Pauper Voices

It’s often impossible to find direct accounts of poor people in the historical record, especially the further back you look. But an extraordinary collection containing thousands of letters written by people in poverty between 1834 and 1900 provides an insight into their lives.

In this episode, Chloe Lee speaks to specialist Paul Carter about letters held by The National Archives which were addressed to the Poor Law Board, the British central poor law authority.

Together they use these accounts to glimpse into the factories, the workhouses, and slums in which so many vulnerable people lived out their lives.

Download the full episode transcript here.

This podcast is based on the research In Their Own Write, a major AHRC-funded project, running from 2018 to 2021, which uses letters from paupers and other poor people, and associated manuscript material such as petitions, sworn statements and advocate letters (those written on behalf of paupers) to investigate the lives of the poor between 1834 and 1900. The Project was led by Professor Steve King (Nottingham Trent University) and Dr Paul Carter, (The National Archives).

The official book can be purchased from our bookshop.

Documents from The National Archives used in this episode:  MH12/775, MH 12/9232/46, MH12/13673.

For more information about the records covered in this episode, look at our research guide to Poverty and the Poor Laws and Workhouse inmates and staff. For help navigating our catalogue, you can watch our top-level tips on using Discovery.

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