Settlement and Removal: Poor Relief and Exclusion in 18th-century London

From the Act for the Relief of the Poor of 1662, or so-called “Settlement Act” onwards, various pieces of 17th- and 18th- century legislation formally codified entitlement to parochial poor relief by “settlement“. The main ways of gaining a settlement of your own were: completing a formally contracted apprenticeship; at least one year in continuous service; renting a house worth at least £10 a year; paying parish taxes or serving as a parish officer. Many people’s settlements, however, were ‘derived’: a married woman from her husband; children born in wedlock from their parents. But illegitimate children got their settlement from their place of birth. And a new settlement erased previous ones.

In theory, everyone in England and Wales in the 18th century ‘belonged’ to a parish, somewhere. Which was fine… as long as you had a settlement in a place where you actually wanted to be. But the flip side of settlement was removal: exclusion was key to the workings of a locally-based poor relief policy.

The case study: St Clement Danes

This paper is early work in progress based on sources digitised by the London Lives project, exploring the narratives of the poor in examinations and petitions and linking together records to trace larger patterns. The focus here on one London Lives parish in the second half of the 18th century, St Clement Danes, a large urban parish to the west of the City of London, with a population of around 13,000 in 1801, of whom about 600 were receiving poor relief (costing the parish about £7000 p.a.). It was fairly well off, on average, with varied local trades and industries. But, as is often the case, averages hide considerable variation, with poor and rich living close together.

Overview of the data

I’m focusing on three sources from London Lives:

1) a dataset of settlement, bastardy and vagrancy examinations for St Clement Danes and another London Lives parish, St Botolph Aldgate, covering 1739-1800 (containing about 11000 exams in total). There were three main possible outcomes of a settlement examination: the examined was shown to have a settlement in the parish; their settlement was somewhere else but they could produce a settlement certificate guaranteeing that their own parish would relieve them, so they were allowed to stay; removal from the parish.

2) the second dataset is a Clement Danes register of removal orders (covering late 1752 to mid 1793; I chopped off the part-years at beginning and end for a convenient 40 year period).

Many archives have large numbers of surviving 18th-century pauper examinations, but records of removals are much less common. Linking the two means I can begin to examine more systematically the outcomes of examinations. For the period 1753-92, then, there are 5046 examinations and 2479 orders, of which 2357 could be linked to at least one exam. (Conversely, 2365 exams could be linked to at least one removal order.)

3) And finally, I’ve linked these to petitions in the Sessions papers from parishes appealing removals from Clement Danes.

1: annual counts of examinations 1753-92, broken down by type of exam

Figure 1 shows the three types of examinations: settlement, bastardy and vagrancy. The vast majority of exams in this series were settlement exams (green); bastardy exams (red) account for about 10% of the total. The vagrancy category is a very thin blue line at the bottom of just a few years; the numbers were tiny. There will have been more vagrancy exams than this, but they were usually recorded separately, often on pre-printed forms (which makes me a bit curious about the few that do turn up in this series – why are they here at all?).

2: annual counts of removal orders linked to exams, 1753-92, by type of order

In Figure 2 we can see there are two types of removal order in the register: non-specific orders I’ll simply call ‘pauper removals’ and vagrant removals (sometimes called passes, as the removed were “passed” to their destinations). Most of the orders that couldn’t be linked to examinations were vagrant removals, again indicating that vagrant examinations were recorded separately. But this graph shows that a striking proportion of settlement exams ultimately resulted in vagrant removal orders, highlighting the fuzzy boundaries between the poor laws and vagrancy laws.

Generally, parishes had an incentive to do this because they had to foot the bill for pauper removals, while the county paid for vagrants to be removed. It looks suspiciously as though this was getting rather out of hand in the mid 1750s. In the spring of 1757 the bench at Middlesex Sessions was very concerned about the numbers of vagrants and costs of removals. In July they appointed a new contractor to handle the removal of vagrants and (in what looks to me at least very much like a slap on the wrist to negligent JPs) ordered that JPs were “not to sign any Vagrant Pass” without proof “that an Act of Vagrancy hath been committed”. There was a dramatic and immediate impact in St Clement Danes: of 75 vagrant removals in 1757, only 7 were dated after July.

Even so, vagrant removals continue to be quite conspicuous in comparison to examinations; so I want to look more closely at the settlement exams that wound up in vagrant removals to see if there’s any real justification beyond financial expediency. (The smaller increases in vagrant removals after 1757 do generally match years which have vagrant examinations, but they only partially correlate to the years with the largest numbers of exams.)

Overall, about 50% of settlement examinations led to removal orders. The main concern of bastardy exams was establishing paternity rather than settlement (though occasionally a single exam covers both topics), and so there are much lower linkage rates between these and the orders (about 20 of 500+ could be linked to orders). However, the women examined in bastardy exams often have later settlement exams as well, and so I have some more linkage work to do to establish whether more than the 20 were actually removed at some point.

3: gender in settlement/vagrancy exams, 1752-93

As in many other studies (and even after ignoring bastardy exams), by far the majority of examinants and the removed were women. They averaged 75% of the examined over the period, reflecting women’s vulnerability to poverty. However, women were slightly less likely to be removed than the male examinants, and it’s possible that there’s some correlation between the peaks in exams/removals and higher rates of male removal. The differences are not large; but I have some more number-crunching to do here.

Contesting exclusion

I want to look now at cases in which examinants returned to the parish after being removed by an order. Between 1753 and 1792, at least 122 examinants were removed more than once. This happened in two ways: first, examinants were returned after the receiving parish disputed the case; second, the examinant themselves might reject the magistrates’ authority and return of their own volition. [Links to documents for each of the cases mentioned are listed at the end of the post.]

The returned

Parishes to which paupers were removed had a right of appeal to Quarter Sessions (or to the Court of Aldermen in the City of London). Between 1750 and 1800, there are about 2300 petitions of this kind in the Middlesex, Westminster and City of London Sessions papers in London Lives. Individual parishes did not appeal many removals: the process was very expensive; and it’s argued that in London many parishes had informal agreements to accept paupers from each other (‘friendly passes’).

I’ve found 44 appeals against removals from Clement Danes between 1753-1792,  all of which can be linked to examinations and/or removal orders. The petitions themselves are usually uninformative about the reasons for appeal (unlike many other petitions in the Sessions Papers). But the linked examinations can be more revealing.

In 1760, the parish of St Brides appealed against Clement Danes sending them an 8 year old girl, Mary Ives. Mary’s mother was dead and she’d been abandoned by her father James, whose settlement was unknown. Mary had been born in St Brides; but she was legitimate so that was irrelevant to her settlement. So it’s not surprising that their appeal was upheld and Clement Danes had to take Mary back.[1]

Or, in 1762, St Sepulchre’s appealed CD’s decision to send them Susanna Flood, the widow of Noah Flood, and their three children. According to the settlement examinations, Noah had only served 5 years of his Apprenticeship in St. Sepulchre and the final two years with a different master in Hornsey. Again, the appeal was successful. Within three months Susanna and her children had been dispatched to Hornsey instead.[2]

On the facts of the exam, sending Mary Ives to St Brides seems simply opportunistic; the JPs must have known perfectly well that there was nothing in the examination to support this course of action. The most charitable interpretation is that they had some reason to believe her father might turn out to have a settlement in St Sepulchre, and so the recipients would not bother to appeal. Equally, I’m sceptical that the right course of action in a case like Noah Flood’s (though clearly not entirely straightforward) wasn’t well established and known to JPs by the 1760s. Both cases seem to suggest that getting rid of unwanted paupers as quickly as possible could take priority over establishing the facts of uncertain cases. And yet, if that were really the case, we might expect appeals to be rather more frequent than they actually were.

[Oops: on reading the Flood examinations again, I looked more carefully at the dates, and realised I castigated the JPs unfairly: Susanna’s first examination only mentioned the St Sepulchre apprenticeship and it wasn’t until she was examined again after the appeal that she completed the narrative.]

But one more caveat. Of the 44 linked petitions, 15 (14%) were in just one year, 1785. The mid- to late-1780s were busy years for examinations and removals in Clement Danes. The 1785 Sessions Papers are unusually full of parish petitions – but so are those for 1784, and that year’s files contain no appeals against Clement Danes at all. What is going on?! Survival rates of documents, including petitions, in the Sessions Papers are variable and uncertain, but this is a very curious anomaly.

The returners

In all this, the interests and desires of the paupers themselves are clearly the lowest priority of all. (As evidenced by the way in which parish officials were apparently quite happy to label significant numbers of them vagrants – a criminal offence, remember – in the 1750s, simply to save some money on removal costs.) But we can, sometimes, begin to trace something of what the poor wanted for themselves.

Some examinants gave accounts that investigation rapidly proved to be false. Thomas White’s claim in 1769 to have a settlement in CD based on 2 1/2 years service was “On Enquiry found… to be false [, the master] never having kept house a Twelvmonth in the Parish & the Examinant only an Earrand Boy for a little time”. If Thomas lied because he didn’t want to leave the parish, the tactic may have worked: there’s no sign of a removal order.[3]

Challenging the authority of the magistrates and law by returning after a removal order was a risky business; returners could be labelled as vagrants and subject to the harsher penalties of the vagrancy laws. Nonetheless, some returned several times over years or even decades.

Ann Brown, a single woman aged around 40 in 1755, had been a servant to a Mr Champ in Oxford for about 18 months during the mid 1740s. There was no doubt about her settlement: she gave almost exactly the same account to the CD magistrates four times between 1751 and 1757. The first occasion pre-dates the removals register but on each of the subsequent times they sent her back to Oxford as a vagrant. An order in 1755 describes her as “an incorrigible rogue”, which had a specific meaning in the vagrancy laws: it referred to repeat offenders who could be more harshly punished, from imprisonment with hard labour potentially up to transportation to the colonies. In practice this was rare, but Ann would surely have been warned it could happen. And yet she came back again two years later. And while most repeat returners came quite short distances from other London parishes, each time she had to cover a 50 mile journey from Oxford.[4]

On her first examination in April 1758, Mary Jenkins appears to be just one of the many women who were examined about their settlement because their husbands had recently died, gone away to military service, been imprisoned, or simply deserted them. Her husband Henry was at sea and they had 3 young sons. After their marriage, Henry had rented a house in St Olave Southwark at an annual rent of 11 guineas, so the CD JPs had Mary and her young sons removed there: a straightforward case. But Mary returned to CD four times, only to be removed again. Again her motives are unknown.[5]

In these cases it seems to me there must be some connection to the parish that would not be documented in settlement examinations, but whether I can trace records that might shed light on them, I don’t know. Tantalisingly, an Ann Brown was baptised in Clement Danes in 1713; unfortunately, it’s a common sort of name and there were quite a few Ann Browns born in Middlesex (let alone anywhere else) in a reasonable date range. Conversely, in what I’m fairly sure is Henry Jenkins’ and Mary’s marriage record, her maiden name is transcribed as “Rouffinee”, an apparently unique surname (this could be either a transcription error or an unusual spelling of, perhaps, an Irish name like Roughneen?).

Irregular unions and family breakup

And I want to close with a case highlighting the themes running through many examinations of marriage breakdown, ‘irregular’ unions and their implications, the potential for paupers to be excluded not only from parishes but from their own families.

Ann Threader was examined in February 1785. She had married John Threader ‘about 30 years ago’ at the Fleet (I think actually in 1750), and he deserted her just two months afterwards. She had never seen him again but had heard that he re-married, and that he had later died. A few years after he left her, she moved in with Jacob Wesley, a shoemaker, with whom she had three illegitimate children, aged between 9 and 14 at the time of the exam. Because Ann and Jacob had moved house during their relationship, their children had been born in two different parishes in Southwark. CD attempted to remove the children to those parishes, but both removals were successfully appealed at the next Middlesex Sessions.

This time the examination itself sheds no light on the grounds for appeal, but it has a marginal note that CD were ‘obliged’ to take the children because they had already ‘been passed to us some time back’. Whatever the reason, CD subsequently relieved the children, although they quickly had the two older children bound out as apprentices, and they also gave Ann occasional out-relief for some years.[6]

Following the failure of a marriage or long-term absence of a husband, cohabitation and (less often) bigamous re-marriage were both options to be found in settlement exams, and I want to explore this in more depth in the future. Just as with ‘regular’ marriages, the break-up of an ‘irregular’ union due to a partner’s death or departure could make the remaining family members vulnerable to exclusion. But with these unions, the settlement laws could  in theory result in the break up of an entire family: the illegitimate children to the parishes of their birth, the mother and father to separate parishes altogether.

Future directions

Because this research is in early stages I don’t have substantial conclusions yet, so instead a few thoughts on future directions.

The first strand relates to the experiences of the poor themselves, and how settlement strategies could go awry. People – perhaps especially poor people! – didn’t always live the well-ordered lives imagined by settlement law and there were many potential sources of dispute. Young people might not complete apprenticeships or service, for a range of reasons. (Apprenticeships were long and might well start in one parish and finish in another because of a master’s house move, death, bankruptcy or abuse of apprentices.) In any case, young adults didn’t always stay put after gaining a settlement of their own; they might move to find work, or return to their childhood homes, but never manage to gain another settlement. Elderly widows or young orphans could end up being sent to parishes they had never even visited because their husbands or parents had worked or lived there many decades earlier. Young people could be separated from the rest of their family because they had been born before their parents’ marriage. I want to explore these experiences in more depth, and those of the poor who resisted exclusion.

Second, there’s the larger context of poor law and settlement practice. Ann Winter and Thijs Lambrecht have recently argued for the importance of investigating local experiences and variations in settlement practice, and I think Jeremy Boulton has brilliantly shown the value of detailed record linkage in a local case study, for St Martin in the Fields. In the late 18th century, Clement Danes had a reputation as a parish where migrants could go to claim poor relief without too much scrutiny by parish officials – a “casualty parish” (indeed, the best casualty parish!). I’m curious, among other things, how accurate that image was. (One thing I do know already is that Clement Danes removal rates were considerably higher than those in St Martins a few decades earlier in the century. The numbers of examinations in Clement Danes are also much higher than those in the St Botolph Aldgate records, though they had roughly similar size populations.) How consistent was practice in Clement Danes, and how did it match up to settlement law? In reality, how likely were widows or abandoned wives or illegitimate children likely to be despatched to far-off parishes? And how does it compare to other London parishes?

This is a slightly revised version of a paper delivered at Cultures of Exclusion in the Early Modern World, University of Warwick, May 2017.

London Lives documents

[1] Mary Ives

[2] Susanna Flood and family

[3] Thomas White

[4] Ann Brown

[5] Mary Jenkins and family

[6] Ann Threader and family

  • Examination, 1785
  • Removal orders
  • Petitions: St Georges Southwark and St Mary Overys
  • Apprentice register for Thomas and Hannah Threader:
  • Example of relief to family members (in the form of clothing)
  • (FindMyPast/FamilySearch) marriage of John Thredder to Ann Clark, 28 Feb 1750, London; FamilySearch also has a Fleet marriage record for John Thredder on the same date. Despite the date discrepancy, the match seems likely (35 years is a long time…)
  • (FMP/FamilySearch) marriage of John Thredder to Mary Poore, St Martin in the Fields, April 1763; burial of John Threader, St Martin in the Fields, 20 Jan 1772. But there is also a burial record for a John Threader in 1764 at St Ann Soho, so can’t be certain that the St Martins records are the right man.

Additional reading

London Lives: Poor Law

Zotero bibliography (work in progress)

Noted in particular:

  • Jeremy Boulton, “Double Deterrence: Settlement and Practice in London’s West End, 1725-1824”, in Migration, Settlement and Belonging in Europe, 1500–1930s: Comparative Perspectives, edited by Anne Winter and Steve King, 54–80. New York: Berghahn, 2013.
  • Norma Landau, “The Laws of Settlement and the Surveillance of Immigration in Eighteenth-Century Kent.” Continuity and Change 3, no. 03 (December 1988): 391. doi:10.1017/S026841600000429X.
  • A. Winter and T. Lambrecht, “Migration, Poor Relief and Local Autonomy: Settlement Policies in England and the Southern Low Countries in the Eighteenth Century.” Past & Present 218, no. 1 (February 1, 2013): 91–126. doi:10.1093/pastj/gts021.

Further information

London Lives Paupers and Petitioners project

All the data for this paper is shared under Creative Commons licences and can be downloaded:

(The removal orders dataset includes the data for the linkage between the three sources as used in this paper.)

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This entry was posted in Early Modern, London Lives Paupers, Plebeian Lives, Women/Gender. Bookmark the permalink.

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