Poor law records

There are numerous records relating to the poor other than workhouses and poor law unions. Prior to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 relief of the poor was normally provided by individual parishes.

Most of the surviving records are found amongst parish records and they include overseers of the poor accounts, settlement and removal orders, bastardy bonds and apprenticeship records, etc. Our records date from 1670 to 1834.

Contact us on archives@sheffield.gov.uk to find out more, book in advance or order archival materials.

Location of records

Sheffield Archives, 52 Shoreham Street.

Ordering documents

Not all archive material is stored onsite and we may require notice of the items you wish to see. Please contact us to confirm when we can retrieve items for you.


We can normally supply copies for private study purposes, subject to the usual copyright and access restrictions. Please contact us for further information.

Background information

Prior to 1834 administration of the poor laws tended to be arranged within parishes. The types of documents that tend to survive are:

Overseer’s accounts

Overseers of the Poor recorded how they spent money raised from the poor rate assessment (i.e. a tax to provide relief to the poor) in their account books. They recorded payments to individuals, etc.

Settlement certificates

Paupers could be issued with a certificate specifying which parish they ‘belonged’ to, i.e. which parish would provide relief.

Settlement examinations

Parish authorities could force paupers to return to their parish of origin if they became dependent on poor relief. They were questioned (or examined) by local justices to establish where they came from. These examinations are often life histories of individuals, recording place of birth, parents and siblings and employment history.

Removal orders

After an examination by a justice if it was found a pauper attempting to claim relief originated from another parish an order was issued to force them to return to their parish of origin.

Bastardy bonds

Parish authorities often sought to get fathers of illegitimate children to pay maintenance for the child’s upkeep. Fathers were obliged to sign a bastardy bond accepting responsibility for the child.

Parish apprenticeship certificates (or indentures)

Overseers of the Poor could apprentice paupers to local craftsmen so they could learn a trade. Employers were obliged to take apprentices or they faced a fine.

Vestry minutes

The parish vestry meetings appointed the Overseers of the Poor and recorded their decisions in their minutes.

In 1834 the system changed. Parishes were no longer responsible for maintaining their own poor people. Parishes and townships were instead formed into groups or unions.

Each of which was administered by a Board of Guardians with a union workhouse to accommodate those who could not provide for themselves. 


Original paper records.

Contact the Archives and Local Studies Library

First Floor, Central Library
Surrey Street
S1 1XZ
0114 203 9395 (Sat, Mon, Tues)
0114 273 4753 (Wed, Thur, Fri, Sat)