Supplying London’s workhouses in the mid-nineteenth century

Brown, Douglas (2016) Supplying London’s workhouses in the mid-nineteenth century. London Journal, 41(1), pp. 36-59. ISSN (print) 0305-8034


London’s workhouses bought vast quantities of provisions to feed and clothe their pauper populations. This article explores the business of supplying these institutions. Several large suppliers dominated the markets for goods required in bulk. These businesses also sold to other institutions such as hospitals, barracks and prisons. But poor law unions were also keen to buy from smaller local suppliers such as high-street retailers. This can be seen in the provisioning arrangements of a central London union, St Saviour Southwark, and a peripheral parish, St John Hampstead. Guardians wanted to keep rates low by buying from large dealers, but also liked to keep the poor rates circulating within the local economy if possible. There was not significant geographical variation in pricing across London, but some suppliers charged different amounts to different unions. Possible reasons for these disparities include transport costs, sizes of orders, the quality of goods and anti-competitive behaviour.

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