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Poor law union

Petersfield TA map showing the site of the Union Workhouse, which held 100 inmates.

Until 1834, the old Poor Law ensured welfare payments to the very poor, offering clothing and food, doctors’ bills, nursing, for instance during childbirth, funeral costs and beer. Half of all families received some form of relief in the first half of the 19th century. This provided a range of welfare payments, offering clothing and food &c, doctors’ bills, nursing (for instance, during childbirth), funeral costs and beer. Half of all families received some form of relief in the first decades of the 19th century.

The Poor Law Amendment  Act 1834 was motivated by the Utilitarian theories of Jeremy Bentham; it established ‘poor law unions’, parishes were aggregated into single institutions based on their market towns, to achieve economies of scale and centrally administered from London. 18 parishes around Petersfield were combined and village workhouses closed; their inmates were moved to a large Union in Petersfield, which held 100 inmates. It was now almost impossible for kin or neighbours to visit, and the union workhouses were designed to discourage and punish the ‘undeserving poor’, as Dickens graphically described in Oliver Twist.

1851 Census results by tithing

This table shows a breakdown of the population of East Meon tithings in the valley, listing paupers. By now, the Union workhouse in Petersfield was accommodating village paupers; those who remained were probably in the care of relatives. The vast majority were in the village of East Meon.

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