The Poor Law and charity : the Charity Organisation Society in the provinces 1870-1890.
The thesis studies the response of provincial Charity
Organisation Societies (COS's), and similar institutions, to
the Poor Law crusade against outdoor relief, 1870-1890. The
Societies investigated include those at Birkenhead,
Birmingham, Brighton, Leainington, Liverpool, Manchester and
Salford, Oxford, Reading, and Southampton.
Powerful individualistic propaganda, and support from
influential elites, created an aura of COS authority on social
affairs which has persisted for more than a century. The
research exposes the reality of failure and contradiction in
the English provinces behind the facade of unrestrained COS
pronouncements. It is shown that provincial COS's were shunned
by Poor Law guardians, philanthropists, the clergy, and by the
poor themselves. This left scant chance for the Government's
intended close working relationships between the official
relief and organised voluntary sectors.
The thesis examines the disappointing response to COS
appeals for lady visitors, and discusses the financial
difficulties of many COS's. Within their economic
constraints, provincial organising Societies attempted a
miscellany of relief methods, some contravening COS
principles. The COS ridiculed Poor Law doles for their
inadequacy but the research shows that grants from the
provincial organised voluntary sector were generally of less
value. The ideological and financial advantages of loans
increased their popularity with COS's until defaults
challenged the efficacy of vaunted COS methodology. COS
pensions for "special cases" are shown to have been classdivisive
and to possess characteristics the Society themselves
criticized about outdoor Poor Law relief.
The objectives and provincial achievements of the COS
movement by 1890 are debated using criteria they may have
chosen in 1870 and are found to be wanting. A number of
hypotheses are examined, each designed to explain why a few
among the late Victorian provincial middle-class remained
committed to cos principles, obdurately indifferent to the
changing tide of peer-group opinion.