Poverty, Philanthropy and Social Conditions in Victorian Britain

Discover what life was like for the poorest communities in Victorian Britain, and explore the social reform and philanthropic efforts of charitable institutions that sought to alleviate poverty.

This digital resource documents the interactions between government policy and public philanthropy in Victorian and early twentieth-century society, tracing developments in welfare reform and the social tensions surrounding poverty. Discover the conditions of workhouses and the administration of the new poor relief system through the official government correspondence of the Poor Law Commission, and explore the demonstrable shift in social conditions and welfare reform through a variety of material.

The resource offers rich opportunities for both teaching and research, covering a breadth of topics including workhouses and outdoor relief, health and medicine, disability, housing, sanitation, education, and social reform.

Key Data

Period Covered

  •  1800 - 1900

Collection Highlights

  • The Family Welfare Association Library contains a wealth of rare contemporary printed sources, gathered by the pioneering Charity Organisation Society, founded by Octavia Hill and others. Its library covers a huge range of social issues from the 19th and early 20th centuries including trade unionism, friendly societies, cooperatives, social welfare movements, childcare, and disability.
  • Unique material from The National Archives, UK focuses on the implementation and administration of the new Poor Laws and the workhouse system across the UK between 1834-1904, providing access to the correspondence of the national Poor Law Commission and inspectors. This incredibly rich material provides insight into the conditions of workhouses and the ‚Äėoutdoor relief‚Äô system.
  • Sourced from The British Library, periodicals and annual reports from a range of Settlement Houses provide a fascinating insight into the University Settlement Movement, a reformist social movement with the goal of encouraging the rich and poor to live closely together in an interdependent community.

Source Archives

  • The National Archives, UK
  • The British Library
  • Senate House Library

Material Types

  • Correspondence
  • Newspaper clippings
  • Pamphlets
  • Periodicals
  • Registers
  • Reports

Editorial Board

  • Anthony Brundage, California State Polytechnic University at Pomona
  • Geoff Ginn, University of Queensland
  • Bernard Harris, University of Strathclyde
  • Peter Higginbotham, Historian
  • Steven King, University of Leicester
  • Seth Koven, Rutgers University
  • Lucinda Matthews-Jones, Liverpool John Moores University
  • Samantha Williams, University of Cambridge

Key Themes

  • Charitable institutions and friendly societies
  • Education and children
  • Health, medicine and disability
  • Manufacturing, technology and trade
  • Race and immigration
  • Sanitation, slums and housing
  • Social order and discipline
  • Social reform and welfare
  • Socialism and political movements
  • The Poor Law, workhouses and outdoor relief

Key Features

  • Contextual essays from academics
  • Video interview from historian Peter Higginbotham, exploring the workhouse system and its challenges as an area of research
  • Interactive chronology providing contextual information on key events surrounding the New Poor Law, social welfare and government legislation during the period
  • Case Studies from academics provide introductions to key themes from which users can begin their research

*The Family Welfare Association library was gifted to Senate House Library, University of London by the charity as it operates today: Family Action (https://www.family-action.org.uk/). The Library and publisher are grateful to Family Action for their donation of the material, and for this opportunity to take the story of their pioneering charitable work to a global audience of researchers.


Poverty, Philanthropy and Social Conditions in Victorian Britain.

This database explores intense poverty in Victorian Britain - and efforts to fight it - through the administrative records of workhouses, information on settlement houses, and more....

Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty.

Poverty, Philanthropy and Social Conditions in Victorian Britain (PPSCVB) ‚Äúcomprises primary digital materials‚ÄĚ from the National Archives at Kew, the British Library, and the Senate House Library that ‚Äú[focus] ......