Vol. 94: Winchelsea Poor Law Records 1790-1841

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Author: Malcolm Pratt
Date: 2011
Volume: Volume 94
ISBN: 978 0 85445 076 3
Status: In-print

‘The poor are ever with us’ is a common phrase, but one that usually evokes images of an amorphous, anonymous mass. Rarely do we get beyond grim registers yielding stark statistics on people, money, food and clothing. Yet through the use of an amazing and unusual collection of letters, this volume puts stories. faces and individual identities to the poor of Winchelsea of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In doing so, it also conjures up the life of this small town at that time, the work of its inhabitants and the duties of those in authority who took responsibility for the poor. In particular, it highlights the dedicated and highly efficient work of one man, Charles Arnett, the master of the workhouse and the only salaried official, as he struggled for five years to both care for the poor and balance the books. Here are stories for all times as people moved in and out of employment, suffered from rising food prices, coped with how life could suddenly be changed by ill-health, and the constant struggles of maintaining families – all against a backdrop of limited and inadequate housing. This volume yields a multi-faceted set of stories drawn not only from the points of view of those in authority and their various registers, but also from the heartrending letters of the poor.

Malcolm Pratt served Winchelsea Corporation as Honory Town Clerk between 1984 and 2012, having previously served for more than twenty years as clerk of the town’s Parish Council. He is the author of two books about the town’s history: Winchelsea, A Port of Stranded Pride and Winchelsea, The Tale of a Medieval Town. His background is as a long-serving teacher of English and Drama in several schools in East Sussex before he retired as Deputy Head of the William Parker School in Hastings. In the Queen’s Birthday Honours List of 2010, Malcolm was awarded the MBE ‘for services to the community in Winchelsea and to heritage in East Sussex’.