Unlike most eldest sons of landed families, Sir Frederick Eden (1766–1809), of the well-known Durham family, turned for an occupation to the world of business. His decision to make a career in insurance — he was the founder and subsequently Chairman of the Globe Insurance Company — reflected his consuming interest in the social security of the working class. Most of his short life was devoted to the study of the treatment of poverty. After graduating at Oxford in 1787, he threw himself energetically into the task of collecting a great mass of information from many hundreds of rural and urban parishes concerning the relief of poverty. He also studied the history and theory of poor relief. The results of his research were embodied in a substantial three-volume work, The State of the Poor, published in 1797, when the author was still only thirty-one years of age. The work is a mine of information on all aspects of poor relief in the eighteenth century. The first of the two following extracts surveys the condition of the poor in a typical southern rural parish — that of Seend in Wiltshire. It will be noticed that Eden treats as ‘the poor’ not merely those actually in receipt of parish assistance but all those living on or below the border-line of poverty. The workhouse rules which form the second extract are those of the jointly-run workhouse of the townships of Kendal and Kirkland in Westmorland.
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