The Leicester Poor Law Union, 1836-1871
Although there have been many studies of the operation of the new poor law in a variety of unions little research has been done on the East Midlands. This region shared features with both southern agricultural areas and northern urban ones and is interesting to study because unions were established there before the onset of the 1837 trade depression which contributed towards the difficulties encountered in establishing northern unions. The Leicester union adds a new dimension to poor law studies: it began fairly successfully but when the trade slump hit the town in 1837 its administration became overwhelmed with the problems facing it and appeared to lurch from one crisis to the next. After several years of poor employment prospects the town's improving economy from about 1850 led to a substantial reduction in the number of paupers. The pressure on the union decreased so that by the beginning of the 1860s it was able to maintain the workhouse test quite successfully. It is the intention of this thesis to show that the improving economy was the single most important reason for the success of the union. It affected many of its actions and was a prime factor in the amount of political activity generated by the board of guardians. The individual chapters discuss various aspects of the union's business and show that, while there may have been some improvement in its finances and staff, these would have been insignificant on their own. The union faced a number of problems throughout the period of this study, some of them found in other unions but some unique to Leicester. Without the drastic amelioration of the town's economy the Leicester union would not have been a success.