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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 studies. 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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