The First Century of Welfare

Some time around Christmas 1698, Thomas Gerrard of Little Hilton asked his neighbour for help. Gerrard was sick, and he had a young family. He was poor, and wanted to make the case to magistrates at nearby Wigan that he should be receiving formal relief. It was not an especially long journey, but Gerrard felt…

Five Centuries of Famine

I was really lucky recently to be invited to speak to the Global Scholars Network Conference at Rhodes House in Oxford. The event was a way of getting together postgraduates studying on international scholarships, such as the Rhodes and the Fulbright, from across the UK, and allowing them to discuss some of the big issues…

The Pemberton Poisoner

Sometimes you find a source which is so rich and interesting that you have to share it straightaway. I was working through the papers of Lancashire’s Quarter Sessions for 1700 yesterday, and I stumbled across an absolutely fascinating document. It was a petition to the local magistrates, produced by (or for?) Margaret Orrell of Pemberton,…

Kicking Out the Poor

In 1625, the Northumberland village of Dilston decided to throw out some of its inhabitants. ‘It is ordered’, notes the record of the village court, ‘that those whose names are hereafter recited shall depart out of the town betwixt this and Whitsuntide’, or else they would face a fine of 20s. If they could not…

‘Very Idle and Debauched’

There’s a fascinating story in the papers at the moment about Simon Wright, a beggar who’s allegedly been ‘earning’ £50,000 a year. His patch is in Putney, which in fairness is a fairly affluent part of London, and he’s been blowing his income on gambling and the slotties. He’s now back in his flat, nursing…