In all but the most specialist accounts of Victorian histories the poor are often represented through generalisations, graphs or summed up in ‘averaging’ paragraphs. More detailed work might look at the experiences of individual poor people through pulling together accounts from contemporary newspapers, the letters of the wealthy, or poor law officials and government inspectors who write about the poor. Few historians have looked at accounts of poor people’s lives written by the poor themselves. There are good reasons for this: many poor people were unable to write and many letters undoubtedly do not survive; and the letters that survive are scattered across a great many archives, usually unlisted in large collections. This talk will concentrate on a collection of such pauper letters, statements and petitions which demonstrate the concerns, thoughts and feeling of the poor themselves.
Paul Carter is the principal domestic records specialist in the Advice and records knowledge department at The National Archives. His research and publication interests include early labour movements and popular politics.