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'Who Do They Think They Are?' An Analysis of the Boards of Guardians in Hertfordshire

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The boards of guardians were an essential part of the machinery of administering the New Poor Law, yet little has been written about who they were or how they operated. This article examines the men who made up the boards of guardians in four Hertfordshire unions during the early years of the New Poor Law, and presents an analysis of their occupational and social status, age, length of service and attendance at board meetings. It concludes that these Hertfordshire boards were regionally and locally diverse in their composition and were not—as is often claimed—constituted of farmers and shopkeepers. However, when the active participation of individual guardians is taken into consideration, this research finds that a small cohort of middle-aged elite men was managing each union.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2017

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  • Local Population Studies was first published in 1968, and since then it has focused on presenting cutting-edge research in local, population and social history. It is published twice a year online and in print by the Local Population Studies Society, with the support of the University of Oxford. For information about how to become a member of the LPSS, and for freely available back issues from 1968 to 2010, please visit
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