|Locating Poverty and Entering Poor Households in the Eighteenth-Century English Parish|
|Much work has been done by historians, historical geographers and demographers to identify and describe the households of the poor in the European past. But very little analysis has been attempted to explain the agency of the poor (or lack thereof) in determining the makeup and location of their households. This paper begins with an examination of the household structure evident in the parish of Puddletown, Dorset, using the remarkably rich evidence left in the papers of the Reverend Henry Dawnay. I then briefly go on to contrast the residential patterns of the different social orders in the parish. When this evidence is put into the context of the parish overseersí accounts, we can see the many ways in which the overseers, churchwardens and vestrymen of Puddletown sought to determine the placement and structure of the households of the poor. A quick overview of the existing historical work on poor families allows us to put Puddletown into a broader comparative perspective, showing that it was very typical in this regard.
After this brief examination, the paper will go on to assess the ways in which the local interference of poor law officers in the household strategies of the poor was encouraged and facilitated by laws and attitudes towards the families of the poor. We can find these attitudes not only in guides for parish officers and poor law reform tracts, but also in sources that have been neglected for such studies, such as friendly society accounts and debates over charitable institutions. In the end, this paper demonstrates the tremendous fragility of the poor household in the face of the hostility and interference of the parish elite.