Material lives of the English poor: a regional perspective, c.1670-1834
thesisposted on 04.07.2017, 12:12 by Joseph Nicholas Harley
The literature on consumption has grown rapidly over the past thirty years and we now have a detailed understanding of how the material lives of the middling sort and elite were transformed over the long eighteenth century. With the exception of the occasional case study and the research on clothing, the poor have largely been neglected in this literature. Consequently we have very little understanding of whether the poor were also able to consume at a greater level over the period or of how their consumption patterns varied between men and women and across contrasting counties and urban-rural locations. This PhD addresses these gaps through the detailed analysis of over 350 pauper inventories from Dorset, Kent and Norfolk from c.1670 to 1834. This is the largest collection of pauper inventories ever assembled for historical analysis. These sources have been contextualised by analysis of other types of inventories of paupers, artefacts, pictorial sources, pawnbroking records, autobiographies, diaries and pauper letters. The sources suggest that the poor increasingly acquired a greater quantity and variety of household goods over the long eighteenth century and that the material lives of the poor were improving. This increased consumption, however, appears not to have been equal and uniform, as it was not until the late eighteenth century that significant numbers of paupers owned these goods in greater frequencies. Moreover, these items appear to have been consumed by greater numbers of the poor who lived in the Home Counties and urban areas, whilst fewer paupers generally owned these goods in more rural, remote and less commercial areas. Nevertheless, the changes in the poor’s material lives appear to have been considerable and signified a number of important changes in people’s domestic behaviours and everyday lives.