Caring for the Lewes Poor

Care for the Lewes Poor can be divided into three broad time periods:

  1. Medieval, to the dissolution  (responsibility of the church, paid for through tithes)
  2. Dissolution to 1834 (responsibility of the parish, paid for by poor rates)
  3. 1834 to the Welfare State (responsibility of Poor Law Unions, paid for by rates)

1. Medieval period

  • Presumably in Lewes the religious houses took on this role.
  • Some evidence for hospitals related to the Priory in Lewes & Southover.
  • Did South Malling College play this role in Cliffe & South Malling?
  • Sources: to be identified.

2. Dissolution to 1834 – the Old Poor Law

  • The seven parishes that make up modern Lewes each had this responsibility.
  • Within a broad national framework, each parish made its own arrangements.
  • Each parish chose two overseers of the poor, each year.
  • Much depends on the survival of records, which is very variable between parishes.
  • Sources: ESRO-held records are good for some Lewes parishes, poor or absent for others.

3. 1834 to the Welfare State – The New Poor Law and the Lewes Union

  • 1835-1898 The Lewes Union (7 parishes).
  • Initially used the former Cliffe, All Saints & St Anne’s parish workhouses.
  • A new Union workhouse was built in 1868, De Montfort Road.
  • 1898 merger of Lewes Union, Chailey Union & 3 parishes of West Firle Union.
  • Chailey Union workhouse (later Pouchlands Hospital) used by the new mega-Union.
  • Union appears to end c.1930.
  • Sources:
    • ESRO has Guardians’ minutes 1835-1930
    • Union general ledgers 1835-1928
    • Inmates lists from 1917
    • Workhouses appear in censuses and local directories
    • Union activities are reported in local newspapers

Current activities

We are reviewing the available sources to identify priority projects in this area.
If you have studied this area yourself, or know of others who have, please contact us using the form below.


Ann Holmes, Presentation at a Lewes History Group Meeting, 14 March 2011: All change or more of the same? Life for the paupers of Lewes after the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.

John Kay, Presentation at a Lewes History Group Meeting, 21 February 2011:  Settlement Records in Lewes Parish Chests, and Presentation  slides

Researchers: Ann Holmes, John Kay