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Poverty and workhouses

Prior to the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, poor relief was the responsibility of the parish. After the 1834 Act, the “outdoor” parish relief system was replaced with a national system centred on the workhouse and “indoor relief”. Before 1834, Gilbert’s Act of 1782 enabled parishes in Wales and England to set up workhouses for the young, the aged, and the infirm. No workhouses were set up in Denbighshire or Flintshire following this act, however two parish workhouses existed in Denbighshire in Wrexham and Llansillin in 1777 of which there are no known surviving records. In Flintshire, some parishes, including Hawarden, Holywell and Overton, set up parochial poorhouses (of which some records survive), and several sent their poor to the Chester House of Industry.

What records can I find at my North East Wales Archive branch?

Parish records (pre 1834)

North East Wales Archives is an approved place of deposit for Church in Wales records. Parish records often contain records relating to poor relief which was administered by overseers of the poor.

Overseer’s records include rate books, accounts and assessments, settlement certificates, bastardy bonds and apprenticeship records. Overseers’ records do not survive for every parish in the region, and even when they do the series of records may not be comprehensive. The survival of overseer’s records is particularly good in the parishes of

Parish relief included monetary aid or relief in kind which may have included clothing, food or fuel.

Parish records also contain records relating to ecclesiastical and civil charities and almshouses.

You can search for an individual parish using our online catalogue at the top of this page.

Workhouse/ Union records (post 1834)

After the Poor Law Amendment Act, three unions were established in Denbighshire in 1837; Llanrwst, Ruthin and Wrexham, and Boards of Guardians were appointed to administer them. In Flintshire Holywell and St Asaph unions were established in 1837; Hawarden formed its own Union in 1853, having previously been part of the Great Boughton Union (Cheshire).

A number of parishes in the old counties of Denbighshire and Flintshire formed part of out-of-county unions of Conwy, Corwen and Llanfyllin.

Union records often consist of minutes of the Board of Guardians, rating books and financial records.

Ruthin branch holds records of the following unions;

  • Llanrwst
  • Ruthin (very few records have survived)
  • Wrexham
  • Conway (Minor collection. Main collection at Conwy Archives)
  • Corwen (rate book for Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr, 1926 only)
  • St Asaph (Minor collection. Main collection at Hawarden branch)

Hawarden branch holds records of the following unions;

The collections for Hawarden, Holywell, St Asaph and Wrexham contain extensive workhouse records.

The most valuable records to researchers expecting to find records of people who entered the workhouse are inmate records including admission and discharge registers, registers of inmates and registers of births and deaths. The information contained within these registers includes name of inmate/s, dates of admission and discharge, occupation, religion, age and parish. Particularly good inmate records survive for the Holywell workhouse, including records of admission and discharge; births and deaths in the workhouse; medical examinations of inmates; and attendance of children at the workhouse school. Wrexham Union collection also contains a small sample of family case papers.

A number of duties unrelated to the poor law were laid upon guardians such as sanitation and school attendance. Rating duties were transferred to district councils under the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925.

Public Assistance records

Under the Local Government Act, 1929, the unions were abolished and their functions passed to the County Council and the whole system of poor-law administration was removed under a series of Acts between 1946 and 1948. At this point medical duties were passed to the Ministry of Health, while local authorities remained responsible for the care of children and the elderly. Records of the Public Assistance Department can be found in the County Council records.

After this time, many workhouses became hospitals so there can be an overlap of functions between workhouses and hospitals as institutions, and in their records. This is the case for Wrexham Workhouse which became Plas Maelor Public Assistance Institution in 1930 and later became part of Wrexham Maelor Hospital. St Asaph Workhouse became part of a Public Assistance Institution in 1930, and the Infectious Diseases Hospital also operated on the site between 1910 and 1948; it was later re-named H.M. Stanley Hospital, after one of its most famous former inmates. Holywell Workhouse became part of a Public Assistance Institution in 1930 and became Lluesty Hospital in 1948. Broughton Workhouse also became an Institution and was later known as Broughton Hospital, until 1994 when it closed.

Parish Council records

Civil parish councils were established by the Local Government Act 1894. Records of parish councils can also include information relating to local charities and poor law. Community councils replaced parish councils under the local government reorganization in 1974.

You can search for an individual parish council using the online catalogue at the top of this page.

Charity Commission records

The Charity Commission, established in 1853, monitors the activities of charities in England and Wales on behalf of the government, and receives information and accounts from the trustees of the charities. These papers deal with parochial charities in Denbighshire and Flintshire.

Denbighshire charity commission records (ref: CAD) consist of parochial statements of accounts only dated between 1899 and 1954. Flintshire Charity Commission accounts (ref: CA) only survive between 1900 and 1955.

What language were the records written in?

The majority of these records are in English, with the exception of some Parish Council records which are in Welsh. Some early parish records are written in Latin. It is our policy to catalogue records in the language they were originally written.

How can I access these records?

None of our union or workhouse records are available online. You can view these records in our search-room. Book a place in the search-room today. Please note that access restrictions apply to some of these records, please see our access to records page for details.

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Conwy Archive Service

Conwy Archive Service holds Conway Union records which covered the parishes of Llansanffraid Glan Conway, Llanelian yn Rhos and Llandrillo yn Rhos

Chester Record Office

Some records of the Chester House of Industry, to which some paupers were sent from Flintshire parishes pre-1834, survive at Chester Record Office.

Gwynedd Record Office

Gwynedd Record Office (Dolgellau) holds records of Corwen Union which covered Bryneglwys, Cerrigydrudion, Glyntraian, Llantysilio, Llangollen, Llansanffraid Glyn Ceiriog, Llangwm and Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr.

The National Archives

Unions reported to the newly created Poor Law Commission, later the Poor Law Board, and later again, the Poor Law Department of the Local Government Board, all based in London. The records of the Poor Law Commission, Poor Law Board and Local Government Board are in The National Archives, in the MH (Ministry of Health) department.