The poor in England 1700–1850

An economy of makeshifts

This book investigates the experience of English poverty between 1700 and 1900 and the ways in which the poor made ends meet. It represents the single most significant attempt in print to supply the English 'economy of makeshifts' with a solid, empirical basis and to advance the concept of makeshifts to a precise delineation. The book attempts to explain how and when the poor secured access to these makeshifts and suggest how the balance of these strategies might change over time or be modified by gender, life-cycle and geography. It begins with the general and particular ways in which 'makeshifts' might be constructed, examining the rural agricultural poor and the shifting hierarchy of 'Fuel, dole and bread'. The book confirms the paltry allowances awarded through the poor law and implicitly contrasts them with the relatively generous schemes operated by individual and institutionalised charities such as the Quakers in Lancashire rural communities. Voluntary charity in the makeshift economy is discussed in the context of cultural implications of incorporating charity within survival strategies. The book then tackles the complicated relationship between poverty and social crime by looking at both contemporary published opinion and the evidence of the courts. A survey of pamphlet literature touching on credit, debt and pawnbroking reveals that outspoken, damning criticisms of pawnbrokers were often repeated but rarely qualified by any consideration of the cash flow exigencies of poverty. Finally a micro-study of the Lancashire township of Cowpe illustrates both the quantity and complexity of the makeshift economy.

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