Surrey in the 19th Century: Life of the Poor, Emigration and Cultural - A Half-day Course - 10 March

In this half-day course, Dr Judy Hill covers two topics relating to life in the county of Surrey.

Session 1:

During the period 1815 to 1834 agricultural labourers in Surrey experienced increasing hardships and distress. Marginal land brought under the plough during the French Wars was no longer used, resulting in more unemployment. After 1827, there were a succession of bad harvests and the summer of 1830 was wet and cold. The number of unemployed workers increased and parishes found it increasingly difficult to provide adequate poor relief. Many labourers found themselves socially segregated and unprotected against unemployment and price fluctuations. The Swing Riots of 1830-32 took place during a time of increasing pauperisation of labourers. The Riots reflected the resentment felt by agricultural labourers. They wanted vengeance against local landed interests, notably their employers and those who controlled the vestries and made poor law decisions. The attacks struck at the very roots of social cohesion.

Session 2:

Between 1760 and 1820, Britain’s population increased from 7 million to 15 million. Those who emigrated went voluntarily but many were virtually forced into it by sheer poverty. After 1815, the post French Wars recession in agriculture brought insecurity and seasonal unemployment for most agricultural workers in the South East. Acute economic hardship brought a steep rise in poor relief costs. After the Swing Riots of 1830-32, many parishes in the South of England viewed emigration favourably as a solution to the unrest and as a way of removing surplus labour. The Petworth Emigration Scheme, 1832-37, helped 1,800 men, women and children to travel to Upper Canada. It was an extremely well organised scheme and has been well documented. Dr Hill introduces the Petworth Emigrant Letters, written between 1832-37. There are 144 letters, including the Dorking Letters, mostly written and sent during the early months and years of migration. They include descriptions of the journey, first impressions of Canadian life, and many compare their new circumstances with their earlier lives in England. The Letters are a very valuable source of information on the migration process and they provide wonderful insights into life in England at the time of the emigrants’ departure. The Letters enable the historian to glimpse into the rural world of the poor. By using these Letters, researchers in Canada have identified with a fair degree of certainty some 1,600 Petworth emigrants, from the total of 1,800.

A half-day course on Saturday, 10 March (10:30-13:00) with Dr Judy Hill. Cost £20.00/£16.00 SoG members. Places should be pre-booked through our website or by telephone: 020 7553 3290 (Tue-Thu & Sat). Do you have a question? email the events department.

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