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Thursday, August 19, 2010

A window into a harsh life

Lives of Victorian poor go online at National Archives
Records detailing the lives of the Victorian poor, including those in workhouses, have been published online.

The National Archives project involves letters and reports passed between poor law authorities in England and Wales.

Project director Dr Paul Carter said the records were "unrivalled" as an important source for examining the lives of the Victorian poor.

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 centralised the way poverty was managed and relieved, and set up workhouses.

"Able-bodied paupers" were offered a place in the workhouse as a last resort.

Conditions were intentionally harsh because workhouses were designed as a deterrent. Dr Carter said the newly published records showed people often felt they would "rather starve than go to the workhouse".
History often emphasises the elite, because there were more records of their lives in the past. However, the last two hundred years or so have seen a wealth of information on the lower classes, although it hasn't always been easily available. Now anyone can research the conditions the Victorian poor lived in and even find their own ancestors if they wish. It's a boon to both history and genealogy.

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