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 Undershaft
St Andrew Undershaft (also known as St Mary Axe) had a workhouse from 1733 (TEW). In 1776, it could house up to fifty inmates. By 1804, the parish's poor were being farmed out at Hoxton.
St Andrew Wardrobe
St Andrew Wardrobe had a small workhouse in use in 1776 (ARMOP), although most of its poor were then being boarded out.
St Ann Blackfriars
St Ann Blackfriars had a workhouse from 1734 (TEW). By 1776, the parish poor were being farmed out. By 1804, the parish was farming out its poor at Hoxton.
St Anne and St Agnes
St Anne and St Agnes within Aldersgate erected a workhouse in 1730. It 1776, it could house up to 28 inmates (ARMOP). By 1804, the parish was farming out its poor at Hoxton.
St Augustine Watling Street
St Augustine Watling Street had a workhouse from 1732 (TEW). The parish was farming out its poor by the 1750s. The parish was farming out its poor by the 1750s.
St Bartholomew the Great
St Bartholomew the Great had a workhouse from 1737 (TEW). By 1776, its poor were being farmed out.
St Botolph Aldersgate
St Botolph Aldersgate (also known as St Botolph without Aldersgate) is listed by ARMOP as operating a parish workhouse for up to 240 inmates. In 1820, the workhouse was located at the rear of 129 Aldersgate Street (PMG).
St Botolph Aldgate
The parish of St Botolph Aldgate (also known as St Botolph without Aldgate) lay partly in the City of London and partly in Middlesex. The City portion, known as the Freedom part, and the Middlesex portion, also called the Lordship part, operated independently with regard to matters such as poor relief. The latter later became part of the Whitechapel Union, under which more details are provided.
In 1767, after obtaining a Local Act, the Freedom part erected a workhouse at Cock and Hoop Yard, Gravel Lane, Houndsditch. In 1776, it housed up to 300 paupers who were occupied in winding silk, spinning worsted and picking oakum (ARMOP). In 1832, the inmates numbered around 180, three-quarters of whom were adults, mainly servants and labourers plus a few 'decayed tradesmen'.
St Botolph without Bishopsgate
St Botolph Bishopsgate (also known as St Botolph Without Bishopsgate) had the following entry in ASW dated 29th September 1731:
THE Officers of this Parish being burthened with a numerous Poor, notwithstanding their late great Expence in building a new Church, resolved to erect a Workhouse for the Comfort of their Poor, and for that purpose have built a large, commodious Brick House in Rose-Alley, on a long Lease. The 2 Churchwardens, and 4 Overseers by turns, assisted by a Committee of the ancient Inhabitants, take care to inspect the Management of it, each Churchwarden or Overseer has his Week, so that in 6 Weeks it comes to their turn to preside.
THE House was opened at Midsummer 1730, and in one Year's time after opening the House, 'tis reckoned they saved at least 600l. in the Poor's Rates.
THERE are now in it 129 Men, Women, and Children, kept clean and in good Order, under the Care of a diligent Master, the old People pick Ockam, and the Young spin Worsted and Mop Yarn.
THEY go every Lord's Day to Church, where the old People set in the middle Isle, and the Children in the Gallery, that the Parishioners may see the good Order observed by them.
In 1795, a Local Act enabled the parish to provide a workhouse for the employment, maintenance and regulation of its poor. By 1810, a workhouse was in operation at Dunning's Alley, near 151 Bishopsgate Street, where up to 200 inmates were accommodated. The parish also had a poorhouse on Rose Alley, near 31 Bishopsgate Street (PMG).
In 1832, the workhouse had 200 residents, aged from one month to 90 years. The men were employed in picking oakum and hair, the women in needlework and winding silk. Few of the inmates were capable of productive labour, however.
St Bride Fleet Street
The ASW entry for St Bride Fleet Street dated September 1731:
A Workhouse for the Poor of this Parish was set up Anno 1727, in Peterborough Court, Fleet-street, wherein there are now employed 82 old and young People, of which about 30 are Children under 9 Years of Age, in spinning Mop Yarn, and Yarn for Stockings for the House.
THE Vestry raised half a Year's over-Rate towards the Expence of hiring, repairing, and furnishing the House, at the taking of it, and the Poor are not only better provided for, but 'tis computed that they are kept at one fourth part less of the Charge they put the Parish to formerly.
A Committee is Annually chosen by the Vestry, to inspect Weekly the management of the House, and to give Directions for providing what is necessary; they find that paying ready Money for what is expended on the House, has saved so much as to enable the Overseers to pay a considerable Debt on the Parish.
THE Poor that have been formerly Housekeepers in repute, are lodged in the best Apartments, and eat at a different Table, that they may not be incommoded by the noise of the common Poor, who are clamorous, and unaccustomed to good Manners.
THEY that are in Health, are allowed to go to Church every Sunday Morning, but in the Afternoon they attend Prayers and reading the Scriptures at home, to prevent their gosiping, and coming home late in the Evening, as they would be tempted to do, if they were not so restrained.
In 1796, the parish promoted an Act "to enable the Trustees for executing an Act passed in the Thirty-second Year of the Reign of His present Majesty, for repairing, altering, and improving the Parish Church of Saint Bridget, otherwise Saint Bride, in the City of London; and for providing a Workhouse." The workhouse was then established at the southern end of Shoe Lane. The premises were rebuilt or extended around 1831 and were later described as 'superior brick Gothic... with a frontage of 45 feet by a depth of 74 feet, and six lofty rooms 36 feet by 16 each, numerous bedrooms, committee room, parlour, storerooms, kitchens, larders, pantries, laundry, cellars, vaults, open yard, and side entrance.' In 1832, the average number of inmates was 200. There were also twenty children at nurse in the country. To encourage them to work, the inmates were allowed to keep a portion of their earnings.
In 1832, the average number of inmates was 200. There were also twenty children at nurse in the country. To encourage them to work, the inmates were allowed to keep a portion of their earnings.
St Dunstan in the East
In its entry dated August 28th, 1731, ASW recorded of St Dunstan in the East that:
A Parish-House near the Church, formerly let to a Wine-Merchant, is now fitted up, the greatest part of it, (except the Vaults) for the reception of the Poor of the Parish, and for 12 Charity-Children belonging to Tower-Ward School in Harp-Lane. The House was opened February 21. 1729/30 and at present there are wholly maintained in it 17 Men and Women, and 12 Children. The Women sew, and wash Cloaths for the House and Children, and the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor have under Consideration in what Work to employ the Children.
In 1776, the workhouse could house seventy inmates, who were employed in winding silk (ARMOP. In 1832, the inmates comprised: two men, both aged 69; twenty-six women, aged from 16 to 80; and seven boys and nine girls).
St Dunstan in the West
According to the ASW report on St Dunstan in the West dated 28th August 1731:
A New House was built 1728 joining to the Burying Ground in Fetter-Lane for the Reception of the Poor, wherein there are now 30 Men and Women, and 26 Children, of which 21 are daily sent to the Parish Charity-School, and work only out of School Hours. These and the grown Persons, who are not employed in keeping the House clean, and nursing the old and young, card Wool, and spin Mop Yarn for a Turner in the Parish, who furnishes the Wool for this purpose, allowing 14 pound of Wool for every 12 pound they return spun up, in regard of the Waste that is made, and the Turner pays 2d. for the carding and spinning every pound so returned.
THEY make and mend their own Cloaths for the House, and when there is Want, spin up a Quantity of finer Wool, which is wove into Serge, for the occasions of the House, of which they have seldom less than 100 or 200 Yards in the House.
THE Deputy of the Ward, 2 Churchwardens, 2 Overseers of the Poor, and 2 Collectors of Taxes, or any 5 of them, are a Committee appointed by the Vestry at Easter to take care of the House, and they meet once a Fortnight, to inspect the Management of it.
THEY have roast or boiled Beef 4 Days in the Week for Dinner, viz.. Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and other Days, Rice-Milk, or Dumplins.
Breakfasts of Broth, or Milk-Porridge, and Suppers of Bread and Butter, or Cheese.
FLESH for the whole Week is bought and laid in every Saturday; Bread and Beer are furnished at the cheapest Rates, by a Baker and 2 Brewers in the Neighbourhood, who serve them alternately.
ELEVEN Files hold all the Tradesmen's Bills in the Steward's Room, under the following Titles, viz. Grocer, Brewer, Butcher, Baker, Cheesemonger, Oylman, Shoemaker, Threadmaker, Tallow-chandler, Coal-Merchant, Turner, which being paid off every Quarter, the Steward has no Trouble, but to enter the Sum Total of each Bill, in the House Book of Expences.
PRAYERS are read in the House every Day, and they that are able, go to Church every Sunday.
In 1767, according to a report in the London Chronicle, a male inmate aged 105 died in the workhouse. In 1832, the inmates typically comprised about fourteen men and fifty to sixty women, mostly old and infirm, and generally former mechanics and servants. The women were employed at needlework or as nurses, and the men in picking oakum and bristles.
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.