By Stanley Merridew
Before the introduction of the Poor Law in 1601 those falling on hard times relied on largely on charity. Local charities were setup by benefactors and continued in some cases to the present day. It is always worth checking if any records survive, although in my experience many give very little details of those receiving assistance. The new act provided for the appointment of overseers in each township.
Their duties included the collection of the Poor Rate and passing it on to those entitled to receive it. To minimalise the amount to be collected parishes restricted payments to those who were settled in the parish. Entitlement was in varying forms: having previously paid the rate, being able to prove birth in the parish (which encouraged baptism), having completed an apprenticeship in the parish. The rules did vary over a period of time. It did mean that when a person became liable through sickness, unemployment, childbirth etc the parish officials were pretty quick to remove those not settled and attempt to return them to their place of settlement.
Illigitimacy was an obvious target. When a single woman without means of support became pregnant the Overseers would carry out a Bastardy Examination to ascertain the name of the father and place the responsibility of maintainence upon them. An order would be passed to the Parish Constable to bring the named father before the Justices of the Peace to admit their liability. Then a court order was raised to demand payment.
24 May 1755 Whereas Jane Smith daughter of John Smith of Guiseley fellmonger has lately been delivered of a female bastard in the township of Guiseley since baptised in the name of Isabella has become chargeable to the inhabitants thereof and whereas the said Jane Smith has charged Christopher Kirk the younger of Cookridge, yeoman with being the putative father of the said female bastard child and agreed to pay Jon Harrison and Matthew Craven (overseers) and their successors the sum of 1/- per week.
Guiseley Apprenticeship Indentures
Another method used to reduce the liability was to place illigitimate or pauper children in apprenticeships. It gave the child an opportunity to learn a trade and gain settlement. It also therefore transferred the liability from the parish to the master. Sometimes the children would be placed with masters faraway from their home. I can recall carrying out some research in Bedale parish records. Here the Overseers were sending pauper children to Hull. In Blubberhouses the mill built an apprentice house to accomodate children from as far away as London to work in the mill.
Guiseley parish has a good collection of surviving indentures from 1741 to 1838:
|21 5 1741||Mary Gill||John Harrison||to age 21 or marriage|
|6 6 1741||John Chapman||William Maude||until age 24|
|9 6 1744||Martha Chapman||Joshua Gibson||until age 21|
|9 6 1744||Thomas Gill||Joseph Whaley||to age 24|
|1 3 1746||William Barret||Henry Wickham||until age 24|
|20 4 1758||Stephen Barrit||William Squire||until age 24|
|1 3 1763||James Brown||Thomas Brown||until age 24|
|9 1 1769||Grace Whalley||John Blesard||until age 21|
|4 10 1770||John Croft||Abrahm Bailey||until age 24|
|5 2 1782||James Roberts||John Riley||until age 21|
Grace Whalley is shown as 8 years old at the time of the indenture!
I also found amongst the records :
28 Aug 1758 The complaint and information of John Yeadon of the township of Guiseley, Clothier taken upon oath before me Henry Wickham Clark one of his Majesties Justices of the Peace. Who saith that on or about the 17th day of October past being a week before Old Michelmas day he hired Samuel Binns late of Baildon clothier from said time ………….. when the said Samuel Binns had served about 40 weeks he married by which marriage he is become less fit for this complainent’s service than when a single person. Pray that the said Samuel Binns may be discharged from his service. This was approved by the JP on the same day.
The Overseers would have kept a watchful eye on any newcomers to the township in case they required subsistence. Then a Settlement Examination would be carried out:
12 May 1741 The examination of George Birch of Guiseley, tailor. He saith that he was born at Hebden in this Riding and that he was bound apprentice by indenture to Richard Overend of Rylston for seven years and stayed until the indenture expired. Then he was hired to William Collison of Guiseley from Mayday until Martinmas following ….to have 20 pence a week and be at liberty of going away at weeksend. Then at Martinmas he agreed with the said Collison for 2/- a week and to be back from his services at every weeksend and to receive his wages sometimes at weeksend and sometimes monthly and staid with the said Collison in that manner at Guiseley for 6 years but was then not hired by him or any other person for a year and since then has not done any act to gain a settlement.
When an individual’s settlement was finalised the parish or township would be asked to prove acceptance of the individual:
3 Feb 1729 to the Churchwardens & Overseers of Guiseley –
We Abraham Smith and Richard Elgin churchwarden & Overseer of the township of Alwoodley do hereby certify that Ann Chambers widow is an inhabitant legally settled in the township of Alwoodley and whereas the said Ann Chambers is desirous to dwell in the said township of Guiseley for the better conveniency of living we do hereby promise to receive and provide for the said Ann Chambers if ever she should become chargeable to the parish of Guiseley unless in the meantime she shall gain a legal settlement there or elsewhere.
The poor woman had probably just buried her husband and was subjected to this scrutiny.
In some cases a Removal Order would be drawn up to transport the family back to their place of settlement:
Removal Order 20 Sept 1758
………….Samuel Binns and his wife came lately to inhabit in the township of Guiseley not having gained a legal settlement there nor produced a certificate owning to be settled elsewhere and that Samuel Binns and his wife are likely to be become chargeable to the township of Guiseley and that the last place of settlement of the said Samuel Binns and his wife is in the township of Morley. We herefore request his removal from Guiseley to Morley signed by Henry Wickham and Thos Lee, Justices of the Peace.
As is apparent, Poor Law records can be very handy in locating those illusive forebears. Many of those working as agricultural labourers or domestic servants would be employed on a twelve month verbal agreement, often at a Hiring Fair. Therefore their burial or marriage can occur in a number of parishes. Many of the Poor Law records have sadly not survived. Within our cachement area probably Guiseley and Hubberholme have the best available records:
Guiseley at Morley (Leeds Archives)
Apprenticeship indentures 1741-1838, bastardy papers 1755-1837, settlement papers 1703-1840.
Hubberholme Northallerton (North Yorkshire Record Office)
Records of poor law administration including apprenticeship indentures 1723-1801, settlement certificates 1720-1779, bastardy bonds 1761-1848.
When the New Poor Law came into effect from 1834 parishes were supposedly prevented from providing “Outdoor Relief” and all claiments were directed to Workhouses. However, payments continued to be made in many areas. It has been suggested that these payments came from local charities but it is often impossible to clarify if they were parish payments from the rates. Alas few Workhouse Records are still in existence. With the paucity of information in parish registers (baptised, married, buried), where they have survived Poor Law records can provide wealth of information about our forebears¸ both for those administering the system and those on the receiving end.