Sickness, medical welfare and the English poor, 1750-1834

By Steven King

Sickness, medical welfare and the English poor, 1750-1834


  • Hardcover

Book Information

  • Format: eBook
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-2902-4
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Published Date: May 2018
  • BIC Category: Social & cultural history, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural, MEDICAL / Nursing / Issues, MEDICAL / History, Medicine / History of medicine, Humanities / Social & cultural history, History, Modern History, History of Medicine
  • Series: Social Histories of Medicine


At the core of this book are three central contentions: That medical welfare became the totemic function of the Old Poor Law in its last few decades; that the poor themselves were able to negotiate this medical welfare rather than simply being subject to it; and that being doctored and institutionalised became part of the norm for the sick poor by the 1820s, in a way that had not been the case in the 1750s.

Exploring the lives and medical experiences of the poor largely in their own words, Sickness, medical welfare and the English poor offers a comprehensive reinterpretation of the so-called crisis of the Old Poor Law from the later eighteenth century. The sick poor became an insistent presence in the lives of officials and parishes and the (largely positive) way that communities responded to their dire needs must cause us to rethink the role and character of the poor law.


'King (economic and social history, Univ. of Leicester, UK) makes an impressive contribution to the rehabilitation of the Old Poor Law. Toward the end of his massively researched book, he argues for "the increasing centrality of the sick poor." Those who administered "a complex amalgam of several poor laws" merit being placed "in a more positive light" than has been common (p. 332). This is a nuanced book, for instance, in describing varying legitimacy of claims for relief of different kinds of poverty and the exercise of agency by the poor. King bases his analysis principally on operational data (correspondence, bills, etc.) from 117 communities located in a selection of diverse counties. This information is supplemented by a second dataset from 146 parishes with less complete records; a third and more miscellaneous dataset is derived from King's from his earlier research (such as coronial court papers) and "notes on patient cases kept by voluntary hospitals and workhouse medical staff"); finally, King lists a fourth dataset ("letters from poor claimants, their advocates and officials," p. 18). A meticulously documented study.'
D. M. Fahey, emeritus, Miami University, Choice Reviews, March 2019 Vol. 56 No. 7

'This will prove to be an important book for the study of Old Poor Law policy and practice, wider medical welfare, the professionalisation of medicine, the medical marketplace and the medical economy of makeshifts, and it will contribute to current debates over the relative vibrancy of pauper agency.'
Samantha Williams, University of Cambridge, Social History of Medicine, Volume 32, Issue 2, May 2019


Part I: Locating sickness and medical welfare
1. The ecology of poor relief
2. Defining and measuring
3. Negotiating medical welfare
Part II: The scale and character of medical welfare
4 Treating the sick poor: a quantitative overview
5 Medical People
6 Wider medical welfare
7 Dying, being buried and leaving people behind
Part III: Parochial medical welfare in context
8 Institutions and the sick poor
9 The medical economy of makeshifts
10 Making sense of diversity


Steven King is Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Leicester

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