Children of the Poor in London 1700 - 1780
Payne, Dianne Elizabeth
Poor children are elusive in historical records, essentially invisible and unheard, and there is a significant gap in the secondary literature for the period 1700 to 1780. This thesis uses a range of largely unexplored material to access the experiences of poor children in London. By placing children in the foreground and examining their experiences by reading archival sources ‘against the grain’, it reveals details of individual lives and substantially changes our understanding of growing up poor in eighteenth-century London. Experiences are explored in five areas where poor children were found in significant numbers: in parish workhouses and as recipients of outdoor welfare relief; in the capital’s charity schools; in the Marine Society, a charity that sent poor boys to sea; in casual work and apprenticeship; and in the courts of the criminal justice system. This project re-appraises the contribution of poor children to the life of the capital, incorporates their experiences into the historical record, and creates a rounded and substantial picture of their lives in a variety of situations. The thesis argues that the deepseated prejudices of the elite, clearly evident in the rhetoric of eighteenth-century social reform, misrepresented and denigrated the children of the poor, a misrepresentation that has been assimilated into the historiography of the capital. It also suggests that recentb historiography has given us an inaccurate account of the functioning of charitable institutions aimed at children and a limited assessment of the capital’s apprenticeship and criminal justice system.