City of London Parish Workhouses
The old City of London comprised more than 100 parishes, most of which were tiny and lay inside its ancient walls. A few of the within-the-walls parishes operated workhouses prior to 1834, as did some of the newer City parishes just beyond ("without") the walls. Several of the latter also had portions which lay within the county of Middlesex. Most of the information below is based on the following sources:
- An Account of Several Workhouses... published in 1732 — this is abbreviated here as ASW.
- The 1776 parliamentary Abstract of Returns Made by the Overseers of the Poor — abbreviated as ARMOP.
- Tim Hitchcock's 1985 study The English workhouse 1695-1750 — abbreviated as TEW.
- Pigot 's Metropolitan Guide (c.1820) — abbreviated as PMG.
St Andrew Holborn
St Andrew Holborn comprised three Liberties, one falling within the City of London, the other two in the county of Middlesex.
In June 1727, the London Liberty opened a workhouse at 41 Shoe Lane. Its location is shown on Hopwood's map of London, Westminster, and Southwark (1792-99):
According to ASW, a 16-man management committee was set up who:
...first hired a House joining to their Churchyard, in Shoe-Lane near the Church, and having fitted it up, it was opened for receiving all the Poor of their Division in June 1727. The Expence of this Beginning was defrayed by an extraordinary Rate of a Year's Tax to the Poor, and has so far succeeded, that the Gentlemen who have the Care of it, having no private Views to serve, and being heartily united to banish Beggary and Idleness out of their District, have the Pleasure of seeing it so prosperous under their Management, as to hope in time to make a considerable Reduction of the Poor's Tax, which at present is abated about one fourth part of 1000l. per annum.
THEY then took Care to find out a faithful Inspector, to whom the immediate Government of the House should be committed, and two or three of the Overseers seldom fail in their Turns, twice a Week, to visit it, to redress all Difficulties that may occur to the Master, or reasonable Complaints on the side of the Poor under his Care.
THERE are now 62 in Family, besides the Master and Matron, every one of which have such Business assigned to them by the Master, as they are most capable of, whose present Allotments are as follow, viz.
7 old Men and Women (of which two are upwards of Fourscore, and one an Ideot) pick Ockam.
4 Women and Boys spin Noyl, a Yarn afterwards described.
9 knit Noyl Yarn into Caps for Seamen.
2 make the Woollen Cloaths.
2 make Linnen Cloaths.
2 Cooks constantly attend the Kitchen.
4 get up the Linnen and wash for the House.
2 make Beds, clean, and wash the House.
2 mend Cloaths, Linnen and Woollen.
3 nurse those that are in the Infirmary.
21 Children at School, in Rotation as they can be spared from their Work, besides which, three Parish Children are allowed to dine there three times, or oftner in the Week.
1 Child nursed.
62 in all.
BY this Allotment the Reader will take notice, that above ½ the Family are wholly employed in nursing, and other necessary Attendance on the House, that not above 1/3 are employ'd in what may be said to encrease the Revenue of the House, and that even those Employments are no more than what is useful for their Health.
THEY that pick Ockam, are continually refresh'd with the Balsamick Odour of it.
THE Spinners and Knitters with an Exercise so moderate, that it fits any Age or Sex, at the same time that it qualifies those that are young, for most Handicrafts, such as Wiredrawing, Pinmakng, Watchmaking, Letterfounding, Printing, Painting, Sewing, Weaving, Shoemaking, and all other Trades depending on a good Command of the Hand and Fingers.
THE Overseers, observing that the best regulated Houses of this kind, are employed in something that may be called the Manufacture of the House, beside picking of Ockam, (which is the standing Business of most Houses, for the Blind and Lame that can do nothing else) such as spinning of Yarn for Mopps, Cotton-Yarn for Candle-wick, Yarn for Wadding, a course Thread for Sacking, and such other Employs as do not require a Person to serve an Apprentiship to understand, have at last fallen into a Business, not interfering with their Neighbours, and promising most Advantage to the House, and that is spinning of Noyl, a short Wool from whence the Worsted is drawn, bought of Mr. Top, at Leicester, who furnishes the House, from time to time, with any Quantities at Sixpence half-penny per Pound delivered at London. As fast as this is spun, it goes into the Hands of the Knitters of the House, who make it into Caps, which are afterward sent to Mons. Bonneau in Spittlefields, to be mill'd at Fifteen-pence a Dozen, and are then sold to the East and West India Merchants, for the use of Sailors, to several Parts of the World, and by the Demand there is of them, promises to be a useful Employment, to which there will be always Encouragement.
A Flaxdresser on Snow-Hill furnishes the Flax, the coarser Sort, at Sixpence or Sevenpence per Pound, for Sheets and House-Linnen: And a Pound when wove up will yield an Ell of Linnen Yard-wide, worth about Twenty-pence an Ell.
Richard Huttersall in Red Bull Yard, Clerkenwell, weaves the Flax Thread at Sevenpence an Ell; and Nicholas Cooper, near the King's Arms Stairs, Lambeth, whitens the Linnen for this, and most of the Work-houses about London.
THE Junk for the Ockam Pickers is to be had at Mr. Thomas Young's at Execution Dock, who furnishes this and other Houses with it at Seven Shil. per Hundred, or he will take it again and allow three Shillings per Hundred, after it is picked into Ockam, those that pick it allowing him eight Pound in 112 Pound for waste.
IT is thought necessary to be thus particular, for the Instruction of other Houses, who may want the like Materials; and the Persons who fell them, it is hoped, will excuse this publick Use of their Names, in a matter that may bring them some Customers in the Business they profess.
THE next Consideration, was the Provisions for the Table, which required all the Attention of the Managers, to buy the wholsomest Food at the best hand, and to keep a faithful Account of it: This is now done in so exact a Method, that it is hardly possible for any Abuse or Corruption in the Master, while the Overseers are not weary of inspecting his Management, which they do as often as they please, but they don't fail of doing it twice a Week, by a Committee for that purpose, who generally meet Sunday after Evening Service, and Thursday Afternoon.
THIS House being erected after many others, the Overseers of it selected what they thought best for their Imitation, out of every Plan they consulted, and therefore they that desire to know it, are here presented with a short View of their Method of Booking an Account of their Proceedings, with the common Articles of their Expence for one Day or Week.
1. THERE is a Minute-Book for the Orders of the Churchwarden and Overseers, or Committee, for the Admission of any poor Person, for buying Provisions or Materials to cloath or employ them, in which the Persons giving such Order are always noted.
2. THE Admission-Book is ruled with ten Columns, to express in one Line the following particulars, viz.
Time of Admission.|
Number of the Persons Admitted since opening the House.
Persons Names. Age.
By whose Order Admitted.|
Of what Condition, and to what Employment put.
When discharged, by being put Apprentice, sent to the Hospital, or dead.
3. Wearing-apparel Book, wherein is noted what is brought by each Person into the House, which is immediately clean'd, and whatever they want beside, is furnished out of the House-Wardrobe. This Book is also ruled with so many Columns as to express every Species wore by the Men and Women, who are examined once a Month, to see that they have embezzled nothing, viz,. The Columns for Men and Boys are titled, Hats, Caps, Neckstocks, Coats, Wastcoats, Breeches, Shirts, Stockings, Shoes, &
FOR Women and Girls, the Titles are, Day-Caps, Night-Caps, Handkerchiefs, Gowns, Petticoats, Under-Petticoats, Shifts, Bodice, Stomachers, Aprons, Stockings, Shoes, &c.;
4. A Waste-Book, in which every thing brought into, or carried out of the House is entred, or an Account of the Particulars kept on File.
5. The Journal, which is a fair transcript of the Waste-Book, in the manner hereafter mentioned, and is thence posted into another Book, called
6. The Leger, which shews at one View, a Day, a Week, a Month, or a Year's Account or Expence on every Article of Provision, at the undermentioned Prizes, viz.
|l. s. d.|
|A Half Peck Loaf of Second Bread||00 00 08|
|Beef and Mutton per lb||00 00 02½|
|Milk by the Quart||00 00 0¼|
|Butter by the Pound||00 00 05|
|Cheese by the Pound||00 00 03¼|
|Beer by the Barrel||00 07 06|
|Sugar by the Hundred||01 12 00|
|Rice by the Hundred||00 06 08|
|Candles by the Dozen||01 12 00|
|Soap by the Firkin||01 06 00|
AT these Rates, the House is provided as occasion requires, and the Tradesmen are paid off once a Quarter.
The workhouse's 'Weekly Bill of Fare' was as follows:
|Saturday||Milk Pottage or Water-gruel||Suet Puddings Baked & Beer||Bread & Cheese or Bread & Butter with Beer|
|Sunday||Bread & Beer||Beef Broth & Beer||Beef Broth & Beer|
|Monday||Milk Pottage or Water-gruel||Rice Milk and Beer in Summer, Pease Pottage of Sunday's Broth in Winter||Bread & Cheese or Bread & Butter|
|Tuesday||Ditto||Broth Beef and Beer||Broth Beef and Beer|
|Wednesday||Ditto||Rice Milk and Beer||as Monday|
|Thursday||Ditto||Broth Beef Bread and Beer, as Sunday||as Tuesday|
|Friday||Ditto||Frumetty & Beer at 3 o'Clock||Bread & Cheese or Bread & Butter with Beer|
The workhouse had a detailed set of rules governing its operation and the behaviour of the inmates.
ORDERS to be Observed by every Person belonging to the Work-House of St. Andrew's Holborn, Shoe-Lane.I. THAT all Persons upon their admission, deliver up what Houshold Goods and Cloaths they are possessed of to the Master, in order to be cleaned, and made useful for the Service of this House; that they be new cloathed, and have their proper Apartments and Imployments assigned them by the Master; and if any Person shall conceal any Linnen or Woollen, with an Intent to steal or imbezzle the same, such Person shall immediately be carried before a Magistrate, in order to be imprisoned and punished with the utmost rigour as the Law directs.
2. THAT Prayers be read in this House every Morning before Breakfast, and every Evening before Supper, and that Grace be said before, and after each Meal, and all those that are able, and do not attend Prayers, to lose their next Dinner.
3. ALL that are able, and in Health, to go every Sunday to Church, Morning and Afternoon. That they return home so soon as Divine Service is over; and if any be found loitering or begging by the way, to lose their next Meal. If at any time they get drunk, or are guilty of prophane Cursing or Swearing, to be punished in the Stocks as the Law directs, and to be debarred going out, during the Master's Pleasure.
4. THAT no Person presume to go out of the Street Door without a Ticket of Leave, to return in good Order, at the time appointed, or to be denied going out for six Months afterwards.
5. THAT no distill'd Liquors, or other strong Drink, be brought into the House, and whoever shall disturb the House by brawling, quarrelling, fighting, or abusive Language, shall lose one Day's Meat, and for the second Offence be put into the Dungeon twenty four Hours.
6. THAT every Person in Health shall be kept to such Labour as they can well do, according to their several Ages and Abilities, that is to say, from Lady-day to Michaelmas, from Six of the Clock in the Morning, to Six at Night; from Michaelmas, to Lady-day, from seven in the Morning till five at Night, (Meal time excepted) and if any grown Person refuse to work, to be kept on Bread and Water, or expelled the House, the Children to be corrected by the Master.
7. THAT all Persons, who through Idleness may pretend themselves sick, lame, or infirm, so as to be excused their working, such Impostors so discovered, either by their Stomachs, or by the Physician, shall be carried before a Magistrate, in order to be punish'd severely as the Law directs.
8. THAT a Bell be rung every Morning in the Summer by five and in the Winter by six, for the healthful People to rise to work, and to go to bed in the Summer by nine at Night, and in the Winter by eight, and that the Master see all the candles out, in the Men and Boys Wards, and the Matron for the Women and Girls at that Time.
9. THAT all the Beds be made in the Morning by nine, and every Room and Passage swept and clean'd by ten, to be washed three times a Week in Summer, and once in Winter; the Dishes to be washed twice a Day, or oftner; no waste Fire to be made, and in Summer none at all, except in the Infirmary, Kitchen, and Washhouse, in time of washing and ironing.
10. THAT all the Children be washed and cleaned by eight in the Morning and some Proper Persons chose to teach them to read, and that they be taught to labour and work, as their several Capacities will bear, in such Manufactures as may be most useful and beneficial for the publick Good; and likewise as they grow up, to be taught to write and cast Accompts, to fit them for Apprentiships to some honest Tradesman, and not permitted to play until they have finished their Task.
11. THAT all the Provisions be cleanly and well dressed, to go to Breakfast in Summer at eight, in Winter at nine, Dinner all the Year at one, Supper in the Evening at six, to be allowed half an hour at Breakfast, and a whole hour at Dinner, and all they that have not done their Task by Supper, to work afterwards until finished, and great Care taken, that they sit decently at Meat.
12. THAT the Nurses take care to make and mend all the Linnen and Cloaths, when any Person dies, to deliver his or her Cloaths clean and neat to the Master, to be laid up in the Wardrobe or Storeroom, and also every thing else they die possessed of, for the use of the House.
13. THAT if any Person fall sick, or lame, notice be given by the Master to the Apothecary or Surgeon, with all convenient Speed to be taken Care of, and such other Victuals than what is daily used, be allotted to the Patient, as shall be thought proper by the Physician.
14. THAT no Pension be allowed to any Pensioner out of the House, unless in Cases of Lunacy, Plague, Small-Pox, Foul-disease, or Idiotism; and that all the Money received or collected for the use of the Poor of this Parish, (Sacrament Money excepted) shall be brought to Account, and applied to the Support of this House, and the Maintenance of the Poor therein.
15. THAT no Person of either Sex be allowed to smoak in Bed, or in any Room of the House, upon Pain of being put in the Dungeon six Hours.
16. THAT a Book shall be kept wherein the Names and Sirnames of every grown Person shall be set down, and called over every Morning, by six in the Summer and eight in the Winter, and at one in the Afternoon; and if any of the said Persons be missing, or any other Offences committed by any Persons in the House, the same shall be noted and set down, in order that the Offender may be examined by the Trustees, and brought to such Punishment as the Nature of the Offence shall require.
17. THAT two of the Trustees meet at the Work-house twice in the Week, at least, to weigh and value all manner of Provisions that come in, whether they be wholesome and good, according to the Contract, and to examine into the Management of the Master and Mistress, and likewise to hear the Complaints and Grievances of the Poor, (if any) and to report the same to the Committee at their next Meeting.
18. THAT every Person endeavour to preserve a good Unity, and look upon themselves as one Family; and to prevent any Dispute which may create Differences amongst themselves, by forging and telling Lies, such Persons so offending, (on good Proof) shall be set on a Stool, in the most publick Place in the Dining-room, whilst at Dinner, and a Paper fixed on his or her Breast, with these Words wrote, Infamous Lyar, and likewise to lose that Meal.
19. THAT Care be taken, that none of the Materials of the several Manufactures be wasted or spoiled; that there be no defacing of Walls, or breaking of Windows; and that these Orders be publickly read once in every Week, that none may plead or pretend Ignorance.
In 1832, the Shoe Lane workhouse had 100 inmates, twenty-four of whom were men, forty-six women, and the rest all children under the age of 14. The adults were nearly all former journeymen mechanics and domestic servants. Those considered 'improper objects of relief' were farmed, with an order to pick oakum.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.
The Ancestry website has two collections of London workhouse records (both:
- The London Workhouse Admission and Discharge Records (1764-1930).
- The Poor Law and Board of Guardian Records, 1738-1930 — a wider range of London workhouse-related records.
- The FindMyPast website has workhouse / poor law records for Westminster.
- London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R OHB.
- Higginbotham, Peter Workhouses of London and the South East (2019)
- Anon (1732) An Account of Several Work-houses for Employing and Maintaining the Poor
- Hitchcock, T.V. (1985) The English workhouse: a study in institutional poor relief in selected counties. l695-l750. (DPhil thesis. University of Oxford.)
Unless otherwise indicated, this page () is copyright Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.