How to look for records of... Workhouses

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Pay for research

Use our paid search service or find an independent researcher

Visit us

Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

This is a brief guide to help you with your research into workhouse policy and administration. To find records of individuals in workhouses see our guide on workhouse inmates or members of staff.

What do I need to know before I start?

Try to find out:

  • the name of the relevant Poor Law Union
  • the location of the workhouse

What records can I see online?

Poor Law Union records (1834-1871)

Search and download (£) records of over 20 Poor Law Unions from Discovery, our catalogue.

What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

Plans of workhouse buildings (1862-1914)

Search our catalogue by name of union for plans of workhouse buildings in MH 14 and HLG 6. Only a selection survive.

Poor Law Union correspondence (1834-1900)

Search by name of Poor Law Union for correspondence between the Union and the government department responsible for the Poor Law in MH 12.

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Records held locally

The National Archives’ catalogue has details of collections held by over 2500 archives across the UK. Search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters.

What other resources will help me find information?


Visit for extensive and varied information relating to workhouses and poor law unions.

Use the familysearch map site to help identify poor law unions.


Search The National Archives’ bookshop to see whether any of the publications below may be available to buy. Alternatively, look in The National Archives’ Library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

Poor Law Union records by Jeremy Gibson and others (Family History Partnership, 4 volumes)

Workhouse by Simon Fowler (The National Archives, 2009)

Did you know?

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 combined small numbers of parishes to form Poor Law Unions, each with its own workhouse. The Poor Law Unions continued until 1930.

Workhouses were designed to be as repulsive as possible, in order to put people off from applying for help.

The records of the Poor Law Commission and the Poor Law Board are in The National Archives under department code MH. They are not particularly easy to use, as the file descriptions are very uninformative, so any search may be lengthy.

To find out in which union a particular parish was, read Poor Law Union Records: 4 Gazetteer of England and Wales by Gibson and Young.

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