The Implementation and Administration of the New Poor Law in Hertfordshire c1830-1847
This research presents a regional study of the implementation of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act (commonly known as the New Poor Law) and its operation in Hertfordshire up to 1847. It examines the economic costs of poor relief across the whole of this rural southern county but it also adopts a microhistory approach to examine in detail how the New Poor Law was implemented and administered in four poor law unions: Hatfield, Hitchin, St Albans and Watford. This study makes national and intra-county comparisons of poor relief data, policy and practice. This research focuses on people as well as place and examines how different groups influenced poor law policy and practice. It makes an important finding about the role played by the second Marquis of Salisbury (a prominent Hertfordshire resident) in the review of the poor laws and the legislation that followed. At the local level this thesis explores the process of implementation and gives new emphasis to the contribution made by the assistant poor law commissioners to both process and policy in the initial years of the New Poor Law. This study is unusual in the attention given to the middlemen of the poor law machinery – the poor law guardians and poor law officers including: medical officers, workhouse masters, relieving officers and schoolmasters and mistresses. This detailed examination of the local guardians challenges the existing historiography on the social demography of this body of men, demonstrates that the influence of elite personnel persisted and adds new data to support the argument that the operation of the poor laws was not just regionally but locally diverse. The workhouse, so symbolic of the New Poor Law and an essential component of the deterrent ideology, is considered in the context of attitudes around its construction and capacity as well as its everyday operation. This thesis adds to the poor law historiography with new data on a previously under-researched area of the country; it provides new information on the development of poor law policy, but more importantly it draws attention to the role of the middlemen and how their individual contributions influenced poor law policy and practice.