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A guide to searching for death and burial records in Southwark

Poor Law burials

If you became sick, disabled, widowed or unemployed in the 16th century, then you would have been forced to find financial help from an Overseer of the Poor who would have worked on behalf of the parish to help with financial aid. The Poor Law Act of 1601 established a system of collecting the Poor Law rate from well-off residents in the parish. In 1834 an amendment to the Poor Law Act saw a much more evolved and organised system of administration. Parishes were now assembled into Poor Law Unions, which in turn elected a Board of Guardians. It was the Board of Guardians who had responsibility for overseeing the care of the poor, including their residence at a workhouse or infirmary and in the case of the death of the pauper, the arrangements for burial.

Death in the workhouse

Boards of Guardians’ records frequently include registers of deaths that occurred in the workhouse, but not usually any records of burials. Burials of people who died in a London workhouse would normally have taken place in a local parish burial ground until these were closed. Subsequent burials would have taken place either in the local cemetery if there was one, or in one of the large private cemeteries outside London which entered into contracts with local authorities for the burial of the poor, Brookwood Cemetery was one such cemetery (see Section 6).

The following Poor Law records can be accessed on Ancestry.

More information on the Poor Law system and workhouses is available at www.workhouses.org.uk.

Creed registers

Creed registers are so-called because they give the religious creed or faith of each workhouse inmate. They are often easier to use to trace details of an individual than the admission and discharge books. They usually record inmates in alphabetical sections, starting with everyone with a surname beginning with 'A'; and then listing them in order of date of admission. The date of discharge or death is normally added to the admission entry. If the column for the date of discharge or death is left blank, this usually means that the person concerned was still in the workhouse when a new creed register was started. The next creed register should contain an entry for the same person under their original date of admission. This can sometimes cause confusion about the date a creed register was started.

Page last updated: 28 November 2023

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