Poor Law Records (Part Two)

What I’d originally intended to be a two-part post on Poor Law records will now be in three parts. This is the second and it assesses two further sources.

Records of Narberth Union Board of Guardians

Other than the Abstracts described in the previous post, only a small part of the Union’s records has survived. The minutes of meetings are extant for parts of the period from 1834 to 1900. For local historians they provide an indispensable record of the decisions of this important group of men as the local newspapers’ coverage of these meetings is at best sparse. For example the minutes record the contributions of each parish to the Union to cover the costs of providing relief so it should be possible to track the peaks and troughs of the local economy from these data. It is also possible to assess the response of the guardians to emergencies such as the 1849 cholera outbreak.

For family historians there are some scraps to chew on as, particularly in the early minute books, there are references to cases of individual paupers. For example, in 1838 the Union agreed to cover the cost of the funeral of Philip Walters, aged 54 of St Issells, as his family had no money to bury him if the Union didn’t. In 1870 the minutes record that the Union clerk had to write to Richard Hare of St Issells requesting a contribution of 5s a week towards the maintenance of his son in the Joint Lunatic Asylum.

The most consistent entries in the minutes record the grant by the Union’s medical officers of  certificates to people suffering from illness or accident and who needed relief to help them stave off destitution. The case of Zachariah Harries (collier of Begelly and later St Issells) is a good example as he is listed at least 9 times over a 20-year period receiving certificates for typhus, smallpox, typhoid fever and lastly a bad kick to his knee. He did well to survive all those!

Parish Records

Again only a small portion of the parish poor law records have survived and that only for Begelly. These include the following:

  1. Overseers’ Account Book, 1833-1933
  2. Poor Law Accounts, 1837-1848
  3. Poor Rate Assessment, 1842

The most interesting to me, at least, is the first of these as it lists various inhabitants who were exempted in the 1840s from paying poor rate due to their own poverty, my ggg-gfather, William Nash and his mother being two of them. Another entry covers the agreement of the parish to pay 4s a week to the guardians in Liscard in Cheshire to support Elizabeth Lewis and her 4 children – formerly landlady of the Begelly Arms.

The Poor Rate Assessment also has a specific use. If you have looked in vain on the Begelly tithe award and map for your ancestors in the early 1840s, check the Assessment as it records all inhabitants in the parish, not just landowners and tenants. Because it uses the field numbering system established in the tithe award to locate each individual it is possible to track the habitation of each head of household using the Assessment. Using this I was able to find the places where William Nash and his mother lived.


If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Poor Law in England and Wales, take a look at Peter Higginbotham’s excellent site, workhouses.org.uk. It is a real treasure trove of information including modern pictures of the former Narberth workhouse buildings.


Pembrokeshire Record Office, Narberth Union Board of Guardians minutes (cat ref SPU/NA/2-4)

Pembrokeshire Record Office, Begelly Poor Law Records (cat ref HPR/110/15-18)

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