The Historical Journal


Family Responsibility and State Responsibility in Britain Before the Welfare State1

M. A. Crowthera1

a1 University of Glasgow

In his autobiography, Joseph Arch recalled a trial which had taken place in Bedford in 1875, and which had caused much local dissatisfaction:

Samuel Dawson, a farm labourer aged fifty-seven, whose wages averaged twelve shillings a week, was sent to Bedford gaol for two months with hard labour…because he could not pay one shilling a week towards the maintenance of his parents… It was a cruel business and it touched scores and scores of labourers on the raw^-fof'this question of maintaining parents was a burning one.


1 I am indebted to Dr John Brown of the University of Edinburgh for information and criticism in writing this article.