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
Poor Law Union records (1834-1871)
Search and download (£) records of over 20 Poor Law Unions from Discovery, our catalogue.
Records available only at The National Archives in Kew
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 (£).
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.
Records in other archives and organisations
Records held locally
The National Archives’ catalogue contains collections and contact details of local archives around the UK and beyond. To locate these records, search our catalogue with keywords and refine your results to ‘Other archives’ using the filters.