Protesting against the New Poor Law

What can archival material tell us about protest?

This document pack and associated activity are designed to support students with their depth study of Poverty, Public Health and the State in Britain c1780 – 1939. The period of 1834-55 has been chosen to allow focus on the Poor Law Amendment Act and its impact on society.

The letters provided in this pack are largely from paupers or interested parties writing to the Poor Law Commision, the Poor Law Board or local authorities in regards to the act, as such they offer genuine contemporary reactions to the Act.

The letters have been presented as photographs with transcripts available (printed on the reverse if this pack is printed double-sided). An accompanying powerpoint has been provided which can be edited to suit your needs. Teachers notes have been provided within the powerpoint with suggested activity instructions.



Ask students to come up with a definition of ‘protest’ in pairs. Then, discuss the different types of protest; think about methods, nature, intentions etc.

Allow class 5- 10 minutes to discuss and feedback.

Teacher can facilitate discussion by giving examples of protests, either from History or more recent examples. Be prepared to discuss the merits of peaceful vs. violent protest, as well as the different methods including petitions, marches, letter writing, lobbying, riots, strikes etc.

Main Document task:

Ask students to work in groups to find evidence within the document pack and complete the table provided.

Why did people oppose the New Poor Law? i.e. fears/rumours/morality What was the nature of the opposition? i.e. Who? Why? Actions taken?


What was the extent of the opposition? i.e. geographical spread, size of protest What was the aim of the opposition? What did they want?)


Students should use specific examples from the document content and context. Students may wish to use highlighters to colour code information relevant to the four key areas of investigation: reasons, nature, extent and effectiveness. In groups of four each student can focus their reading on a particular area i.e. student 1 looks for reasons for protest, student 2 looks for the nature of protest etc.

Final task:

Ask students to write a paragraph answering the question:

How would you characterize the actions of protest taken against the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 – are they more moral or political? Is this a useful distinction?

Students should refer to their previous studies as well as the documents in this lesson to answer.

They may also like to use our interactive map to explore the geographical spread of protest in the MH12 collection across the 3500+ letters displayed within our maps.

Back to top

Related resources

Voices of the Victorian Poor

Resources from the Teacher Scholar Programme

Workhouse Voices

What did paupers say about the Poor Law?


Who were the Chartists?