Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



How is a cultural identity created, defined, and used? In this study, I have traced Bethnal Green’s cultural identity in the period between 1550 and1945. It was a cultural identity defined by poverty, but also by hope; residents were poor but scrappy, able to make do with the worst of circumstances. That cultural identity defined the area to outsiders; it was also embraced by the residents. Following the area’s path from an idyllic and genteel area to an overcrowded slum, I have traced the experience of poverty, and the development and impact of poverty relief, from the perspective of both residents and outsiders. Not all policies were effective: outside interference, particularly by London, was seen as intrusive and unwarranted; homegrown efforts, and those which incorporated residents’ ideas and opinions, were the most effective. Bethnal Green was a laboratory for poor relief efforts in the United Kingdom; in many ways the British welfare state began in Bethnal Green. Previous studies have traced the effects of poverty and poor relief, in the area, usually by statistic documentation. The effect of poor relief on the residents was mixed. In some ways, like slum clearance and healthcare, it greatly improved life for residents. Other institutions were complete failures. The cultural identity of the area was informed by both.



Committee Chair

Veldman, Meredith



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