First Large Corporations of the Poor set up outside London, including Exeter, Bristol, Norwich

Modelled after the London Corporation of the Poor of the Interregnum, a welfare experiment begun in 1647, the later Corporations of the Poor in Exeter, Bristol, and Norwich among others were projects between 1698 and 1712 that worked to centralize the systems of poor relief under the direction of parliament. The corporations were entrusted with the responsibility of creating and managing workhouses for the poor as well as hospitals. They involved many men forming committees to make decisions about how to allocate the money from taxes, building centralized workhouses designed to house many people and put them to work. These workhouses kept meticulous records and employed paid officials to administer the workhouses in an effort to curb discretionary charity.

The previous system of welfare in place before the corporations was the parish and the churchwardens. These parishes collected taxes from locals and redistributed them to the poor at the discretion of the churchwardens by means of face-to-face charity, unlike the corporations which distanced the people in power from the ones receiving aid. The taxes collected by the parishes had been rising and one effort of parliament was to set a ceiling on the parish tax rates. Members of parliament created the corporations as an experiment to make poor people productive members of society, minimizing the costs of their welfare. Many of the churchwardens were opposed to this new system of welfare and worked to bring down the corporations.


Carey, John. An account of the proceedings of the corporation of Bristol, in execution of the act of Parliament for the better employing and maintaining the poor of that city. F. Collins in the Old Bailey, 1700.

Slack, Paul. The English Poor Law, 1531-1782. London: MacMillan Education LTD, 1990.

Some considerations offer’d to the citizens of Bristol: relating to the Corporation for the Poor in the said city. Bristol, 1711.