The Old Poor Law, i.e. the law before the 1834 Act, had been codified in the later Elizabethan period and was a parish-based system for the relief of the poor, funded by a rate levied on local rate payers. The system allowed for in-relief, where paupers could be cared for in almshouses or workhouses, although neither institution was compulsory, or out-relief, where the pauper was maintained in his or her home. Concerns about the cost of this system increased in the early years of the 19th century and a new system was set up under the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.
The 1834 Act abolished out-relief for able- bodied paupers and required them to go to the workhouse for relief. Conditions in the work houses would be made deliberately worse than the meanest conditions on the outside to discourage the poor from asking for relief. The Act also called for parishes to form themselves into Poor Law Unions and for each union to establish a workhouse to which those in need of relief would be sent.
The Act actually had little impact on Southampton because a local Act of 1773 had already created an incorporation of parishes and a Board of Guardians, and although the central Poor Law Commission created by the 1834 Act was empowered to make rules and regulations for towns possessing local acts, they initially had little power of enforcement. 1773 also saw Southampton replace the old workhouse in St John’s Hospital in French Street with a new purpose built workhouse in St Mary Street.
The 1773 Act, which led to a doubling of the poor rate, caused a certain amount of political conflict in the town. In the 1790s the opposition sought to repeal the Act, and accused the corporation of using its influence with the Board of Guardians to add to the poor rates many expenditures which ought to have been met from its own revenues.

see also

Further reading:
History of Southampton Vol 1, by A. Temple Patterson, p55-56, 175. (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol 2, by A. Temple Patterson, p30-31, 96-100. (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol 3, by A. Temple Patterson, p55-56, 175. (HS/h)
The Civil Wars of Southampton, by Anon. (HS/h)


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