Explore 21,781 workhouse records from the London borough of Southwark. Workhouse records are a valuable resource, especially ones that date this far back, and can help to fill in the gaps in your family tree.
Each record includes a transcript of details taken from the original records. The details in each record can vary, but most will include:
Narrative – in this field you will find what notes were written about your ancestor in the minutes. These may include: age, condition at arrival to the workhouse, names of relatives or spouse, clothing allowance; or if they are staff, wages paid.
Archival reference, volume number and folio
The historic borough of London, Southwark, is one of the biggest inner London boroughs. The parish of St George the Martyr takes its name from the parish church. The church is well known for its association with Charles Dickens’ novel, Little Dorritt. Many scenes from the novel are set in and around St George’s Church, giving it the nickname Little Dorritt’s church.
The records here are a mixture of guardian minutes and records of overseer’s payments. The Board of Guardians comprised elected representatives from the parish ratepayers who were responsible for the operations of the workhouse. Minute books detailed the day-to-day running of the institution. Names found within the minutes include inmates and staff such as teachers, nurses, etc. The original records are stored off site at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive at 211 Borough High Street. Contact the archive in advance if you wish to view the original documents. They also offer a postal copying service.
The St George the Martyr workhouse was built in 1729 on Mint Street and opened by Christmas. Since the Act for the Relief of the Poor, 1601, parishes were obligated to care for the aged and needy. Overseers were hired to collect a poor-rate from parishioners based on the value of a person’s property to help support the poor relief. In 1731, the workhouse held 69 men, women and children. The women worked at spinning and knitting and the children were taught to read and say Catechism. When many workhouses first opened, it was anticipated that the population would be able-bodied males who could work, but instead they realised they needed to cater for women, children and the elderly. Life in the workhouse was a monotonous schedule of prayers, meals and work. Conditions in the workhouse could vary from parish to parish - some were clean and comfortable and others were dark and disparaging places and many were overcrowded.
During these years, there was a strong stigmatism attached to poverty. Many believed that those in the workhouse were there because of their own vices of gambling and drinking or they were just lazy. There was no concept of a wider social concern for the poor, but it was blamed on the individual. In 1782, the parishes were combined into a Union to help manage the workhouses. In 1836, Saint George the Martyr was aligned with Saint Saviour’s and Saint Mary Newington to create Saint Saviour’s Poor Law Union.