Research topic

My research topic is:

“The treatment of the poor and disadvantaged in Cleobury Mortimer and surrounding parishes: 1770-1900”.

In conducting this research, I hope to be able to answer a number of questions:

The Select Vestry (to 1834) and The Guardians (from 1834):

Who were they and how were they appointed? Where did they sit on a continuum from paternalistic benevolence through a pragmatic defence of the public interest to a tight-fisted, or perhaps simply prudent cost-consciousness?

The administration of the Poor Law prior to the implementation of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act:

Was the system for dealing with the poor efficient? Did it make best use of money and other resources?  Was the system effective: from the point of view of the poor and from the point of view of the rate-payers? Were the needs of the poor met? These varied widely, from requests for monetary relief for long and short-term needs, to simple requests for food and clothing.  Contrary to the view that the poor had no incentive to work, the vestry minutes show many requests for work. Was there a general issue in finding work at the time, requiring an appeal to the vestry, or was there discrimination against those who had fallen on hard times? Rate-payers had little option but to pay what was requested. Did the system provide value for money?

Changes in the system with the implementation of the New Poor Law and the establishment of the Cleobury Mortimer Poor Law Union:

Was the application of the ‘workhouse test’ a deterrent in any way and how was the union workhouse managed, compared to the old parish poor houses? Was there a difference in treatment?

Tightening of attitudes:

Did the Crusade against Outdoor relief have any meaningful impact on admittance to the workhouse? Was vagrancy an issue and were the casual poor dealt with differently over time? Attitudes towards unmarried mothers:

There is evidence of a number of ‘repeaters’, women with several bastard children. There is also evidence of men fathering more than one bastard child. In what way did the parishes deal with the problem of maintenance and hardship? Was the treatment even-handed?

Childhood apprenticeships:

How did childhood apprenticeships operate? Was there any attempt to farm off children to other parishes as apprentices in order to avoid settlement rights?


The records suggest that settlement rights, or rather the lack of them, were taken seriously and dealt with briskly. Were the tests and judgements fairly applied? How efficient was the parish at recovering costs?

The parish poor house and the workhouse:

An examination of the facilities and operation of the poor house and the later workhouse.

Governors and overseers

The very first page in the surviving Cleobury Mortimer vestry minutes bears an entry ordering the removal of the poor house governor, who ‘for many reasons is an improper person for that purpose’. How did Governors fare – how were they paid, how often were they dismissed and were they ever superannuated? How were overseers appointed and how diligent were they?

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