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Consumption and poverty in the homes of the English poor, c. 1670-1834

Citation: Harley, Joseph (2017) Consumption and poverty in the homes of the English poor, c. 1670-1834. Social History, 43 (1). pp. 81-104. (Submitted)

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The consumer behaviour of the poor in the long eighteenth century has attracted more historical attention in recent years. Yet, we have little understanding of whether regional factors affected consumption or how the poor’s ownership of household goods was influenced by level of poverty and the life-cycle. By focusing on Kent and drawing comparisons to other counties, this article argues that the material lives of the poor were improving by the late eighteenth century, but finds that there were distinct regional differences as the poor acquired more and better goods in London and the Home Counties than in relatively remote areas. Moreover, by using pauper inventories and labourers’ probate inventories, the research finds that the poor were not a homogeneous group with similar levels of material wealth, but should be considered in terms of different subgroups which often led very different material lives to one another due to life-cycle-related problems including sickness and old age. Labourers’ probate inventories are found to represent a minority of the poor who were materially richer than most, whilst pauper inventories appear to represent a more typical subgroup of the poor that struggled to make do and owned most types of goods in smaller numbers.

Creators: Harley, Joseph (0000-0003-3267-6657) and
Official URL:
Subjects: History
Keywords: Poverty, consumption, life-cycle, labouring poor, paupers
Divisions: Institute of Historical Research
  • 19 December 2017 (accepted)
  • 19 December 2017 (published)


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