Did your ancestors fall on hard times and need assistance from the Poor Law authorities? Between 1818 and 1821, 3,429 requests were made for outdoor relief. In some cases, the relief was given once, but for others there are multiple records. Use our discover more section to learn more about the poor laws and outdoor relief.
Each record includes a transcript of the detail found in the original records. In each record you will find a combination of the following information:
Amount – how much relief was given
Particulars – what was the reason for the relief
The historic borough of Southwark is one of the biggest inner London boroughs. The originals of these records are available at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive. They are accounts of outdoor relief given to people within the St Saviour parish of Southwark. All monetary amounts are written as pre-decimal amounts of shillings and pence. St Saviour parish was created in 1541 from the former parishes of St Margaret and St Mary Magdalene. The civil parish was abolished in 1900 and absorbed by the Borough of Southwark. The parish has had a food market, Borough Market, from 1756. It is bordered to the south by St George the Martyr parish.
At the time of these records, each parish was responsible for looking after its poor. They did so by enforcing a poor rate to be paid by local residents and then the local Overseer administered relief. This was the practice since the Poor Law Act of 1601. Many requested help from the poor law authorities including the elderly, disabled, widows, orphans and unemployed. Individuals needed relief at different times and for different reasons in their lives. Some requested relief only once, in a crisis, but other families may have needed to continue to return to the poor law authorities for assistance.
There were two methods for helping the poor, indoor and outdoor relief. Those who were too ill, destitute or young to work were sent to the local workhouse for indoor relief. The workhouses were created to be off-putting. It was thought that this would discourage people who hoped to rely on the parish instead of working to support themselves. Outdoor relief, which is documented in these records, was given to those who were able to work, but whose wages were below the cost of living. Outdoor relief could have come in the form of clothes, food or money. A number of examples from the records include:
Hannah Batchelor received 10s for funeral expenses for her mother
Every week for six weeks Rebecca Blane, widow, received money for her children
James Broadbent received 5s 6d for Smith’s work
Robert Lane received money for his apprentice clothing and fee
Mr Allsopp received 9s 5d for crutches and a wooden leg
Recipients of outdoor relief were expected to work for their relief. If they did not, they were given a place in the workhouse.
By the end of the 18th century, the system was beginning to come under strain. There was evidence of various employers taking advantage of the system by paying lower wages, which they knew would be supplemented by the poor relief. Further complaints by ratepayers and violence in rural England put pressure on Parliament to intervene in the system.
Understanding pre-decimal money
Prior to decimalisation in 1971, English money was written as pounds, shillings and pence or £,s,d. In some records, you will find it written as L,s,d from the original Latin libra, solidus and denarius. The value for each currency unit is: 1£ equals 20s or 240d; 1s equals 12d.