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Title: The experience of poverty : people, policy, and agency in mid-nineteenth century Leeds and its environs
Author: Rawson, Graham
ISNI:       0000 0004 7230 242X
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2017
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The methodology of narrative biographical reconstitution can give voice to the poor of past societies, allowing them to answer the questions we ask of them. This thesis examines the experiences of the northern urban labouring poor, in a period of industrialisation and unprecedented urban population growth and consolidation, from their own perspective, identifying and evaluating their constraints and agencies. Rapid urban growth was marked by particular age-group and gender demographics: migration was female led, girls and women sought work in textile mills. Women and their children's cheap compliant labour in an unregulated political economy drove industrialisation. Despite low wages, mill work permitted young women a limited independence from the male breadwinner model. But that model was merely aspirational, and families depended on children's incomes. Poverty was always near. One alleviation agency was application to township welfare mechanisms, both cash payments and other forms, notably medical relief. Because of large, sprawling incorporations of townships established under Gilbert's Act, local implementation of the New Poor Law was delayed into the 1860s. Consequently, relief was administered in the tradition of the Old Poor Law, with an emphasis on outdoor relief, and managed with greater autonomy by select vestry, rather than less-local boards of guardians. Politicised working men were elected to these bodies, and Chartist administrations managed poor relief in Holbeck, Leeds. The reconstitution of the life-cycles of two generations of seven neighbouring households in Holbeck is central to this investigation, and allows a rich and fine-grained analysis, synthesis and evaluation of their experiences. This argues that the paucity of wages and poor relief foregrounds other strategies, and identifies the critical balancing of family economies to make ends meet. Spatial proximity, family limitation, household re-alignments, and kinship and community support networks were also crucial factors, while collective self-help strategies like friendly societies flourished.
Supervisor: Chase, Malcolm Sponsor: AHRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available