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

Visit us in Kew

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

Pay for research

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?

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. Their workhouses were designed to be harsh and unpleasant places in order to discourage people from applying for help.

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.

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)

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.

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.


Visit The National Archives’ bookshop for a range of publications on researching the history of poverty and poor laws. The following publications are available to consult at our library in Kew:

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

Workhouse by Simon Fowler (The National Archives, 2007)