admission to a hospital, or one of the new associational charities; or in extremis you might court arrest and removal as a vagrant, certain at least of shelter and some food. Records reflecting all these forms of relief have been included on this website.
An older woman stands with her hand held out in a begging, with a broom under her arm.  The words Fleet Street and Newgate Street can be seen above her head. John Dempsey. Crossing Sweeper, c.1820. © Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

The Poor Law and Charity: An Overview
A Brief Chronology of Change; Historical Perspectives.

Parish Relief
Rates, Vestries; Churchwardens and Overseers; Pensions, Collection and Charities; Rise of the Parish Employee.

Parish Nurses
Reputation; Nurses as Parish Contractors; Hannah Poole; The Country Nurse and the Rise of the Baby Farm.

The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries; The London Workhouse; The Workhouse Test Act and Account of Several Workhouses; Parish Workhouses; Workhouse Conditions; London Workhouses in 1776-7; Contractors, Private Workhouses and Baby Farms; Henry Fielding's Plan.

Certificates; Establishing a Settlement; The Process of Removal; Appeals; Friendly Passes.

Who Were Vagrants?; Policing; Punishments; Vagrant Contractors; The Crisis of the 1780s.

Associational Charities
The Foundling Hospital; The Marine Society; The Magdalen Hospital; Summary.

Parliamentary Reform
Annual Registers of all Parish Poor Infants (1762); Better Regulation of the Parish Poor Children (1767); Better Relief and Employment of the Poor (1782); Towards the Early Nineteenth Century.

The Parish Poor
London in 1803; Working Backwards; Gender and Age.


If you are just getting started you may wish to consult the Research Guides provided; read the article on How to interpret an Eighteenth-Century Manuscript; and review the descriptions of the individual Document Types.

For a detailed reading list on these subjects, see the London Lives Bibliography.