Children of the poor of Kingston-upon-Thames, 1834-1882
This thesis examines the children of Kingston's poor during the middle decades of the nineteenth century by bringing together a number of inter-related themes which in many previous studies have been treated separately. Through applying partial reconstitution techniques to a wide range of source materials, various aspects of children's lives in poverty are analysed and given greater context and meaning. Rather than viewing the child simply as an element in workhouse history, or as a slum-dweller or in employment, this research, by studying individual childhood experiences, focuses on children as members of the wider community. The research findings emphasise the value of a local study, as generalisations and received ideas can be tested against the practical experience of a market town during the mid- to later- nineteenth century, when the country as a whole adjusted to rapid population growth and economic progress. The Kingston-upon-Thames Poor Law Union, the administrative and geographic locality for this research, developed from being broadly rural in the opening years of the study into an increasingly suburban and retailing area, whilst the surrounding villages varied in character, whether purely rural, river-focussed, or concerned with a local industry. Research into the lives of children living in poverty within this diverse locality offers an opportunity to consider and compare strategies, both formal and informal, to deal with child poverty in use throughout the country. The range of choices and decisions open to parents, officials, administrators and children themselves, plus the effect of differing local conditions, geography and employment, remind us that there can be no typical experience which can speak for the whole of England. Within this thesis appear individual experiences of poverty, abandonment, overcrowded dwellings, disease, ill-treatment, and much suffering. Yet also highlighted are acts of benevolence, understanding, chance opportunities, and successful futures. Above all, the thesis has set out to rescue otherwise historically absent individuals from obscurity and give them a meaningful place in the historical record.