Chosen by Nichola Court, member of staff
The 1601 Poor Law Act created a national system for managing the poor. It was superseded in 1834 by the New Poor Law, which compelled unions of parishes to build that most Victorian of institutions: the workhouse. In a bid to keep the poor rate to a minimum, workhouses were purposely designed to be imposing, unappealing and a place of last resort; only the most wretched should want to seek entry. Inmates were segregated on the grounds of age, gender and health, with families and couples separated; the able-bodied were provided with mindless ‘work’; food was minimal; a rigid daily timetable was imposed; and all were obliged to wear uniforms.
This plan of the East Preston workhouse illustrates perfectly the management, administration and ethos of the workhouse. Built in the early 1870s, it was almost entirely self-contained and could house 212 inmates. Its ‘apartments’ included provision for able-bodied men and women, children, infants, the elderly and infirm, pregnant women, tramps, and the sick. There are nine plans in total, all of which come together to show the sheer scale of the building and its operation.
In 1930, local authorities assumed responsibility for the Poor Laws and the East Preston workhouse became the North View Home. The Poor Laws were abolished in 1946 and, while some former workhouses have been converted into luxury apartments, East Preston’s was demolished in 1969.
You can find out more about the Poor Laws, their administration, the records they generated and how family historians can use these records to aid their research by attending our Coffee Time workshop on Wednesday 5th October (2016) at 10am. Tickets cost £7.50 and can be booked by calling the Record Office reception on 01243 753602.
Note on access: Please be aware that information contained within Poor Law records held at West Sussex Record Office may be subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 and therefore access may be restricted.