Mary Wilden, a victim to the New Poor Law


Following the establishment of the new Poor Law in 1834, a series of scandals broke, and a public backlash against the workhouse system, often from a Christian perspective, gathered momentum. 

A passionate attack on the Poor Laws, Mary Wilden, a victim to the New Poor Law; or, the Malthusian and Marcusian system exposed, was written in 1839 by Samuel Roberts (1763–1848), also known as the ‘pauper’s advocate’. Roberts examines the case of Wilden, an inmate who died at Worksop Union Workhouse. Despite her horrific injuries (evidently from beatings) and a lurid catalogue of rotting skin, lice, ulcers, and being covered in her own excrement, the inquest found no evidence of mistreatment, and concluded death was by ‘natural causes’.

Roberts’s thundering polemic concludes ‘The New Poor Law and the Aristocracy cannot long exist together!’. Change came, but slowly: the workhouse system was not formally abolished until 1930, and did not finally disappear until the introduction of the welfare state in 1948.

Full title:
Mary Wilden, a victim to the New Poor Law; or, the Malthusian and Marcusian system exposed
1839, London
Samuel Roberts
Held by:
British Library

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