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Living the Poor Life: untold history of the poor now online
19 Aug 2010 11:57
Thousands of pages of Victorian workhouse and poor law records have been made available online today following the conclusion of a major project by The National Archives.
Living the Poor Life involved more than 200 volunteers across the country, including local and family historians, researching and cataloguing 19th century records from the huge Ministry of Health archive (MH12).
The records comprise letters, reports and memos passed between local and national poor law authorities and help shed light on the lives and experiences of the Victorian poor. Dr Paul Carter, Project Director and Principal Modern Records Specialist, said: 'The importance of this series of records cannot be overestimated. The Poor Law Union correspondence is unrivalled in giving us that window in the archives to examine the lives of the Victorian poor.'
Cataloguing the correspondence
As part of the 18-month project, volunteer editors were given access to the digitised correspondence of 21 Poor Law Unions, from Berwick-upon-Tweed in the North to Truro in the South-West, and from Mitford and Launditch in East Anglia to Cardiff and Llanfyllin in Wales. Once notoriously difficult to research due to their size and limited indexing, these records now have detailed catalogue entries and a keyword search facility.
The result is an invaluable new resource for researchers and historians containing numerous tales of family breakdown, corruption and blackmail and the previously untold stories of the poor, left behind by Britain's Industrial Revolution. Visitors to The National Archives website can now access more than 115,000 scanned images of original records from 108 volumes of Poor Law Union records, searchable by place, name and subject matter and free to download at nationalarchives.gov.uk/livingthepoorlife.
Victorian life uncovered
The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 established a deterrent workhouse system whereby able-bodied paupers were offered a place in the workhouse as a last resort. Conditions were intentionally harsh, families were divided and paupers given uniforms and made to work. The records cover a tumultuous time in British history and provide a rich new source of material on opposition to the workhouse system, industrial strikes, Chartism, wages, the treatment of children and more - essential to any study of Victorian life.
Watch our videocasts of Dr Paul Carter discussing the project and uncovering the fascinating stories behind the records:
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