Establishing the poor law unions under the New Poor Law
This chapter studies the role of the Assistant Poor Law Commissioners who implemented the legislation after the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed in August 1834. Over 650 poor law unions were created: these unions were groups of contiguous parishes which became the bodies responsible for the provision of poor relief in their area. The unions were not set up immediately but were progressively rolled out across England and Wales. To achieve this the government established a central Poor Law Commission, which, in turn, employed over thirty Assistant Poor Law Commissioners to manage the implementation of this new welfare system. The process for creating and establishing the unions was without precedent and despite the ideology of creating a welfare system that was uniform throughout England and Wales, the resultant unions varied hugely in respect of size, population and the groups who managed them. The Assistant Commissioners played an important role in implementing and establishing the New Poor Law in its early years, but their contribution to shaping poor law policy and poor law practice has been largely overlooked. The new administrative units they created required local management in the form of Boards of Guardians elected within the community and were responsible for welfare provision in England and Wales for almost a century.