The treatment of the aged poor in five selected West Kent parishes from Settlement to Speenhamland (1662-1797)

Barker-Read, Mary (1989). The treatment of the aged poor in five selected West Kent parishes from Settlement to Speenhamland (1662-1797). PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis breaks new ground in Poor Law Studies. It isolates for detailed scrutiny the treatment of a particular social group, the aged poor. Traditional sources have been approached for new answers to new questions, and in so doing, new methods of source exploitation have been evolved and utilised.

The sources have been asked to provide information about dependent old age; the relationship between poverty and the length of the working life; sex differences; the proportion of the population which ended life as parish paupers. Key research has centred around the parish pension, its function, size and real value; crucially, the ability or otherwise of the pensioner to subsist on it.

Consideration has also been given to the other components of the network of relief measures adopted by the parishes; relief in kind; housing and the standard of living; medical and nursing care; the role of the workhouse. The investigation has been carried beyond the limits of relief provided by the mechanisms of the Old Poor Law alone, to include external supportive agencies, such as the support of family and charity, which includes both charitable trusts and indiscriminate giving. Some light is thrown on ways the aged contributed to their own maintenance.

The thesis tests the general hypothesis that all these various supportive systems produced an interlocking apparatus which involved the whole community in the support of the old, while to discuss their treatment within the limits of the poor law only, results in a narrow, incomplete and distorted narrative, serving only to perpetuate the traditional historical view of a harsh, punitive treatment, needing reassessment in the light of recent historical developments.

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