Timeline of the English poor law system

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The following article presents a timeline of the poor law system in England from its origins in the Tudor and Elizabethan era to its abolition in 1948.









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<span class="mw-page-title-main">English Poor Laws</span> Laws regarding poverty in England, 16th–19th century

The English Poor Laws were a system of poor relief in England and Wales that developed out of the codification of late-medieval and Tudor-era laws in 1587–1598. The system continued until the modern welfare state emerged after the Second World War.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Workhouse</span> Institution for those unable to support themselves

In Britain and Ireland, a workhouse was an institution where those unable to support themselves financially were offered accommodation and employment. The earliest known use of the term workhouse is from 1631, in an account by the mayor of Abingdon reporting that "we have erected wthn [sic] our borough a workhouse to set poorer people to work".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Poor Law Amendment Act 1834</span> United Kingdom poor relief law

The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 (PLAA) known widely as the New Poor Law, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed by the Whig government of Earl Grey. It completely replaced earlier legislation based on the Poor Relief Act 1601 and attempted to fundamentally change the poverty relief system in England and Wales. It resulted from the 1832 Royal Commission into the Operation of the Poor Laws, which included Edwin Chadwick, John Bird Sumner and Nassau William Senior. Chadwick was dissatisfied with the law that resulted from his report. The Act was passed two years after the Representation of the People Act 1832 which extended the franchise to middle-class men. Some historians have argued that this was a major factor in the PLAA being passed.

A poor law union was a geographical territory, and early local government unit, in Great Britain and Ireland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Poor Relief Act 1601</span> United Kingdom legislation

The Poor Relief Act 1601 was an Act of the Parliament of England. The Act for the Relief of the Poor 1601, popularly known as the Elizabethan Poor Law, "43rd Elizabeth" or the Old Poor Law was passed in 1601 and created a poor law system for England and Wales.

The Poor Law Commission was a body established to administer poor relief after the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834. The commission was made up of three commissioners who became known as "The Bashaws of Somerset House", their secretary and nine clerks or assistant commissioners. The commission lasted until 1847 when it was replaced by a Poor Law Board – the Andover workhouse scandal being one of the reasons for this change.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Poor relief</span> British government and ecclesiastical action to relieve poverty

In English and British history, poor relief refers to government and ecclesiastical action to relieve poverty. Over the centuries, various authorities have needed to decide whose poverty deserves relief and also who should bear the cost of helping the poor. Alongside ever-changing attitudes towards poverty, many methods have been attempted to answer these questions. Since the early 16th century legislation on poverty enacted by the Parliament of England, poor relief has developed from being little more than a systematic means of punishment into a complex system of government-funded support and protection, especially following the creation in the 1940s of the welfare state.

The Outdoor Labour Test Order was a piece of policy issued by the Poor Law Commission on 13 April 1842 which allowed the use of outdoor relief to the able-bodied poor. The order was issued after there was some opposition to the commission's previous order stating that only indoor relief should be used. During times when the manufacturing industries were performing poorly this became impractical - however the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 had aimed to prevent the use of outdoor relief and replace it with indoor relief.

From the reign of Elizabeth I until the passage of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 relief of the poor in England was administered on the basis of a Poor Relief Act 1601. From the start of the nineteenth century the basic concept of providing poor relief was criticised as misguided by leading political economists and in southern agricultural counties the burden of poor-rates was felt to be excessive (especially where poor-rates were used to supplement low wages. Opposition to the Elizabethan Poor Law led to a Royal Commission on poor relief, which recommended that poor relief could not in the short term be abolished; however it should be curtailed, and administered on such terms that none but the desperate would claim it. Relief should only be administered in workhouses, whose inhabitants were to be confined, 'classified' and segregated. The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 allowed these changes to be implemented by a Poor Law Commission largely unaccountable to Parliament. The act was passed by large majorities in Parliament, but the regime it was intended to bring about was denounced by its critics as un-Christian, un-English, unconstitutional, and impracticable for the great manufacturing districts of Northern England. The Act itself did not introduce the regime, but introduced a framework by which it might easily be brought in.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Royal Commission into the Operation of the Poor Laws 1832</span>

The 1832 Royal Commission into the Operation of the Poor Laws was a group set up to decide how to change the Poor Law systems in England and Wales. The group included Nassau Senior, a professor from Oxford University who was against the allowance system, and Edwin Chadwick, who was a Benthamite. The recommendations of the Royal Commission's report were implemented in the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834.

Boards of Guardians were ad hoc authorities that administered Poor Law in the United Kingdom from 1835 to 1930.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Irish poor laws</span> Acts of Parliament to address poverty and social instability in Ireland

The Irish poor laws were a series of acts of Parliament intended to address social instability due to widespread and persistent poverty in Ireland. While some legislation had been introduced by the pre-Union Parliament of Ireland prior to the Act of Union, the most radical and comprehensive attempt was the Irish act of 1838, closely modelled on the English Poor Law Amendment Act 1834. In England, this replaced Elizabethan era legislation which had no equivalent in Ireland.

The Scottish poor laws were the statutes concerning poor relief passed in Scotland between 1579 and 1929. Scotland had a different poor law system to England and the workings of the Scottish laws differed greatly to the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 which applied in England and Wales.

The Historiography of the Poor Laws can be said to have passed through three distinct phases. Early historiography was concerned with the deficiencies of the Old Poor Law system, later work can be characterized as an early attempt at revisionism before the writings of Mark Blaug present a truly revisionist analysis of the Poor Law system.

Poor Law policy after the New Poor Law concerns the time period c. 1847–1900 after the implementation of the Poor Law Amendment Act until the beginnings of the decline of the Poor Law system at the start of the 20th century.

The Tudor poor laws were the laws regarding poor relief in the Kingdom of England around the time of the Tudor period (1485–1603). The Tudor Poor Laws ended with the passing of the Elizabethan Poor Law in 1601, two years before the end of the Tudor dynasty, a piece of legislation which codified the previous Tudor legislation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vagabonds and Beggars Act 1494</span> English legislation

The Vagabonds and Beggars Act 1494 or the Vagabond Act 1494 was an Act of Parliament passed during the reign of Henry VII. The Act stated that "vagabonds, idle and suspected persons shall be set in the stocks for three days and three nights and have none other sustenance but bread and water and then shall be put out of Town. Every beggar suitable to work shall resort to the Hundred where he last dwelled, is best known, or was born and there remain upon the pain aforesaid."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Statute Law (Repeals) Act 2013</span> United Kingdom legislation

The Statute Law (Repeals) Act 2013 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which repealed the whole of 817 Acts of Parliament, and portions of more than 50 others. It is the largest Statute Law (Repeals) Act which has been recommended by the Law Commission.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scottish poorhouse</span> Scottish facility to support and provide housing for the needy

The Scottish poorhouse, occasionally referred to as a workhouse, provided accommodation for the destitute and poor in Scotland. The term poorhouse was almost invariably used to describe the institutions in that country, as unlike the regime in their workhouse counterparts in neighbouring England and Wales residents were not usually required to labour in return for their upkeep.


  1. "Key dates in Poor Law and Relief Great Britain 1300 - 1899".
  2. "Key dates in Poor Law and Relief Great Britain 1300 - 1899".