[The Old Poor Law in the late Nineteenth Century.] Anonymous Manuscript Document, calling in forthright terms for the amending of 'The Plan of the Poor Laws of England', to weed out 'the loose Profligate and those who do not like work'.

[The Old Poor Law; English Poor Laws; eighteenth-century poor relief]
Publication details: 
Without place or date. [English, late eighteenth century.]
SKU: 21391

2pp, foolscap 8vo. On the rectos of the leaves of a bifolium. In fair condition, lightly aged and worn. On laid paper with indistinct watermark. The context of the document, with the capitalisation and spelling ('mechanick', 'shou'd', 'Publick', 'tyed down', 'lookt', 'Profitt'), points to a late eighteenth-century origin (certainly before the Speenhamland System and Michael Nolan's 1805 'Treatise of the Laws for the Relief and Settlement of the Poor'). No title or heading. A forthright document, whose rhetorical tone suggests that it was intended for public delivery. The author asserts that '3 fourths of the People now upon the poor List are such poor as shou'd not be relieved Namely the loose Profligate and those who do not like work. If this is the Case, the public loose [sic] near another Million by relieving so many who shou'd work'. The cost of poor relief, he claims, all 'falls upon the Landed Interest'. He does not however 'Wish that our Poor Laws were all abolish'd as amended that ever Man shou'd have a Liberty of living where he please'd which would be always where he could get a living best.' The document begins: 'The Plan of the Poor Laws of England tho Calculated upon the Principles of Humanity and Charity are far from answering the Salutary purposes intended. For tho the Lame, the Blind, the Impotent and Aged are amply provided for and I might add the Drones, and those who do not chose to work. Yet the Poor Labourer the little Farmer and the Mechanick are under great Restraints and Difficulties on Account of their Settlement being tyed down to a particular Parish where they find it very difficult to get their living, and yet oftentimes cant get a Certificate to remove to another Parish wher[e] there is great Probability they may Have Work enough and live better.' The author expands on his view, with reference to 'a poor Man who is not of ability to Rent 10£ P Ann', 'the Industrious who mean to Maintain Themselves by Labour' and 'the Interest of the Landed Man'. He notes the 'hardship' that 'lies upon the Man of Ability to Rent 10£ a Year', who 'removes from the Place of his Settlement and Rents 8 or 9 A Year in another Parish. He is there lookt upon as a sort of a Charge to that Parish, as they cant Tax him to the Parish Rates without makeing him a Settlement and therfore oftentimes procure him to be removed'. Elsewhere he asks: 'Do not we now and then see a Shop keeper in a Country Village who is daily pillaging the Poor by selling his Good to them in very small Quantities at 50 P Cent Profitt, during the Time of the Execution of that Office, turn Advocate for the poor and plead for an Increase of their Allowance and this I don't wonder at, as the more he can get Allowed them the more Profitt comes To his Till'. Towards the end he states: 'We all know that the Poor only live from Hand to Mouth that when Corn is at the Dearest they make a Shift to live and when it is Cheapest they save nothing at the Weeks End if it is very low they will perhaps work only 4 Days out of 6. they have no Idea of laying any thing by and I fear what Incourages them in their way of Thinking is the certainty they have of themselves and Family being maintained at the Expence of the Parish when Sickness or old Age comes on'. He states: 'I Believe there is no Nation in the World have got a poor Law but England and I will venture to Assert that there is no Nation where Charity and Benevolence more abound'. He ends with the proposal 'That one publick Workhouse Infirmary and House of Maintainance should be Erected in the Center of Every County where all the Sick, Lame and Aged should be sent whenever they can't take Care of themselves to be there maintained taken Care of & set to work as their Particular Circumstances require.'