Source Information England and Wales, Long-Term Workhouse Inmates, 1861 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2017.
Original data: Long-Term Workhouse Inmates, 1861, Peter Higginbotham,

About England and Wales, Long-Term Workhouse Inmates, 1861

This collection comprises records and images from a volume listing every adult 'pauper' in each Workhouse in England and Wales, who had been resident there for five or more years in 1861.

Historical Context

For many centuries, the task of caring for the poor was left to the Church. Each parish was given an Overseer of the Poor to help with this cause in 1572. Then, in 1601, the Poor Law Act empowered these Overseers to collect a poor rate from wealthier members of the parish, and distribute the funds among the poor. The 1601 law remained in effect until 1834 when a new law, the Poor Law Amendment Act, took over. This law collected parishes into groups called Unions. Each Union elected a Board of Guardians, which was then responsible for the care of the poor across all the individual parishes.

Many people received help through Poor Laws. These included the elderly, orphaned, unemployed, sick and afflicted. At first, poor relief was dispensed mostly through "out-relief", which consisted of grants of money, clothing, food, or fuel to the poor, while they continued to live in their own homes. Gradually, a different system of relief began to evolve, one in which the poor were relocated to workhouses. The intent was to save the parish money, but also to ensure that the able-bodied poor were required to work, usually without pay, in return for their board and lodging. The Workhouse Test Act of 1723 gave parishes the option of denying all out-relief and offering support to the poor only through the workhouse.

This Collection

On 29th June 1860, The House of Commons ordered that the name of every adult pauper in each workhouse in England and Wales, who had been an inmate for a continuous period of 5 years or more, was to be recorded. The report was printed on 30 July 1861 and listed 14,216 adults. When compared with the total workhouse population of approximately 67,800 adult workhouse inmates (excluding vagrants) the percentage of long term inmates was just over 21%.

For each union, the list shows:

  • 'The Name of every Adult Pauper who has been an Inmate of the Workhouse during a continuous Period of Five Years'.
  • 'The Amount of Time that each of such Paupers shall have been in the Workhouse'
  • 'The reasons assigned why the Pauper in each case is unable to maintain Himself, or Herself'.
  • 'Whether or not the Pauper has been brought up in a District or Workhouse School'.