In Their Own Write


The literature on pauper letters and the lives of the poor has grown considerably over the last two decades.

Recent interest can be traced back to Thomas Sokoll’s pioneering collection of 750 pauper letters from Essex, which was published in 2001. Since then, scholars have collected and analysed many thousands more Old Poor Law letters from England and Wales, and interest has spread to petitions and other first-hand sources (often described as ‘ego documents’) from Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Holland, Belgium and beyond.

The one major gap in the literature relates to the narratives of paupers from the New Poor Law period (1834-1900), precisely the gap that In Their Own Write aims to fill.

More recently, the field of study for pauper narratives has expanded far beyond the history of welfare, and now includes scholars from the disciplines of literary and linguistic scholarship, which has brought new questions and new analytical tools to bear on these first-hand accounts of life at the margins.

What follows is a brief bibliography of recent work on pauper letters and similar demotic sources. It is, of course, far from comprehensive, but hopefully it gives a starting point for the those interested in studying these fascinating insights into the lives of the poor in history. The list will be updated periodically to take account of new work as it is published.

Pauper letters under the Old Poor Law (England and Wales)

Bailey, J., ‘‘Think Wot a Mother Must Feel’: Parenting in English Pauper Letters, c.1760-1834’, Family & Community History, 13:1 (2010), 5-19

Jones, P., ‘‘I Cannot Keep My Place Without Being Deascent’: Pauper Letters, Parish Clothing and Pragmatism in the South of England’, Rural History, 20:1 (2009), 31-49

———-, & King, S.A. (eds.), Obligation, Entitlement and Dispute Under the English Poor Laws (Newcastle, 2015) [especially Chapters 1, 3, 5 & 6]

King, S.A., ‘‘It is Impossible for our Vestry to Judge His Case Into Perfection From Here’: Managing the Distance Dimensions of Poor Relief’, Rural History, 16:2 (2005), 161-189

———-, ‘Pauper Letters as a Source’, Family & Community History 10:2 (2007), 167-170

———-, ‘Friendship, Kinship and Belonging in the Letters of Urban Paupers, 1800-1840’, Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung, 33:3 (2008), 249-277

———-, ‘‘I Fear You Will Think Me Too Presumptuous in My Demands but Necessity Has No Law’: Clothing in English Pauper Letters, 1800-1834’, International Review of Social History, 54:2 (2009), 207-236

———-, & Jones, P., ‘Testifying for the Poor: Epistolary Advocates and the Negotiation of Parochial Relief in England, 1800-1834’, Journal of Social History, 49:4 (2015), 784-807

Snell, K.D.M., ‘Belonging and Community: Understandings of ‘Home’ and ‘Friends’ Among the English Poor, 1750-1850’, Economic History Review, 62 (2012), 1-25

Sokoll, T (ed.), Essex Pauper Letters (Oxford, 2001)

———-, ‘Writing for Relief: Rhetoric in English Pauper Letters, 1800-1834’, in A. Gestrich, S.A. King & L. Raphael (eds.), Being Poor in Modern Europe: Historical Perspectives 1800-1940 (Bern, 2006)

Tomkins, A., ‘‘I Mak Bould to Wrigt’: First Person Narratives in the History of Poverty in England, c.1750-1900’, History Compass, 9 (2011), 365-373

Pauper letters and petitions from Scotland, Germany and beyond

Earner-Byrne, L., ‘‘Dear Father my Health has Broken Down: Writing Health in Irish Charity Letters, 1922-1940’, Social History of Medicine, 28:4 (2015), 849-868

Gestrich, A., Hurren, E., & King, S.A. (eds.), Poverty and Sickness in Modern Europe: Narratives of the Sick Poor (London, 2012)

———-, ‘German Pauper Letters and Petitions for Relief. New Perspectives on Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Poor Relief’, in L. Raphael (ed.), Poverty and Welfare in Modern Germany (New York/Oxford, 2017)

Jones, P. & King, S.A., ‘Voices from the Far North: Pauper Letters and the Provision of Welfare in Sutherland, 1845-1900’, Journal of British Studies, 55:1 (2016), 76-98

Lyons, M. (ed.), Ordinary Writings, Personal Narratives: Writing Practices in 19th and early 20th-Century Europe (Bern etc., 2007)

Literary Theory/Linguistics

Auer, A. & Fairman, T., ‘Letters of Artisans and the Labouring Poor (England, c.1750-1835)’, in P. Bennett, M. Durrell, S. Scheible & R. J. Witt (eds.), New Methods in Historical Corpus Linguistics (Tubingen, 2013)

Auer, A., Schreier, D. & Watts, R.J. (eds.), Letter Writing and Language Change (Cambridge, 2015)

Chaemsaithong, K., ‘‘It is With a Trembling Hand I Beg to Intrude This Letter’: Politeness in the Pauper Letters of 18th Century England’, in H. Saur & G. Waxenburger (eds.), English Historical Linguistics 2008. Volume II Words, Texts & Genres (Amsterdam/Philadelphia, 2012)

van der Wal, M.J. & Rutten, G. (eds.), Touching the Past, Studies in the Historical Sociolinguistics of Ego-documents (Amsterdam/Philadelphia, 2013)

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