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Poverty Notes

History Notes > History of the British Isles V: 1685–1830 Notes

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1. How severe was C18th poverty?
- One could be fairly comfortable for periods, then face times of uncertainty.Local networks and family softened the blow in these times.Food prices varied, e.g. esp high 1795-6, 1800-01 ? food riots.War: "Demobilization... was usually a disaster" (Hay&Rogers).Varied according to geography and occupation: industrial people relied on markets. Country people could supplement diet with gleaning (could be 3 months' bread), farmers and landlords supplied labourers and servants with food without going through market. e.g. assuming all fams buying in mkt place would mean in 1800 in Stafford, 45% of fams would not be able to afford bread alone.People tended to go through cycles of poverty related to their life-cycle (P Slack).
- Hunger was a fairly signif problem: May 1800 Henry Legge (son of Lord Dartmouth) wrote to Home Off- 'many thousands... are all but starved'.
- However, it was improving, and was not too desperate compared to some other European countries.Famine deaths disappeared by 2nd 1/4 of century.French death rate 40% higher.
- In P King's study of pauper inventories, some families showed ev of much more colourful material world than prev thought e.g. the Tadgells, taken on death of John Tadgell, 1810 - 16 Delph plates, lookingglasses: "the house is full of colour and variety" (170). Probs with this - had they had a sudden death, with no time to hide possessions? Had John always been a labourer? Method does not go to both extremes (some too poor, some too rich to be recorded. King concludes that it provides "a fascinating insight into the relative richness of the material world of one labouring family".
- Overall, can say that there was a "wide range of material circumstances" (King) and that by the late C18th, some poor labouring families were in the mkt for household goods.Varied geographically, e.g. Forest in Hatfield Broad Oak (Essex) not enclosed until mid-C19th: contributed to making it a partic wealthy parish.King also notes that wealthier people's material inventories were growing much faster than the poor's - "it seems likely that in relative terms the labouring families of Essex were getting poorer rather than richer".

Situation could be improved through connections, fortune and work (Elliot). Meant that some MC could understand how it felt. CA: most landowners/farmers "felt little or no effect" (Elliot) even in hardest times.Food riots 1766 destroyed much property. (More complex causes?)
- Also made use of 'weapons of the weak' (animal-maiming, arson, fence and hedge breaking, damaging machines). Harder to measure: less freq reported. E.g. only know about Midlands case of 5 horses' throats being slit because mentioned in letter that note put up in local pub.
- Destruction of cloth/looms common in ind disputes: Luddites.Anon letters sent in cases of group/more complex grievances. "A desperate attempt to restore a broken dialogue" (H&R).

2. How successful were responses to poverty?
- There is evidence to suggest that poor relief could be perfectly adequate for maintaining certain paupers. E.g. Mary Gobby and Richard Lincoln's illegitimate child, Nelly, born

1777. Mother became ill, state paid for fuel, drops, bread, beer, nursing by 2 experienced nurses, then fostering (until Nelly's death aged 11 months).
- Between half and two thirds came off poor relief before they died: suggests did help tide over.
- "There is little ev of any pauperised 'under-class'" (P Slack). E.g. 68%
in B'fordshire - no link.
- 'New paternalism' (D Elliot) that developed with philanthropy and an emphasis on domestic consumerism helped to fuel capitalist economy.
- Authorities responses to food riots (regulation of prices) can be credited partly with making the diff between Eng and France (D Elliot).
- Enclosure was hugely damaging.
- 30% land enclosed.
- In Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire, 3/4 land had been common until 1750.
- Resistance ranged from petitioning to mob action. E.g. feigned football match at West Haddon, N'hamptonshire PS2000 fences pulled down and burnt.
- Rioters sometimes subdued e.g. Wilbarston - cavalry watched rioters unload fencing.
- Sometimes not e.g. Burton-on-Trent 1766 - attempts abandoned ('ripe for any sort of mischief' [food riots]). 1771 - Bills in Parl. 24 May, 60 women attacked fences, jailed. Rescued by mob of 300.
- Overall, resistance "often seen to be futile" (H&R)."Helped fuel the fires of rural class grievances well into the C19th" (E P Thompson).

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