Clothing the New Poor Law workhouse in the nineteenth century

Jones, P., King, S. and Thompson, K. (2021) Clothing the New Poor Law workhouse in the nineteenth century. Rural History, (doi: 10.1017/S095679332000014X) (Early Online Publication)

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Abstract

The workhouse remains a totemic institution for social historians, yet we still know very little about the day-to-day experiences of the indoor poor. Nowhere is this clearer than in discussions about workhouse clothing, which remain overwhelmingly negative in the literature and consistent with the predominant view of the workhouse as a place of suffering and humiliation. Yet more often than not, this view is based on relatively shallow empirical foundations and tends to rely on anecdotal evidence or on the uncritical use of subjective sources such as photographs, newspaper editorials and other cultural products. This article takes a different approach by looking again at the whole range of meanings that workhouse clothing held for paupers and those who oversaw its allocation, and at the practical and symbolic usages to which it was put by them. On the basis of this evidence the authors argue that, contrary to the orthodox view, workhouse clothing was rarely intended to be degrading or stigmatising; that it would have held very different meanings for different classes of paupers; and that, far from being a source of unbridled misery, paupers often found it to be a source of great strategic and practical value.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Early Online Publication
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Thompson, Mrs Karen
Authors: Jones, P., King, S., and Thompson, K.
Subjects:D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
College/School:College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Journal Name:Rural History
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
ISSN:0956-7933
ISSN (Online):1474-0656
Published Online:15 June 2021

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