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
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

The Cries of London

Article by:
The Gentle Author
London, Poverty and the working classes, Reading and print culture

The Gentle Author explores William Marshall Craig’s Cries of London prints, which portray the realities of life for street traders in the early 19th century.

The working classes and the poor

Article by:
Liza Picard

Liza Picard examines the social and economic lives of the Victorian working classes and the poor.

Oliver Twist: a patchwork of genres

Article by:
Claire Wood
The Gothic, The novel 1832–1880

Dr Claire Wood examines how Dickens blends multiple genres in Oliver Twist, including melodrama, the Gothic, satire and social commentary.

Related collection items

Related works

A Christmas Carol

Created by: Charles Dickens

A Christmas book by Charles Dickens (1812–1870), published in 1843. Dickens was prompted to write this ...