Pauper Letters Research Group (PLRG)

Handbill from Huddersfield Union, publicising details of the measures to be taken in response to the Vaccination Act, 1853

ITOW Pauper Letters Research Group Conference (available to all members of the PLRG).

June 2021


“In Their Own Write” Pauper Letters Research Group Conference

25 June 2021

10.00 Conference Opens

10.15 Steve King                       Introduction

10.30 Sue Hawkins                   Three million words: the work behind the statistics

10.50 Ann Morton                    ‘Bradfield Apprentices:’ 1871 and beyond

11.10 Jean Moore                     “Wherever I lay my hat….” Disputed Boundaries and Settlement

11.30 Tea/Coffee Break

11.50 Judy Lester                      “… the Guardians of this Union understand but very little English …”: Translating the New Poor Law in Dolgelley 1834 – 1857

12.10 Amy Scott                        Bedwellty Union and the Local Government Chronicle

12.30 Lunch

Group Talk by members of the Belbroughton History Society:

13.00 Sarah Bradley                 The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834

13.10 Margaret Hathaway       Keeping it Local

13.20 Sarah Bradley                 Walking for Relief

13.30 Jane Somervell               #MeToo – Sexual Abuse at the Nantwich Workhouse

13.40 David Finlow                   Where the Compassion? Rules versus empathy

13.50 Pam Jones                       Let them eat Asparagus!  Gardening at the workhouse

14.00 Q&A for the group talk

14.20 Tea/Coffee Break

14.35 Derek Wileman            Too busy – There wasn’t time: childbirth in difficult times, Birmingham    1854

14.55 Outro- and Any Questions – Paul Carter

15.25 Close

In Their Own Write has been – and still is – an incredibly successful research project which has brought to light literally millions of words by, about and on behalf of the nineteenth-century English and Welsh poor. It has not only resulted in a number of important academic outcomes, but has inspired a range of public resources such as plays, songs and teaching packs for schools. The grant-funded project will formally end in early 2023 with the publication of the final two project outputs: firstly, the publication of the project book in December 2022 (in North America) and January 2023 (UK and rest of Europe); and secondly the online release of the transcript dataset of the thousands of letters and statements that underpin the book.

The work continues apace with a second project working closely with schools to create further teaching materials, even more outreach events and further work on making the archival materials available to the public all underway. Archival research for the PLRG is continuing, too; for example, one focus of our ongoing work with the poor law correspondence collection (record series MH12 at The National Archives) is finding out more about the experiences and treatment of the Welsh poor under the New Poor Law.

However, none of this would have been – or would be – possible without the astonishing dedication and commitment of TPLRG. The project volunteers, who number some 40 members in all, who make up the group are quite widely dispersed. Volunteers (under-taking off site work) live in Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Kent, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Worcestershire. Those volunteers (under-taking on-site work) live in London and Surrey. Collectively, the project volunteers are engaged in scouring the volumes of poor law union correspondence for letters by paupers, the wider poor, their advocates, witness statements by paupers and the wider poor as well as a defined set of other items which purport to provide the authentic voice of the poor. They then transcribe the letters etc. for historical analysis. The result of this endeavour thus far is a transcribed corpus of some 3.6 million words – a data set of huge proportions.

Without their hard work we would not have been able to achieve a fraction of the activities and outcomes mentioned on this website. But, more than this, it is the members of the volunteer group themselves who provided inspiration, dynamism and enthusiasm for much project activity. Many have and many of them have been instrumental in writing, publishing, crafting and delivering these outcomes, too: in online conferences, in publications, at local events, as well as those who have decided to undertake further historical research or archival study. It is a truly collaborative way of working with this marvellous archive.

Letter from William Mosley, from Barnsley, to the Poor Law Board, explaining that he was an elderly weaver with a wife, afflicted by rheumatism, had his weekly allowance (out door relief) first cut, then stopped, and thereafter only managed to secure small one-off payments. States that he and his wife are almost starving and asks the Board to “interfere” on his behalf. MH12/14675, 33509/1851, William Mosley, Barnsley, to the Poor Law Board, 2 August 1851.