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Southwell Poor Law Union


  • "The Anti-pauper System," by John T. BECHER, publ. in 1828.
  • "In the Shadow of the Workhouse," by Maurice CAPLAN, publ. in 1985, paperback.


  • It made sense to the British government to use the Poorlaw districts and sub-districts as a way to organize and implement the national census, which they did from 1841 until 1930.
  • The table below gives census piece numbers, where known:
CensusYear Piece No.
1861 R.G. 9 / 2472

Poorhouses, Poor Law, etc.

  • Southwell had a parish workhouse for 84 inmates which was built on the east side of Moor Lane in Southwell in 1808.
  • In 1824, John T. BECHER promoted the formation of the "Thurgarton Hundred Incorporation" which was a union of 49 parishes (not including Southwell). The Incorporation built their own workhouse and operated on a basis of strict economy and supervision. The idle poor were discouraged in this union. Inmates were divided on the basis of sex and "character". Those judged "idle, immoral and improvident" fell into a lower category. The Incorporation opened its workhouse at Upton in December, 1824, to hold up to 158 inmates from 49 parishes.
  • The Thurgarton Hundred Incorporation actually operated illegally under the Gilbert Act of 1782. That act entitled accomodation for the old and infirm, children, but not for the able-bodied poor.
  • The Thurgarton Incorporation was immune from the strictures of the 1834 Act. However, the Assistant Poor Law Commissioner responsible for Nottinghamshire, Edward Gulson, lobbied a number of local landowners including the Duke of Newcastle, Earl MANVERS, Mr DENISON MP, and Sir Robert BROMLEY. A sufficient number of the Incorporation's Guardians were persuaded that the Incorporation should be dissolved and a new Poor Law Union formed under the 1834 Act. The new union would include Southwell (whose name it would carry) and Upton where the existing Incorporation workhouse was located.
  • After the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, the new Southwell Poor Law Union was enacted by the Poor Law Commissioners to take place from 25th April 1836. See the Peter Higganbotham Workhouse site for more information.
  • Once the new workhouse was built, the old Incorporation building was converted into a Baptist chapel.
  • The Southwell Poor Law Union was originally divided into two Registration Sub-Districts: Kneesal and Southwell. 60 Nottinghamshire parishes were in the Union: Averham, Bathley, Bilsthorpe, Bleasby, Boughton, Budby, Bulcote, Carlton-upon-Trent, Caunton, Caythorpe, Clipstone, Cromwell, Edingley, Edwinstow, Eakring, East Stoke, Egmanton, Elston, Epperstone, Farnsfield, Fiskerton, Gonaldstone [Gonalstone], Grassthorpe, Gunthorpe, Halam, Halloughton, Hockerton, Holme, Hoveringham, Kelham, Kersall, Kirklington, Kirton, Kneesall, Laxton with Moorhouse, Lowdham, Maplebeck, Morton, North Muskham, South Muskham, Norwell, Norwell Woodhouse, Ollerton, Ompton, Ossington, Oxton, Perlethorpe, Rolleston, Rufford, Southwell, Staythorpe, Sutton-on-Trent, Syerstone, Thorpe, Thurgarton, Upton, Walesby, Wellow, Weston, Winkbourn. A later addition: Park Leys (from 1858).
  • At the rear of the workhouse were two ranges of two-storey out-buildings. The west block (demolished sometime after 1915) contained the porter's lodge, wash-house and bathroom, privy, stable, ashes house and tool house. The east block contained a bakery, store-room, and small infirmary and nurse's room above. There were also a cowhouse, refractory (punishment) cell, and dead room (mortuary).
  • In 1851, some form of scandal caused the schoolmaster and the schoolmistress to resign. Details are sketchy.
  • In 1873, another scandal caused the forced resignation of the workhouse master, the matron and the workhouse nurse. Details again are sketchy.
  • In 1870, a detached infirmary was built at the rear of the workhouse. This was extended in 1914. In 1926, a new infirmary block was added to the north.
  • By 1930, the Poorlaw unions were abandoned in favor of direct assistance from the local shire or regional councils. The Southwell workhouse became "Greet House" and was housing for the elderly until some time in the 1980s.
  • The Southwell workhouse is now owned and operated by the National Trust. They have restored the building and allow visitors who want to experience what it may have been like to be a pauper inmate.
  • Search the Nottinghamshire Archives for Poor Law records. Holdings include Guardians' minute books (1836-1930); Ledgers (1836-1927, with gaps); Punishment book (1852-1936); Register of lunatics (1891-1928); Register of wool sales (1875-83).

District Population

Year Inhabitants
1831 23,235
1871 21,911
1881 20,351
1891 19,321
1901 19,114
1911 19,573

Staff and officers

  • 1853: William H. BARROW, chairman; W. J. GREGORY, vice-chairman; Rev. Frederick POWELL, chaplain; John TAYLOR, workhouse master; Mrs. Sarah TAYLOR, matron; Thomas MARRIOTT, clerk to the board of Guardians.
  • 1869: John KIRKLAND, clerk to the guardians; George SHAW, workhouse master; Mrs. Mary HERRING, matron; Rev. Richard Bethell EARLE, chaplain; Richard Edward COOKE, medical officer; Miss Fanny Adems HOOTON, schoolmistress; Thomas PAWSON, relieving officer.
  • 1881: William SHACKLOCK, workhouse master; Mary A. SHACKLOCK, matron; Miss Christian GROOMBRIDGE, schoolmistress; Miss Mary A. SHERIDEN, nurse.