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Image Album - The Poor

IoE number 465075 © Mr Steve Novak This selection of images will be relevant for:

  • KS3 History study unit 'Britain 1750 -1900'
  • QCA unit 12, Community Involvement
  • SHP A1 'Britain c1815 - c1850', The Poor
  • SHP C1 'History around Us'
  • KS3 Citizenship unit 1c.


You can use the image album in your classroom in a variety of ways:

  • The images can be dramatically displayed for whole class teaching on a whiteboard or copied onto acetates and projected on an OHP.
  • You can print out individual images or captions or copy them into a worksheet of your own design.
  • Pupils could do further research and show their findings in a presentation illustrated with these images.

For more ideas on using this image album in the classroom and useful sources... click here
To find more images on this topic by using the advanced search here.
For 'How to Guides' on searching or using images here

IoE number 299296

© Mr Cyril Selby LRPS, LMPA

Fifteenth century Priest's House Itchingfield, West Sussex

Almshouses have provided sheltered accommodation for people who are elderly, poor and infirm from the twelfth century, when monks began to look after them in monasteries and later in separate hospital buildings.

Churches continued to be sources of relief for the poor. This tiny building was once used as an almshouse.

IoE number 085057

© Lord Brain

Row of four almshouses, Moretonhampstead, Devon

During Tudor and Stuart times almshouses were generally built and maintained by the powerful Craft Guilds or endowed by wealthy individuals in their wills.

Almost all of the hospitals founded by monasteries were destroyed at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s and 40s.



IoE number 151269

© Mr KM Walker LRPS

Former Parish Poor House, Upton-on-Severn, Worcestershire

In the late sixteenth century individual parishes became responsible for looking after their poor. Each parish appointed an Overseer of the Poor to collect the poor rate from householders and distribute it to the needy.

Accommodation was sometimes provided for destitute paupers who were unable to work, often in existing houses adapted for the purpose.


IoE number 286298

© Mr Derek Routen

Poor House, Framlingham Castle, Suffolk

From 1662 parishes only had to support people if that parish was their official place of settlement, generally where they were born. Overseers' account books can be found in archives and show regular payments for transport to remove paupers back to their own parish.

Larger, often purpose-built, poor houses or workhouses were built in the eighteenth century, sometimes serving several parishes. Some include training schools for children, a 'hospital' for the elderly and a house of correction where poor but able bodied people were trained and made to work.


IoE number 185881

© Mr K. Foster LRPS

Former Preston Union Workhouse, Lancashire.

In 1834 the New Poor Law was introduced based on a system of 'Union' workhouses serving collections of parishes and often built in isolated positions on the outskirts of towns. The workhouses were designed to strictly segregate different types of inmate.

People were no longer able to get 'out-door' relief but were only offered support if they entered the workhouse .This was called the 'Test' and was imposed to deter people from asking for relief unless they had absolutely no alternative.

There was strong opposition to the 'Test' in the North where factories faced frequent closures due to slumps in trade causing temporary unemployment. Eventually workhouses were allowed to give 'out-door' relief in return for labour. This workhouse in Preston was openend in 1865, after a delay of thirty years caused by local opposition.

IoE number 317969

© Mr Chris Pocock FRPS

Workhouse, now hospital, High Street, Purton, North Wiltshire

This workhouse, built for Cricklade and Wootton Bassett Union in 1837, was a much more modest, low-cost building based on one of several off the peg 'models' of workhouse provided by the central Poor Law Authority.

Living conditions in the new workhouses were designed to be less comfortable than those that the poorest working people would enjoy at home. A monotonous daily regime; comfortless surroundings; the barest essentials of food, clothing and heating; the loss of freedom and privacy and the separation of married couples and family groups all combined to make them as unattractive as possible.

IoE number 431529

© Mr Edward Parrott

Workhouse, now Northleach Hospital, Cotswolds, Gloucestershire.

Another version of the same model, the interiors also had a standard layout, including boys' and girls' schoolrooms, a boardroom for the Guardians, accommodation for men and women in separate blocks, kitchen and dining areas. Outside there were workshops, stables and cells for vagrants.

It was considered very important to separate the 'deserving' poor; children and the elderly, from the 'undeserving' able bodied men and women who it was felt should be able to work and support themselves.

IoE number 421078

© Mr Trevor Cowans

Colchester Workhouse, now St Albright's Hospital, Colchester, Essex.

Colchester workhouse was built in 1837 to another approved plan with a less austere appearance.

This plan was like a wheel with a raised building at the hub to enable the masters and matrons to watch and supervise the inmates, particularly in the outside excercise yards, also segregated.


IoE number 206907

© Mr Alan Simpson LRPS

Chapel to former West Ham Union Workhouse, now Langthorne Hospital, Leytonstone, Greater London.

Under the Old Poor Law, workhouse inmates had been allowed to go to services in the local churches. This was not allowed after 1834.

Initially services were held in the workhouses, generally in the dining room.

From the 1840s some Unions began to build separate chapels like this one. It was not compulsory and finance was generally raised by voluntary contributions with inmates sometimes used as labour. They were generally rather plain and inexpensive buildings with separate entrances for males and females.


IoE number 217087

© Mr David R. Grounds LRPS

Aston Union Cottage Homes, Erdington, Birmingham

In the late 19th and early 20th century it was decided that separate buildings were needed for isolating sick people or housing children away from the bad influence of adult inmates. Some workhouses were redesigned and others completely rebuilt on new, out of town, sites

Birmingham built these Cottage Homes for children in 1898 set among gardens. They lived in groups of 20 or 30 in an environment designed to be more homely. Most were not orphans and spent short, but often frequent, periods of time in the homes when their parents were unable to support them.


IoE number 188899

© Mr Brian Arnold

Countesthorpe Cottage Homes and School, Countesthorpe, Leicestershire

Children in cottage homes were given a basic education. The boys were taught a trade and girls were trained to be servants. They were generally found jobs when they left.

In the nineteenth century they were usually educated in a school provided on the site, like this one. Later it was thought to be better if they mixed with other children in a local school.


IoE number 378371

© Mr D.R. Smith LRPS


Holy Trinity Almshouses, Heath Town, Wolverhampton

The tradition of providing almshouses continued alongside the workhouse system and still continues.

This terrace of six almshouses was built around 1850 at the expense of a local benefactor, and was closely associated with Holy Trinity Church. After standing empty and vandalised for many years they were restored in the 1990s to be used again as sheltered housing.

IoE number 465075

© Mr Steve Novak

Former Leeds New Workhouse, Sheepscar, Leeds, Yorkshire

In 1930 the Poor Law was abolished. In 1948 the newly formed National Health Service acquired most of the old workhouses. Many larger workhouses had good infirmaries already and became general hospitals; others became specialist hospitals for the mentally ill or for eldery people.

They were often unpopular. Although they had changed their names and status, many were still run by the same staff and seemed little different on a day to day basis. To local people they retained the stigma of the workhouses they once were.

With the recent moves to care in the community and private homes for the elderly, many of these buildings are no longer needed. Some stand empty or have been demolished. Some, like this building, one of the most elaborate and expensive workhouses ever built, have found new uses as a museum, office block or housing.

Ideas for using these images in the classroom
  • Use these images either to introduce work on The Poor or as revision.
  • In the 1840s many Poor Law Guardians were debating whether or not to build a church. Assemble the arguments for and against and show them as a chart or power point presentation. Alternatively debate the issue in a group assuming the role of Guardians with different views.
  • Investigate how children were looked after under the Old Poor Law, New Poor Law and Public Welfare systems. What were the different measures used and underlying motives behind each system? What were the advantages and disavantages of each and which do you believe were best for the children ?
    • Use this chart to present your findings
      System Accommodation Education Motives Advantages Disadvantages
      Old Poor Law          
      New Poor Law          
      Post 1930          
  • For more information on the buildings featured;
    • Read the list description by following the link on the image or searching on the Images of England number.
    • Try putting the name of the building into a search engine such as Google
    • Visit the History of the Workhouse website
  • To find workhouses in your local area;
  • To search nationally for sources visit the A2A website and search under Poor Law [NB you will need to refine your search]
  • For more detailed information contact your local archives who may have a list of their sources relating to workhouses or some pages on their website.Click here to find your local archives
  • Visit Wolverhampton Archives & Local Studies website for a wealth of local and general information on workhouses
  • If you visit your local archives look for the following sources;
    • for a workhouse plan look at a large scale Ordnance Survey map
    • for lists of inmates look at the census
    • for daily life look for a Workhouse Masters Journal
    • for attitudes to the Poor look at Poor Law Guardians minute books
    • for the old Poor Law look at account books of Overseers of the Poor
    • for detail of workhouse design and local attitudes look for workhouse committee minute books
  • For more ideas for classroom activities based on The New Poor Law see the National Archives Learning Curve website
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Please note that the inclusion of a listed building on this website does not mean it is open to the public.