Sample Pauper lives

One important part of this project is the reconstruction of the lives of paupers in the past. These people left no written testimonial, no autobiography or personal papers. In this respect, of course, they are typical of most of those who lived hundreds of years ago. However, via the records generated by the poor law and the parish we can uncover an often surprising amount of detail about their lives. In what follows, we will look at some of the better documented paupers. What these individuals have in common with each other is the following: they all entered the St Martin's workhouse at least once between 1725 and 1824, they were all examined at least once under the laws of settlement and they all survived into adult life. Where possible, their lives have been amplified by other historical records, such as the Mormon IGI and the Old Bailey online. If any reader has information about these individuals which is not recorded here, we would be delighted to hear from you. Most eighteenth-century adult Londoners were not native to the city, but were born in  the villages and towns of Georgian Britain. The biographies of London's poor inhabitants therefore, shed light on the experience of men and women throughout the country. For another project which is seeking to reconstruct the lived experience of poor Londoners, see the Plebeian Lives project. Each biography is given in tabular form, which opens in a separate window, with a brief written summary.


Sarah Chandler (1736-1790)

Jane Jewel (1759-1793)


The Pauper Lives

1.Sarah Chandler (c. 1736-1790)

Her Pauper Biography

The records that we have suggest that the life Sarah Chandler, ne Hope, took a turn for the worse in her husband's last illness in 1773. Married to Richard Chandler in Berkshire in 1753, they were able to rent a house in St Martin in the Fields at a reasonable rent of 16 per year some time around 1762. They left that house around 1766 and at some point thereafter moved to Southwark. Richard, as would Sarah, died in the workhouse just over two weeks after he entered with his family in 1773. Richard's examination in 1773 shows that he, probably together with his wife and daughter, had been passed from the Southwark parish of St John's in that year. As was typical of most workhouse regimes, married couples were separated on entry, in different wards. After the death of her husband Sarah was in and out of the workhouse, never staying for very long, possibly using it (as others did) as a short term refuge. Sarah was examined by local JP's under the settlement laws in 1786 and entered the workhouse again that same day. Sarah's last stay in the workhouse must have been literally on her deathbed, in the last stages of the fever that killed her the day after her entrance in 1790. She was buried at parish expense. Apart from the unusual number of times Sarah entered the workhouse, it is interesting that the Mormon IGI confirms the record of her marriage to Richard in what was then the village of Thatcham, Berks.

2. Jane Jewel (1759-1793)

Her Pauper Biography

Jane Jewel, ne Roberts, was born around 1759. We know nothing else about her until her marriage to Samuel Jewel in 1780. Thereafter Jane's relatively short life must have been extremely hard. Samuel deserted Jane eight months after her wedding, and when she was heavily  pregnant with her son Samuel. She was examined by local JP's before his birth, whilst lodging at the Spring Gardens Coffee House. Interestingly, Samuel was born (and christened) in one the new Lying in Hospitals, located in London's, Holborn. Following the birth of her son, Jane made the first of fifteen stays in the St Martin's workhouse. There are some notable features of her time in that institution. Firstly, Jane was one of the few paupers who were explicitly accused of theft in the workhouse register.  Jane seems to have 'absented', that is, run away, or left without permission, with 'several articles from the patients' in October 1786. Secondly, her son Samuel only entered once, so must have been privately provided for, or dead, before her second entrance to the workhouse at the end of February 1782. Theft might well have been one of Jane Jewel's 'survival strategies', given the appearance of someone with her unusual name in the Old Bailey proceedings a week before her second admittance to the workhouse. Jane's last stay in the workhouse in 1793 was by far the longest. She died there four months later. This relatively lengthy stay may have been related to the cause of death ascribed, namely 'foul disease', that is syphilis. Since sufferers of terminal syphilis endured the ghastly symptoms (and treatment) for many years, it is highly probable that Jane's entire adult life had been blighted. We can only speculate on how Jane caught the 'foul disease', but Samuel would be one possible source of infection, another being the possibility of casual prostitution following his desertion. Readers wanting more detail about the foul disease should consult the excellent book by Kevin Siena.




Last updated: 15 July, 2007