In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act combined parishes into Poor Law Unions, run by Boards of Guardians. Each union was divided into districts in which a relieving officer would consider the circumstances of each person applying for help.

Able-bodied poor would be admitted to the workhouse, and those who could not work owing to ill health were supported by payments of ‘outdoor relief’.

Each Union Overseer would collect the poor rates to cover the costs of these activities from the residents of the union.

The introduction of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance between 1908 and 1911 removed much of the need for the Poor Laws.

In 1930 the administration of the Poor Laws passed to the Public Assistance Committees of local councils, and many old workhouse infirmaries were converted into hospitals at the formation of the NHS in 1948.

The Wirral Poor Law Union was formed in 1836 from 54 constituent parishes, and a workhouse was built at Spital. (Clatterbridge Hospital now stands on the site.)

The growth of Birkenhead led in 1861 to the establishment of the Birkenhead Poor Law Union, consisting of the following former Wirral Union parishes: Bidston cum Ford, Birkenhead, Claughton cum Grange, Liscard, Noctorum, Oxton, Poulton cum Seacombe, Tranmere and Wallasey. A workhouse was opened in 1863 on Derby Road, Tranmere, and this later became part of St Catherine’s Hospital.

Records held at Wirral Archives Service

Birkenhead Poor Law Union
These include:

  • Minutes from meetings of the General Board of the Poor Law Guardians and of the several committees of the Union from 1871 to 1930. These minutes contain a wealth of information about the Union’s activities and administration, and in some cases information relating to individuals.

  • Workhouse Registers, recording details of those admitted to the Birkenhead Union Workhouse. These include the ‘Creed Registers’, which record details of individuals on admission (including religious denomination), and also birth, baptism and death registers for certain years.

  • Civil registration and vaccination records. The Guardians acquired responsibilities beyond the care of the poor, including the listing of children to be vaccinated and the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths.

  • Valuation lists. The Guardians levied a poor rate to carry out their work, and so registers of valuations of properties and rate books were created. These usually list both owners and occupiers of properties.

  • Various records of the Birkenhead Poor Law Union, including letter books, accounts and statistics.

Wirral Poor Law Union
Wirral Archives Service holds a small collection of records relating to the Wirral Union workhouse at Spital (listed with the records of Clatterbridge Hospital).

The main body of records relating to the Wirral Poor Law Union is held at Cheshire Record Office. These include minutes of the Board of Guardians, miscellaneous committees and workhouse officials’ report books.