A Micro-History of the Poor Relief Response to Crisis and Dearth: Quainton, Buckinghamshire 1796-1804

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Many local studies have looked at the application of poor relief at parish level. This thesis is unique in considering how the rural agricultural parish of Quainton responded to the dearth of 1799-1801. It considers how flexible Quainton`s relief system was in response to economic crisis and whether, in this context, it served as a `welfare state in miniature` or was merely a `safety net` for the parish`s labouring poor. The micro-analysis of aggregate data shows that expenditure grew by 144 per cent during the dearth. Quainton, initially, was slow to adopt a modified bread scale. After its adoption, aid to poor families with non-productive children escalated, reaching a peak in March 1801, but quickly declined as wheat prices stabilised. Despite the greater level of support given to these families it is questionable whether they were provided with a subsistence income.

Roundsmen`s wages, which had supported Quainton`s unemployed and underemployed labourers, failed at the height of dearth and did not return to a similar level after the crisis. Illness claims and other subsides increased and remained elevated during the 1802-1803 fiscal year, compared to levels between 1796 and 1799. In the post-dearth, the level and means of poor relief in some cohorts of recipients declined below the level of support provided in the pre-dearth.

Quainton`s poor were hit hard by the dearth. In all, this thesis argues that Quainton`s poor relief system demonstrated a certain level of flexibility and was able to respond to higher prices of provision imposed by the dearth, an expectation of a `welfare state in miniature`. However, only a few tenets of that welfare state remained in the aftermath of the economic crisis. Therefore, in reality, Quainton`s poor relief system was more of a `safety net` of last resort for the majority of the parish`s labouring poor.

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Citation

Bagnas, Valerie Hickman, “A Micro-History of the Poor Relief Response to Crisis and Dearth: Quainton, Buckinghamshire 1796-1804,” Centre for English Local History Theses and Papers, accessed April 8, 2020, https://elhleics.omeka.net/items/show/157.