Huntingdonshire - Poor Law Unions

About the Poor Laws

The Poor Laws were acts of legislation concerned with relief of the poor. An Act of 1536 provided relief for the 'impotent poor' but compelled "sturdy beggars" to work. Relief was funded by voluntary subscription and administered by the parish.

In 1552 parish registers of the poor were introduced, and in 1563 and 1597 justices of the peace were given power to raise compulsory funds. Administration was regularised by the Poor Law Act (1601), which introduced a poor relief rate on property owners. The Act of Settlement (1662) permitted parish overseers to send vagrants back to their native parishes. From 1723 the Workhouse Test Act obliged the poor to enter workhouses to obtain relief, but Gilbert's Act (1782) excluded the able-bodied from the workhouse and forced parishes to provide work or outdoor relief for them. By the late 18th century the Elizabethan Poor Law system, administered through parish overseers, was increasingly inadequate when people began travelling many miles in search of employment. In some rural areas, in addition to direct relief to those without work, there developed the so-called Speenhamland system (named after the district in Berkshire where the system originated in 1795), whereby the wages of low-paid workers were supplemented by a parish allowance.

Such a system was clearly unsatisfactory, since it tended both to depress wages and to subsidise landlords and employers. Increased hardship among agricultural workers and heavy expenditure on outdoor relief in the early 19th century resulted in the 1834 a Poor Law Amendment Act which tried to end the giving of assistance outside the workhouse; it established the principle that all citizens should have the right to relief from destitution through accommodation. The act created 600 unions of parishes, managed by boards of guardians elected by ratepayers. Outdoor relief ceased, all paupers being forced into the workhouse, but conditions in the workhouse, often with families separated by sex and age, were to be so severe as to discourage all but the most needy from its care. The workhouses were run by locally elected Boards of Guardians, who raised money through a poor-rate. The system proved inadequate in the growing cities, where the Guardians sometimes resorted to relief without the guarantee of accommodation.

The Poor Law was gradually dismantled by social legislation of the 20th century, particularly that of the Liberal governments (1906-14) by important Acts in 1927, 1929 (when Boards of Guardians were abolished), 1930, 1934 (when Unemployment Assistance Boards were created), by social security legislation following the Beveridge Report (1942), and by the establishment of the welfare state.

The Cambridgeshire & Isle of Ely Unions

The Poor Law Unions crossed county boundaries and were an administrative set of divisions.

HUNTINGDON UNION.

Huntingdon All Saints - Huntingdon - St Bendict, Huntingdon - St John, Huntingdon - St Mary, Abbots Ripton with Wennington, Alconbury, Alconbury Weston, Barham, Brampton, Buckworth, Conington, Coppingford, Easton, Ellington, Godmanchester, Great Raveley, Great Stukeley, Hartford, Humerton, King's Ripton, Leighton Bromswold, Little Raveley, Little Stukeley, Ramsey, Sawtry All Saints, Sawtry St Andrew, Sawtry St Judith, Spaldwick, Steeple Gedding, Upton, Upwood, Wolley, Wood Walton.

Poor Law Institution in the parish of Huntingon.

ST. IVES UNION.

Bluntisham with Earith, Broughton, Bury, Colne, Fenstaunton, Hemingford Abbots, Hemingford Grey, Hilton, Holywell-with-Needingworth, Houghton, Old Hurst, Pedley-with-Fenton, Somersham, St Ives, Warboys, Wiston, Witton, Woodhurst. and from the County of Cambridge: Boxworth, Connington, Fen Drayton, Lolworth, Over, Swavesey.

Poor Law Institution in the parish of St. Ives.

ST. NEOTS.

Abbotsley, Buckden, Great Catworth, Little Catworth, Diddington, Eynesbury, Graffham, Hail Weston, Kimbolton, Midloe, Offord Cluney, Offord Darcy, Great Paxton, Little Paxton, Southloe, St Neots, Great Staughton, Stow, Swineshead, Tetworth, Toseland, Waresley and from the County of Bedford: Dean, Eaton Socon, Little Barford, Little Staughton, Pertenhall, Shelton, Tillbrook.

Poor Law Institution in the parish of Eaton Socon.


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