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Contextualising Poor Relief Under the Late Old Poor Law in Maldon and its Rural Hinterland

Citation: Thomas, David (2020) Contextualising Poor Relief Under the Late Old Poor Law in Maldon and its Rural Hinterland. Doctoral thesis, University of London.

This thesis analyses the provision of poor relief in selected parishes in the
borough of Maldon and its rural hinterland with particular focus on the period 1831 to
1835. Chapter 1 presents an overview of English poor relief before the 1834 Poor
Law Amendment Act and its historiography, with particular attention paid to the
debates that preceded this legislation. It raises a series of key questions to be
explored including, for example, what categories of relief expenditure existed, how
payments within these were influenced by local/regional economic and social factors
and whether this influence was confined to the parish or affected a wider area.
The second chapter considers if these questions can be satisfactorily
answered using central government records as a source. It examines their strengths
and weaknesses and considers some of the main conclusions drawn by historians in
the light of this analysis. It shows that, in general, these sources are mainly too
summarised or inaccurate to be wholly reliable and suggests that locally generated
evidence could be used to overcome the issues identified.
Chapter 3 examines how and by whom decisions over poor relief were made,
and in what social and cultural context, by investigating the structure, composition
and powers of the Maldon area’s elite. Whilst there were groupings with differing
political and religious persuasions, as a whole the elite was mainly sympathetic
towards the poor and operated the system of poor relief in a relatively unified and
consensual manner.
The local social context is complemented by a study of the nature and
fortunes of Maldon area’s economy in Chapter 4. The rural economy is considered
from both a micro perspective through the analysis of farm accounts, and for the
whole area by statistical investigation of exports from Maldon port. These analyses
reveal a number of findings, the most notable being an economic downturn caused
by the fall in the wheat price that occurred in 1834/5. Additionally, an overview of the
urban economy is provided based upon the distribution of businesses and three case
Chapter 5 and 6 present the core quantitative analysis used to investigate the
implementation of the old poor law in the district. Chapter 5 analyses the overseers’
accounts for the agricultural parish of Woodham Walter based upon a database of
every payment made, which allows the examination of poor relief expenditure by
category. It concludes that whilst some types of relief were not sensitive to changing
economic circumstances, that of ‘allowances to the able bodied’ was responsive. This
demonstrates the flawed proposition from the architects of the 1834 Poor Law
Amendment Act that there was no legitimate reason for such payments.
Page 8
Chapter 6 presents an analysis of the overseers’ accounts for the town’s
parish of St. Peter. It finds that there were similarities in the provision of relief to
Woodham Walter but, perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no obvious correlation with
the state of the local agricultural economy. Specifically, the increase in ‘allowances
to the able bodied’ observed in Woodham Walter, did not occur in the town, probably
because its economy was diverse and not wholly reliant on farming.
Chapter 7 concludes by summarising the findings of the thesis, most
importantly the profile of relief provision in Maldon and its rural environs, and how this
was affected by both social and economic factors. Also, it proposes that the
methodology used for the research could be applied using different contexts,
providing a valuable data source for the community of social and economic historians,
thereby enhancing understanding of how local/regional socio-economic conditions
affected patterns of poor relief provision.

Creators: Thomas, David and
Subjects: History
Divisions: Institute of Historical Research
Collections: Theses and Dissertations
  • 22 June 2020 (accepted)


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