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Name: Philip Carstairs 

PhD: Historical Archaeology

Thesis Title:

A generous helping?  The archaeology of soup kitchens and their role in post-medieval philanthropy 1660-1914.


Thesis Description:

I am studying soup kitchens in the post-medieval period.  These charitable institutions appear in large numbers during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  During times of severe hardship for the poor, each one provided several thousand meals daily, financed by subscriptions from the better off.  At the time state-funded welfare was limited, consisting of “outdoor relief” or the workhouse.  Soup kitchen buildings varied from small sheds to large ornate buildings of several stories.  The buildings used by these charities, the technology for cooking and the food served can be used to explore how these institutions mediated between the rich and poor, the giver of charity and its recipient and how the food is used.  The study will consider the influence of ethnicity, religion, immigration and changing philosophies of charity on the material culture and will incorporate evidence from Britain, continental Europe and North America.


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Professor Sarah Tarlow, University of Leicester; Dr Elizabeth Hurren, University of Leicester.


Publications (please include full details with page nos. or web links):

  • Soup and reform: improving the poor and reforming immigrants through soup kitchens 1870-1910.  Paper accepted for a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Historical Archaeology.
  • Rediscovering Berkhamsted's lost soup kitchen. The Chronicle.
  • Boughton Monchelsea Magazine: The Boughton Monchelsea Soup Kitchen.


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:


  • Organiser of sharing the riches: CDF funded training day for presentation skills at the University of Leicester for PhD students from University of Leicester, De Montfort University Leicester, Birmingham City University, University of Nottingham, Nottingham Trent University and University of Birmingham.
  • Seminar presentation, University of Leicester, Department of Ancient History and 20 May 2015: The mysterious death of Mary Ann Bradford 1837?- 1887: Soup kitchens in post-medieval England.
  • University of Leicester Department of Ancient History and Archaeology PhD conference 13 November 2015: Berkhamsted Castle and the Countess of Bridgewater's Soup House.
  • Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) Conference 14 December 2015 The archaeology of space and place: Berkhamsted Castle and the Countess of Bridgewater's Soup House.


  • University of Leicester Cafe Research 3 February 2016: Feeding 1,000 hungry guests: 19th Century Soup Kitchens.


Other Research Interests:

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