Last Days in London

At last count, I have 1,522 pictures of documents from the London Metropolitan Archives; I’ve only started organizing them and gathering my thoughts about all of this information, but first I’m on the train from London to Paris for a bit of vacation before I get back to work. I’m glad to have this opportunity to clear my head a bit, since these few weeks in the archives have been a little overwhelming at times. I didn’t find exactly what I was expecting from the collection of parish records I had initially identified, but luckily I was flexible enough to search the catalogue in more depth and find some more interesting sources. Since my last update, I’ve looked at committee minutes from the Foundling Hospital, which was located just a hop, skip, and a jump from where I’ve been living in Bloomsbury, and was a charity devoted to orphaned and abandoned poor children. It was pretty cool to read those records and then visit the Foundling Museum with recreations of the rooms where they were created! Unfortunately, some of those minutes were also written in the worst handwriting I have ever seen (PSA for future committee members to delegate minute-taking to someone with legible handwriting) so I’ll be deciphering them for a while. I also found accounts of out door relief, whether in money, food, or clothing, and more records relating to the administration of workhouses. In the last few days, I found a treasure trove of miscellaneous documents and letters relating to poor relief, including petitions from paupers themselves. I got covered in dust exploring these collections, but it was a good way to end my research in London. This has been a great experience learning how to navigate the archives and the city on my own, and although I’m happy to be escaping the rain for a little vacation, I hope this is only the beginning of my career of getting dusty in London archives.
UPDATE: Since leaving London, I’ve been in and out of wifi access, which is why this post is going up so late. It’s been nice to have this time to think about things other than research, but I’m also aware of all the work waiting for me when we get home. I think the first step will be cataloguing all of my pictures of documents, but I might go crazy staring at a screen all day, so I’ll also be looking for other primary and secondary sources to start reading. But first I have a few more days in the middle of a heatwave in France!


  1. egdiduch says:

    Hi Yutong,
    You’re right that the voices of paupers themselves are just as (if not more) interesting and important as the voices of the people administering relief, but I’ve found it difficult to find those details. I think this is partly because the paupers didn’t leave as many textual traces of themselves, and partly because administrators didn’t often value their words enough to record them.

  2. egdiduch says:

    Thanks, Emily!

  3. egdiduch says:

    Hi Aaron, thanks for your comment! I think you’re right about literacy among poor people; many of the settlement records I read through had spaces for the pauper to make their mark, like an x or initial, rather than sign their full name. The few petitions from literate paupers were often in shaky handwriting and dubious spelling, which I think makes the appeal in their own words even more revealing and affecting, at least from a historian’s perspective. I originally titled my thesis to focus on worthy widows, feckless fathers, and innocent babes, and I think I’ve managed to find interesting examples from each category.
    I hope you had a great time in the UK too, and look forward to comparing notes more when we get back to campus. I surprised myself by going to the theatre several times in London and enjoying being a solo traveler more than I thought I would!

  4. Emily Xu says:

    It’s really incredible how your research abroad can inform a general concept like the meaning of deserving something! I’m really excited to see where this research takes you and your thoughts about the applications!

  5. Yutong Zhan says:

    Hi Emma,

    Your experience in London sounds very interesting! The petitions from the paupers are truly fascinating. Are you able to identify more personal information relating to these individual petitioners? How did they characterize their own position in nineteenth-century British society? Though your research seemed to focus more on the administrators’ conceptualization of “the poor,” I’m really curious how “the poor” themselves rationalized their own identity.

    Also, I’m glad to see you taking a vacation to clear your mind. I totally understand the stress of working in the archives under time and budget constraints. I think it would be great to have some downtime and relax. Good luck with rest of your research!

  6. achiggins says:

    Hi Emma,

    Wow, you really packed in a lot of research and legwork in a short period of time! Overall, how many archives did you visit?

    The fact that you found pauper’s petitions relating to the Poor Law is really neat. Would I be wrong to assume that most people in their circumstances would have been illiterate in the early nineteenth century? Regardless, I wonder if there were any trends you saw in their petitions, or even life backgrounds (if you could ascertain any information about those points, from petitions alone).

    On a personal note, from one UK-explorer to another, what was your favorite discovery outside of the archives? I was glad to not have much of a culture shock, myself. I hope it was the same in your case, and that you’ve had a splendid time abroad!

    Best wishes, Aaron

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