Volume 34 - 'Managing Poverty'
Cheltenham in the early to mid-nineteenth century was a magnet for the rich. It also attracted the poor, eager to benefit from the availability of work in a growing town, but not all who migrated there found success. This volume examines the lives of those whose dreams failed, and who had to seek relief from the parish. Many discovered they were not – according to the complex Poor Laws of the day – Cheltenham’s responsibility. Those who had already achieved “settlement” elsewhere were typically returned to that place, even though they might no longer be familiar with it, or have any acquaintances there.
The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, the most significant change to the Poor Laws since Elizabeth’s reign, created a bleak new environment; the local reception of the new Act is played out in these examinations.
A remarkable series of records running from 1831 to 1852 documents the examinations undergone by Cheltenham paupers, so that two local magistrates could determine their fate.
Each of the 1,500 settlement examinations is transcribed in detail, to bring out the flavour of the legal machinery confronting the poor. Wherever possible a commentary is added, outlining the stories of over 3,500 paupers caught up in a world rather harsher than the one encountered through the often sentimental lens of the Victorian novelist or social reformer.
An extensive introduction, with numerous illustrations, analyses all aspects of the settlement process. As is customary in this series, the volume is fully indexed, creating a valuable resource for local and social historians.
John Simpson, Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary until his retirement in 2013, is an Emeritus Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford; his book, The Word Detective, was published by Little Brown in 2016.