Nottingham Poor Law Union


Poorhouses, Poor Law, etc.

  • The first Nottingham workhouse was set up by St Mary's parish in 1723 on land between York Street and Mansfield Road. By 1808, the building had deteriorated and the parish began to plan for a new workhouse. Initially, a larger site on Dog Kennel Hill was considered, but eventually the replacement was built on the old site at a cost of more than £5,000.
  • Also in 1723, St Nicholas' parish erected a workhouse on Gillyflower Hill. In 1813, it was declared unfit for habitation and a large building at the bottom of Park row was bought as a replacement.
  • St Peter's parish originally had a workhouse at the east end of Houndsgate. After this building was demolished, a new workhouse was built on the south side of Broad Marsh.

EDEN, in his 1797 survey of the poor in England, reported that:

Nottingham contains three parishes. In 1779, the population was 17,711 and is supposed to be now (May, 1795) about 22,000. St Mary's parish which is by far the largest, contains by estimation 1,200 acres of land, and about 100 acres of waste. 1,200 houses pay tax, 1,822 are exempt. Prices of provisions are: Beef, 5d. to 6d. per lb. ; mutton and veal, 5d. ; bacon, 9d. ; potatoes, 9d. and l0d. per peck; butter, 9d. per lb. ; flour, 2s. 6d. to 2s 10d. per st. ; oatmeal, 6s. per bush. ; wheat, 9s. 4d. per bush. ; barley, 42s. per quarter ; malt, 5s. per bush. ; milk, 11d. per quart. The price of labour is very variable, particularly in the stocking line. Some weavers earn 40s. a week, and others only 8s. This disparity is occasioned in some through want of industry, but chiefly from the nature of the different branches of the manufacture. It is thought that two-thirds of the weavers do not, on an average, earn more than 10s. weekly. Lace workers earn from 20s. to 40s. weekly. The women and children are chiefly employed in manufacturing cotton and silk, and earn from 10d. to 4s. weekly. Common labourers have 10s. and 10s. 6d. a week in summer, and in winter 8s. Hands cannot easily be procured in winter. There are 152 ale-houses, and 51 friendly societies, the number of members in which is limited to 41 or 51. There is a society called the Charitable Society, formed to relieve such cases as cannot be reached by general laws, such as relief of strangers in distress, or persons labouring under temporary disease, or other casual misfortune, either in loans or donations or both, the small annual subscriptions to Sunday schools, and in a few instances to the payment for the education of children of poor and deserving families. The society was founded by Quakers and has been principally under their management, though joined by many others. The subscription is 1s. (or 6d. at the pleasure of the subscriber) a month. The average rent of land is about £3 an acre. A modus is paid in lieu of tithes. The Workhouse is surrounded by other buildings, mostly much higher, so that the free current of air is completely obstructed. The rooms are close, and the beds partly of flocks, and partly of straw. A few more beds have been ordered, as in the summer 3 and sometimes 4 persons are obliged to sleep in one bed. This may probably be the reason why vermin prevail here, though the floors, staircases, etc., seem to be kept clean. A spotted fever rages in the house. There are 168 pauper inmates, viz., 42 boys between 6 months and 14 years, 35 girls under 20, 30 men from 20 to 60, and 61 women from 20 to 80. Among the above are 8 bastards, 456 weekly outpensioners receive £23 2s. 6d. weekly, and about £11 weekly are paid to casual Poor. The earnings are trifling. Most of the women are employed in nursing the young children, and few men who are able to work enter the house. The earnings, therefore, are chiefly from the children who work at the cotton mills, and amount to rather more than £60 a year.
  Bill of fare: Breakfast—Sunday, Tuesday, Friday, milk pottage; Monday, Wednesday, Saturday, water gruel; Thursday, bread and gruel. Dinner—Sunday, Tuesday, Friday, broth, beef and potatoes; Monday, Wednesday, Saturday, cold meat, broth and potatoes ; Thursday, puddings and sauce made of water, flour, alegar and sugar. Supper-every day except Thursday, bread and beer; Thursday, bread, cheese and beer. The average weekly consumption per head is 4lb. meat 31 pints beer. About 70 stone of second flour, at 2s. 6d. the stone, are made into bread weekly. About 11oz brown bread are allowed each grown person for supper, and about 2/3 of a pint of beer. 5 pecks of potatoes, at 9d. per peck, are used daily on meat days. About a bush. oatmeal weekly. Children and sick persons are often indulged with puddings and flour hasty puddings. At Thursday's supper about 2¾. of cheese are allowed each adult, and a proportionate quantity to children. Certificates are not willingly granted, about 4 or 5 in a year. There are about 14 removals a year, of which one or two are contested. Several small donations amounting to about £80 a year, are distributed annually to such Poor as do not otherwise receive parochial assistance. The other parishes are burdened with Poor in nearly the same proportion. Some years back it was proposed to erect a House of Industry for all the parishes, but differences of opinion and discordancy of interest caused the scheme to fail. The rates which in 1795 were 4s. 4d. on houses, and 10s. on land, have risen rapidly in recent years. No satisfactory reason could be assigned, as the principal stocking manufacturers say the war has not materially affected them, as their chief export is to America. The rise is generally attributed to the high price of provisions, the scarcity of common labour, and the great number of soldiers and militia men's wives and families who have lately become burdensome to the parish.
  • After the Poor Law Amendment Act reforms of 1834, the Nottingham Poor Law Union formally came into being on 6th July 1836 to serve the conurbation of Nottingham. For more on the history of this Union, see the Peter Higganbotham website.
  • The Union initially served the three parishes in the town: Saint Mary's, Saint Nicholas and Saint Peter.
  • The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 50,680 comprising St Mary (39,539), St Peter (5,447) and St Nicholas (5,694).
  • The average annual poor-rate expenditure for the period 1833-35 had been £11,150 or 4s.5d. per head.
  • The Board of Guardians met every Tuesday at 9:30 am.
  • The town of Nottingham was hard-hit by a slump in the hosiery trade in 1836 and a general recession as a result of inexpensive foreign goods competing with British products.
  • The new Nottingham Union took over the existing St. Mary's parish workhouse at the west side of York Street with Absalom BARNETT being appointed Clerk to the Union and Workhouse Master.
  • The St. Nicholas parish workhouse was pressed into service as a hospital.
  • By 1939, the Poor Law Commissioners had decided that the long-term need was for Nottingham to erect a large new workhouse able to house at least 800 inmates. Construction began in 1840 in York Street. But resistance to the new Poor Law changes was strong in Nottingham and caused some problems. It was not until late 1841 that the new workhouse was open for use.
  • Inspection reports from this early period remind one of stories from Charles Dickens' books. The crowding and minimal care appear abusive.
  • The York Street workhouse was demolished in 1896 so that Victoria Station could be built in that location. A replacement workhouse was built in 1898-1903 at Bagthorpe, next to the city isolation hospital and sanatorium. In the gap between 1896 and 1898 several empty lace-making factories were used as tremporary housing for the inmates.
  • The Bagthorpe workhouse could house 1,791 inmates and had its own infirmary.
  • This workhouse became the Nottingham Poor Law Institution, but in 1937 was renamed Valebrook Lodge.
  • In 1929, the Poorlaw Union concept was abandoned and the government began to introduce direct assistance via the county council in 1930.
  • The infirmary building was renamed the City Infirmary in 1930, then City Hospital in 1937. The workhouse was included in the complex in 1948 and became known as City Hospital South in 1948 during the inaguration of the National Health Service. In 1951 it became Sherwood Hospital until 1983. Most of the workhouse buildings were recently demolished, but some remain as part of Nottingham City Hospital.
  • In 1880, the Radford Poorlaw Union was dissolved and its member parishes joined the Nottingham Union. The old Radford workhouse was thereafter used as a school and training institution.


  • Maurice CAPLAN, "In the Shadow of the Workhouse," 82 pages, Univ. of Nottingham, 1985, ISBN-13: 978-0902031982. Price around $US 23.00.


  • The Poorlaw Union was the census Registration District from 1841 through 1921. It made sense to use an existing political structure to manage the census.

District Population



  • Jeremy GIBSON in his "Poor Law Union Records" Vol 2 reports that the Death Registers have survived for 1890 - 1926 and for the Infirmary for 1908-1920. These would be at the Notts Archives office.
  • Guardians' minute books (1883-95); Admissions and discharges (1856-1920); Deaths (1851-2, 1861-2, 1864-85, 1890-1926); Creed registers (1881-1942 with gaps); etc..

Staff and officers

  • 1841: Mr. A. BARNETT, workhouse master.
  • 1881: Richard Doble KENT, workhouse master; Hannah KENT, matron; Edward Dobson MORLEY, clerk to the Guardians; Rev. William LITTLE, chaplain; Thomas WORTH, medical officer; Richard Doble KENT, workhouse master; Hannah KENT, matron; Edwin GREEN, schoolmaster; Emma ALLWOOD, schoolmistress.