The Peel Web
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On 23 August 1834 the three Poor Law Commissioners took the oath of office and began work, the volume of which increased rapidly. At that point, the problems of rising unemployment that invariably occurred in wintertime had not yet been encountered. However, it was decided that Assistant Commissioners should be appointed to carry out the work of establishing 'unions'.
These men were to be paid £700 a year plus expenses. Patronage was used in the making of the appointments and a military background was seen as an 'excellent qualification'. Four of the original appointees were former officers in the armed forces but as landed gentlemen, they were able to speak with local dignitaries as equals. The men who were appointed initially were:
In January 1835 a further three Assistant Commissioners were appointed to ease the burden of work. The appointment of more Assistant Commissioners meant that Edwin Chadwick no longer dominated the Poor Law Commission because the Assistant Commissioners took over the tasks of dealing with local officials and sending reports to Somerset House.
The Assistant Commissioners were sent out to form the new Poor Law Unions. They used the existing local govenment areas; they called meetings of the local landowners, magistrates, squires and other important men. The Assistant Commissioners suggested the boundaries of the Unions and then fixed them, having taken into consideration existing Gilbert's Act unions and any incorporations that had been made under local Acts. It was intended that Unions would be about equal in size, based on the market town but this idea was abandoned in the face of local opposition. The landowners had a great deal of influence in their own areas and so Unions were formed to suit their interests, leading to some oddly-shaped Unions.
The Assistant Commissioners worked from the south of England to the north, forming Unions. It was necessary for all the Unions to be established so they could act as units for the implementation of the 1837 Registration Act. Other duties of an Assistant Commissioner included:
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