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Title: The nature of urban poverty : an Oxford case study c.1760-1835
Author: Dyson, Richard
Awarding Body: Oxford Brookes University
Current Institution: Oxford Brookes University
Date of Award: 2007
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Abstract:
The overall aim of the thesis is to investigate and evaluate the experience of poverty in an urban area during the period 1760-1835, using Oxford as a case study. Chapter 1 ofthe thesis reviews the current historiography on the subject and sets out the methodology and scope of the study. To fully capture the experience of poverty, a holistic approach is adopted; the poor are taken to be not just those receiving poor relief but all at the margin of subsistence, vulnerable for example to crisis episodes such as sickness. Chapter 2 examines the social and economic background in Oxford. It was found that, while atypical in being a university town, Oxford has much in common with other provincial centres of the period, with significant retailing and commercial functions, a sizeable middle-class and a large body of unskilled labour. To a certain degree, conclusions drawn from research on the city can thus be applicable to other English towns. Chapter 3 examines the numbers and composition of the poor in this period, using Poor Law and charity records from two Oxford parishes with particularly detailed information, St. Giles's and St. Clement's. In contrast to many rural areas, the numbers of those needing assistance in Oxford does not appear to have steadily increased between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but fluctuated more according to trade cycles and periods of hardship such as bad weather. The proportion ofpeople receiving poor relief was roughly the same in 1835 as it was in 1760. The composition of the poor in Oxford was also different than in rural areas. There was no significant increase in the numbers of young families on relief, as historians have observed in the so-called 'Speenhamland' counties. Life-cycle types seem to have predominated: widows, the elderly and the very young, and some people could move in and out of poverty over the course of their lives. To some extent, there was an underlying level of background poverty present throughout the period, as indicated by the charity evidence, from which more acute cases of hardship could arise. Oxford may have been experiencing its own 'urban' type of poverty: one that was a product of the city's market-driven economy and less influenced by structural factors as in the countryside. Chapter 4 discusses how those in poverty managed to support themselves in Oxford. Work and the Poor Law were two of the most obvious expedients, but a number of other strategies were also available: endowed and subscription charity, friendly societies, credit, help from kin and neighbours, even petty crime and prostitution. Rarely though were these makeshift strands sufficient by themselves to support people. The amount of help given was generally small and access conditions could constrain supply. Many of the poor were thus forced to utilise several strategies to make ends meet. Different expedients were also employed according to different phases of poverty; credit for short-term crisis episodes, for example, the Poor Law or endowed charity for longer life-cycle conditions. The search for work and changes in circumstance also occasioned much mobility among the poor, the subject of Chapter 5. By using material from maniage registers, settlement examinations and the records of the University police, a picture of the migratory habits of the poor in Oxford was built up. In line with existing research for this period, it was found that distances travelled were generally short, with 70 per cent of people moving less than 20 km, and many immigrants to Oxford came from its immediate hinterland. There was though a significant degree of inter-urban migration; particularly to London. The actual patterns of migration were complex, with people not only moving in and out of the city, but often stopping off at several points in the way. Movement within Oxford itself was also common. A whole variety of causes seem to have prompted people to move; as well as work we can see kin, maniage, housing, even individual crises like a sudden bereavement. An underlying feature behind many moves again seems to be the life-cycle. People could move for workrelated reasons when young; to find larger housing when they married; perhaps even to a smaller dwelling in old age. The final chapter of the thesis looks at living standards among the poor in Oxford. After an examination of the research concerning this subject, the extent of any changes between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are investigated through an analysis ofinfant mortality in S1. Clement's based on a family reconstitution. It was found that infant mortality in the parish fell from 270 per 1000 in the early eighteenth century to 169 per 1000 by 1800, though it then rose again slightly by 1837. This is in line with the general trend in urban areas at this time. Some ofthis improvement may have been caused by improved medical care at childbirth and reductions in the incidence of infectious disease, particularly smallpox. Conversely, changes in feeding practices and increased urbanisation in S1. Clement's during the 1820s and 1830s may then have led to some deterioration in conditions. Nevertheless, infant mortality rates were still lower in 1837 than in the early eighteenth century, and much of the fall appears to be due to a decline in endogenous mortality (associated with the physical condition of the mother). There therefore may be some scope for suggesting a slight improvement in living standards among the poor, one that may have as its background the economic growth occurring in Oxford at the time.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.490510  DOI: Not available
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