Powys Digital History Project

Workhouses 1
The harsh new workhouses 

For more about
workhouses see our
Rhayader pages.

The workhouse system
By the end of the 17th century the workhouse system was becoming well established, and the General Workhouse Act of 1723 gave parishes the authority to build their own workhouses or join with other parishes to do so.

Expenditure on the poor had been steadily rising in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, along with the rise in the general population, and the combination of the workhouse system plus outside help, in the form of money or essential provisions, was placing ever greater demands upon the poor rate.

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834
This harsh new legislation marked a major watershed in the treatment of paupers. Up to this time the responsibility for poor relief lay at parish level in the hands of the Overseers of the Poor and under the supervision of the county Justices of the Peace.

The new Act set up the Poor Law Commission for England and Wales, charged with forcing unions of parishes to carry out poor relief in a new, and less costly, way. The new Poor Law Unions were to be supervised by Boards of Guardians , elected by the ratepayers and prominent landowners of the parish. As well as appointing officials such as the relieving officer and the workhouse master to run the new workhouse unions, they also supervised the removal of the poor under the settlement laws, and agreed payments with other unions to take on "their" paupers.

There are 5 pages on workhouses. Use the box links below to view the other pages.