Board of Guardians records held by the London Metropolitan Archives, London, England.
This database contains Poor Law records relating to settlement and removals for the unions of Bethnal Green, Hackney, Poplar, Shoreditch, and Stepney.
For centuries, the task of caring for the poor in England and Wales was assigned to the local parish. Each parish was given an Overseer of the Poor to help with this cause in 1572. In 1601, the Poor Law Act empowered these overseers to collect a poor rate, or tax, from wealthier members of the parish and distribute the funds among residents in need.
The 1601 law, and other supplemental acts, remained in effect until 1834, when the Poor Law Amendment Act took effect. This legislation collected parishes into groups called unions. Each union elected a Board of Guardians from among its ratepayers, and members of the board were then responsible for care of the poor within the union’s parishes. This system remained in place until 1930.
Right of Settlement
Because responsibility for indigent residents fell to the parish, authorities kept close tabs on who had a right to claim the parish as a legal place of settlement. People who could not legally claim the right of settlement could be sent back, or “removed,” to their last legal parish of settlement.
Right to settlement could be established by birth, residency for a prescribed period of time, marriage, renting property for at least £10 and paying the poor rate, or completing an apprenticeship, among other ways. Proving one’s right of settlement could include an examination or inquiry. While stressful for your ancestors, these examinations often produced valuable documentation.
What You Can Find in the Records
The records in this database relate to settlement and removals in the unions of Bethnal Green, Hackney, Poplar, Shoreditch, and Stepney. They include examinations and settlement inquiries, registers of settlement, orders of removal, and other documents.
Details included in these records vary widely, depending on the document. An order of removal may contain a name, age, current parish, and parish being removed to. A settlement register may note number of children and marital status. Documents from inquiries and examinations can be even more extensive. In the end, you may be able to uncover some of the following information:
- places and dates of residence (both current and former)
- spouse and marriage details
- children’s names, birth dates, and birthplace
- other family members’ names and residences
- summary of the situation and grounds for settlement or removal
Some of the cases include multiple documents, so be sure to use the arrow keys to browse surrounding pages to make sure you find all the records for your ancestor.
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