Friday, 4 December 2009

Liverpool Poor Laws and Workhouse

Dear Rob,

I have been following your posts relating to the Brownlow Hill Workhouse and began wondering about the history of the Poor Laws and also Liverpool Workhouses.  Can you enlighten me further on this interesting subject.

Best wishes and many thanks for the local history lessons.
June Johnston.
Liverpool Workhouse


  1. Hello June,

    here is lesson one on Liverpool Workhouses and the Poor Laws a subject I find fascinating because there is a lot of source material available.

    The administrative history of the Poor Law can be
    divided into two periods:

    • The Old Poor Law: pre-1834 the poor were the responsibility of the parish
    • The New Poor Law: post-1834 they were the responsibility of the Poor Law

    Founded in 1732, Liverpool's first parish workhouse was erected at the corner of College Lane and Hanover Street. A new "House of Industry" was built in 1769-72 at Brownlow Hill. A parliamentary report of 1777 recorded Liverpool Borough as having a workhouse that could accommodate up to 600 inmates.

    In 1796, a fire at the workhouse destroyed one of its wings. The following year, Liverpool was the subject of a report in Eden's 1797 survey of the state of the poor in England:

    Prior to the passing of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, poor law administration in Liverpool was conducted by a body known as a Select Vestry - a parochial body which had been formed under Sturges Bourne's Act of 1819.

    Liverpool resisted the implementation of the 1834 Act, but Liverpool Poor Law Parish finally came into being in March, 1841, under a Board of Guardians. Within a year, continued petitioning led to the passing by parliament of a Local Act providing for a reversion to its being managed by a Select Vestry and continued in operation until 1922.

    The Brownlow Hill workhouse was enlarged in 1842-3 with Henry F Lockwood and Thomas Allom as architects. It grew to become one of the largest workhouses in the country with an official capacity of over 3,000 inmates but sometimes accommodating as many as 5,000.

    From Picture of Liverpool: Strangers guide Written in 1834

    The first workhouse erected in this town was situate in College-lane at the corner adjoining Hanover street; but becoming too small for the number of poor applicants, the present one which stands on Brownlow hill was erected in 1771 at the expense of £8000 - since which time it had been enlarged This extensive establishment is conducted on excellent and economical principles, each of the inmates having all of the neccessaries of life that can be reasonably required, there being a sufficient supply of plain but wholesome food and a proper quantity of warm clothing. Besides these the old people have some additional comforts. All that are not sick are employed in some trade or useful manufacture, as joiners , blacksmith's, wheelwrights, shoemakers, semptresses, knitters, spinners, &c. The boys are instructed in some trade, and the girls who are above nine years of age are taught to make straw bonnets, to knit stockings, to sew, or to weave calico's &c. By these judicious arrangements many of the evils arising from indigence are either partially or entirely obviated, particularly with regard to the junior portion of this vast family: for many of them are put out as apprentices, either in the town or some part of the country and thus become useful and in many instances respectable members of society.


    Rob Ainsworth
    Liverpool History Society

  2. i used to in work in st georges hall, in the cellers there was a lot of papers to be burnt some of these papers where invoices for blankets etc. these items came in differant grades all these invoices where from the workhouse on brownlow hill,the invoices where from firms in manchester......