A methodological and philosophical focus on scandals has turned the workhouse that stands at the heart of popular and historiographical understandings of the English and Welsh New Poor Law (1834–1929) into a dark place of confinement and harsh treatment that the poor were largely powerless to resist. Yet viewed through the lens of interdisciplinary methods not often applied to the history of welfare—in particular, historical sociolinguistics and material-culture analysis—the pauper letters and “stitched” texts that have emerged from large-scale research projects reveal that inmates’ experience in the workhouse were not as dire, and their voices not as suppressed, as once supposed.

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