From Reformation to Improvement: Public Welfare in Early Modern England

By Paul P. Slack | Go to book overview
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The text of this book is, in large part, the Ford Lectures as they were delivered in the University of Oxford in Hilary Term 1995. I have added a brief introduction and a final, concluding chapter, but resisted the temptation to expand the lectures further. Though based at various points on original research, their aim was to try to make sense of themes extending over a long period and to explore their interrelationship. A more detailed treatment would certainly have been possible, but it seemed to me that it might impede, if not altogether obscure, the flow of the argument. One consequence is the retention of some rhetorical echoes of the original oral delivery, but I have tried in the footnotes to substantiate my arguments and to indicate some of the areas where there is room for debate and further research.

I am greatly indebted to the Ford Electors for inviting me to give the lectures, an honour for any historian of Britain and one I especially value since it comes from my own University; and I owe them thanks for their hospitality and help in various ways. Many other colleagues and friends have given me advice in the course of preparing and delivering the lectures, especially Barbara Harvey, Paul Langford, Joan Thirsk and David Underdown, themselves Ford's Lecturers, and Gerald Aylmer, Marilyn Butler, Ronald Hutton, Joanna Innes, Martin Ingram, the late Jennifer Loach, and David Vaisey. I owe a particular debt to John Maddicott for his encouragement and example, extending now over more years than either of us cares to remember. A grant from the British Academy enabled me to gather material from local archives.

I have left out of the text which follows the references to the Reverend James Ford which opened and concluded the lectures. These were more than the customary expressions of piety. In the 1830s and 1840s, as Vicar of Navestock, Essex, Ford illustrated the later development of my theme. The parish records, now in the Essex Record Office, show that he was a conscientious chairman of the vestry, much involved in public and parochial welfare. He extended the schoolhouse, arranged for the repair of roads, and restored, under new trustees, the charities of his parish. One of his chief concerns was the workhouse which had originally been founded in 1741, in pursuance of the Workhouse Test Act of 1723 which has a place in Chapter 6 below; and he was as sceptical about the centralizing New Poor Law authorities of 1834 as any later defender of local and civil societies might have been. I like to think that my theme might have caught his interest, and


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