Poverty and workhouses

Prior to the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, poor relief was the responsibility of the parish. After the 1834 Act, the “outdoor” parish relief system was replaced with a national system centred on the workhouse and “indoor relief”. Before 1834, Gilbert’s Act of 1782 enabled parishes in Wales and England to set up workhouses for the young, the aged, and the infirm. No workhouses were set up in Denbighshire following this act, however two parish workhouses existed in Wrexham and Llansillin in 1777 of which there are no known surviving records.

What records can I find at Denbighshire Archives?

Parish records (pre 1834)

Denbighshire Archives is a statutory place of deposit for Church in Wales records. Parish records often contain records relating to poor relief which was administered by overseers of the poor.

Overseer’s records include rate books, accounts and assessments, settlement certificates, bastardy bonds and apprenticeship records. Overseers’ records do not survive for every parish in the county, and even when they do the series of records may not be comprehensive. The survival of overseer’s records is particularly good in the parishes of Chirk, Clocaenog, Henllan, Llandyrnog, Llangollen, Llanynys, Ruabon and Wrexham.

Parish relief included monetary aid or relief in kind which may have included clothing, food or fuel.

Parish records also contain records relating to ecclesiastical and civil charities and almshouses.

You can search for an individual parish using the online catalogue at the top of this page.

Workhouse/ Union records (post 1834)

After the Poor Law Amendment Act, three unions- Llanrwst, Ruthin and Wrexham were established in 1837 and Boards of Guardians were appointed to administer them. A number of Denbighshire parishes formed part of out-of-county unions of Conwy, St Asaph, Corwen and Llanfyllin.

Union records often consist of minutes of the Board of Guardians, rating books and financial records.

Denbighshire Archives holds records of the following unions-

  • Llanrwst
  • Ruthin (very few records have survived)
  • Wrexham
  • Conway (Minor collection. Main collection at Conwy Archives)
  • Corwen (rate book for Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr, 1926 only)
  • St Asaph (Minor collection. Main collection at Flintshire Record Office)

The only collection held which contains workhouse records is the Wrexham Union collection.

The most valuable records to researchers expecting to find records of people who entered the workhouse are inmate records including admission and discharge registers, registers of inmates and registers of births and deaths. The information contained within these registers includes name of inmate/s, dates of admission and discharge, occupation, religion, age and parish. Wrexham Union collection also contains a small sample of family case papers.

A number of duties unrelated to the poor law were laid upon guardians such as sanitation and school attendance. Rating duties were transferred to district councils under the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925.

Public Assistance records

Under the Local Government Act, 1929, the unions were abolished and their functions passed to the County Council and the whole system of poor-law administration was removed under a series of Acts between 1946 and 1948. At this point medical duties were passed to the Ministry of Health, while local authorities remained responsible for the care of children and the elderly. Records of the Public Assistance Department can be found in the County Council records.

After this time, many workhouses became hospitals so there can be an overlap of functions between workhouses and hospitals as institutions, and in their records. This is the case for Wrexham Workhouse which became Plas Maelor Public Assistance Institution in 1930 and later became part of Wrexham Maelor Hospital.

Parish Council records

Civil parish councils were established by the Local Government Act 1894. Records of parish councils can also include information relating to local charities and poor law. Community councils replaced parish councils under the local government reorganization in 1974.

You can search for an individual parish council using the online catalogue at the top of this page.

Charity Commission records

The Charity Commission, established in 1853, monitors the activities of charities in England and Wales on behalf of the government, and receives information and accounts from the trustees of the charities. These papers deal with parochial charities in Denbighshire. Charity commission records consist of parochial statements of accounts only dated between 1899 and 1954.

What language were the records written?

The majority of these records are in English, with the exception of some Parish Council records which are in Welsh. Some early parish records are written in Latin. It is our policy to catalogue records in the language they were originally written.

How can I access these records?

You can view these records in our searchroom. Book a place in the searchroom today.

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Flintshire Record Office

Flintshire Record Office holds workhouse records for St Asaph Union. St Asaph Union covered some areas in Denbighshire, including Abergele, Bettws yn Rhos, Denbigh, Henllan, Llanddulas, Llanfair Talhaearn, Llannefydd, Llansannan and St George.

Conwy Archive Service

Conwy Archive Service holds Conway Union records which covered the parishes of Llansanffraid Glan Conway, Llanelian yn Rhos and Llandrillo yn Rhos

Gwynedd Record Office

Gwynedd Record Office (Dolgellau) holds records of Corwen Union which covered Bryneglwys, Cerrigydrudion, Glyntraian, Llantysilio, Llangollen, Llansanffraid Glyn Ceiriog, Llangwm and Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr.

The National Archives

Unions reported to the newly created Poor Law Commission, later the Poor Law Board, and later again, the Poor Law Department of the Local Government Board, all based in London. The records of the Poor Law Commission, Poor Law Board and Local Government Board are in The National Archives, in the MH (Ministry of Health) department.