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Southwell Workhouse and Poor Law Union Papers now available online

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Southwell Workhouse and Poor Law Union Papers now available online

Image of a Victorian workhouse

Image of a Victorian workhouse

16 May 2007

The National Archives and The National Trust are launching a new online resource for general, family, and local historians, which brings to life the conditions of a Victorian workhouse. For the first time you can view these previously long forgotten records online and piece together history from a time when Britain was the workshop of the world!

The digitised records form part of the underused and poorly catalogued 'poor law union correspondence', from the huge Ministry of Health archive held at The National Archives in Kew, covering the period 1834 to 1871. They provide fascinating and vivid details of the sometimes sad and gruesome lives of the local poor people in north Nottinghamshire.

The project has taken five years to complete and has only been made possible through the efforts of the Southwell Workhouse Research Group, who are based at The Workhouse, a National Trust property in Nottinghamshire. Its 20 members have systematically listed and provided detailed descriptions of the papers relating to the Southwell Poor Law Union. The online resource they have created will be searchable by name, place, date and event, and is available free of charge at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/workhouse .

The correspondence is made up of the thousands of letters, memos and reports from the Southwell Union as well as the draft responses from London. These include details of the treatment of individual paupers, activities of parish and union officers and more general accounts of the conditions in the workhouse as well as instances of cruelty, disturbances and corruption.

The Workhouse in Southwell, which this year is celebrating its fifth anniversary as a visitor attraction, was purchased by the National Trust because it was the best preserved and least altered workhouse in England and was the prototype for the workhouse system.

Dr Paul Carter, Principal Modern Records Specialist at The National Archives, said:

'This project has opened up a proportion of a really important, but usually pretty inaccessible, set of records. It is a fantastic collection of materials for family, local and regional historians. However, as poor law unions dealt with issues such as pauper education, mental and physical health as well as poverty, the new online resource will be invaluable to anyone interested in nineteenth century social history'.

Rachel Harrison, Property Manager of The Workhouse, National Trust said: 

"The Workhouse and its records tell the story of the building, the paupers and staff who lived there and wider issues with real contemporary relevance. This material, which is now available to the public for the first time, is uniquely placed to help visitors and researchers discover how important history is to them today. This project has only been possible due to the hard work of our volunteers who have found the experience very empowering and have ensured that the hidden history of the poor is now accessible to all."

The National Archives is seeking funds to allow it to work with other local groups and societies on similar projects in other parts of England and Wales. More details about this project

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