A Study Of Town Life

Submitted By rickystahh7
Words: 1985
Pages: 8

Few people spend all their days in Class A. It is nevertheless a class into which the poor are at any time liable to sink should misfortune overtake them, such as continued lack of work, or the death or illness of the chief wage earner. The families who are in it because the wage earner is out of work will rise above it when work is found, unless physique and morale have been ruined by the period of economic stress. Many families too will rise above it when the children begin to earn money. But the old people, who have no children growing up, must remain in the class until they die, or enter the workhouse.

[Class B families] The pawnshop often plays an important part in the lives of the people in Class B, but especially is this true of those who live in the slums, where the stream of people coming to the pawnshop on Monday morning is a characteristic sight. The children are sent off with the weekly bundle early on that day, and a number of them may sometimes be seen sitting on the steps outside the pawnshop door waiting for it to open. Once the habit of pawning has been formed, it is difficult to break. Some families pawn their Sunday clothes regularly every Monday, and redeem them as regularly on the following Saturday night when the week’s wages have been received.

Seebohm Rowntree, Poverty: A Study of Town Life (1901)

How useful is this source extract to our understanding of poverty in England in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?

Seebohm Rowntree’s book Poverty: A Study of Town Life was published in 1901. Rowntree was a sociological researcher who wrote his first book on findings and studies based on poverty. The origin of the source suggests that it’s a useful source; the sociologist was there around the period in question therefore had a first class encounter with the poverty in the specified period and was written in an analytic manner. This may make it useful as it may suggest an unbiased source. This was at a time before the First World War, which played a big impact on poverty and its diminishing effect. Rowntree wrote about families being “ruined by the period of economic stress” highlighting the impact the economy and the financial position of Britain affected poverty in families. “What is wrong with the poor is poverty” quoted by George Shaw [1] underlining and beginning to distinguish a poverty line in the nineteenth century. The king’s speech to parliament in 1919 supports this idea in the early nineteenth century; “Before the war, poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing, and many remediable ills were aggravated by division” [2]. However, it suggest that the First World War made a great impact on improvement in poverty in England which questions if the source extract, published in 1901, may be suitable for understanding poverty in the early twentieth century.

The content of the source has much value to a historian as it mentions a lot of relevant information about poverty. It discusses poverty routines and poverty in everyday life. It mentions everyday struggles and addictions to certain facilities helping families. It shows an inside into regular lives and shows us the importance of bondage between family members. This is useful in understanding the factors involved in poverty and the aspects needed for families within these classes, to survive. Rowntree’s book distinguishes the poverty line drawing out different classes in Britain. Rowntree worked closely alongside Charles Booth to investigate the sociological side to poverty. Charles Booth “influenced government intervention against poverty in the early 20th century and led to the founding of Old Age pensions”. This suggests that poverty was quite consistent throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries showing the government being advised by Rowntree’s and Booth’s findings in the early twentieth century [3]. The source extract shows how many families began to “rise above” their constrained classes when the children began to