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Round About a Pound a Week

by Maud Pember Reeves
Persephone book no:

78 79 80

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155691

This is a study of working-class life in Lambeth in the early years of the twentieth century that is witty, readable, poignant and fascinating – and relevant to today’s Britain.

In 1909 a group of women, all of them members of the feminist, left-wing Fabian Women's Group, would regularly leave their comfortable homes in Kensington and Hampstead and call on forty-two families in Lambeth in order to interview them about their everyday life. They wrote down their findings and in 1912 these were written up as a twenty-page Fabian Tract which Maud Pember Reeves (1865-1953) and her co-author Charlotte Wilson decided to turn into the more snappily titled Round About a Pound a Week. The sixteen chapters, covering such topics as Housing, Thrift, Food and Mothers’ Days, resulted in a book of stunning interest and originality which has never really been rivalled in the 100 years since first publication in 1913.

The reason the book remains unique is its mixture of factual rigour, wit and polemic. As Polly Toynbee points out in her new Persephone Preface, one of the most shocking facts to emerge is that ‘the Fabian women deliberately avoided the poorest families… because they wanted to show how the general standard of living among ordinary manual workers was below a level which could support good health or nutrition.’  Yet the book is consistently on the side of the mothers; without being in any sense do-gooding it explains ‘to a middle-class world of power and condescension’ that they could not do better than they were doing on the tiny house-keeping allowance that their husbands were able to give them. And it is about far more than how the women of Lambeth ‘managed’.  It is full of the kind of human detail that is usually only found in a novel. Polly Toynbee ends her preface by asking what Maud Pember Reeves would think nowadays. She concludes that she would be proud of the NHS and the welfare state but that she would be perplexed that the inequalities between rich and poor are still so enormous.


'Alphabet' sampler stitched in 1912 by 'DAR', Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester

Picture Caption

Original cover for the Fabian Pamphlet upon which Round about a Pound a Week was based.

Read What Readers Say

Dr Frances Wedgwood, ‘British Medical Journal’

In 1909 Maud Pember Reeves and her colleagues in the Fabian Women’s Group started something extraordinary... a sort of Edwardian Sure Start. The breathtaking aspect of their work was not their intervention but the data they captured in the process. ‘Round about a Pound a Week’ is a fascinating read full of heartbreaking detail. It was hugely influential to the pioneers of the welfare state.

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