Poor Relief, Gender and Life-cycle Poverty in two Oxfordshire communities under the Old Poor Law: Charlbury and Spelsbury, 1799-1815

Bennett, Diana Gillian (2020). Poor Relief, Gender and Life-cycle Poverty in two Oxfordshire communities under the Old Poor Law: Charlbury and Spelsbury, 1799-1815. Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
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This study examines poor relief in Charlbury and Spelsbury, two adjacent but very different settlements in north-west Oxfordshire, between 1799 and 1815. In line with much of the current historiography on the Old Poor Law it focuses on the people who needed poor relief rather than the administrative policies behind such relief. In particular, it tests the argument forwarded by some historians that poverty affected more women than men, and especially those in old age, by assessing the extent to which poor relief in each community was influenced by the gender and life-cycle stage of its paupers.

An initial overview of each place draws on a mix of qualitative and quantitative evidence to give context to the study area. Following this, a detailed analysis of the overseers’ accounts from each settlement, drawing on a total of around 30,000 payments, discusses the type, frequency and amount of relief given to each gender. These results are then linked with research into the families of paupers to identify what sort of people were given poor relief, and at what stages in their life-cycle.

The study concludes that assigning poverty to broad sectors of people, such as women rather than men, or the elderly rather than the young, is in this case too simplistic. The differences in the types and amounts of poor relief given in Charlbury and Spelsbury, and in the people to whom it was given, suggest that, at least in this part of Oxfordshire, varying circumstances and practices in individual settlements could be as significant to poverty as the gender or life-cycle stage of paupers.

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