AdminHistoryAttempts to deal with and mitigate the persistent problem of poverty - often extreme in the case of Bethnal Green - were the responsibility of the parish. For over 200 years, poor relief was based on the 1601 Act for the Relief of the Poor, which obliged parishes to take care of the aged and needy in their area. Parish overseers were empowered to collect a local income tax known as the 'poor rate' which would be put towards the relief of the poor. This evolved into the rating system, where the amount charged was based on the value of a person's property. Early workhouses were constructed and managed by the parish (a workhouse was operational in Bethnal Green by 1777). However, this process was expensive, and so various schemes were devised to enable groups of parishes to act together and pool their resources; as early as 1647 towns were setting up 'Corporations' of parishes. An Act of 1782, promoted by Thomas Gilbert, allowed adjacent parishes to combine into Unions and provide workhouses: these were known as 'Gilbert's Unions' and were managed by a Board of Guardians.

Under the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, the Poor Law Commission was given the power to unite parishes in England and Wales into Poor Law Unions. Each Union was to be administered by a local Board of Guardians, and relief provided through the provision of a workhouse. An amendment to the 1834 Act allowed existing 'Gilbert's Unions' or Corporations of parishes to remain in existence, although they were encouraged to convert themselves into Poor Law Unions. Over the years there was some reorganisation of Union boundaries, particularly in London, but the majority of Unions created under the 1834 Act remained in operation until 1930. In March of that year a new Local Government Bill abolished the Poor Law Unions and the Boards of Guardians. Their responsibilities passed to Public Assistance Committees managed by the county councils - in the metropolis this was either the London County Council (LCC) or the Middlesex County Council.
Related MaterialRecords of the Bethnal Green Poor Law Union that was formed in 1836 under the terms of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act are held at London Metropolitan Archives (ref: BEBG). The records span 1836-1935 and are extensive, including minutes of meetings of the Board of Guardians and various Committees; orders and correspondence from the Poor Law Board, Local Government Board and the Ministry of Health; settlement examinations; orders of removal to and from other Unions; registers and annual returns of lunatics; registers from the Waterloo Road Workhouse, Well Street Workhouse and Infirmary; registers of children at the Leytonstone Home; case histories for pauper children; financial accounts; staff records; and plans of Waterloo House and the chapel at Bethnal Green Hospital (the former Workhouse Infirmary).
A series of settlement examination books and records 1818-1833 are held with the parochial archive, also at London Metropolitan Archives (ref: P72/MTW/001-005).
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