Ancestry UK

Workhouse Timeline


The Black Death reached England. The Ordinance of Labourers prohibited the giving of relief to able-bodied beggars, "that they may be compelled to labour for their necessary living."


The Statute of Cambridge:

  • restricted the movements of all labourers and beggars
  • made county "Hundreds" responsible for their own "impotent poor"

The Vagabonds and Beggars Act threatened "vagabonds, idle and suspected persons" with three days in the stocks on a diet of bread and water. However, beggars too infirm to work could stay in their Hundred and be allowed to beg.


Dissolution of smaller monasteries by Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.


Dissolution of remaining monasteries.


The Statute of Legal Settlement provided for the branding or enslavement of sturdy beggars. The impotent poor were to receive relief and have cottages erected for their use.


An Act For Setting of the Poor on Work, and for the Avoiding of Idleness stipulated:

  • Every town to set up stocks of materials for the poor to work on.
  • Every county to set up a House of Correction for anyone refusing to work.

An Acte for the Reliefe of the Poore required Churchwardens and four overseers in each parish to:

  • Set children and poor to work
  • Relieve the impotent
  • Bind out pauper children as apprentices
  • Tax 'every inhabitant and occupier of lands' in the parish for above purposes.

An Acte for the Reliefe of the Poore consolidated and replaced a variety of previous legislation and aimed at:

  • Establishment of parochial responsibility, with churchwardens or overseers (from two to four in number, depending on the size of the parish) allocating relief.
  • Suppression of begging.
  • Provision of work.
  • Use of county Houses of Correction for vagrants.
  • Setting to work and apprenticeship of children.

London Corporation of the Poor set up to:

  • Erect workhouses and houses of correction
  • Enforce laws against vagabonds
  • Set the poor to work

An Act for the better Relief of the Poor of this Kingdom (The Settlement Act) stipulated that newcomers to a parish who were deemed "likely to become chargeable" could be removed upon the orders of two Justices of the Peace if a complaint was made against them within 40 days of arrival, provided they had not rented a house worth at least £10 a year.


Bristol Incorporation formed by a local Act giving it powers to erect a workhouse etc.


An Act For supplying some Defects in the Laws for the Relief of the Poor stipulated:

  • Newcomers with certificates to be removed only when chargeable
  • Those receiving relief to wear identifying badges
  • Fines for those who refuse to take pauper apprentices

Knatchbull's Act (The Workhouse Test Act) Enabled workhouses to be set up by parishes either singly, or in combination with neighbouring parishes. In addition, relief was to be offered only to those willing to enter the workhouse.


The Foundling Hospital was founded by Captain Thomas Coram.


An Act "for the keeping regular, uniform and annual Registers of all Parish Poor Infants under a certain Age, within the Bills of Mortality" required Metropolitan parishes to maintain proper records of children admitted into their workhouses.


Hanway's Act, promoted by Foundling Hospital governor Jonas Hanway, required that all pauper children under six from Metropolitan parishes be sent to school in the countryside at least three miles from London or Westminster. The nursing and maintenance of each child was to cost at least two shillings and sixpence per week.


Sunday School movement begins with opening of a school in Gloucester by Robert Raikes.


Gilbert's Act Authorised parishes to unite and set up a common workhouse controlled by a board of guardians appointed by JPs. Able-bodied poor to be dealt with outside the workhouse e.g. by providing them with work and supplementing wages.


Act of Union makes Ireland part of Great Britain.


First British School set up by British and Foreign Schools Society.
Badging of the Poor abolished.


First National School set up by The National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church.


First Ragged School opened by John Pounds.


Sturges Bourne's Act allowed parishes to appoint:

  • select vestries to scrutinise relief-giving.
  • a salaried assistant overseer.

Passing of the The Vestries Act (Houbhouse's Act) which allowed parishes to adopt a procedure for the management of the parish, particulary in relation to poor relief, based on a vestry elected from the ratepayers.


Passing of the Vagrancy Act


Royal Commission on the Poor Laws appointed.
Allotment's Act - authorised Vestries to let small portions of land, from a quarter of an acre up to an acre, to industrious cottagers for cultivation. The rental income was to be used to buy winter fuel for the poor.


Report of the Royal Commission published in March.
Poor Law Amendment Act received royal assent on August 14th.
Poor Law Commissioners sworn in on August 23rd.


Abingdon declared as first new Poor Law Union on January 1st — its new workhouse received its first inmates in November of the same year.


Report of the Royal Commission on Ireland published. George Nicholls tours Ireland.


An Act For the more effectual Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland passed on July 31st


The Vaccination Extension Act provided for the vaccination of infants to be made free to all. It was locally administered via Poor Law Unions and their Medical Officers.


The Outdoor Labour Test Order, issued by the PLC in April, allowed relief (at least half of which was to be in food, clothing etc.) to be given to able-bodied male paupers satisfying a Labour Test.


A further Poor Law Amendment Act improved numerous details of the 1834 Act. One of its most significant changes was a revision to the bastardy laws whereby mothers were granted the civil right of claim against the putative father, regardless of whether she was in receipt of poor relief.
The Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order issued by the PLC in December, prohibited all outdoor relief to able-bodied men and women apart from in exceptional circumstances.
Hanway's Act of 1766 repealed.


An Act For The Amendment and better Administration of the Laws Relating to the relief of the Poor in Scotland proposed keeping poor relief in Scotland primarily at the parish level. Parishes, particularly in urban areas, could unite and build poorhouses for the old and infirm.
Andover Workhouse Scandal - conditions were so bad that inmates were revealed to be fighting over scraps of rotten meat left on bones they were crushing.


The Great Famine in Ireland.


An Act granted settlement after five years' residence in a parish.
Start of annual government grant of £30,000 towards the salaries of teachers in pauper schools.


Poor Law Board replaced Poor Law Commission.


Irish Poor Law Unions reorganised with creation of 33 new Unions.


The Poor Law Board's Outdoor Relief Regulation Orders in August and December broadened the conditions under which outdoor relief could be provided.


The Industrial Schools Act aimed to make better provision for the care and education of vagrant, destitute and disorderly children who were considered in danger of becoming criminals.


Workhouse Visiting Society founded by Louisa Twining


Another Industrial Schools Act defined the classes of children who could be placed in an Industrial School: under-14s found begging; under-14s wandering, and not having any home or visible means of subsistence, or frequenting the company of reputed thieves; under-12s committing an affence punishable by imprisonment; under-14s whose parent claims he is unable to control him, and is prepared to pay for the child to be detained in an Industrial School.


The Houseless Poor Act made it obligatory for Metropolitan Boards of Guardians to provide casual wards for "destitute wayfarers, wanderers, and foundlings".


The Union Chargeability Act based each parish's contribution to the union's funds on its rateable value not how many paupers it had. The union also became the area of settlement and the period of residency required for irremovability was reduced to one year.
The Lancet exposed the terrible conditions that existed in many London workhouse infirmaries.


A further Industrial Schools Act required that children on remand for charges punishable by committal to an industrial school should be kept in workhouses rather than prsions.


The Metropolitan Poor Act set up a Common Poor Fund to finance the construction and operation of new fever hospitals and asylums for London's poor. It also gave the Local Government Board powers to abolishe the Local Act status of many of London's parishes and to reorganise and dissolve unions.
The Metropolitan Asylums Board was set up to take over the provide care for paupers with infectious diseases such as smallpox or who were classed as 'harmelssimbeciles'.


Abolition of Gilbert's Unions still in existence.


Education Act introduced compulsory elementary education adminstered by local School Boards.
The MAB's North-Western Fever Hospital opened in Hampstead, becoming England's first state hospital.


Local Government Board replaced Poor Law Board.


Public Health Act set up nationwide system of rural and urban sanitary authorities.
First Woman Guardian elected — to the Kensington Union Board.


The Divided Parishes and Poor Law Amendment Act gave the Local Government Board new powers to reorganise and dissolve unions.


Once-a-week fish dinners allowed in workhouses.


Prior to 1918, receipt of poor relief disqualified the recipient from voting. The 1885 Medical Relief Disqualification Removal Act meant that anyone who was in receipt only of poor-rate-funded medical care no longer lost their vote.


The Public Health (London) Law Consolidation Bill extended free access the MAB's fever hospitals to all Londoners (not just paupers) thus creating England's first free state hospitals.


Education Act replaced School Boards by Local Education Authorities and raised school-leaving age to 14.


The Registrar General requested that workhouse births be disguised by the use of euphemistic addresses.


Royal Commission on the Poor Law and the Unemployed appointed


Children's Act gave local authorities new powers to keep poor children out of the workhouse


Old Age Pension introduced on January 1st.
Royal Commission Majority Report and Minority Report published


Unemployment Insurance and Health Insurance began in a limited form.


Workhouse now referred to as Poor Law Institution in official documents


Ministry of Health replaced Local Government Board


Irish Free State created - former workhouses become County Homes, County Hospitals, and District Hospitals


Board of Guardians (Default) Act enabled dismissal of a Board of Guardians and its replacement with government officials.


Local Government Act abolished all Poor Law Authorities and transferred their responsibilities for "public assistance" to local councils.


Education Act introduced primary and secondary schools; merged boys and girls schools at the primary level; raised school-leaving age to 15.


National Health Service Act came into force on July 5th.

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