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.

gilpin

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.

morning-ride

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.

Mr Blurton’s Swing Frame for Cheese: Winner of the Society of Arts Silver Medal for Invention

Extract from The Mechanics’ Magazine, Museum Register, Journal and Gazette, vol. 18, 6 October 1832–31 March 1833 (London: M. Salmon, 1833), pp. 370, 372

New cheese requires to be hardened considerably by gradually drying before it become fit for market. For this purpose the cheeses are spread in a single layer on the floor of the cheese room, and are turned by hand every day, in order to expose each surface alternately to the air. This, on a large dairy farm, is a slow and laborious operation, which, as it devolves on the female servants, sometimes prevents them, in the hurry of business, from paying proper attention to keeping every implement used in the dairy in that degree of order and absolute cleanliness so essential to the good quality of the produce. Another objection to the common method is, that the floor on which the new cheeses are laid soon becomes penetrated with moisture, so that the benefit that each surface of a cheese in succession gains by exposure to air, is in part lost by being placed the next day in contact with the damp floor.

A machine, of very simple construction, has been recently contrived by Mr Blurton, of Field Hall, near Uttoxeter, by which these objections are not only completely removed, but the process of drying amazingly accelerated. We extract our present account of it from the last part of the Transactions of the Society of Arts, who have conferred their large silver medal on Mr Blurton for the invention.

The machine consists of a dozen strong shelves framed together, and having bars nailed from top to bottom of one side, in order to prevent the cheeses from falling out while in the act of turning. The frame is suspended on two strong pivots, one of which is let into the wall of the room, and the other is supported by a strong post …By first filling the shelf immediately below the axis of the frame, and then placing the cheeses alternately on the two shelves above and below that which has already been filled, the preponderance of one side over the other can never be more than the weight of one cheese … The cheeses, in the act of turning, drop onto those shelves which, in the former position of the frame, were above them, and, having been exposed to a current of air for twenty-four hours previous have become perfectly dry.

Mr Blurton has had the machine in use for five or six years, and finds by the means of it, fifty-five cheeses are turned in the same time which is required for turning two  by hand.

Coronation Celebrations 1831

On 8 September Uttoxeter celebrated the coronation of William IV and queen Adelaide. The events were reported in the Staffordshire Advertiser on 17 September.  A bullock and a sheep were roasted over bonfires, with very Dickensian-sounding ‘liberal portions’ being distributed to the poor alongside an ‘abundant supply of ale’. The Blithfield and Uttoxeter Troop Yeomanry assembled and dined at Thomas Taylor’s Black Swan, Sheep Market. The gentlemen of the town dined at Mr Wilkinson’s White Hart Hotel, Carter Street. No mention is made of how the women of Uttoxeter celebrated the event. The Most Noble Lodge of Oddfellows and all of the town’s clubs (none are named other than the Oddfellows, and White’s 1834 directory notes only the existence of a Book Society) dined at their respective inns, and paraded through the town with colours flying. Bands of musicians augmented the ‘hilarity of the day’. The paper reported that in the evening ‘Illumination was partial owing to the shortness of the notice’ given for the coronation. Illuminations in this sense refer to cut-outs and silhouettes placed in the windows of private houses and lit from behind by candles or oil lamps. A memorable firework display, the like of which had not been seen for some time, rounded off events.

Sources

Staffordshire Advertiser, 17 September 1831

Uttoxeter Businesses and the Staffordshire Advertiser 1831

Advertisements and notices in newspapers can help to put flesh on the bones of vouchers submitted to Uttoxeter’s overseers by providing additional information on people, their businesses, their networks, and their wider interests and concerns. Some names are already familiar; others have not yet appeared in the vouchers (and may never do).

In June 1831 Dr Herbert Taylor, glazier John Dumolo, William Lowndes, John Minors, H. Smith and Francis Cox all declared themselves supporters of the parliamentary reform bill. Alongside others, in July Clement Broughton, vicar of Uttoxeter, was calling for meeting of clergy to petition against the Beer Act.

In a highly unusual move, in January 1831 churchwardens Michael Clewley (see separate entry) and Mr Bladon wanted to borrow money in any amounts but not exceeding £1,000 for which annuities of any age would be granted and secured upon Uttoxeter’s church rates. Clewley cropped up again later in the year. In August he was offering houses to let in the Market Place, late in the occupation of Mrs E. Clewley deceased. With ‘sufficient buildings behind’, these were well adapted for a retailer, a leather cutter, or currier. An adjoining shop in the occupation of George Burton, clock and watchmaker was also being offered to let.

Land and property lettings and sales featured prominently in the paper. John French (son-in-law of William Summerland, see separate entry) was offering for sale the 14-acre Town Meadow, property of late Mr Botham, but now in the possession of French, the tenant. Further particulars could be had from solicitor Francis Blagg. In May 1831 enquiries regarding a shop measuring 20 x 15 feet in the Market Place with a cellar adapted for a ‘show shop in the upholstery line or as a market shop for any respectable trade’, for a rent moderate, could be made to ironmongers and grocers Porter and Keates. It is likely that these premises were those of the late John Jessop, cabinet maker and upholsterer of the Market Place. An auction of his modern household furniture, china, glass, and a well-built covered gig was conducted upon the premises by a Mr Brown in April. Perhaps of significant interest to the workhouse (which manufactured bricks) was that in March 1831 just over five acres of grassland ‘under great part whereof is brick clay, near the Heath, in occupation of James Walker, was being offered for sale; particulars from Mr Higgott, solicitor.

As was common for the time, a number of enterprising individuals had multiple income streams, often acting as agents for other businesses or suppliers. Chemist Thomas Woolrich was the agent for Heeley and Sons pens and for Sun Life insurance; William Smith for Phoenix insurance; Thomas Cross for Guardian Fire and Life Assurance; linen and woollen draper Joseph Norris for the Protector Fire Insurance Company; and Mr E. Hand for Atlas Insurance. Thomas Woolrich, draper; Samuel Garle (see separate entries); and bookseller, stationer, and printer Mr R. C. Tomkinson, were all stockists of Hayman’s original Maredant’s antiscorbutic drops and Blaine’s celebrated powder for distemper in dogs. Tomkinson also stocked Dr Wright’s Pearl Ointment, and Dr Boerhaave’s red pill no. 2 ‘famous for the cure of every stage and symptom of a certain complaint’, the cause of foul ulcerations and blotches which if led untreated would lead to a melancholy death. Aside from being a chemist Tomkinson appears to have operated an informal servants’ registry. On three occasions, in April, June and September 1831, adverts for servants wanted informed prospective employees to refer to Mr Tomkinson. In the first advertisement a good plain cook was required. In the second two cooks and other domestic servants were wanted in a respectable household near Uttoxeter; a good plain cook of middle aged was preferred. Housemaids and nursery maids seeking positions should enquire of Mr Woolrich, Uttoxeter or Mrs Horn and son, Cheadle. In the third notice a clergyman’s family in a country village wanted a plain cook with a good character reference from her last place. Further particulars could be had from Messrs Mort at the Advertiser Office, Stafford, or from Mr Woolrich.

Milliner and dressmaker Mrs Whittaker was the only trader in this survey of the Staffordshire Advertiser who specifically promoted the metropolitan nature of her goods. In May she announced her return from London with her selections including a fashionable assortment of stays (corsets). She also required two live-in apprentices.

A group of people whose names have not appeared in the poor law vouchers (and unless circumstances changed radically for them are unlikely to do so) were the proprietors of schools and academies. Popular times for these owners to advertise were just prior to the start of new terms. From their adverts it is clear that they were aiming at a middle-class market. Mr Doyle’s classical and commercial academy for gentlemen, for example, cost £25 per year for board, education and washing for those under 12, and £28 per year for those above. Doyle offered reading, elocution, arithmetic, bookkeeping, English grammar, geography, Latin, Greek, French, and Spanish. Day pupils were charged 2 guineas per quarter for the languages, and one guinea for the ‘minor branches of education’. Each gentleman boarder was to bring two pairs of sheets, six towels, a knife, fork and silver spoon. Girls had a range of educational establishments from which they could choose: the Misses Howes at Bank House; the Misses Sutton in Carter Street; and the Misses Godwin.

Some events were destined to bring trade to a halt. On 8 September 1831 Uttoxeter’s shops and businesses were closed for the coronation of William IV and queen Adelaide (see entry ‘Coronation Celebrations 1831). After William’s death Adelaide leased Sudbury Hall for three years between 1840 and 1843.

Source

Staffordshire Advertiser, 1831

 

Uttoxeter Businesses and the Derby Mercury

The details of details of goods, services, and prices contained in vouchers submitted to Uttoxeter’s overseers of the poor are shedding light on the daily workings of the Old Poor Law, but to what extent did these suppliers advertise in local or regional newspapers?

Between January 1831 and July 1832 a survey of the Derby Mercury reveals relatively few Uttoxeter business owners placing notices or adverts specifically to promote their enterprises. Even fewer of them can be linked directly to the poor law vouchers. Initially, this may seem surprising, but is readily explainable. The Derby Mercury was just one of a number of regional papers and perhaps it would be more likely that Uttoxeter’s traders would place notices in the Staffordshire Advertiser. A survey of the Advertiser, however, is revealing a similarly limited pattern of engagement. How can this be explained? In part it was due to the high cost of adverts charged by newspaper proprietors. In 1800 the Derby Mercury charged 3s 6d per advert on top of which duty of 1s 6d was also chargeable. It may also have been the result of local traders supplying very local markets, where the need to advertise beyond the immediate vicinity was considered unnecessary. This was particularly so if the goods were perishable such as meat, fruit and vegetables. There are other things to consider, however. Where the variety (as opposed to the quantity or quality) of stock changed little business owners may have seen little point in advertising the same things week in week out. Instead, they may have preferred to save their adverts for more important events such as changes in personnel, especially the appointment of new staff or business partners, or changes in business ownership or location. The only real exceptions to these were announcements of the arrival of new or fashionable stock, especially if they came from London.

Which of Uttoxeter’s business owners did place notices in the Derby Mercury, and what was it they were announcing?

Grocer William Lovatt’s marriage to Miss Elizabeth Bakewell of Marston Montgomery was announced in October 1831. On 6 April 1831 tobacconist Jane Smith, with shops in both Uttoxeter and Ashbourne, declared that she was continuing the business of her late husband James for the benefit of herself and her large family. When in February the White Lion, Bradley Street, with stabling for 20 horses, and ‘calculated for a common brewery’, was offered to let particulars could be had from Abel Ault, or John Ault, timber merchant, Derby.

Some Uttoxeter businesses, including those of Samuel Garle (see separate entry), Thomas Woolrich, and Tompkinson and Co., were acting as agents for patent products including Heeley’s rhadiographic pens, Perryian pens, John Leeming’s genuine horse medicines, Barclay’s asthmatic candy, and Dr Sibly’s Reanimating Solar Tincture for debility, consumption, nervous complaints, rheumatism, spasms, indigestion, and lowness of spirits. Chemist Thomas Woolrich (who so far has not turned up in the overseers’ vouchers) had a national business network. His claim to fame was ‘Woolrich’s improved diuretic horse balls’ available from ‘all respectable medicine vendors in most market towns in the kingdom’. In addition to Uttoxeter, they were also sold wholesale by London agents such as Messrs Barclay & Sons, 95 Fleet Market; Mr Edwards, 66 St Paul’s Church Yard; Sutton & Co., Bow Church Yard; and Butlers’, Cheapside. They could be bought at 73 Princess Street, Edinburgh, and at 54 Sackville Street, Dublin. Closer to home they were sold retail by Drewry & Son, Derby; Whitham,  Ashbourne; and Claughton, Chesterfield.

Some people probably wished that notices regarding their businesses had not appeared. The bankruptcy of surgeon George Alsop (see separate entry) was announced in November 1831, but at least it provided work for Uttoxeter solicitors Bedson and Rushton who notified debtors and creditors of meetings about Alsop’s plight at the Red Lion on 24 and 25 November, and on 23 December. Debts owing to Alsop were to be paid to his business partner Mr Chapman or to Bedson and Rushton. Similarly, in March 1831 Bell’s bank suspended payments owing to heavy debts. A meeting of creditors, however, concluded that James Bell’s assets and credits were sufficient to meet liabilities and leave a considerable surplus. The creditors were lucky. Dividends of 10s in the pound declared within 4 months. Bell avoided bankruptcy, but it did him little good. His death was reported at the end of November.

Sources

Derby Mercury

Uttoxeter and Cheese

Uttoxeter has a long tradition of cheese-making. By the mid-seventeenth century it was already established as a major centre of the trade in the Midlands, and in the 1690s there were weekly cheese markets and extensive storage facilities. These were used by Uttoxeter’s cheese factors who were engaged as agents by London cheesemongers. By the mid-eighteenth century Uttoxeter’s importance as a centre for cheese meant that some agents retained by London merchants spent more than £500 in a single day on butter and cheese.

Pigot’s directory of 1828–9 notes that ‘the trade in cheese is also of some consequence’ and lists Thomas Earp, James Lassetter, and Orton and Arnold as cheese factors alongside  maw dealers Edward Gent, James Stringer, John Vernon and Co., and Henry Wigley. Before the commercial availability of rennet, curdling milk for cheese involved drying and salting a calf’s stomach or maw, and then soaking pieces of it in water. The resulting liquid was added to milk to create the curd.

Supplementing the  weekly cheese markets, White’s 1834 directory notes that Uttoxeter held three cheese fairs a year in March, September and November and was known for its ‘considerable trade’ in ‘preparing calves maws, to be used in curdling milk’ for cheese. Under the heading of ‘Cheese Factors & Hop & Seed merchants’ the directory lists Thomas Earp, James Lassetter, and Orton and Arnold. Ellen Gent, James Stringer, John Vernon and Co., Elizabeth Wigley, and Frederick Wigley were cheese skin makers. In 1834 William West noted that Uttoxeter was ‘remarkable for instances of longevity of its inhabitants’ and for its ‘abundant supply of cheese, butter, hogs, corn and all kinds of provisions’. Perhaps the latter was the cause of the former.

Workhouses served their inmates with food and drink according to what were known as dietaries, or daily allowances, which stipulated provision across a week. If these are taken at face value, cheese formed a considerable part of the diets of the poor. Tomkins notes, however, that dietaries should be regarded as statements of intent rather than actual evidence of practice and need to be corroborated by other sources. Until a shortage of bread and flour in the 1790s, at St Mary’s Workhouse, Lichfield, the 41 inmates (making it directly comparable in size to Uttoxeter workhouse) were served puddings, and bread and cheese dinners three times a week. With the shortages, milk pottage was served up for breakfast. Dinner on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays consisted of meat and vegetables; alternating with Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays offerings of broth and cold meat. On Saturdays inmates were given bread and cheese.

In the 1820s the overseers of Uttoxeter purchased large quantities of cheese for the workhouse from a wide range  of suppliers including James and John Bamford, Ralph Bagshaw (see separate entry), Thomas Cope, Thomas Earp (see separate entry), Porter and Keates, John Rushton, William Summerland (see separate entry), Edwin and Josh Wibberley, and Sir T. Sheppard, bart. Amounts varied from the 120lb supplied by Mr Bamford in May 1821, through the 90lbs supplied by William Summerland in May 1825, to the 13.5lbs supplied by Ralph Bagshaw in September 1827.

By the 1830s, just as in the 1820s, cheese came from no single supplier. In September 1830 William Bennett supplied over 2cwt of cheese costing £5 10s 4d. Thomas Earp’s bill for cheese in March 1831 amounted to £4 9s 1d. Fifty-five cheeses weighing 4cwt were supplied by Thomas Gell at a cost of £12 4s 3d in April 1832. The variation in the amounts and the regularity of cheese supplied are probably because the workhouse was producing its own cheese. Between 24 April and 30 June 1830, for example, Thomas Hartshorn supplied the workhouse with 947 quarts of milk. This was far more than the population of 40 or so inmates could readily consume suggesting that the milk was being used to make cheese. Hartshorn also supplied 33 quarts in June 1832, followed by 180 quarts in July. The workhouse also had its own milk cart, a wheel of which was repaired and painted by Thomas Mellor in April 1829.

Sources

Julie Bunting, ‘Bygone Industries of the Peak, Cheese-Making’, The Peak Advertiser, 29 January 1996

Catherine Donnelly, The Oxford Companion to Cheese (Oxford, OUP, 2016), 153–4

London Gazette, part 2 (1836), 1369

Sir Frederick Morton Eden, The State of the Poor, A History of the Labouring Classes in England 3 vols (London: 1797), edited and abridged A. G. L. Rogers London: George Routledge and Sons, 1928), 307.

John E. C. Peters, The Development of Farm Buildings in Western Lowland Staffordshire up to 1800 (Manchester: MUP, 1969), 130

Pigot and Co., National Commercial Directory [Part 2: Nottinghamshire–Yorkshire and North Wales] for 1828–29 (London and Manchester: J. Pigot and Co., 1828), 741–2

SRO, D3891/6/8, Uttoxeter volume of parish bills, 1821–4

SRO, D3891/6/9, volume of parish bills, 1825–29

SRO, D3891/6/34/1/14, Uttoxeter Poor Law Vouchers, Thomas Mellor, 3 April 1829

SRO, D3981/6/36/3/4, Uttoxeter Poor Law Vouchers, William Bennet, 11 September 1830

SRO, D3891/6/36/8/11a–d, Uttoxeter Poor Law Vouchers, Thomas Hartshorn, 31 July 1830

SRO, D3891/6/37/2/7, Uttoxeter Poor Law Vouchers, Thomas Earp, 26 Mar 1831

SRO, D3891/6/36/6/66, Uttoxeter Poor Law Vouchers, Edwin Webberley, 23 December 1831

SRO, D3891/6/37/11/5, Uttoxeter Poor Law Vouchers, John Foster, 21 February 1832

SRO, D3891/6/39/2/26, Uttoxeter Poor Law Vouchers, Thomas Gell, 20 March 1832

SRO, D3891/6/39/5/5, Uttoxeter Poor Law Vouchers, Thomas Hartshorn, 10 June–15 July 1832

SRO, D3891/6/39/6/3, Uttoxeter Poor Law Vouchers, Joseph Durose, 8 November 1832

SRO, D3891/6/40/1/10, Uttoxeter Poor Law Vouchers, R. Keates, [1833?]

Joan Thirsk, Agrarian History of England and Wales, 1640–1750, part 1 (Cambridge: CUP, 1985), 133

H. D. Symonds, The Universal Magazine, vol. 23 (November 1758), 219

William West, Picturesque Views and a Description of Cities, Towns, Castles and Mansions and other Objects of Interesting Feature in Staffordshire from original designs, taken expressly for this work by Frederick Calvert engraved on steel by Mr T. Radclyffe (Birmingham: William Emans, 1834), 96

William White, History, Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Staffordshire and of the City of Lichfield (Sheffield: 1834), 762

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.