Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Part 3: The right to settlement in the parish of Thames Ditton.

From the later part of the seventeenth century and throughout the following century, legislation concerning the regulation of people claiming a ‘right’ to poor relief focussed on the concept of ‘settlement’. The principle behind these rules was that each person had a place of settlement to which he or she could be returned. The Poor Law Act of 1662,[1] more commonly known as the ‘Settlement and Removal Act’, required that the place of legal settlement of every pauper had to be determined. It bestowed supervisory responsibilities on county justices, while day-to-day administration fell upon individual parish vestries and overseers of the poor. While the rules of settlement allowed the eligible poor to claim relief, there was no guaranteed entitlement to relief and a pauper might still be denied relief by the parish vestry.[2] What the poor laws provided was the means by which entitlement to relief was regulated.
 
The Act of 1662 (as modified from time-to-time) specified that settlement might be obtained after a period of 40 days’ residence in a parish,[3] (new residents having first notified the overseers of their arrival in the parish) or the rental of property valued at £10 per annum or more, at a time when the average labourer’s cottage was fifty shillings a year. While the population of Thames Ditton in 1755 was made up of about 190 families, of which approximately forty families’ occupied houses with a value of £10 or more, meaning that just over 20 per cent of householders would have qualified for settlement in the parish on that basis.

Temporary workers were expected to provide the new parish with a certificate of settlement from their parish of origin, while other migrants might be required to provide a financial indemnity against their obtaining settlement. When Henry Johns moved to Thames Ditton he brought with him a certificate from the overseers of Godalming, Surrey addressed to the overseers of Thames Ditton acknowledging that Henry Johns, his wife and son were legally settled in Godalming. In accordance with standard practice, the certificate (dated December 1750) was signed by two overseers, two churchwardens, two justices and two witnesses from Godalming. The same certificate was subsequently relied on, not only by the holder but also by his son. The overseers of Thames Ditton received six shillings from Godalming in 1785, and again in 1819, for the keep of Robert Johns, the son. On the later occasion, the overseers of Thames Ditton wrote to their counter-parts in Godalming, asking them to grant Robert a weekly allowance.

Subsequent acts extended settlement rights to those who served one year in an annual public office; those who paid public taxes; apprentices of a resident master;[4] and unmarried persons hired as servants for a year and a day.[5] When examined in September 1781, William Keene declared that his last place of settlement was in Putney where he had served an apprenticeship in 1750. However, employers were able to avoid the year and a day rule by terminating employment short of a full year. The examination of Henry Collins in 1744 reveals that he had been employed in Mitcham for a year less three days. His employer, whether acting independently or in accordance with the parish policy, avoided the creation of a new settlement for the migrant worker.

The practice in Thames Ditton was for the overseers to take any newcomer without a certificate before two justices, at which point he or she was examined as to the place of settlement, following which an order might be made to remove him or her from the parish. A large (though incomplete) set of settlement examinations have survived from Thames Ditton.[6] They provide evidence that some people were examined on more than one occasion, most probably when individual circumstances appeared to have changed. While two justices signed removal orders, it was the overseers who decided who would be brought for the justices for such an order to be made.


Table 1: Determination of settlement, Thames Ditton, 1729-1785.


Basis of settlement

87

%
Birth

13

14.9

Marriage

6

6.9

Apprenticeship

14

16.1

Employment

46

52.9

Rental of a property valued at over £10 p.a.*

7

8.0

Grant of settlement from another parish

1

1.1

* Of which two examinations included serving as a parish officer and paying local taxes.

Table 1 includes thirteen cases where settlement was determined by birth, including ‘inherited’ settlements. Edward Elliott was born in Dorking, although his father’s last settlement was in Chiddingfold, Surrey, where he had been an apprentice. On the basis of a child following the father’s settlement, Elliott’s settlement was determined to have been in Chiddingfold.

A wife’s settlement lay with that of her husband, which was of particular relevance if she was widowed (or abandoned) by her husband. The examination of Mary Hawkins revealed that her husband had served an apprenticeship in Billinghurst, Sussex where he was last settled, and that he had deserted her five years previously. An order was issued for the removal of Mary and her two children (aged six and one years) to Billinghurst, irrespective of her place of birth or absence of familial connections in Billinghurst. An earlier examination of Mary revealed that her younger child was the illegitimate child of Matthew More of Thames Ditton, who had since left the parish. The fact of parentage gave her son a right to settlement in Thames Ditton, therefore, the overseers of Billinghurst were entitled to request that the overseers of Thames Ditton reimburse them for of any relief necessary to support the child.

In contrast, the examination of Hannah Smith revealed that her husband’s last legal place of settlement was North Chaple, Sussex, that he had left her ten years previously and that her 10 year-old child did not live with her in the parish. Nevertheless, no removal order appears to have followed. While the absence of a removal order cannot be taken at face value, it is possible that a woman aged between 30 and 35 years was considered to be young enough to support herself, particularly as she had no dependants living with her, although she was still of an age where she could have more children. Elizabeth Anderson was fortunate to escape the fate of removal to her husband’s home in Ireland. The fact that her husband had left her twelve years previously was not an issue but Ireland lay outside the jurisdiction of the justices. However, the justices were able to establish Elizabeth’s settlement in the adjoining parish of Long Ditton, based on her previous employment, and ordered her removal.
 

The dilemma for the overseers was whether to assess a resident and create a new settlement, or to withhold an assessment and thereby lose out on additional income for the parish, particularly in those instances where a wealthy resident would have made a substantial contribution to the rate.[7] Migrant worker, Henry Comfort, was assessed in 1735 and 1745 on property in Thames Ditton valued at £4, however, the rate books for 1765 records that he had ‘no certificate’ and was no longer assessed. Nevertheless, the examination of his son, Philip Comfort, in July 1786 records that both he and his father had a certificate of settlement from Kingston upon Thames. By withholding the claim for contribution to the parish rate from Henry Comfort, not only had the overseers of Thames Ditton successfully managed to avoid an elderly man gaining a right to settlement and relief but also that of his son.
 

As demonstrated in Table 2 below, the type of people ordered to be removed from Thames Ditton is evenly split between those who had become chargeable and those who were likely to become chargeable, suggesting that the vestry were just as concerned with potential claimants as with those in need of immediate relief. Unsurprisingly, the majority of persons removed from Thames Ditton were those least able to support themselves, i.e., women and children.


Table 2: Removals in and out of Thames Ditton 1726-1799.
 

59

Out of Thames Ditton

28

Into Thames Ditton

29

Likely to become chargeable

9

Likely to become chargeable

30

Have become chargeable

19

Have become chargeable

59

Location

28

Location

40

Moved to another parish in Surrey

21

Moved from another parish in Surrey

12

Moved to Middx/ London

5

Moved from Mddx/ London

7

Moved to other Parishes

2

Moved from other Parishes

59

Status

28

Status

21

Single woman

13

Single woman

6

Woman with child/children (4)

Man with child/children (2)

4

Woman with child/children (3)

Man with child/children (1)

1

Child

2

Child

16

Family

4

Family

8

Couple

2

Couple

7

Single man

3

Single man

 
With an increasing number of people moving in search of work, parishes such as Thames Ditton which lay on a main route to London would have been concerned to avoid incomers obtaining any rights to relief, even if it meant falsifying a receipt to cover up a potentially costly mistake. In 1778 the Thames Ditton vestry sought counsel’s opinion regarding the settlement and removal of William Verrill, a tenant who had paid the poor rate on the house he occupied in the parish. Counsel, Mr Rous, advised that if the name of landlord or tenant had been omitted from the assessment, then it became an assessment of the occupier, the poor rate being a tax payable by the occupier. The overseer for Thames Ditton was blamed for receiving the rate from the tenant and he was instructed by the vestry to issue a receipt for the payment which included the statement, ‘Rec’d of Mr Boorer (by the hands of William Verrill)’. Counsel’s opinion was that the receipt was invalid because it appeared to have been intended to prevent a settlement, when the officer clearly received payment from the pauper tenant. In that instance, the vestry risked the cost of obtaining the opinion of counsel (his fee was one guinea) because the potential cost to the parish of granting relief was far greater.

The evidence from Thames Ditton (Table 2) is that the incidence of travel outside the parish of settlement was much greater among people with a settlement in another Surrey parish or from neighbouring Middlesex and London. Only three orders concerned removal to a parish any significant distance from the parish. When John Green, his wife and three children were declared ‘likely to become chargeable’ in 1746, they were ordered to be removed to Boston, Lincolnshire where Green had gained settlement through an apprenticeship to a miller. In 1777 Clement Elliott became chargeable and was removed to Berry, Sussex, where he had worked eighteen years previously as a farm labourer. Likewise, when John Selly and his five children became chargeable in 1783 they were removed to West Pernard, Somerset, where Selly held a certificate of settlement issued three years previously. The rules of settlement provided a man or woman with the opportunity to travel in order to find work and provided the receiving parish with the benefit of labour when needed. While the new parish was able to return a person to his or her place of settlement when work was no longer available, they were equally obliged to receive their own pauper emigrants.

Parish officers did not necessarily undertake removal procedures to remove those residents who were able to support themselves and whose work supported the local economy; rather they acted to protect any potential liabilities for relief. John Risbridger was examined in 1771, 1775 and 1778, at which later date an order was made for his removal. Despite that, the rate book for 1795 records John Risbridger living in Thames Ditton in a house valued at £15. In the intervening years Risbridger either obtained a certificate from another parish or gained settlement in the parish through occupation of a house valued at over £10.

The risk in failing to act upon a removal order was that a new resident and his or her family members might subsequently acquire settlement in the parish. John Skerving was examined in February 1775, when he declared that he had gained a settlement in Wandsworth, having rented a house in that parish for £10 per annum. He also declared that he had a wife with him in Thames Ditton. A removal order was issued in respect of Skerving and his wife on the grounds that they were ‘likely to become chargeable to the parish’. The records show that Skerving was examined again in October 1778 when the same details were provided, although no reference was made to the earlier removal order and Skerving and his wife continued to live in the parish. When Skerving’s widow was examined in February 1789 she was found to have gained a settlement in her own right by way of continuous employment with the same person.

Likewise, Elizabeth Morritt, a single woman living in the parish, declared her place of settlement to be in Walton on the Hill where she had worked for the same master for over one year. Although an order was made for her removal on the basis that she was ‘likely to become chargeable to the parish’, Elizabeth remained in Thames Ditton. Elizabeth was re-examined December 1782, at which time she claimed settlement in the parish on the grounds of her employment as a needlewoman with the same employer for over one year. Elizabeth had been allowed to remain on the first occasion because she had gainful employment and was able to maintain herself. The reason for the second examination was most likely due to the birth of her ‘bastard’ child, the father having been a temporary labourer in Kingston upon Thames, who had since left the area. There being no information on the settlement of the father, the overseers would have been obliged to accept that Elizabeth and her child had gained a settlement in Thames Ditton.

Debate raged between historians Norma Landau and Keith Snell as to whether the laws of settlement restricted an individual’s freedom of movement or offered a guarantee of parish relief during periods of poverty.[8] It must be true that parishes which refused or restricted the issue of certificates acted as a restriction on liberty. Nonetheless, movement continued between parishes as the rules of settlement allowed parishes to control mobility, without preventing it. Over the next few blogs I will consider eligibility to indoor and outdoor relief once settlement in Thames Ditton was established.

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[1] 13&14 Car. II c.12 (1662) an Act for the Better Relief of the Poor of this Kingdom.
[2] Hindle, S. (2004) On the Parish? The Micro-Politics of Poor Relief in Rural England c.1550-1750 Clarendon Press: Oxford, p. 405.
[3] I James II, c.17 (1685).
[4] 3 & 4 Will & Mary, c.18 (1691).
[5] 8 & 9 Will III, c.30 (1697).
[6] Surrey History Centre, Woking (SHCW) 2568/10/1- 26 Settlement Examinations, 1728-1821: including some removal orders, bastardy papers and apprenticeship records.
[7] Landau, N (1995) ‘Who was subjected to the laws of settlement? Procedure under the settlement laws in eighteenth century England’ Agricultural History Review, 43, pp. 139-159, p. 158.
[8] Landau, N. (1988) ‘ The laws of settlement and the surveillance of immigration in eighteenth-century Kent’ Continuity and Change, vol. 3, pp. 391-420; Landau,  ‘Who was subjected to the laws of settlement?; Snell, K.D.M. (1985) Annals of the Labouring Poor – Social Change and Agrarian England 1660-1900, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Snell, K.D.M. (1991) ‘Pauper Settlement and the right to poor relief in England and Wales’ Continuity and Change 6 (3), pp. 375-415.

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