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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: March 2020

1 - Old English Fare


Chapter 1 examines the tensions that erupted in the 1830s and 1840s in reaction to the Poor Law Commission’s ban on serving festive meals of roast beef and plum pudding to workhouse inmates. It demonstrates that, despite the new drive to centralize relief policies in the 1830s, local authorities frequently overrode and undermined directives that interfered with their right to dispense aid in traditional ways that they felt enhanced social stability. This chapter explores the symbolic meaning of roast beef to the institutionalized poor, the Boards of Guardians that superintended them, and the communities in which they were imbedded. It argues that a study of when and why paupers were and were not furnished with what was often termed “Old English Fare” in the early years of the New Poor Law reveals that the transition from moral economy to political economy was far from complete. The tensions that erupted amongst local and central government officials, paupers, and communities in reaction to the Poor Law Commission’s attempt to ban these meals suggests that debates over food were part of much broader negotiations about both the role of the modern state and the place of the poor within local and national communities.

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