© 2018

Unmarried Motherhood in the Metropolis, 1700–1850

Pregnancy, the Poor Law and Provision


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xv
  2. Samantha Williams
    Pages 1-43
  3. Samantha Williams
    Pages 45-77
  4. Samantha Williams
    Pages 79-109
  5. Samantha Williams
    Pages 111-164
  6. Samantha Williams
    Pages 165-205
  7. Samantha Williams
    Pages 207-230
  8. Samantha Williams
    Pages 231-238
  9. Back Matter
    Pages 239-270

About this book


In this book Samantha Williams examines illegitimacy, unmarried parenthood and the old and new poor laws in a period of rising illegitimacy and poor relief expenditure. In doing so, she explores the experience of being an unmarried mother from courtship and conception, through the discovery of pregnancy, and the birth of the child in lodgings or one of the new parish workhouses. Although fathers were generally held to be financially responsible for their illegitimate children, the recovery of these costs was particularly low in London, leaving the parish ratepayers to meet the cost. Unmarried parenthood was associated with shame and men and women could also be subject to punishment, although this was generally infrequent in the capital. Illegitimacy and the poor law were interdependent and this book charts the experience of unmarried motherhood and the making of metropolitan bastardy.


illegitimacy childbirth workhouse chargeable bastardy single parents

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.University of CambridgeCambridgeUnited Kingdom

About the authors

Samantha Williams is Senior Lecturer in Local and Regional History at the University of Cambridge, UK. She has published widely on the history of poverty and the poor law, including Poverty, Gender and Life-Cycle under the English Poor Law, 1760-1834 (2011) and Illegitimacy in Britain, 1700-1920 (2005) which she co-edited with Alysa Levene and Thomas Nutt. 

Bibliographic information


“Samantha Williams presents a clearly written, well-structured insight into unmarried mothers’ experience of poor relief in eighteenth and early-nineteenth century London. … Williams has produced useful and detailed data on the mechanisms of filiation and provision for illegitimate children and provided compelling evidence of the multiple demands that faced parishes in this period.” (Kate Gibson, Family & Community History, Vol. 21 (3), 2018)​