Launch of Prison History Online Database in Nottingham 6th July

Rosalind Crone is a lecturer in history at The Open University.
Prison History ( is a database which contains information on nearly 850 penal institutions which existed in 19th century England, including around 420 local prisons and 380 lock ups. For each institution, there is information about its operational dates, jurisdiction, location, population statistics, the primary and secondary sources which mention it, and a list of all the relevant and surviving archival documents which we have been able to find in repositories based in England. On accessing Prison History, users can either search for specific prisons or various types of prisons, or browse the lists of archival materials that we recovered.

One of the core aims of Prison History is to emphasise the importance of the local prison (and lock ups) in nineteenth-century society. It is an institution that has been largely neglected in the major studies of nineteenth-century imprisonment and I think it is time to redress the imbalance. To do that, I need help from local historians. My hope is that Prison History will be a useful resource for local historians, and also that local historians will want to get involved with this project, to help make the database an even better tool for local history, and, through emphasising the importance of prisons within nineteenth-century communities, to demonstrate the importance of local history research.

We have just soft launched Prison History in advance of the formal launch date on 6 July. I would be very grateful if you could circulate details of the resource to your members. I have a promotional flyer which I could email to you for circulation, or I could send you some copies in the post. We have also put a survey for local historians on the website to collect feedback – thoughts about the design of the site, and opinions on how develop the resource in the near future – it would be wonderful if some of your members were keen to complete the survey. There is a ‘submit feedback’ button on the website, or the survey can be accessed via this link:

Finally, we are holding an event at the National Justice Museum in Nottingham on 6 July to launch Prison History. It is free to attend. All the details, including the programme, can be found here: but I would also be very happy to email you a copy of the event notice for distribution, if that would be easier. We would be so delighted if one or more of the members of your society were able to attend.

A Family Historian’s Gold Mine?

Poor Law records aren’t necessarily the most obvious place to start when researching family history and often end up under-used. However, they can provide a wealth of information on people’s pauper relatives. As parishes were forced to accept responsibility for their own poor, in-depth examinations and disputes as to which parish a person belonged to regularly appear in the records. These documents can therefore provide a level of detail about a person or people you won’t be able to find in any other sources…

Shropshire Family History Society’s committee has pledged to half fund an intern at Shropshire Archives from March to November 2018.  Meriel Lees has been appointed and working part time since November last and has agreed to extend her hours to work on a project of our choosing, in collaboration with Shropshire Archives.  This is Meriel’s first posting to her blog covering the project.

Where I come in – Project Aims
As the new intern in the archives, over the next few months I’m going to be working on a project exploring the ways in which family historians can use Old Poor Law records. As part of this, I’ll be updating research guides and search aids and putting together a case study to show how a family can be traced through the different types of sources. By doing this, hopefully I’ll be able to encourage historians to take a second look at these remarkable sources of information!

The main sources for the Old Poor Law are:

  • Overseers’ records – overseers of the poor were appointed to oversee the distribution of poor relief in their parish, records include appointments, accounts and rate books
  • Settlement and removal orders – designed to establish the legal settlement of a pauper and remove said pauper back to his own parish to receive poor relief, useful for tracking movement from parish to parish
  • Bastardy examinations and bonds – where possible, authorities attempted to find out the paternity of illegitimate children and make the father pay maintenance money for his child rather than bear the burden of both mother and child as a parish
  • Quarter Session records – as the main judicial court for the county, if someone chose to dispute or appeal again a removal or bastardy order, their case was often heard by the Quarter Sessions
  • Apprenticeship indentures – these records give details of pauper children apprenticed to local traders, as it was hoped that by teaching them a specific trade, they would not need to claim poor relief in the future

Apprenticeship Indenture

Apprenticeship Indenture of John Bolas in husbandry, 1714 P20/L/3/1

The bad news – survival is inconsistent. Like so many historical sources, the survival of the Old Poor Law documents varies wildly from parish to parish and while you may be lucky in your search, it can be frustrating to discover gaps in the records.

Even if you don’t have proven pauper ancestors these sources can be surprisingly informative. For example…
As the poor were the parish’s responsibility, parishioners are sometimes called on to give evidence in settlement examinations.
If you have ancestors who lived beyond the age of sixty, they may have claimed poor relief in their old age.
For labourers and their families who lived from hand to mouth, travelling for work, a settlement certificate would have been one of the most important documents they owned, acting as a form of insurance if they fell ill or were injured in an accident.
It should also be remembered that those involved with the administration of the Poor Law were certainly not paupers and much information can be found out about these officials from the records.

If you can trace your family this far back, a lot of the Old Poor Law records are already listed with the names of those concerned on our online catalogue, so are definitely worth a look. If you find anything of interest, they can then be viewed in our search room.

Hopefully this has given you food for thought on the potential value and usefulness of the Poor Law sources out there. Check back in the next few weeks for more information on how I’m getting on with the project!

Written by Meriel


Meriel’s Blog can be found at:




Start of a run of events we are attending

26th May, The Shropshire County Agricultural Show, Showground, Berwick Road, Shrewsbury, SY1 2PF
2nd June, our own Shropshire FHS Fair, The Shirehall, Shrewsbury, SY2 6ND
23rd June, The Family History Show, York Racecourse, York, YO23 1EX
30th June, The South West Area Group Family History Day, STEAM – Museum of the Great Western Railway, Fire Fly Avenue (off Kemble Drive), Swindon, Wiltshire, SN2 2EY.
2nd Aug, Burwarton Show, The Showground, Cleobury North, WV16 6RP

For more info on all these events click here

Saturday 3rd March

Just to clarify that Shropshire Family History Society will NOT be attending any events today as both Wellington and Llanfyllin events have been called off.
Keep an eye out for lists of the varied list of our travels for 2018.

Member's Interests now working again

Following a lot of hair-tearing, the Member's Interests section of our web-site is now working again.


If the email field shows up as blank, that unfortunately means we have not been supplied with an email address to display for that member.

Winter Meetings now under way

We've already had 2 meetings this season, did you miss them?
Why not pop along on Tuesday 21 November for:-

Subject - "The Life & Times of a British Soldier during the Anglo Boer War"
Speaker - Graham Bradbury (ex SFHS Chairman)

More info

National Library of Wales Family & Local History Fair Aberystwyth

This Saturday (13 May) we will be at National Library of Wales Fair. 10AM-4PM, free entry and 2 speakers. We will have our Shropshire HelpDesk with computer lookups, Local Interest Books, Maps and our own Data CDs for sale, come along and see us there.
More info


Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 6-8 April

Crikey, that has crept up on us, @WDYTYALIVE is Thu/Fri/Sat this week, see us @ShropshireFHS there on Stands 19/20. Will we see you there?

2017 Fairs and Show List

You may have gathered from stuff popping up, that we are starting to organise the Fairs and Show we will be attending in 2017.
Currently we are going to:-
4 Mar - Montgomeryshire Genealogical Society Open Morning @ Chirbury Village Hall
4 Mar - Wellington Community History Day @ All Saints Centre, Wellington (Yes 2 on same day!)
6-8 Apr - WhoDoYouThinkYouAre?Live @ NEC, Birmingham
13 May - Family & Local History Fair @ National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
3 Jun - Our own Shropshire FHS Family History Fair @ Shirehall, Shrewsbury
24 Jun - Yorkshire Family History Fair @ York Racecourse
3 Aug - Burwarton Show @ Cleobury North Showground
16 Sep - Peak District U3A Conference @ Palace Hotel, Buxton
24 Sep - London Family History Fair @ Sandown Racecourse, Esher
Some more may be added and it is just possible some may need to be removed from our calendar but follow us on Facebook or check out our events for the latest news.

Shropshire FHS in Family Tree Magazine

August edition of Family Tree Magazine UK is out now and contains a 2 page spread on Shropshire FHS, this is the first in a series "Spotlight on...", so we are honoured to have been chosen.

Front Cover:-

Deliberately blurry view of article:-