About the Project

Allen BG
The petition of Elizabeth and William Allen of Bethnal Green, 5 May 1838 (MH12/6843, reproduced courtesy of The National Archives)

In Their Own Write is a three-year, AHRC-funded project, running from 2018 to 2021, which uses letters from paupers and other poor people, and associated manuscript material such as petitions, sworn statements and advocate letters (those written on behalf of paupers) to investigate the lives of the poor between 1834 and 1900.

It is run jointly by The National Archives (TNA) at Kew and the Department of History at the University of Leicester.

The majority of work focuses on the many thousands of volumes of poor law correspondence (MH12) held by TNA, much of which has been little used by historians.

Aims of the Project

  • To systematically sample the correspondence in order to identify significant numbers of pauper letters within the overall collection of correspondence;
  • To transcribe these letters and identify the ‘voices’ of the poor who wrote to poor law officials;
  • To analyse the letters with a view to understanding how the poor understood, experienced and exercised agency under the New Poor Law, using historiographical methodologies, but also employing tools from corpus linguistics.

The project team has extensive experience of working creatively with pauper letters and other poor law sources over many years. It brings together world-leading experts in the fields of British poor law studies and pauper correspondence (see below).

Outcomes over the three years of the project will include:

  • a ground breaking monograph;
  • edited volumes showcasing the work of international scholars working on pauper letters and similar sources;
  • a number of scholarly articles;
  • many exciting outreach events.

Project Staff

Professor Steven King (Principal Investigator) has worked extensively on questions of power, agency and practice under the Old Poor Law. In particular he has been concerned with our understandings of and explanations for spatial variation in the intent of the poor law. In this project he moves on, with the rest of the team, to look at the question of how poor people understood and navigated the New Poor Law system to which they were notionally subject. A book of poetry inspired by this accumulated work – On the Poor – is published in April 2018.

Dr Paul Carter (Co-Investigator) is employed at The National Archives as a principal records specialist and works across the modern domestic collections. He has worked extensively on the records created under the New Poor Law, particularly those created or collected by the central poor law authorities. He has also worked at the universities of Leicester, Northampton and Nottingham, researching or teaching within themes across modern social British history.

Natalie Carter (Research Associate) has previously worked at The National Archives at Kew, and for the British Association for Local History. Her work has focused on records of the New Poor Law, particularly those held by the central poor law authorities in record series MH 12 from which this project draws its key source material. She has previously worked on two large scale archival projects overseeing the cataloguing and digitisation of a large number of MH 12 records from across England and Wales.

Dr Peter Jones (Research Associate) has worked extensively on Old Poor Law pauper letters, as well as other demotic sources from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He has previously been a research associate at the Universities of Southampton, Durham and Birmingham, and was Lecturer in the History of Medicine at Oxford Brookes University between 2008 and 2011. He is currently working on a co-authored monograph re-evaluating the role of public opinion in workhouse reform, and another on the ‘moral economy’ of the poor law in nineteenth-century England.

Dr Carol Beardmore (Research Associate) has worked extensively on the history of rural communities during the nineteenth century, including how landed estates contributed to the relief of the poor (her monograph on Financing the Landed Estate was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2019). She holds Associate Lectureships at the Open University and De Montfort University where she focuses on British history from the 18th century to the present day.

Dr Sue Hawkins (Records Specialist, The National Archives) has many years’ experience working on historical digitisation projects including projects on admission records and case notes relating to several 19th century children’s hospitals and on the membership records of the British Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) during World War 1. Until recently, she was senior lecturer in the history department at Kingston University specialising in 19th century social history.

Gerard Ahearn (Conservation Technician, The National Archives) is currently undertaking conservation treatment of the Poor Law Correspondence (MH12) archive. Before joining TNA, he worked for Heritage at two different historic houses, Rangers and Aspley House, where he was involved in all aspects of preventative conservation. Until recently, he was also responsible for Insect Pest Management at the British Galleries of the Victoria & Albert Museum.