Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Roots and Routes: Settlement, Removal and the Parish

Settlement and removal were court settled processes that formed part of the Old Poor Law system which operated in the UK from the early modern period until 1834. Under the Poor Law system, each person had a parish of settlement which was usually determined by the following considerations: where you were born; where your husband or father was born or had served an apprenticeship; or where you husband or father rented property worth £10 a year. 

A person who had moved away from their parish of settlement could be sent back (removed), if they ever fell on hard times and had to apply for parish relief. Removal was ordered for those who had become, or were likely to become, a liability on the parish such as unmarried pregnant women. Vagrancy was also a problem that fell to the parish to deal with, so vagrants were also widely subject to removal orders. Such orders were issued through the Quarter Sessions courts, whose Justices of the Peace (or magistrates) would first determine the proper parish of settlement for an individual by issuing a settlement order, before then issuing an order for their removal to that parish. Removal could be ordered to anywhere in the country, or it could be to the next parish.  

Settlement and removal was a significant tool of the Hull Bastardy Courts to rid the town of the 'financial drain' of single mothers and their illegitimate offspring. Removals in the early nineteenth century were mainly of pregnant single women. Illegitimacy was increasing in the early nineteenth century and was regarded as a social and moral problem. There was a belief that the Old Poor Law encouraged single women to bear illegitimate children in order to gain increasing amounts of parish relief. They were considered by the officers of the parish to be ‘immoral’ and 'costly' women. 

The records of the Hull Quarter Sessions can tell us much about this process, not least the names of individuals who were unfortunate enough to be part of it. Pregnant and single, Ann Whiteley was removed to Otley, West Yorkshire, in July 1813 [CQB]. Single mother Sarah Hilton, along with her illegitimate 7 week old child James, was removed to Bowby, Lincolnshire, in October 1816 [C CQB]. The story of Hannah Taylor is interesting, and shows that prevalent beliefs about such women were not necessarily true. Finding herself a single mother, Hannah had managed to support herself and her illegitimate child Mary for a few years. She then became a mother to a second illegitimate child, William. At this point she couldn't cope and had to apply for parish relief. She was ordered to be removed from Hull to Leeds, along with her children Mary (now 5 years old) and William (now 6 months). 

Settlement and Removal Order [C CQB]

Not all removals were of a longer distance, indeed some were for the removal of individuals over very short distances, often from one Hull parish to another. This can be seen in the case of Ruth Griswood who, unmarried and pregnant, was removed from Holy Trinity to Sculcoates in 1808. Such instances illustrate the infighting between parishes over who was to foot the bill for the welfare of the poor. In 1834 the Poor Law was revised, becoming known as the New Poor Law, and the same practices were occasionally carried on. For example, in 1851 the Hull Magistrates Court removed single woman Ann Gardener (a pauper) and her child.

When looking at settlement and removal under the Old Poor Law, there are high incidences of removal of women in general. Such cases involved not only women with illegitimate children or pregnant single women, but also other ‘problem’ women. These women might be widows or deserted wives who had become chargeable to the parish after the loss of husbands who had previously supported them and their children. Women classed as 'lunatics' were also removed as they required care under the system. Thus, in one respect, the process of settlement and removal can be considered as a way of getting rid of social undesirables, or those causing financial strain on the parish. In this analysis, vulnerable women in poverty were treated as social outcasts to be moved on.

To find out more, why not visit us to have a look through the Quarter Sessions records [C CQB] here at the History Centre.

Joanne Chilman, Archive Assistant

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