Remaking the Pauper: The Efficacy of the Scattered Children's Homes of the Camberwell St Giles' Poor Law Union, 1898-1914

Bryant, Nina (2019). Remaking the Pauper: The Efficacy of the Scattered Children's Homes of the Camberwell St Giles' Poor Law Union, 1898-1914. 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.
Copyright resides with the author.


In 1898, the parish of Camberwell St Giles, South London, adopted a new method of caring for the children of the destitute chargeable under the poor law. Called ‘scattered homes’ the system, which was copied from a concept devised in Sheffield, involved renting ordinary artisans’ villas, and hiring paid foster carers to look after approximately ten children within the local community, with a view to creating a new class of artisans from those with pauper origins. This dissertation is concerned with the level of efficacy displayed on the part of the Board of Guardians in that aim during the first sixteen years of the system’s thirty-two-year lifespan. Camberwell was the first London poor law union to copy the Sheffield system, but its operations had not been studied in any depth before this project.

In assessing admission and discharge registers for the children in four houses, alongside guardians’ minutes of children’s and finance records, this study looks at the lives of the children as they entered the system, as they lived in it day-to-day, and how they were prepared to leave for the working world. However, the dissertation reveals that guardians were not supplied with a pliable and fixed population of children upon whom they could conduct their experiment. The children, despite the aims of the guardians, maintained strong bonds with birth families, and many stayed for only short periods, hampering the guardians’ chances of imparting influence without encountering resistance. They type of artisanal jobs that were initially promised in the aims of the scheme to boys were not numerous, and the guardians fell back on military training routes for them. Girls, trained for service as domestics for the middle-class, may have lacked the skills to keep their own future homes on the wage of a man in a deskilled or unskilled occupation. That said, for many of the children who stayed long-term and who behaved in accordance with the ideals set down by the guardians, a successful future life could beckon in the superior artisan trades and teaching.

The study concludes that, as guardians moved towards a more progressive approach for dealing with children and their personal needs, rather than attending to a homogenous group, the children’s success – and guardians’ enjoyment of their success – became more apparent. A study of the second half of the scheme’s lifespan would hopefully shed light on how much more progressive the system became.

Viewing alternatives

Download history

Item Actions