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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