Pauper Inventories and the Material Lives of the Poor in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries

  • Peter King


A substantial history of the physical environments in which the eighteenth-century poor lived has yet to be written. The material world of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries has recently become an increasing focus for the work of historians.1 The growing demand for products and services, and changing patterns of consumer behaviour, have each received fairly comprehensive treatment. The extent to which these new patterns of consumption and demand extended from the middling sort to the labouring poor has, however, been largely ignored.2 While Malcolmson argues in Life and Labour in England 1700–1780 that the ‘expanding culture of consumerism … was almost entirely inaccessible to the great majority of the nation’s population’,3 the relevant parts of his book focus on the ways the poor put together a living rather than on an analysis of their material possessions. The vibrant plebeian culture of the eighteenth century — its recreations, customary practices and popular protests — has been subjected to detailed scrutiny by social historians,4 while the wide-ranging standard-of-living debate has resulted in the detailed exploitation of the limited data available on wages, prices and other indicators of changing real wage levels and overall consumption patterns.5 However, neither of these approaches has focused on the household items and everyday material world of the poor.


Eighteenth Century Consumer Behaviour Material World Household Good Material Life 
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© Tim Hitchcock, Peter King and Pamela Sharpe 1997

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  • Peter King

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