Social Explorers

'Social Explorers' (or 'Social Investigators') is a term used to describe individuals, usually well-heeled, who disguised themselves as vagrants and entered the workhouse (or, most commonly, just its tramps' accommodation or 'casual ward') to experience its conditions and subsequently write about what they had observed. Possibly the earliest of these was the anonymous (and presumably Scottish) author of Visit to an English Workhouse, published in 1837, although he only got as far as living on the inmates' diet for several days. The first explorer to fully immerse himself in casual ward conditions was James Greenwood, whose articles in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1866, about the Lambeth casual ward, caused a sensation. Other authors, such as Mary Higgs, wrote about their experiences with the aim of improving the conditions for those forced to seek shelter in workhouses.

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Ancestry UK

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