The immensely rich archives emerging from the parochial administration of the English poor law before 1834 include letters to the overseers of the poor that came from the poor themselves. As personal testimonies of people claiming relief, which are often written in a stunningly 'private' tone, pauper letters allow deep insights into the living conditions, experiences and attitudes of the labouring poor in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Some 750 of these pauper letters, all those presently known to survive in the county of Essex, are contained in this volume. The historical apparatus draws on material from other sources (overseers' correspondence, overseers' accounts and vestry minutes), to put the letters in context. The documents reveal the strong belief of the poor in their right to relief, and their surprisingly powerful position in negotiating their case with the overseers. The Introduction demonstrates the immense importance of this largely neglected source - both for the social historian and for the comparative study of literacy.