Monday 29 February 2016

Proper People. Review by historian and author Peter Higginbotham

While doing research for Proper People I quickly realised that I needed to better understand how the poor relief system worked in England.  This was important as nearly every pauper lunatic committed to the West Riding Asylum in Wakefield, the “proper people” fell under the auspices of the poor relief system at parish, township or poor law board level, and would usually have experienced a period of time in their local workhouse.  They would have arrived at the Asylum accompanied by an Overseer of the Poor and it was poor relief funds that paid for the patient’s maintenance while in the Asylum.  Workhouse life and the poor law were therefore intrinsically linked to their asylum experience.  The exception was that of wandering lunatics with no known “place of settlement” who were funded by the West Riding and as “vagrants and vagabonds” had often come from the penal system.

Peter Higginbotham
The leading authority on anything to do with “workhouse” is West Yorkshire based Peter Higginbotham who was inspired by a chance encounter with the workhouse while doing his own family history research.  Today Peter manages an extraordinary website The Workhouse which is packed with the material he has collected over the years.


To date Peter has produced a number of books on this subject and I recommend his excellent The Workhouse Encyclopedia which I found particularly helpful.

See the full catalogue of titles by
Peter Higginbotham on Amazon.

Peter has kindly agreed to review Proper People and his comments can be read on my Early Asylum Life blog