It’s Day of Digital Humanities 2022. (I’m not sure if I’ve ever done anything to mark a #DayOfDH. I’m probably cleaning data most years. I rather enjoy cleaning data, but that doesn’t mean I want to write about it.)
This year, I’m mostly doing TEI XML markup for the Alice Thornton’s Books Project and today is the day I decided I needed to get on with some date tagging. (If I’d started it a couple of days earlier, I could have been trying out this R timelines package. Ah well.)
Well, I am not going to read through every word of this book looking for a few hundred taggable dates.
Instead, I’m going to use search strategies based on regular expressions (aka regex or grep), search tools provided by the OxygenXML Editor, and my knowledge of Alice’s writing patterns (and early modern dates more generally). I’m not attempting anything very sophisticated in computing terms. All I want the computer to do is narrow down how much text I have to wade through to the bits that are most likely to contain dates and present it in a nice compact form (and also, because it’ll be an iterative process, not show me stuff I’ve already tagged). I choose the search terms and I make the decisions.
Alice writes dates (or date-able pieces of text) in various ways, with some fun spelling quirks. Here are a few, fairly randomly from the resulting tagged text:
October 23 1641
Octb. 23 1641
Tuesday the 3 of Janeuary
Jan. 3 1654
About a weeke before my full time
the 14 of february
18 of May. 1655
May: 19 1655
June 11 1660
Shrove Sunday 61
For all the variety, this can be boiled down to some common patterns that will find nearly all the dates in the text in a few hours’ work.
ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd etc, bearing in mind that, like a lot of early modern people, Alice often writes things like 2d or 3th)
for relative dating, words like “before” and “after”; “on” is really too common in the text to be very useful as a keyword, but I might try it out when I’ve done more efficient searches.
I know that virtually every date in the texts is 17th century (there’s a handful of late 16th-century dates), and I know that a lot of Alice’s dates will contain a year, so that’s the starting point. With a very simple regex, I can find every four-digit number that looks like a year between 1600 and 1699: \b16\d\d\b
This is not a regex tutorial, but by way of quick explanations: \b represents a word boundary (a space or punctuation) and \d represents any single number. So the regex will find almost every year in the list above, but it’ll ignore most other sorts of small or large numbers that might turn up in the text. It won’t be fazed by dates written in the early modern form 1665/6, because the / also counts as a word boundary. (The only one in the list that it won’t find is the final 61, a less common form, and for that I can do a second quicker scan for something like \b[2-6]\d\b.)
The year regex gave about 200 results, which are presented in Oxygen as a compact list with the search term highlighted:
(Not all of those are part of the text itself; Oxygen has extra options to limit results further to the content of tags and ignore stuff in inline comments, which I eventually remembered to turn on.)
It’s a straightforward (if fairly dull) task to work through the list and tag all the results that are really dates (most of them, hooray).
Not all dates in the list contain a year, however, and some do but the regex fails for some reason (eg, there is already some sort of tagging within the year text). But I now have a set of tagged dates, which I can inspect for the ways that Alice spells and abbreviates months, days and so on.
So the second iteration involves looking for dates that have months but not years (or the years were missed by the regex). Here’s the months regex, which handles nearly all Alice’s spelling quirks without producing a totally unmanageable number of false positives:
The results for this one are messier (I could have split it up to do terms like “may” that produce a lot of false positives separately).
But there’s one more thing I need to do now, because I want to avoid seeing all the dates I already tagged. Regex aren’t enough for this. Thankfully, Oxygen has an option to further restrict searching with an XPath expression.
This is the line of XPath code: //*[not(descendant-or-self::date)]|//text()[not(ancestor::date)]. What does it do? Um, good question. I can do basic XPath, but I’m kinda crap at this sort of slightly more advanced query and I borrowed this one off the internet (but for once, not Stack Overflow). But basically it tells the search to only look for stuff that’s not inside a <date> tag.
From here, I worked through each of the listed elements, devising a workable regex strategy each time. (Want to look for the early modern feasts that end with “mas”? mas\b does a decent job, though it also returns people called Thomas. There are quite a lot of Thomases in Alice’s world.) By the time I get to “before”/”after”, or trying out “month” “day” “year”, I’m getting steeply diminishing returns (hundreds of results, hardly any taggable dates) and it’s time to call it a day. This job is not finished yet, but I’ve done the bulk of it, and there are four of us on the team who will be working on these texts over the next several months, with plenty of opportunities for catching the harder cases. For now, there are 285 tagged dates in the big text and 250 in the small one. All I have to do now is add the TEI attributes like @when for standard date formatting. (I was going to do that this afternoon but I wrote this blog post.) And then, finally, I’ll be able to play with that timelines package.
So, there you have my Day of DH 2022: doing the stuff that makes the fun stuff possible.
Some readers may have noticed that my Early Modern Resources website has been down for a couple of months now. I’m rebuilding it, but it’s going to be a little while. In the meantime, here is a google spreadsheet of about 150 online primary source collections from the EMR database.
She had had unjust warrants against them, claiming to be afraid of “bodily harm”. This was “greatly astonishing” to the petitioners, who were “well known never to have disturbed her majesties peace” or threatened Anne herself.
Anne had come to Allys’s house early one morning and sneakily “convaye[d] her selffe into the house to doe some outrage upon” Allys, and finding her alone,
did assault and treade her the sayd Allys (beinge an aged woman) under feete and would her have murdred or otherwayes fouly intreated yf she hadd not bine prevented by [Margery] whoe hearinge the crye came imediatly…
This was “a matter soe shamfull and unnaturall, as the lyke by anie woman hath seeldome bine offred in anie [christian?] cuntrey or towne”. Further, Anne was a frequent disturber of the peace, causing many “unseemly” brawls and affrays, and upsetting the “best sort” of the town’s inhabitants.
As a result, Allys could “not be at peace within her owne house” and was “much affrayd” of further attacks; and so they prayed both to be released from Anne’s warrants against them and for the authorities to take action against Anne.
Some elements of the case are really unusual: the language – “shamfull and unnaturall… the lyke by anie woman hath seeldome bine offred” – as well as their demand for the magistrates to “brydle the outragousnesse of the sayd Anne Lingard”. There’s nothing quite like this in any of the other petitions.
Nonetheless it reflects a number of common themes in petition narratives by victims of violence:
a background context which includes malice and vexatious litigation, disordered behaviour (versus the quiet law-abiding victim);
at least one central, murderous, assault on weak, defenceless victims;
fear of further attacks and therefore the urgent importance of bringing the offender under control.
This post for Women’s History Month 2020 explores the Bluestocking Corpus of Elizabeth Montagu’s letters, created by Anni Sairio.
This first version of the Bluestocking Corpus consists of 243 manuscript letters, written by the ‘Queen of the Blues’ Elizabeth Montagu between the 1730s and the 1780s. Elizabeth Montagu (née Robinson, 1718-1800) was one of the key figures of the learning-oriented Bluestocking Circle in eighteenth-century England. …
Among its many other wonders, you can find a marvellous run of 16th- and 17th-century CSPD on the Internet Archive. But they’re not consistently titled, and there are duplicates of many volumes, so it’s not easy to piece them together. I made a chronological list while I was preparing a sample of State Papers petitions for the Power of Petitioning project, so it may be helpful to share it. (For R users, I found the Internet Archive package and this rOpenSci tutorial very helpful.)
TNA guides, including how to convert reference in the calendars to modern references:
I think there’s a complete run of CSPD from 1547 to 1660, after which I’ve found only a handful of volumes. (There are three volumes of calendars for the interregnum Committee for the Advance of Money, but I don’t know whether any other Committees were calendared separately from the main run of commonwealth CSPD; if so, they’re not included.) There may be more volumes I didn’t find, and if I learn of any more I’ll update the spreadsheet.
The url is for the volume’s main page on the Internet Archive, from where you can access a PDF, OCR’ed text version and other formats.
Several calendars have multiple copies with separate pages; where this is the case they’re listed in the additional_ids column. If you want to try one of these instead of the main listing (the choice was arbitrary; some copies might be better quality than others), just copy and paste the id of your choice into the search box.
An extended version of my paper for the April 2019 workshop held by the AHRC Research Network on Petitions and Petitioning from the Medieval Period to the Present, on the theme Petitioning in Context: when and why do petitions matter?
The paper uses data from the London Lives Petitions Project to explore the decline in female petitioning and rise in petitions from institutions in 18th-century London.
The petition of Geelien Cowley ‘a poore widdow and mother of three smale fatherlesse children’:
that your petitioners late husband by name E[dward] Birien of Ruthin a souldier that served in his majestys service in Ireland neare upon three yeares & afterward he retorned to England he served in his majestys service there sixe or seaven yeares where in all these tymes he suffered many ympriso[nments] wounds & brueses wch made him unable to earn his liveliehoode & more especiallie this two yeares last past then he was allowed one of the majestys pensioners to receave a share of his majestys allo[wance] for maymed souldiers provided. Nowe may it please [your] worships to be advertised that the said Edward Birien your petitioners late husband, had a longe sicknesse, beeinge vearie poore & nowe called to gods mercie caused your petitioner to goe upon the credit with her neighbours to suplie her said husbands wants in confidence to receave his share & alloweance of pension as afore is set forth, but it was gods will to take hime to his mercie afore this generall sessions.
Most humbly prayeinge your worships to allowe your petitioner the pencion allotted her late husband for to paye to her creditors what she is engaged for & your worships further help & succours in such sort as your worships thinke meete without your worships comisseracion hearein your petitioner shall not be able to goe amonge good & charitable people for releefe to her & her smale children for feare of arrest or lawsuite. this I humblie bege for gods sacke…
The treasurer of the maimed soldiers’ fund was ordered to pay her the whole quarterly allowance due to her husband.
[NLW Chirk Castle Quarter Sessions files October 1665 B21/d7]
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.)
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?).
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.
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.
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 returnedafter 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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Findmypast/FamilySearch marriage record: Henry Jenkins to Mary Rouffinee, St Pancras, 2 July 1751 (in April 1758 Mary said that the marriage was at Kentish Town Chapel “about seven Years ago”, so I’m more than usually confident about this one)
(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.
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.