Poor Law Records make sad reading

My paternal grandfather and six of his brothers all migrated from their small Wiltshire village to London, probably to find work, during the second half of the 19th century. I was going through the Westminster Poor Law records to see if I could discover the fates of the children of two of the brothers and I found that there were so many admissions and discharges for one of the family groups that I had to make a spreadsheet to keep track.

Brother Joseph’s children Alice, Edith and Joseph entered the Ashford School for Paupers, Middlesex, for the first time in 1888 when they were 10, 8 and 3 respectively. Their father was in the Workhouse. Over the course of the next six years, when that register ended, Joseph had been in and out of the school 11 times. He had spent a total of twelve and a half months with his mother, the longest period being for 7 months and the shortest for 1 day.

I’ve only had a quick look so far at the 1894 to 1900 register but can see the pages dotted with Joseph’s name again. In 1901, he was sent into service from the Ashford School to a grocer in Kingston on Thames. As yet, I’ve been unable to discover what happened to his parents.

In the meantime, in 1890, their cousin Phyllis, daughter of brother John, entered the school when she was 4 years old for 14 months. Her father was in the Workhouse and was later transferred to Leavesden Asylum. I’ve not been able to discover what happened to Phyllis, nor to her older sister who was on the 1881 census with her parents.

When I started working through the Creed Register and Removal Orders for the Westminster area, I found that their story gets worse. Joseph and his wife had another son, born in the Workhouse on the 12th December 1888 and died in the Workhouse on the 15th December 1888.

There were two removal orders for brother John from Chelsea to St George. In September 1890 he was removed with two daughters, Phyllis, mentioned above, and one year old Sylvia. In November 1890 he and Phyllis were again removed from Chelsea to St George. By that time Sylvia was dead. Strangely, I’ve found his wife and eldest daughter Florence, both wrongly transcribed, living at a private address in 1891 while John and Phyllis were both in the Workhouse.

I think what has surprised me most, now that I have access to the LMA (London Metropolitan Archives) records and can see details of dates instead of just the 10 year census snapshot, has been the yoyo life for so many children. A few days/months/years in followed by a few days/months/years out, repeated in many cases right up until they were apprenticed, sent into service or died.

I’m left wondering whether brothers Joseph and John would actually have been any worse off if they had stayed in Wiltshire, although 5 of the 7 brothers making a reasonably comfortable living in London is probably better than might have been expected in Wiltshire.

I’ll never know if my grandfather’s parents, and uncles and aunts, agonised over the fact that their little nieces and nephews were in the Workhouse and they were unable to assist them, or whether the siblings all lost touch with each other once they got to London.

Just Gillian

© Just Gillian 2009


Ancestry: London Historical Records 1500s to 1900s

London Metropolitan Archives