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In a recent contribution to the debate over the operational significance of the Old Poor Law, Peter Solar has argued that ‘the local financing of poor relief gave English property owners, individually and collectively, a direct pecuniary interest in ensuring that the parish's demographic and economic development was balanced’. His survey of the implications of the attempt to maintain this equilibrium, however, fails to take account of the social and political relationships between rate-payers, rate-receivers, and parish officers. In seeking to integrate considerations of power into the analysis of the relief of the poor, by contrast, this paper locates social welfare provision in the context of the authority structures of several parishes in Holland Fen (Lincolnshire) over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It emphasizes the role of the parish vestry in regulating and relieving the poor; demonstrates the extraordinary scale of poor relief in the local context; and argues that even in the open parishes of the Lincolnshire fenland, hostility to poor migrants could be marked, resulting even in the prohibition of the marriages of the poor. The politics of the poor rate implied the exclusion of poor strangers in the interests of relieving the ancient settled poor.

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I am grateful to the staff of the Lincoln Archives Office (LAO) for their help in supplying the documents on which this paper is partly based. Documents from the archives of Magdalen College, Oxford, are cited by kind permission of the president and fellows. The college archivist, Dr Janie Cottis, deserves special recognition for her kindness and thoroughness during my stay in Oxford. Warm thanks are also due for the spontaneous hospitality of John and Sally Cooper of Southfield House, Frampton; and for the help of Sally Collier and Sarah Richardson with calculations. Keith Wrightson, John Walter, Patrick Collinson, Beat Kumin, Adam Fox, Peter Marshall, Peter Searby, and Peter King have all kindly commented on drafts. Preliminary versions were presented to seminars at Warwick and Leicester and I am grateful to the participants, especially Colin Jones, Bernard Capp, and Keith Snell, for their insights.
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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
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