Caring for the poor had, for centuries been the responsibility of the local Parish. By 1572 an Overseer of the Poor was appointed to help with this for the parish. In 1601 an Act of Parliament gave these overseers the power to collect a poor rate to cover the expenses of dealing with the poor. Effectively a tax it was collected from those who were the wealthier members of the community and used to fund relief for those at the other end of the scale who needed funds.
Although some parishes created ‘Poor Houses’, very often this relief was ‘at home’ or ‘outdoor’ type relief.
In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act took effect and changed everything. Parishes were grouped together into Unions, with each one electing a Board of Guardians. This system and the associated workhouses remained in force until 1930.
Right of Settlement
Because responsibility fell on the parish, the authorities became very anxious to only provide relief for those that were its responsibility, i.e. could claim a legal right of settlement. Those that could not provide satisfactory evidence were removed back to their last legal parish.