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The 1601 Act for the Relief of the Poor made the parishes legally responsible for looking after their own poor. The parish collected a poor-rate tax from property owners. Poor relief was mainly given in money or food to those living in their own homes and known as outdoor relief. However, the workhouse gradually began to evolve as an alternative both as an economy measure and as a deterrent. The able-bodied were required to work, usually without pay, in return for their board and lodging.
To minimise costs parish officials wanted to support only those who had a legal claim. The Law of Settlement Act of 1662 gave the Overseers of the Poor the right to remove any ‘strangers’ unwilling to work. Rigorous examinations were held to determine place of residence. The surviving records provide one of the few sources of biographical information on the poorest inhabitants.
The first Kensington workhouse was built on Butt’s Field, now Palace Gate, a gift from Campden Charities. Sir Hans Sloane donated a site adjacent to the burial ground on Dovehouse Green, Chelsea for this purpose.
The Overseers record of the examination of Sarah Turner in 1792
Diet sheet for St Luke's Workhouse, Chelsea of c.1833