West Bromwich Poor Law Union,Staffordshire
The union of West Bromwich comprises six parishes or places, and contains a population of 52,596.
From: A Topographical Dictionary of England (1848), pp. 400-405. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=50835 Date accessed: 03 April 2011.
By the end of the 17th century the vestry had emerged as the main organ of local government. Meetings were open to all ratepayers, but attendances were usually small. Sixty-seven people are recorded attending a meeting held at the parish church in April 1735 and concerned with the provision of a workhouse. Fiftythree of those present opposed the use of a levy for any other purpose than direct relief of the poor, while fourteen supported its expenditure on a workhouse. Similar numbers attended further meetings on the same subject in June and July. The figures are by far the highest for any meeting in the vestry records. The meeting-place was normally the church or the workhouse, but occasionally parishioners' houses, including the Swan, were used; in the later 1780s a vestry room was built at the church. A vestry clerk, whose duties included the keeping of the parish accounts, was appointed in 1823. In 1824 he was voted a salary.
There were two churchwardens by the earlier 16th century. In the late 17th and earlier 18th centuries both seem to have been chosen by the vestry at its meeting in Easter week; from 1736 the minister normally chose one and the inhabitants the other at the Easter vestry. A paid parish clerk occurs by the late 16th century. In 1800 he was appointed by the vestry, but at a visitation 30 years later it was stated that the minister appointed him. A beadle was appointed by the vestry by 1788.
By the early 17th century there were two highway surveyors, apparently appointed by the parish but responsible to the manor court. They were nominated by the constable at a December vestry meeting from at least 1679 until 1691. In the 1820s the vestry appointed a salaried assistant surveyor.
There were four overseers of the poor in 1599 but only two in the mid 17th century. Two then remained the usual figure. By 1740 each overseer held office for six months, but this was stopped in 1780 when the vestry ruled that 'it will be better for the parish for the overseers to go hand in hand through the year and not divide the time'. In 1708 a salaried overseer was appointed, and the use of a paid official was repeated periodically during the 18th century, notably from 1718 to 1733 when there were apparently no other overseers. In 1789, alarmed by the great increase in the rates, the vestry appointed a paid standing overseer to scrutinize strictly all applications for relief. From at least 1772 the governor of the workhouse acted as an assistant to the overseers, particularly in the collection of the rates; a paid collector was appointed in 1788, but the governor was again acting as collector between at least 1803 and 1828. By 1833 the poorrate was being collected with the other parish rates by a salaried collector.
The parish was stated in 1599 to be 'overcharged with poor to the number of threescore and more', but it was in the later 18th century that the number of paupers increased sharply. In 1789 the vestry referred to 'the numerous increase of poor' in the parish, and at the beginning of October 1798 there were 39 in the workhouse and 243 in receipt of outdoor relief. In June 1817 the numbers were 72 and 444, but in February 1820, during a period of great distress, 1,950 were receiving parish relief. In March 1832 there were 57 in the workhouse and 490 on out-door relief. Badging was resolved upon in 1766. In 1772 the governor of the workhouse was given the duty of visiting families who became chargeable as a result of sickness 'so that the overseers may not be imposed upon'. In 1775 attention was given to the removal of 'out-parishioners', and in 1780 and 1783 it was stressed that no money raised for poor relief was to be spent outside the parish. It was also ordered in 1780 that no relief was to be given outside the workhouse except in cases of sickness, accident, or old age (70 and over). The aged, however, were not to receive more than 6d. a week unless they had been 'industrious and careful in their youth'; 'disordered incurable people' were to be taken into the workhouse. From at least 1773, on the other hand, the vestry paid a doctor to attend the poor, and in the early 1780s it agreed to subscribe to the newly built Birmingham General Hospital so that paupers could be sent there. The arrangements of 1789 for scrutinizing all applications for relief have been mentioned above. In 1810 it was ordered that all receiving parish relief were, if capable, to attend at the workhouse with their children for inspection, while in 1816 anyone keeping a dog was banned from parish relief; in fact all who kept a dog were to be compelled to pay parish rates.
In the 1690s the poor may have been set to work making nails for the profit of the parish, but there was then no workhouse. In 1716 the vestry agreed to build houses for the poor on land known as the Poors Land, presumably for use as poor-houses. It established a workhouse in 1735, although there was strong opposition from one section of the inhabitants who even went to law on the matter. The building was a former nail warehouse in the present St. Clement's Lane. An extension was agreed to in 1768, and in 1771 the vestry ordered the conversion of the stables to provide more accommodation. Further extensions were necessary in 1774, and in 1777 the building was said to accommodate 100. In 1791 the erection of a boundary wall with spikes on the top was ordered to prevent the inmates from getting out. A committee set up in 1814 to consider the need for a new workhouse found the existing building completely unfit, but plans for a new building were not carried out, apparently for lack of money.
The governor of the workhouse appointed in 1772 was paid a salary of £20, but in 1784 the vestry decided instead 'to set the poor in the workhouse by the head by the week' at the rate of 2s. each. In 1788 the governor complained that this was too low because of the number of inmates who were not well enough to work, and the sum was duly raised to 2s. 3d. A new governor was appointed in 1789 at a salary of £15 with 'all reasonable maintenance, meat, drink, washing, and lodging' and maintenance for his young son if he wished. The governor appointed in 1803 was given a salary of £40.
The West Bromwich poor-law union was formed in 1836, from the Staffordshire parishes of West Bromwich, Wednesbury, and Handsworth and from Oldbury, Warley Salop, and Warley Wigorn in Halesowen (Worcs.). The parish workhouses at West Bromwich and Wednesbury were retained and enlarged; the West Bromwich workhouse as a result had accommodation for 140 paupers. In 1844 Lord Dartmouth described it as 'a disgrace to the place', and there was an unsuccessful scheme for building a workhouse at the Cronehills in 1854. In 1857, however, a new union workhouse was opened in Hallam Street; it was an extensive red-brick building designed by Briggs & Evoral. The surviving buildings form part of Hallam Hospital. In 1872 the Walsall and West Bromwich poor-law unions opened the Walsall and West Bromwich District Schools for pauper children, housed in an Elizabethan-style building at Wigmore designed by S. E. Bindley of Birmingham. It was closed in 1935.
From: 'West Bromwich: Local government', A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part) (1976), pp. 43-46. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=36162 Date accessed: 03 April 2011.
For more information on the history of the workhouse, see Peter Higginbotham's website: www.workhouses.org.uk and http://www.workhouses.org.uk/index.html?WestBromwich/WestBromwich.shtml
Contributor please provide History of the Union here
Parishes in the Union
Handsworth St Mary, Staffordshire West Bromwich St James (formerlyHill Top), Staffordshire Oldbury, Worcestershire Wednesbury St Bartholomew, Staffordshire Wednesbury St James, Staffordshire Wednesbury St John, Staffordshire West Bromwich All Saints, Staffordshire West Bromwich Christ Church, Staffordshire West Bromwich Holy Trinity, Staffordshire