Skip Navigation • Access Keys • Frequently Asked Questions •

Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

Overseers' Accounts

Information about Overseers' Accounts in Durham County Record Office.

The Poor Law was established by Acts of 1597 and 1601, and placed responsibility for the poor in the hands of the parish with churchwardens or parish overseers collecting poor rates and allocating relief.

Overseers of the poor were appointed in each parish. They had the responsibility for collecting poor rates from occupiers of land and property, and for using the money to relieve the destitute, apprentice poor children, and set the able-bodied unemployed to work.

You will find details of payments to pauper families in the accounts of the parish where they were legally settled and not where they were living. Many disputes over who was responsible for maintenance were held in Quarter Sessions Courts.

The Overseers were supposed to keep accounts of the money they had spent on poor relief. Many paupers received payments for food, clothing, rent, fuel, medicines, medical care, coffins and funeral expenses. Overseers also paid travel expenses for journeys undertaken on behalf of the parish and for the transport of paupers in and out of the parish. They also made payments to unmarried mothers, wives of militia and strangers passing through the parish.

These records were usually kept in the Parish Chest and have been transferred to the Record Office. Search the Catalogue and type overseers accounts in the Keywords box. .

You will find more information on the history of the Poor Law on the The Workhouse website.