Bricks and Lodgers: an unexpected pairing

This website already features a biography of George Fieldstaff, one of the labourers in the Uttoxeter workhouse brickyard, who went on to become a rate-payer and lodging-house keeper.  In tracing the lives and livelihoods of additional brickyard workers, I didn’t anticipate that anyone else would follow the same pattern so closely, but at least one other man’s career mirrored that of Fieldstaff.  Samuel Neild was baptised in Abbots Bromley in 1796 making him a very near contemporary of Fieldstaff, if not exactly the same age.  Neild married later than Fieldstaff, and had more children, but he too was both an employee of the brick yard in 1829 AND a lodging-house keeper who accommodated the transient poor at parish expense.  In 1832 he housed Ann Blake and her two sons, while in 1834 the overseers paid fourteen shillings for a coffin for an unnamed woman who died at Neild’s house.

Furthermore, the Neild family were near neighbours of the Fieldstaffs.  The 1851 census gives the Neild address as 66 Smithy Lane, just five houses away from the Fieldstaffs at 60 Smithy Lane.  The constituency of the lodgers ran the same gamut from those independent of the parish to ‘beggars’.  The only notable difference between the two men was in their propensity to take money as paupers or employees: George Fieldstaff was given parish relief, while Sam Neild was employed beyond the brickyard to whitewash houses.  Did the men’s elements of shared experience make for common cause or heated rivalry?

Sources: Staffordshire Record Office D3891/6/34/12/70, D3891/6/37/10/41, D3891/6/37/12/33, D3891/6/41/7/58 overseers’ vouchers 1829-1834; baptism of 3 January 1796 Abbot’s Bromley; marriage of 8 January 1829 Radford Nottinghamshire; census 1851.


Richard Hayne’s (1723–1787) Memorandum on Uttoxeter Workhouse, 1782

Amongst the papers of the Fitzherbert family of Tissington, Derbyshire, there is a bundle of miscellaneous items including a description of Uttoxeter workhouse, its management and the activities of its inmates in the second half of the eighteenth century. From the document, it is not clear why the memorandum was written or to whom it was addressed, but it may have been prompted by planned changes to the way in which workhouses were established as a result of Gilbert’s Act of the same year.

Richard Hayne was the second of five children born to John Hayne (b. circa 1688) of Uttoxeter and his wife Lettice Leighton (bapt. 11 Jan 1690). Richard was baptised on 26 March 1723. He was apprenticed to a Derby attorney William Turner in 1742 and appointed as a Justice of the Peace for Derbyshire in 1755, the year after he married Mary Newton at St Oswald’s parish church, Ashbourne. He spent some years living in Uttoxeter, but his main residence was Ashbourne Green Hall. The Hayne family also owned a number of other properties in Ashbourne including the Green Man inn and the Old House in Church Street used as a dower house. Richard died at Bath in 1787 and was buried in the churchyard of All Saints’, Weston. After Richard’s death, his widow moved to the Old House, remaining there until her death in 1802.

The memorandum offers one person’s perspective of the state of the Uttoxeter workhouse and its management before the construction of the one designed by Thomas Gardener which opened in 1789. Hayne’s views emphasise its poor state before his appointment as an inspector, the improvements made whilst he was in post and its decline once again after he left.

He starts the memorandum by recalling events of more than thirty years previously when Uttoxeter’s numerous poor were ‘constantly erecting cottages and enclosing small [plots] of land which they considered as their own, making careful not to change their place of settlement’. The workhouse itself was ‘mostly filled with old persons and children perhaps from 40–60’. Many other poor people received outdoor relief ranging from one to three or four shillings a week. The overseers, chosen usually from ‘the lower sort of Trades People’, sent provisions to the workhouse where ‘some of the old men there distributed it’, not just to the inmates but to others who came for their dinners. The problem was exacerbated, according to Hayne, because those who went to the workhouse for their meal had a tendency to pocket the victuals and carry them away.

Hayne’s other main concern was that the ‘Poor of the workhouse had no employ and ran about the town at pleasure by which habit the children were ignorant, idle and impudent’. The problem of how to ‘amend this bad and expensive conduct’ was discussed frequently by the gentlemen of Uttoxeter who attended the parish vestry. Remonstrating with the overseers proved ineffectual. Consequently the vestry proposed that ‘two Gentlemen should be added to the official overseers who could spare time to inspect’ the workhouse. Hayne and a Major Gardener were thus appointed. ‘Our first step’, wrote Hayne, was to ‘advertise for a person as Manager of the Workhouse’. They got one from Wolverhampton at £24 a year ‘or thereabouts for himself, his wife and his daughter’.

Hayne’s and Gardener’s next step was to inspect the workhouse where they ‘found a room full of broken spinning wheels … We directed these implements to be thoroughly repaired’. The boys and girls were then taught to spin and knit linen and wool, and the ‘old people as were able had their allotment of such work as suited them best’. The House was ‘whitewashed and cleaned in a wholesome manner’. Rooms were inspected on a weekly basis. As the workhouse manager was ‘qualified to instruct the children … in reading, writing and accompting’, copy books and reading books were procured for their education. For the sake of their health the children were permitted to play in a large yard attached to the workhouse where a palisade and locked gate were fixed. A boy, seated in a box, was to unlock the gate and admit in or out ‘all proper persons’.

Gardener’s and Hayne’s role as inspectors lasted for a year, during which time they alternated their duties every two weeks. Hayne claimed that he scarcely missed a day, sometimes carrying out unannounced inspections twice a day. He visited the market to see the butcher’s meat (usually animal muscle tissue) being weighed and put his mark next to the entry in the general account book. He also did this for the flour, wool, hemp and other materials brought into the workhouse. Outdoor relief (except during sickness) was stopped as was the practice of feeding any other than workhouse inmates.

As a result of the inspectors’ endeavours the workhouse was transformed: ‘From a most filthy, dirty place the House became perfectly sweet, clean and wholesome’. The inmates became industrious and the children ‘attained an attention to Business & were (from Parental Homebread (sic)  Brutality) Civilised and fited (sic) to be put out as Parish Apprentices into any decent families’. The spinning of linen yarn for shirts and worsted produced a sufficient amount to make stockings and ‘to be sent out to be woven into liney wolsey for coats and waistcoats for the Men and Boys and Gowns and Petticoats for the Women and Girls’.

After his term of office Hayne removed to Ashbourne, the major returned to his regiment and a contested county election ‘divided the friendship of the Gentlemen [of Uttoxeter and the] workhouse gradually sunk into its former state’.

How much of Hayne’s account we accept at face value is difficult to say. Frederick Eden’s State of the Poor certainly confirms many of the practices Hayne found on his arrival at Uttoxeter workhouse, but the extent to which the workhouse and its inmates were transformed within the space of a year is open to question.


Derbyshire Record Office, D239/Z/6, Fitzherbert of Tissington Papers, Memorandum Uttoxeter Workhouse 10 May 1782

Frederick Morton Eden, The State of the Poor, A History of the Labouring Classes in England, 3 vols (London: 1797)

Adrian Henstock (ed.), A Georgian Country Town: Ashbourne 17251825:  Fashionable Society (Ashbourne: Ashbourne Local History Group, 1989)

Alannah Tomkins, The Experience of Urban Poverty, 1723–82 (Manchester: MUP, 2006) accessed 6 Mar 2018 accessed 6 Mar 2018

This is a work in progress, subject to change as new research is conducted.

A Beer Ladder?

The Staffordshire volunteers have started to unfold the vouchers for Darlaston, and a grubby set of scraps they are too.  The surviving documents date from around 1816 to the mid 1820s.  They are tightly and chaotically bundled together and require numbering as well as calendaring.

The overseers’ account books for the parish precede the vouchers chronologically, but the volume covering 1790-1802 contains a useful workhouse inventory.  The list includes the usual complement of domestic goods, such as trenchers (or wooden plates) for serving meals to the poor, and sixteen bedsteads each with their own blanket and coverlid.  The combination and quantities of furniture and crockery suggest that paupers were required to sleep two to a bed, but this was quite usual in institutional settings other than workhouses.  It might have been well-regarded as a way to keep children with parents, and as a way to keep warm.

An unexpected item in the inventory was a ‘beer ladder’.  The kitchen contained a copper, which was presumably used for brewing, and the listing of mash tubs confirms that the workhouse was making its own beer.  Even so the ladder is slightly puzzling.  Was the copper so large that a ladder was required to add or stir contents?  Pam Sambrook’s book Country House Brewing gives a detailed account of the private estate’s brewhouse and its furniture, and sheds light on the role of the ladder.  Tall coppers required a platform or other device to allow the brewer to ‘watch the boil and stir the hops’, and while the workhouse set-up was certainly less sophisticated and large than that at somewhere like Shugborough, the brewing process would have been the same.  Ladders and step-ladders made a frequent appearance in brewhouse inventories elsewhere.

Calke Abbey

A further possibility, and this is speculation since I don’t think Pam mentions this terminology, is that the beer ladder at Darlaston workhouse was a variant on another brewers’ accessory the ‘oar’.  This was an implement with a long handle and a laddered or fenestrated paddle at the end for stirring or ‘rowing’ the mash.  Pam’s book contains useful illustrations of brewers’ ‘oars’ but not by the name of ‘ladders’.  What do you think?


Aldridge Overseers

Aldridge overseers’ accounts and vestry minutes yield the names of twenty men who held the office of overseer of the poor between 1823 and 1836.  Two men in each year were elected in this period, as the practice of employing a salaried assistant overseer was not supported continuously throughout the period.  A comparison of these names with those of local residents given in White’s Directory of 1834 reveals that, with the exception of Joseph Reynolds the beer-house keeper (and coincidentally assistant overseer 1820-2), all of the men whose names feature in the Directory were farmers.

1823  Charles Arrowsmith, Thomas Martin

1824  John Clarke, William Tookey

1825  Thomas Cook, Thomas Middleton

1826  Charles Juxon or Jaxon, Joseph Shelley

1827  John Smith, John White

1828  Thomas Crumpton, John Proffitt

1829  Thomas Keen, Thomas Martin

1830  Thomas Martin, John Nevill

1831  Thomas Martin, Joseph Reynolds

1832  Daniel Arblaster, Thomas Martin

1833  John Cliff, Thomas Martin

1834  William Bates, John Lea

1835  Daniel Allen, Joseph Shelley

1836  Daniel Allen, Joseph Shelley


So the important question for us will be, why did Thomas Martin do duty as an overseer so often?  He held office in seven of these fourteen years, and continuously 1829-33.  He presumably had an aptitude and taste for parish work; in addition to stints as overseer he was also the constable of the parish in 1826, when he was given five pounds ‘in consideration of his remaining in the office for the year ensuing as a bonus, for his extra duties in keeping the peace’.  The vouchers may reveal why keeping the peace was such an issue in the mid-1820s.

Sources: SRO D1104/4/1 Aldridge vestry minutes 1808-27; D4122 Aldridge overseers’ account book 1823-37.


If this is Friday, this must be Aldridge

The vouchers of Whittington parish have been typed up in quick time, meaning that we are now turning the focus to Aldridge.  This parish has crossed my radar before, as the home parish of farmer John Masgreave.  John was the elder brother of Ellen Parker neé Masgreave, for whom I wrote an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Once again I’m in quest of names for the overseers and churchwardens of a parish, and this time I have both a set of vestry minutes and a volume of overseers’ accounts to help with the search.  The vestry minutes reveal that Aldridge anticipated legislation of 1818-19 and appointed a salaried assistant or ‘standing’ overseer as early as 1815.  The first post-holder was Patrick Cormick, succeeded in 1820 by Joseph Reynolds.  Reynolds was appointed at a salary of £25 per year, ‘without any cost or charge whatever to the parish excepting all journeys more than 10 miles from Aldridge’.  The parish was clearly trying to keep control of its liabilities in relation to trips associated with legal matters or the settlement of the poor.  Reynolds was required to receive and collect all the poor rates, pay the poor, and ‘execute the general business of the parish subject to the controul [sic] of the overseers for the time being’.  In other words, the parish still elected annual overseers, but they were merely honourary as it was Reynolds who did all the work.

The vestry minutes contain highlights of parish business and low points of parish behaviour.  In illustration of the former, it was resolved in January 1824 that the conveyance of letters between Aldridge and Walsall should be continued by Mrs Hathaway.  Rules were drawn up for the times when this lady should be expected to travel between the two locations for the reliable carriage of post.  A letter bag with a lock and key was supplied to her by the overseers of the poor (for some reason: the mail was not typically their province).  At the other end of the spectrum there was the intransigence of the organist and choirmaster.  Richard Glover was discharged from this post in 1822 for for ‘inability, impropriety of conduct and neglect of duty’.  There is no elaboration of these charges, but given that the next post-holder William Prince was specifically required to arrive at church early, and to teach singing to four parish girls, one can only hope that lateness was the worst of his offence.


Penalties for profiteering overseers

An Act of 1815 made it illegal for churchwardens or overseers to profit by supplying goods to their parish in the same year that they held office.  The penalty for infringement was high at £100.  This law was probably more honoured in the breech, but some keen-eyed contemporaries tried to make sure that it didn’t fall entirely out of view.  Samuel Cook, a radical citizen of Dudley, was one man who tried to make sure parish officers were held to account on this score.  He went to the trouble in 1823 of printing a small poster with the heading ‘Overseers liable to One Hundred Pounds Penalty!’ where he copied out some portions of the Act to publicise the (otherwise neglected) legislation.

This poster came to my attention when visiting the archives at Dudley.  I was searching the catalogues for parish records pertaining to locations in the ancient county of Staffordshire, and particularly for overseers’ vouchers that might survive for Sedgley, Brierley Hill, Kingswinford, and Lower Gornal.  None of these parishes have surviving vouchers relevant to our project, but finding the poster was a bonus.

Samuel Cook used the same small poster, no more than six inches square, to ask some pertinent questions about the workings of the Old Poor Law in Dudley.  He suffixed the main content of the poster with questions, asking about malt bags found at the workhouse, and the pay rise of £20 per year recently awarded to Mr Shorthouse (presumably a parish official).  It is a shame there weren’t more acute observers of parish relief to ask these sorts of questions!


House Row System

The Whittington Overseers of the Poor Law make seveal references to House row system or men.

An Internet search brought up the following on Google Books. There were various statements which appeared to be from parishes in the Staffordshire Moorlands but I expect it would be the same in Whittington

The House-row system.

Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons, Volume 45

Mr. Heald Salt, Guardian of the township of Wootton, states, that—

“If they (able-bodied labourers) apply in consequence of being out of work, I call a
meeting, and allot them to the rate-payers in proportion to their rate, and they are paid by the persons who employ them; this I call the house-row system.
The same plan has been pursued in our township ever since I can remember, and I was born in the township, and am now above 60 years of age. The non-resident able-bodied poor I relieve, if any of the family come over, giving as little as I can, and tell them they had better go back again. I never have sent any of the non-resident paupers to the workhouse.

The resident able-bodied have been sent to the workhouse, but not for the last five years. There have been cases where the paupers have not been satisfied with the wages paid by the house-row system.
The wages paid for the house-row system are not quite so good as those paid to independent labourers, and they have always reference to the families of the paupers. There are now two cases of persons going by house-row, the one a married man with seven children, none of whom have yet worked, and the other a married man with one child; they are tidy sort of working men, and about average labourer, one not being superior to the other. The man with seven children is paid by house-row 1s. a day and his victuals, and the other 7d, a day and his victuals, and the overseer has undertaken to pay 1s. a week for the lodgings of the latter, as his family are residing 13 miles from the parish.



Rich, poor, or spendthrift?

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…


Finding the Overseers

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….


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.