September 18, 20206:46 amLeave a Comment
Image of Guildford Union Workhouse

Guildford Union Workhouse

Have you ever done anything which makes you cringe with embarrassment when you think back on it?  No?  Lucky you!

Last year we had a gentleman visit us who was requesting documents relating to various Surrey Poor Law unions.  I couldn’t help feeling that I knew him from somewhere but simply assumed that he was one of our many lovely visitors who had used the History Centre in the past.   In my happy, chatty way I recommended that he use Peter Higginbotham’s excellent website on workhouses as it really was the seminal work on the subject and there was no better source for information on the Poor Law unions.  I enthused long and loquaciously on how much I loved the site, how useful it was and what a fascinating subject Poor Law records were.

The gentleman in question listened patiently and then quietly and politely thanked me, saying he was familiar with the site.

As I strolled back to the help desk it suddenly hit me who he was – Peter Higginbotham.  Have you ever seen a Heritage Assistant turn scarlet before? It’s not a pretty sight!  I was mortified and just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me.  When he came back to the Help Desk to return his documents, I met his eye and we both smiled.  I think he recognised my acute embarrassment and hopefully saw me as an enthusiastic admirer rather than a deranged stalker.

So what is about The Workhouse website which turned me into such a gibbering idiot?  Well, not to put too fine a point on it – it’s fantastic!

Image of a page from the Chertsey Union Admssions & Discharges book

Chertsey Union Admssions & Discharges
SHC ref BG1/36/-

As you may or may not know, I love Poor Law records and have spent many happy hours working with the post-1834 Board of Guardians’ records and the various documents involved with administering the Poor Law unions.  However, if you’ve ever dipped your toe into these waters you will know that they are not as straightforward to use as you might think.  Peter Higginbotham’s website (and numerous books on the subject) endeavour to make this subject completely digestible.  He outlines how the unions were run, what type of documents they produced, what laws governed their administration, includes photographs and maps of their locations and an overview of the surviving documents and where to find them.  There are also fascinating stories attached to each Union along with examples of such things as dietary tables, census returns and sadly reports of scandals attached to the running of workhouses and other linked institutions.  He has also produced a ‘sister’ site on children’s homes which has already proved useful to me in tracing where one of my errant ancestors disappeared to.

Do visit the site and you will see what I mean!  It’s a glorious hub of information and should be bookmarked on every family historian’s computer!

Keep safe and well and Happy Researching!

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Written by Jane Lewis - Modified by ESP Admin

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