In Their Own Write

In Their Own Write is a three-year, AHRC-funded project, running from 2018 to 2021, which uses letters from paupers and other poor people, and associated manuscript material such as petitions, sworn statements and advocate letters (those written on behalf of paupers) to investigate the lives of the poor between 1834 and 1900.

It is run jointly by The National Archives (TNA) at Kew and the Department of History at the University of Leicester.

The majority of work focuses on the many thousands of volumes of poor law correspondence (MH12) held by TNA, much of which has been little used by historians.

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The petition of Elizabeth and William Allen of Bethnal Green, 5 May 1838 (MH12/6843, reproduced courtesy of The National Archives)

Aims of the Project

  • To systematically sample the correspondence in order to identify significant numbers of pauper letters within the overall collection of correspondence;
  • To transcribe these letters and identify the ‘voices’ of the poor who wrote to poor law officials;
  • To analyse the letters with a view to understanding how the poor understood, experienced and exercised agency under the New Poor Law, using historiographical methodologies, but also employing tools from corpus linguistics.

The project team has extensive experience of working creatively with pauper letters and other poor law sources over many years. It brings together world-leading experts in the fields of British poor law studies and pauper correspondence.

Outcomes over the three years of the project will include:

  • a ground breaking monograph;
  • edited volumes showcasing the work of international scholars working on pauper letters and similar sources;
  • a number of scholarly articles;
  • many exciting outreach events.

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Please direct all enquiries about the In Their Own Write project to

Professor Steven King