Chelsea, Middlesex, London
Up to 1834
On 3rd February, 1727, the officers of St Luke's Parish, Chelsea, agreed that "the Churchwardens be empowered to take, with all convenient speed, a proper house upon lease, in the name of this parish, for the use of the Poor." In 1734, three-quarters of an acre of land was donated by Sir Hans Sloane for St Luke's workhouse. The first building was erected in 1737 at the north side of the King's Road opposite Conduit Court. A substantial proportion of those entering the workhouse were doing so because of health reasons, and established St Luke's role as a hospital.
Some valuable material on the operation of the poor law and workhouse in Chelsea in the 18th century comes through some transcriptions of original records made by Tim Hitchcock, which he has very kindly allowed to be included here. These are:
- Judgments of settlement and bastardy examinations from 1733-1750
- Workhouse admissions and discharges from 1733-1799
The workhouse site is shown on the 1830 map below, at the east side of Arthur Street (now Dovehouse Street).
Following the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, St Luke's was initially part of the Kensington Poor Law Union. However, it separated in 1841 and St Luke's Chelsea Parish Board was constituted.
A new workhouse was erected on the Arthur Street site in around 1843. It initially consisted of a T-shaped block. Additional blocks fronting onto Britten Street were added around 1860. In 1902-3, two ward blocks were added to the south, together with Guardians' offices which fronted onto the King's Road.
The Chelsea workhouse infirmary, erected in 1872 to a design by Giles and Gough, stood to the north of the workhouse at the south side of Cale Street.
An unusually lyrical depiction of workhouse is given by Chelsea Workhouse: A Bible Reading (Our Poor) painted in 1877 by James Charles. The picture shows a group of elderly female inmates sitting at a table, bathed in sunshine. Some drink tea while one of their number reads from the bible.
A garden at the south of the workhouse, formerly a graveyard, was used as an airing ground for elderly inmates as shown in the 1907 illustration below. Many of the old tombstones were still standing, with others used as flagstones. The men wore distinctive red caps.
The London County Council took over the workhouse and infirmary in 1930. The buildings have now been demolished.
Chelsea Casual Wards
Chelsea erected causal wards for vagrants on Milman's Street in 1893-4. The building was designed by the firm of A and C Harston.
These, together with all the capital's other casual wards, were taken over in 1912 by the Metropolitan Asylums Board.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.
The Ancestry website has two collections of London workhouse records:
- The London Workhouse Admission and Discharge Records (1738-1930) are searchable by name.
- The Poor Law and Board of Guardian Records, 1430-1930 are more extensive but only provide browsable page images.
- The FindMyPast website has workhouse / poor law records for Westminster.
- London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R OHB. Holdings for Chelsea include: Admissions and discharges (1872-1930); Creed registers (181914-27); Bastardy orders (1873-77); Registers of deserted women and children (1882-98); Guardians' minute books (1841-1930); etc.
Unless otherwise indicated, this page () is copyright Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.