Powys Digital History Project

Care of the poor 2
The Poor Laws


The first Poor Laws
The Poor Law of 1563, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1 (below), enacted procedures for collecting charitable alms from the wealthier people of the parish, a task usually carried outPortrait of Queen Elizabeth 1 by the churchwardens. By 1597, parishes were able to levy a poor rate, and this paid for the building of the first poorhouses, which provided work and materials for paupers. The children of inmates were sent away, wherever possible, to be apprenticed for seven years or more. This, of course, also helped to reduce the poor rate

The Poor Law Act of 1601 was to provide the essential pattern for the treatment of the poor for the next 200 years or so. It laid down procedures for churchwardens and prominent local landowners in each parish to be appointed as overseers of the poor, and to collect the poor rate from the wealthier inhabitants. The new law did not have any real effect in Wales, however, until the first half of the 18th century, and took even longer to reach all parishes.

Deserving and undeserving poor
The new arrangements put the paupers into three categories; the able-bodied poor, for whom work would be provided; the old, children, the handicapped or sick, including lunatics - the "impotent poor" ; and those thought to be able, but unwilling, to earn a living for themselves - the "sturdy beggars".
This general concept of separately identifying the "deserving" and the "undeserving" among the people seeking help was to be an important element of later forms of poor relief. Part of the poor rate was to be spent on "providing a convenient stock of flax, hemp, wood, thread, iron, and other ware and stuff to set the poor on work".

There are 2 pages on the origins of care of the poor. Use the box links below to view the other pages.