Keeping track of illegitimacy

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.

Who poisoned whom?

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.

Workhouse life

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.

Tettenhall workhouse shoes

Moving to Tettenhall

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?

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.

Early Victim Compensation

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.

The history of child sex abuse

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.

James Sowter (1783-1832)

James Sowter was born on 9 December 1783 to Samuel and Mary Sowter of Ashbourne in Derbyshire.  He was one of at least five children born to the couple, including older brothers John and Charles, older sister Frances, and younger brother Samuel.  James married Elizabeth Noble by licence in Ashbourne in May 1815, and was buried in the town in December 1832. The couple appear not to have had any children.

The Sowters were pig dealers or jobbers.  The brothers began in business with their father, but in 1808 the partnership between Samuel senior and his sons Samuel the younger, John and James was dissolved.  All debts owing to the concern were to be received by the same men with the exception of John, who presumably wanted to work alone.  The brothers all signed the dissolution agreement, while Samuel the elder merely made his mark.

The family supplied the parish of Uttoxeter with pigs between 1821 and 1829.  Their beasts sold for sums between £1 2s and £3 3s apiece, with variations presumably being based on age or size, and on whether adult sows were already in pig.  Samuel Sowter (who may have been the father or the son) supplied two pigs in 1823, but Samuel senior died in 1824 meaning that pig deals thereafter were with Samuel junior or, more regularly, James.  Uttoxeter bought nine pigs from James up to February 1829 but then the parish’s relationship with the family ceased.  Pigs were bought from a range of other men in 1831 including John Williams, Isaac Laban and Thomas Chatterton, but the Sowters had lost or given up the Uttoxeter parish business.

When James died, his widow Elizabeth turned to inn-keeping.  She had been the daughter of Mr Noble of the Red Lion Inn of Ashbourne, and so presumably knew the business.  In the period 1849-53 she was listed as a widow and publican at the White Lion Inn. She died in Ashbourne in 1855.

Sources: Ashbourne St Oswald baptism of 22 February 1784, marriage of 2 May 1815; London Gazette 14 May 1808, p. 685; SRO D 3891/6/8 and D 3891/6/9; SRO D3891/6/37/4/4; Derby Mercury 5 December 1832; Post Office Directory for Ashbourne (1849); census 1851; Staffordshire Advertiser 8 October 1853; Derbyshire Advertiser 28 September 1855.

Pig jobbery

A pig jobber is a slightly archaic name for a pig trader.  The occupation is listed many times in the trade directories of nineteenth-century England, and this sort of business could benefit from parish funds.  Uttoxeter bought pigs regularly, to fatten them up on the scraps left by workhouse inhabitants and then sell or use the meat. In the two years between March 1827 and February 1829 the parish bought a total of 16 pigs for £41 19s 6d, or an average of £2 12s 6d each.  The parish also tried to grow their own, as when they paid to have a sow put to a boar, otherwise accounted for as ‘brimming the sow’.

This engagement in animal husbandry is not surprising in itself, but it is perhaps more notable for the extent of the enterprise and particularly the problem that it has raised in writing biographies for this project. The pig jobber or dealer who garnered 100% of Uttoxeter’s custom in 1827-9 was one James Sowtee.  He was listed under this name in both the vouchers and other parish accounts.  The problem is that, according to the historical record, he does not otherwise exist. The surname ‘Sowtee’ is wholly unknown on genealogical websites such as and rarely crops up anywhere, with or without the forename James.  The national archive holds records of a Chancery case heard in 1838 between Sowtee and Bowden, but otherwise the name draws a blank. It is substituted instead with homophones such as Souter or Souter.

Therefore tracking down Uttoxeter’s go-to pig jobber has been a piece of detective work. As the name Sowtee was unrecorded, I looked instead for a common equivalent i.e. the name Sowter.  This name was found throughout England in 1881 but was most prevalent in Derbyshire (and of course Uttoxeter sits close to the Derbyshire border). Next I looked for the name in the digitised historical directories for Derbyshire, and scrolled through the 24 ‘hits’ for the directory of 1829.  This turned up one John Sowter living in Bag Lane in Derby (then a poor area of the city, now the rather smarter East Street) working as a pig jobber.  Therefore I suspect that either the parish or the directory recorded his first name incorrectly, but that this is likely to be our man.  I would be happier if I could find him subsequently in a census or with a death record, to confirm the first name decisively.


Postscript: this was not the whole story! See the biography for James Sowter.

The West Family

Lydia West was born in Shenstone in 1798, but her siblings Louisa, Mary, Ann, Elizabeth, Henry and Eli were born in Uttoxeter. Their father Joseph was a Quaker and a grocer who had set up shop in the Market Place by 1818.  The Wests took their share of the grocery business arising from workhouse supply and in the period 1821-29 the family earned £51 13s 9.5d by these means.  Payments on parish bills in 1826-7 were receipted by daughter Lydia West, and in later years her sister Ann also signed for parish money.  We have not yet found Elizabeth signing for parish money, but she lived with her brother Eli, his wife Mary, and the couple’s children at the time of the 1841 census.  All three women may have retained connections to the business at some level , although it was their brother Eli (born 1806) who took over the business in the 1830s.  The West’s grocery continued to supply goods including candles, soap, sugar, tea, coffee, treacle, tobacco and rice for use at the workhouse, but only once or twice per year. They competed with Ralph Bagshaw and other grocers for parish contracts, and ultimately Eli’s heart was not in the grocery trade.  By the mid 1840s he and his brother Henry had re-established themselves as manufacturing chemists in the city of Derby. They initially formed a partnership with one Francis Hollingworth but this agreement was dissolved in 1846 whereafter the Wests continued alone.  In 1861 Eli was employing three other men.  At that time his sister Ann was still living with him.