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Small Bills and Petty Finance: Co-creating the history of the Old Poor Laws, 1750–1834


John Dempsey, The Crossing Sweeper, c.1820, © www.portrait.gov.au

Thursday 7 October 2021, 6.00PM to 7.30pm

Speaker(s): Dr Peter Collinge, Keele University

The image of workhouse inmate Oliver Twist existing in abject misery and asking for more is deeply impressed on the imagination. So strong is the image that it is seemingly impossible to get behind it to answer two straightforward questions: what goods and services were provided to those in need under the old poor laws and who supplied them?

Setting out to answer these questions, a four-year AHRC-funded project ‘Small Bills and Petty Finance: Co-creating the history of the Old Poor Laws, 1750–1834’ combines academic and public history. The universities of Keele and Sussex, record offices in Cumbria, East Sussex and Staffordshire, and volunteer researchers drew on an extensive class of documents known as overseers’ vouchers.

These bills and receipts, generated by tradespeople and parish vestries as part of the much wider process of administering the old poor laws, survive largely uncatalogued and unused in county archives. Often nothing more than scraps of paper, the contents of overseers’ vouchers, nevertheless, offer enormous potential for family and local historians.

In an illustrated presentation Dr Peter Collinge discusses the collaborative nature of the project and some of the ways in which overseers’ vouchers can be used by those researching family, parish, and local history to tell the stories of people who came into contact with the old poor laws.

Dr Peter Collinge was awarded his PhD on Georgian businesswomen in Derbyshire in 2015. He is a post-doctoral researcher on the ‘Small Bills and Petty Finance’ project and currently the co-contributing editor of the forthcoming volume Providing for the Poor, 1750–1834. He has published articles on eighteenth-century women and business, the grocery trade, spa life and tourism, workhouse gardens; and nineteenth-century publishing.

Book tickets

Location: University of York, TBC