This database sets out to bring together the fullest picture yet to be achieved of an almost invisible community: the English rural poor of the two centuries up to 1835.
The poor had their stories and they are by no means “short and simple” as Thomas Gray suggested; they survive in formidable quantity. Their lives have come down to us through the bureaucracy which controlled and monitored their movements, apprenticed their children and arranged the maintenance of their illegitimate offspring. The records of the parish overseers and the vestries, and of the courts of Quarter Sessions, combine to preserve their stories. Although this documentation exists in all English counties and is a well-known source, its publication in such range and depth has never been attempted before.
The result is the biography of a rootless underclass over two centuries. It records the origins, movement, employment and unemployment of the individuals whose poverty made them subject to constant invigilation from the local officials. These records will have enormous appeal to family historians – and especially those who are plagued by the difficulty of tracing families whose name suddenly disappears from the register of their parish. They will be of equally great value to demographers, and to social historians of the dispossessed. For the first time they will have a database which will be sufficiently large and consistent for genuine comparisons to be made and significant conclusions to be drawn.
The database is a growing bank of information and at present (October 2005) contains almost 14,000 records, all derived from parish archives in the West Sussex Record Office. Its core consists of records of Settlement and Removal 1662-1835 – the legal processes by which established which parish would be responsible for maintaining any pauper (real or potential). In addition it contains the records of bastard children and of the apprenticing and boarding out of pauper children. Our future plan is to supplement the database by including related records from the Quarter Sessions during the same period, and records relating to the families of militiamen during the decades around 1800.
Similar records of Settlement, Removal, Bastardy and Apprenticeship from the East Sussex Record Office are included in the office catalogues for the individual parishes and are progressively being added to the a2a (Access to Archives) website www.a2a.org.uk At the time of writing (October 2005) 205 catalogues have been added; and the remaining 62 will follow over the next few months.
The links shown above give access to the poor law records in this database as follows:
- Search gives Poor Law Record lists against Surname, Forename, Year and Parish parameters
- Surnames gives alphabetic surname listing of all those people listed in the Poor Law Records
- Parishes gives a listing of all those parishes whose Poor Law Records are included in this database
- Order Types gives a listing of all the many different types of Poor Law Records
- Years gives a listing of all the years for which there are Poor Law Records
- By accessing these lists a transcription of the information included in the original Poor Law Record can be recovered