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In a Minute

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that minute books of businesses, councils and other organisations are prominent in the records received by the Archives Service last year. Perhaps unfairly, these kinds of records are perceived as dull and are often overlooked by researchers.

However, minute books are the only surviving record we have of Woburn Poor Law Union & Workhouse. Unlike other Unions there are no admission & discharge registers, or registers of out—relief. The series runs from 1835 to 1902. The volumes covering 1835—1865 were indexed by the clerk, but the remainder had no index at all.

We have now completed indexing the five volumes 1866—1902 for references to Union staff and the people in need in the district receiving ‘out-relief’ - payments made to them in hard times. A few inmates of the workhouse are also mentioned by name. Unfortunately, the Woburn Poor Law Union minute books are too rich in detail to index under every subject and personal name. We have not indexed Board members—prominent local citizens who are easy to trace in myriad other records—or the local business men who tendered for workhouse contracts. The Board met approximately every two weeks. The content of the minutes may include: List of Board members attending; expenditure on provisions, repairs, clothing etc; summaries of rates collected from each parish; appointments of overseers, medical officers & workhouse staff; list of people receiving ‘out-relief’ in each parish and the reason for it (e.g. ‘wife sick’ or ‘truss needed’); invitations to tender for the supply of bread, meat, coffins etc for the Union with a record of whose tender was accepted; discussions on issues such as sanitation, epidemics & vaccination; reports of correspondence with other Poor Law Unions regarding settlement of people in the Union Workhouses—these often include people originally from the Woburn area now living elsewhere in the country; measures taken to obtain payment for inmates from their relatives; measures taken to apprehend men & women who had deserted their families.

Researchers tracing their family tree who have used the admission & discharge registers and creed registers (recording religious denomination but also dates of arriving & leaving the workhouse) may therefore find it worth their while to check the minute books of their respective Union to see if the family received assistance in other ways. Not all Union minute books are the same—the details recorded vary depending on the diligence of the Clerk who recorded the meeting!

The indexes will be available in the searchroom and searchable by name via our online database ref. PUWM.