UK Data Service data catalogue record for:

Last Refuge, 1958-1959

Title details

SN: 4750
Title: Last Refuge, 1958-1959
Alternative title: The Last Refuge
Persistent identifier: 10.5255/UKDA-SN-4750-1
Depositor: Townsend, P., London School of Economics and Political Science. Department of Social Policy and Administration
Principal investigator(s): Townsend, P., London School of Economics and Political Science. Department of Social Policy and Administration
Sponsor(s): Nuffield Foundation


The citation for this study is:

Townsend, P. (2011). Last Refuge, 1958-1959. [data collection]. 2nd Edition. UK Data Service. SN: 4750,

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Subject Categories

Elderly - Social stratification and groupings
Use and provision of specific social services - Social welfare policy and systems


Abstract copyright UK Data Service and data collection copyright owner.

This is a qualitative data collection.

In the late 1950s Peter Townsend undertook a national study which investigated the provision of long-stay institutional care for old people in England and Wales. His findings and recommendations were published in 1962 in his book The Last Refuge. The study sought to ask "Are long stay institutions for old people necessary in our society, and, if so, what form should they take?"

Interviews were conducted with local authority chief welfare officers; and over one hundred institutions - local authority, voluntary and private - were visited and interviews made with their matrons, wardens and proprietors; as well as residents. In many cases, detailed notes were also made about the condition of the buildings and the facilities that were offered.

The study was conducted in 5 distinct stages:
  • Pilot 1 - Peter Townsend's first visit to a old people's home (2 field notes)
  • Pilot 2 - Pilot visits/interviews with Welfare Officers and at homes for the elderly in Hampshire (9 field notes; 3 interview summaries)
  • Pilot 3 - Pilot visits/interviews in homes for the elderly in London (7 field notes)
  • Welfare Officer Interviews - Interviews with Welfare Officers (61 interview summaries)
  • Home Interviews - Interviews with matrons, superintendents or proprietors of homes for the elderly (4 field notes; 130 interview summaries)
The data collection also includes 112 digitized photographs taken at the care institutions by Townsend during the fieldwork. The photographs complement the stories told in the interview summaries and field notes. Metadata has been added in the property of each photograph, including id, name of the collection, author, annotations, and a description of the photograph. The data collection which is available from ESDS Qualidata has been digitisation for download.

A teaching resource has been created which can be used alongside this data collection - Re-using qualitative data - The Last Refuge. The resource has activities that can be used in the classroom or as self-paced learning activities. The aim is to think critically about the project's methodology and information provided by the data and what kinds of opportunities and challenges these might present for re-use of that data.

For the second edition (August 2011), 112 digitised photographs have been added to the data collection.
Main Topics:
Old age; elderly people; residential care of the elderly; nursing homes; old people's homes; care of dependants; retirement; nursing; nursing staff; poverty; welfare services; welfare service administration; social isolation; loneliness.

Coverage, universe, methodology

Dates of fieldwork: 1958 - 1959
Country: England and Wales
Spatial units: No spatial unit
Observation units: Individuals
Kind of data: Textual data
Individual (micro) level
Interview summaries
Interview notes
Universe: National
Chief welfare officers, matrons/wardens and elderly people in residential accommodation in England and Wales, 1958-1959.
Time dimensions: Cross-sectional (one-time) study
Sampling procedures: One-stage stratified or systematic random sample
Number of units: Interview summaries = 194; Field notes = 22; Photographs = 112
Method of data collection: Face-to-face interview; Observation
Weighting: Not applicable

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Administrative and access information

Date of release:
First edition: 31 January 2005
Latest edition: 31 August 2011 (2nd Edition)
Copyright: Copyright P. Townsend
Access conditions: The depositor has specified that registration is required and standard conditions of use apply. The depositor may be informed about usage. See terms and conditions of access for further information.
Please note: Online documentation, prepared by the UK Data Archive, is available via the link below.
Availability: UK Data Service
Contact: Get in touch


Title File Name Size (KB)
Data Listing - anonymised version 4750ulist.xls 60
Data Listing - photographs 4750ulist_photographs.xls 69
User Guide 4750uguide.pdf 11290
Data Listing - anonymised version 4750ulist.pdf 506
Data Listing - photographs 4750ulist_photographs.pdf 440
Study information and citation UKDA_Study_4750_Information.htm 6
READ File read4750.htm 3
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Related case studies:

The Last Refuge revisited


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By principal investigator(s):
Townsend, P. (1954) Providing for pensions, Planning, No. 364, Political and Economic Planning, London, pp.93-116.

Townsend, P. (1954) 'Measuring poverty', British Journal of Sociology, June, pp.130-137.

Townsend, P. (1955) 'The family life of old people', The Sociological Review, December, pp.175-195.

Townsend, P. (1957) The family life of old people, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Townsend, P. (1959) The home and welfare services for the aged: 1945-1958 and beyond, Report No. 379 for the Labour Party study group on social security and old age, April.

Townsend, P. and Woodroffe, C. (1961) Nursing homes in England and Wales - a study of public responsibility, National Corporation for the Care of Old People.

Townsend, P. (1962) The last refuge: a survey of residential institutions and homes for the aged in England and Wales, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Townsend, P. (1963) 'The argument for gradually abandoning communal homes for the aged', International Social Science Journal, Vol. XV, No. 3.

Townsend, P. (1964) 'Family and kinship in industrial society' IN P. Halmos (ed.) Proceedings of the Conference of the British Sociological Association, April, Sociological Review Monograph No. 8, October.

Townsend, P. and Abel-Smith, B. (1965) The poor and the poorest: a new analysis of the Ministry of Labour's Family Expenditure Surveys of 1953-4 and 1960, London: Bell.

Townsend, P. and Wedderburn, D (1970) The aged in the welfare state, London: Bell.

Townsend, P. and Field, F. (1970) 'Poverty and the Labour Government', The Spokesman, Summer.

Townsend, P. (1973) The social minority, London: Allen Lane.

Townsend, P. (1975) Sociology and social policy, London: Allen Lane.

Townsend, P. (1979) Poverty in the United Kingdom: a Survey of Household Resources and Standards of Living, London: Penguin Books and Allen Lane.

Townsend, P. (1983) 'A theory of poverty and the role of social policy' IN M. Loney, D. Boswell and J. Clarke (eds.) Social Policy and Social Welfare, Milton Keynes: Open University Press, pp.58-82.

Townsend, P., Corrigan, P. and Kowarzik, U. (1987) 'Poverty and labour in London', Survey of Londoners' Living Standards, Report No. 1, London.

Townsend, P. (1991) 'Rethinking anti-poverty strategies: the last 25 years and the next', Poverty, the Journal of the Child Poverty Action Group, No. 78, Spring, pp.14-16.

Townsend, P. (1993) The international analysis of poverty, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, pp.291.

Townsend, P. et al. (1997), Absolute and overall poverty in Britain in 1997: what the population themselves say, Bristol Statistical Monitoring Unit, University of Bristol, pp.66.

Townsend, P. et al. (2000) Poverty and social exclusion in Britain, 2000, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Townsend, P. and Gordon, D. (eds.)(2001) Breadline Europe: the measurement of poverty, Bristol: Policy Press, pp.465.

Townsend, P. and Gordon, D.(eds.)(2002) World poverty: new policies to defeat an old enemy, Bristol: Policy Press, pp.350.

Resulting from secondary analysis:
Johnson, J., Rolph, S. and Smith, R. (2007) ‘Revisiting “The Last Refuge”: present day methodological challenges’ in M. Bernard, T. Scharf (eds) Critical perspectives on ageing societies, Policy Press, pp. 89-104.

Rolph, S., Johnson, J. and Smith, R. (2009) 'Using photography to understand change and continuity in the history of residential care for older people’, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 12(5) pp.421-439.

Johnson, J., Rolph, S. and Smith, R. (2010) Residential care transformed: revisiting 'The Last Refuge', Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Johnson, J., Rolph, S. and Smith, R. (2010) ‘Uncovering history: private sector care homes for older people’, Journal of Social Policy, 39(2) pp.235-253.


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