Poor Relief and Welfare: a comparative study of the Belper and Cheltenham Poor Law Unions, 1780 to 1914
thesisposted on 29.07.2010, 14:20 by Christine Violet Seal
There are few local studies of a comparative nature encompassing poor law unions in different regions. This thesis is unique in considering a union in the north midlands and one bordering the south-west, from 1780 to 1914. The provision of relief in Cheltenham and Belper is set in the context of social and economic conditions in these two areas. Were Cheltenham and Belper different in their management of their poor between 1770 and 1914, and how did poor relief in these two unions conform or differ to the specifications laid down in the 1834 Act? Chapter 1 looks at relief under the old poor law, while chapter 2 considers the manner in which the unions were formed. Chapters 3, 4 and 6 analyse the workhouse and union populations at various times, and chapter 5 investigates charity and its assistance to the poor. Several major themes are looked at including emigration, vagrants, the children and aged. Cheltenham and Belper managed their poor in a similar manner, except most notably with regard to assisted emigration. Only Cheltenham used this to reduce pauperism. It provided out-relief for a greater number of paupers than Belper, and its expenditure per head was much higher. Workhouse populations were very distinctive in 1851. Belper had a high percentage of children and female able-bodied paupers at that time. By 1911 the workhouse populations had become more similar in both unions, being dominated by the elderly, sick and infirm. The thesis argues for general trends, observes a common trajectory of change, assesses charity alongside formal relief, and shows how interestingly different socio-economic contexts affected the comparative details and nature of pauperism. It thus invites further comparative research into the varied regional application of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, using the benchmarks and salient features highlighted here.