Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries an Act was passed ‘For Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars’ [Henry VIII 27 c 25. 1536] and for the first time relief of the poor was vested in the parish. The Act’s main provisions were:


  • Vagrancy outlawed and all vagabonds to return to their place of birth or dwelling and be set to work
  • Encouraged ‘voluntary’ alms to be collected weekly in each Parish

This was followed in 1547 with an Act of Edward VI that required that weekly Collections were to be made for the poor, and 1552 with another Act that set-up the basic organisation and systems of poor relief in the Parishes.


In 1572 an Act of Elizabeth I repealed all the previous poor law Acts and gave each parish new responsibities:


  • To provide for its own aged, impotent and sick poor

  • To appoint Overseers of the Poor with the power to assess the parish poor rate

  • To make refusal to work for lawful wages or work provided by the Overseers a punishable offence.


From 1597 parishes were permitted to levy a compulsory poor rate. 


The Poor Law Act of 1601 divided the poor into 3 categories: able-bodied and willing to work, able-bodied and unwilling to work, and unable to work.  It also provided that in each parish two or more substantial landholders should act as Overseers of the Poor, together with the churchwardens, and collect the poor rate. This Act remained largely unaltered until the Reform Act of 1834.


The documentation created by the Overseers of the Poor between 1601 and 1834 is invaluable to the family historian, but their survival is very patchy. Fortunately, Overseers’ Accounts for Ellerton survive, covering the years 1801-1829 and 1837-1886.


To give a flavour of what can be found inside these account books I have transcribed a few sample scans from the first account book.


The transcripts have been grouped under three headings:


1: The Cover of the Poor Book, and Miscellaneous entries


2: Disbursements, 1801-1808, 1821, and 1828


3: Assessments, 1802-1808, 1829


The Disbursements record all payments of poor relief, and often not directly to the pauper concerned, but rather to the landlord for rent, or to the coalman for coal, etc.


The Assessments are particularly useful, as all householders of the parish, whether owner or tenant, were required to pay the assessment.