John Beard is not a very uncommon name, so attempts to pin down the genealogy of this Whittington man have proved inconclusive. If he was born in Staffordshire, and if his age at death is recorded accurately, then he was probably one of at least six children born in Wichnor parish to Thomas Beard and Mary (nee Smith).
John was a tailor who also, at the age of 60, took on the task of salaried or ‘assistant’ overseer in Whittington for twelve guineas a year. As a result he is a signatory to many of the receipts paid for relief to the poor, and to numerous other parish documents such as apprenticeship indentures. He also took apprentices himself into the tailoring business, including towards the end of his life twelve-year-old William Birch. He did not receive an apprenticeship ‘premium’ or payment with this child, suggesting that he took the lad on willingly without financial inducement as mutually beneficial: Birch obtained training, while Beard continued in work into old age. It may have been significant for Beard’s personal finances that the role of assistant overseer came to an end in the mid 1830s with the implementation of the reformed poor law.
Beard died from ‘schirrus of the stomach’, a form of stomach cancer, on 6 December 1839. He apparently left no will, but there was an inadvertent legacy: William Birch’s apprenticeship had years left to run, so he was transferred to another Whittington tailor John Ellson for the completion of his term.
Sources: Tatenhill marriage of 27 June 1756; Wichnor baptism of 26 January 1766; Staffordshire Record Office D 4838/9/1/1-3 appointment of assistant overseer 1826-34; D4384/9/7/51 apprenticeship papers 1839-40; death certificate of 14 December 1839.
Our latest parish of Whittington St Giles spent more money on poor relief than any of the other parishes we have studied so far, but what should we read into this?
Of course, Whittington didn’t spend the most money in absolute terms. Large populous parishes naturally spent more than small ones, so the most spent per year in total (so far) by the parishes we have studied has been Uttoxeter. The cost of poor relief in Uttoxeter was always higher than £1500 per year in the period 1816-1834, and rose to its highest in 1818-19, years of particular hardship in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. Then the totals rose to £3350, but never again exceeded £3000 before the change to the law in 1834.
Whittington, though, spent most per head of the population. The parish dispensed thirteen shillings and seven pence for every man woman and child of the population in 1831, whereas Uttoxeter only spent eight shillings. We could understand this in a number of ways. Either the population was particularly needy, or wealthy members of the parish could afford to pay high poor rates (and therefore did not stint in paying relief), or both. Whittington’s proximity to the Cathedral town of Lichfield encourages me to think that it may have been a relatively generous parish with little motivation to cut costs, but full consideration of the vouchers will tell us more…
Starting the new parish of Whittington has presented us with a challenge; how can we find out the names of the overseers when no accounts survive to accompany the vouchers?
Overseers and churchwardens are reliably named on some other forms of parish ephemera, such as apprenticeship indentures, but these may also survive patchily. We can see that at some point in the 1820s the tailor John Beard was appointed as the (salaried) assistant overseer of Whittington, and that he shared the task with at least one other man per year, probably a rate-payer who was taking his ‘turn’ in office. So far the list of men in addition to Beard looks like this:
1827-8 = Thomas Dennitts overseer (Hugh Nevill and John Coleman churchwardens)
1828-9 = John Stanley overseer (Hugh Nevill and John Coleman churchwardens)
1829-30 = [no indentures found so far]
1830-31 = James Whitaker overseer (Hugh Nevill and John Coleman churchwardens)
1831-32 = William Smith overseer (Hugh Nevill and William Wootton Shucker churchwardens)
It is useful to know the names of the overseers, churchwardens, and if possible the constables working in the parish each year, because their names might crop up repeatedly on vouchers. Also they might, like Michael Clewley in Uttoxeter, be acting as parish officials at the same time that they received work from the parish, which was strictly speaking not allowed.
The search for names continues….
Tettenhall parish went to great lengths to keep tabs on the fathers of illegitimate children. I know this because I have spent the last four or five sessions in Stafford copying out the examinations and filiation orders that the parish sought in relation to ‘bastardy’ and reading the account books they kept to ensure that money flowed in.
Bastardy examinations required the mothers of illegitimate children to ‘swear’ to the likely paternity, while filiation orders were signed when men acknowledged their children and agreed to pay towards their maintenance. Tettenhall typically secured payments to mothers and children of between one shilling and two shillings per week, until the child reached the age of nine. Nine was not taken as a marker of adulthood, merely of the child’s likely ability to contribute to their own upkeep.
All of this was quite normal in early-nineteenth-century parishes. Less usual, though, was the meticulous way in which Tettenhall monitored fathers’ payments. Filiation orders could be a blunt or ineffective legal instrument, as men either gradually ceased payment or if they left the area, but this was one parish which tracked and logged fathers’ payments effectively. In the accounting year 1819-20, this policy yielded an additional income of £77 13s 9d (that is to say, income over and above the parish poor rate) to help defray commitments to mothers. The ‘bastardy book’ spanning 1819 to 1828 contains information on 24 illegitimate births, while filiation orders give details of a further 21 cases 1829-34 (in a parish numbering 2618 inhabitants in 1831).
Most men and women appeared in the accounts only once. Fathers covered a wide social sweep, though, as unskilled labourers were joined in the accounts by farmers, publicans, attorney’s clerks and clockmakers. Perhaps most intriguing is the filation order for Richard Fowke, gentleman, in support of Sarah Coates’s son born 3 June 1828. Fowke was the name of the parish surgeon, and Richard was quite possibly one of his sons. Both the surgeon and the father gave their address as Wolverhampton.
This social breadth among fathers introduces an interesting possibility. Up to now, we have been assuming that local tradesmen might have benefited from the regularity of custom and payment associated with supplying the poor law. But some men clearly supplied it in other ways, by adding to its ‘bastardy’ work and augmenting parish income accordingly. We will need to find out whether there was a significant minority of men who encountered the parish in multiple ways, as suppliers, ratepayers and errant fathers.
Tettenhall parish officers clearly purchased their stationary from tradesmen who stocked a variety of exercise books, decorated or illustrated in different ways. Most of these feature apparently anodyne and uncontroversial scenes of rural life or of stock characters. An earlier blog entry addresses the now forgotten ‘Gilpin’s Ride’. But a recent find on the cover of a book containing accounts from the 1810s and 1820s surprised me.
This image clearly relates to recent history, given the costumes of the two most prominent figures, and seems to depict Napoleon’s north African campaign of 1798-9 if the crude sphinx on the left of the image is indicative. What is not clear is who has poisoned whom. The sick languish on the right of the frame, but they are drawn so generically as to offer few clues. There were some accounts of local African people poisoning wells at the French army’s approach, but the European figure in the doorway is sufficiently furtive to suggest that the origins of the poison may have been closer to home.
Even given the enmity between the French and the British in the early nineteenth century, this seems a particularly bitter choice of picture for the front cover of an exercise book.
Tettenhall workhouse existed from at least 1766 and in the early nineteenth century housed between 17 and 68 inmates at any one time, with an average occupancy of 36. The trend was for a declining workhouse population, however, since the average was 38 in the period 1816-1820 but only 22 in the years 1826-7.
The workhouse in Tettenhall accommodated the same sectors of the parish population as seen elsewhere in pre-1834 workhouses. The elderly and young children formed the bulk of the long-term residents, while adults of working age experienced short periods of workhouse residency. The oldest known person in the Tettenhall house was Richard Simmons who died there on 12 January 1827 aged 86.
Monthly inmate lists survive continuously from April 1816 to March 1820, with another list spanning April 1826 to March 1827. Some notable individuals include William Taylor who was blind and lived in the workhouse from its earliest list until his death aged 27, and Dinah Corns who was punished with six months in prison at Stafford for having her third illegitimate child.
Relief for the workhouse poor extended beyond bed and board. Early finds among the Tettenhall vouchers suggest that overseers remained somewhat attentive to other needs including for footwear. This voucher from November and December 1819 indicates that eight inmates (comprising over a quarter of the workhouse population at the time) had pairs of shoes mended, at costs ranging from 7d to 3s.
For over a year the volunteer group at Stafford has been calendaring the contents of the Uttoxeter overseers’ vouchers, giving rise to over 3000 spreadsheet entries detailing names, trades, and paupers’ receipt of relief. The work has extended beyond the statutory institution of the New Poor Law, because the new law took a few years to implement in Uttoxeter. This means that voucher details have been collected into the early 1840s. Analysis of the research potential from these vouchers in future can can be confident that it covers all the available material, for which we must give a huge THANK YOU to everyone in the group. It also means, however, that there is now a new focus for the vouchers project, and collectively we have already started blogging about Tettenhall.
Tettenhall does not possess nearly so many overseers’ vouchers as Uttoxeter, so there are fewer pieces of paper to unfold, but the rural south-Staffordshire parish forms a neat comparison with a more northerly market town like Uttoxeter. The nature of the vouchers is rather different too, in that the chronological spread is much wider (back to the mid eighteenth century) and the organisation of information is less reliable.
Furthermore, Tettenhall benefits from a different cohort of additional parish material. Uttoxeter has almost no surviving overseers’ account for the same years as the vouchers, but has a wealth of pauper letters. Tettenhall, in contrast, has accounts and multiple supporting types of document (although many fewer letters). Tettenhall did have a workhouse, providing one decisive point of comparison with Uttoxeter. Workhouse inmates will form the topic of my next blog entry.
Celebrity branding and merchandising has a long history not confined to the period after 1900, and there is even evidence for it embedded in parish collections. The celebrities in question, though, may not be ones who spring immediately to mind.
Overseers of the poor accounts often survive in robust, well-bound books, but they may have been kept more informally in the first instance, on scraps of paper or in flimsy notebooks. Tettenhall overseers used this method, and kept discrete workhouse accounts for at least two years in the 1820s in what look like paper-covered exercise books. The two surviving books feature extracts of popular verse and fairly crude accompanying images (that is to say, crude in execution not subject matter).
The first notebook is covered in coarse dark-blue paper, and features stanzas from the popular eighteenth-century poem ‘The Diverting History of John Gilpin’ by William Cowper (1731-1800). Gilpin was a linen draper who was alleged to have been the Captain of a London ‘trained band’, in other words one of the men who defended London in the cause of Parliament during the English Civil War. The poem, though, is not a serious consideration of republicanism but a comic story of a wedding anniversary celebration gone awry. Gilpin found himself undertaking a ride from Cheapside to Ware and back again at break-neck pace, losing his hat, wig and cloak (twice) in the process.
The final stanza reads
|Now let us sing, Long live the King!
| And Gilpin, long live he!
|And when he next doth ride abroad
| May I be there to see!
thereby mocking Gilpin’s republican sympathies and bringing him firmly back into line with a restored monarchy.
The second exercise book is more generic, featuring a short piece of doggerel verse and a picture reminiscent of a Quality Street tin.
Apart from overseers, who bought items like these? They carry few clues to alternative uses. The second notebook, though, features on the back cover a conversion table of income giving weekly, monthly and annual incomes from 1d up to £2. This suggests that they were not exercise books for use by children, but account books for business owners or employers. This arguably makes these choices of cover decoration notably quirky.
The British Criminal Injuries Compensation Board began work in August 1964 in response to a white paper of the year before, but informal compensation was apparently available at the discretion of magistrates in earlier decades and centuries. A Uttoxeter parish apprentice was one beneficiary of this leeway.
Martha Palmer was apprenticed by the parish to John Limer, a joiner, presumably to learn skills of housewifery rather than woodworking. Martha was unfortunate in her master’s family and allegedly experienced violence at the hands of John’s wife Mary. On 12 April 1825 Mary was said to have made Martha ‘strip herself naked’ whereupon Mary removed her own garter and used it to tie Martha’s hands behind her back. Mary then ‘beat her with a knotted rope’. This apparent abuse of a parish apprentice was swiftly brought to the attention of local magistrates and on 20 April they investigated the event. They judged that John Limer could not clear his wife of the accusation and conversely that Martha had ‘made full proof of it’, perhaps by being evidently battered and bruised.
It was not entirely uncommon for parishes to pursue abusive masters and mistresses of pauper apprentices and obtain a child’s release from their indentures. It was unusual, however, for the apprentice to be compensated for their suffering. Nonetheless the Staffordshire magistrates required John Limer to pay the substantial sum of £15 to the churchwardens and overseers of Uttoxeter, to be laid out to Martha’s benefit. What is more we know that the money was collected and spent accordingly. In December 1836 Martha asked to receive the final £5 tranche of compensation money, presumably having already obtained the benefit of earlier payments to the value of £10. She began married life in January 1837 with one Samuel Walley of Doveridge, who was keen to ensure his wife received what was due. He wrote to remind the overseers to pay on the same day that his marriage was solemnised (!), and the money was disbursed forthwith.
Sources: SRO D3891/6/31/1, D3891/6/44/3 and 4.
Historic child sex abuse is a phrase rarely out of the news in 2016. This blog post is being written in a week when unprecedented numbers of football players are coming forward to identify abusers, and in a year when a troubled government inquiry into the issue is on its fourth Chair. The topic has been given historical as well as contemporary-historic focus by the book Child Sexual Abuse in Victorian England by Louise Jackson, a difficult and important read. The Staffordshire overseers’ vouchers reveal that, if evidence of such wrong-doing came to light in the early nineteenth century, it was feasible that it would be prosecuted even at heavy public cost.
In 1826 Catherine Chawner aged 9 was abused by William Rogers alias Adin aged 57. Rogers met the child frequently, perhaps on her walking to and from school since the attack took place near to school house bridge. He habitually gave her treats such as apples and halfpennies, encouraging her to trust him, until in October he started abusing her (and threatening her with flogging if she told her parents). Rogers was tried at the Stafford Assizes in 1827 and was convicted on the evidence of Catherine’s mother, a surgeon John Allport, and another child Sarah Jump. In summing up the judge lamented that he could not impose a more severe sentence, the offence being in his view diabolical and as heinous as some then incurring the death penalty.
In March 1827 the parish of Uttoxeter paid at least £34 16s towards costs associated with prosecuting the case, including securing counsel, horse hire between Uttoxeter and Stafford, and to compensate witnesses for loss of time when attending the trial. This was a very substantial sum to spend out of funds officially designated for the poor, particularly given that the Chawner family’s poverty is not proven. Very little can be learned of Catherine, since her mother is referred to in reports of the trial but not named. The absence of her father from proceedings faintly indicates that he was already dead or otherwise absent. Similarly no baptism can be found for her in 1817-1818. Other members of the extended Chawner family (which was prominent in Staffordshire and neighbouring counties) were rather prosperous. Issues of the Derby Mercury in the 1830s reveal at least four family members who were medical practitioners, namely William Chawner surgeon of Cheadle, Rupert Chawner MD of Burton, Thomas Chawner surgeon of Lichfield and the suggestively named Darwin Chawner MD of Newark. The only additional information retrieved from the vouchers about Catherine is similarly inconclusive. The parish paid 12s to buy her some clothes in April 1831, when she might have been around 14 years old and so the right age for apprenticeship, but no formal parish apprenticeship indenture for Catherine survives for this date.
We will continue to search for Catherine in the hope that we might be able to write a biography for her, but our interim conclusion must be that parish authorities were willing to devote extensive community resources to the prosecution of grotesque crime, even where the money was technically intended for other purposes.
Sources: SRO D3891/6/31/4, D3891/6/37/1/18.