History: Rogues, Vagabonds & Paupers

Ref: C2223593

Using case studies and original documents, we will investigate the effects of government legislation and changing social attitudes on the lives of the poor man and his family from the Black Death to the start of Victorian workhouses.

Course aim

To investigate how government legislation affected the lives of vagrants, the homeless and the working man and his family; to chart significant events in poor law history and to study how social attitudes towards poverty changed during the period 1340-1840.

Who is the course for?

What topics will this course cover

The course starts in the late medieval period and ends with the advent of the Union Workhouse. Topics to be discussed will include: • The Black Death - the end of the world or a new start? • Henry’s religious turmoil - changing times, changing methods. • The Tudor Poor Law of 1601 - the role of the Overseer of the Poor. • Settlement issues • The Parish Workhouse • The Age of Reason - changing attitudes. • The new order - 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act We will use case studies and (copied) original documents to investigate different aspects of legislation and social attitudes, with plenty of opportunity for group evaluation and discussion as well as some role play as we re-create some 18th century poverty cases in the classroom.

What will it be like?

WEA classes are friendly and supportive. You will be encouraged to work together with your fellow students and tutor. You will be asked to share your ideas and views in the class and work with the group to give and accept feedback in a supportive environment. The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you to be actively involved in your learning. You may be asked to undertake work to support your course outside of your class.

By the end of the course I should be able to:

1. List the major legislation affecting the poor law during the period 1340 -1834 2. Explain the different roles of the House of Correction, the Parish Poor House and a House of Industry. 3. Describe how the law of settlement might affect a poor man and his family 4. Discuss and compare poverty issues from earlier times with those of today.

How will I know I'm making progress?

Throughout the course there will be short question & answer ‘recaps’ at the start of each session, designed to reinforce the learning and there will be plenty of occasions where specific topics are discussed and the conclusions will provide evidence of learning. The course will finish with a group or paired construction of a timeline to highlight social issues discussed.

What else do I need to know, do or bring?

No extra materials required for this course. A visit to a Workhouse (NT) is a possible option to replace one of the sessions or to add on as an extra - subject to discussion with the group.

Reading and information sources

No - the tutor will bring a small library (book box) for students to use during the course and weekly 'weblinks' pages with for internet websites that link to the topics covered will be sent to anyone who wishes to join an email group.

What could the course lead to?

This course is the first of two, the second course looks at the later, 19th and 20th century period and the Union Workhouse and this would be a natural progression. Students might also wish to visit the two existing workhouse museums in England - details will be provided during the course. The course might also lead to further study of social conditions in specific periods, such as Georgian or Victorian England - the WEA offers courses on both of these. Some students might wish to investigate their own community history and locate documents on the local parish workhouse and discover how the poor law affected the local area and community.

Download full course outline

History: Rogues, Vagabonds & Paupers Course Outline


You can if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • are paying the standard fee or are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • are paying with a credit/debit card or are not paying a fee because of a qualifying benefit
  • have a valid email address
  • have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2016
  • have read and accept the standard terms and conditions
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