Saturday, April 30, 2011

Settlement papers

We take mobility for granted these days, and in recent times it has now become possible to move throughout most of Europe without restriction, but it was not always so. Most of the population were tied to their villages, first by customary rights to land and service to the lord of the manor, and in later centuries through legal restriction. Movement to a new parish was only possible if the new parish was willing to accept you and this usually meant that you had some useful skill that would help the economy of the parish. Most parishes were terrified of incurring the costs of supporting those who became to ill or too old to work. 

Before 1697, men wishing to move to a new parish had to produce a bond of Indemnity to ‘save the parish harmless’ in case they later became poor and in need of relief. This was normally £40, guaranteed by two bondsmen, either relatives or employer. Some of these for Stony Stratford I will reproduce in the next series of posts.

After that date, a settlement certificate from the home parish was required, signed by the churchwardens and overseers and vouched for by witnesses who swore to the signatures. The persons covered were listed and may include (by agreement) apprentices and relatives already living with the family. Other children later born to the man are covered, but not new dependent kin, other than grandchildren whose father had no other settlement.

Settlement was obtained by birth in the parish to a man who was himself legally settled there; by apprenticeship for seven years served to a full term; by hiring on annual contract to a settled employer, serving a full year and receiving the full promised wages. It could also be obtained by renting a house of £10 or more rateable value for a full year, or, less certainly, by paying parish rates on a lesser house for Several years, or by serving as a parish officer for a year.

Married women took their husband’s settlement, but illegitimate children, even of couples later married, belonged to the parish of birth, hence the anxiety to remove pregnant unmarried girls. If the girl belonged to the parish, then the father was traced and made to pay for lying in and maintenance till the child was apprenticed, which usually totalled about £40.

No one could be sent ‘home’ without a formal Removal Order ratified by Quarter Sessions, and the receiving parish could appeal, in which case it was liable for interim maintenance charges and medical bills if the appeal failed. It could also issue a certificate accepting liability for the man and his existing family, usually listed in detail. Earlier certificates also mention ‘his family’, who may not exist but are any future issue born while he is still living on their certificate. Once a man was in a position to buy or rent a house worth over £ 10 a year, he became settled in that parish and his certificate was no longer valid, even if he later fell on hard times.

Stony Stratford was very unusual in having two parishes carved out of parts of two older parishes, Calverton and Wolverton. Originally chapelries of Calverton to the west and Wolverton to the east, built in the fifteenth century to cope with the growth of flourishing inns and shops servicing the coach trade along Watling Street, St Giles church, Stony Stratford West, and St Mary Magdalen, Stony Stratford East, stood less than half a mile apart. St Mary’s church was burnt down in 1742, except for a tower which mouldered slowly; all services thereafter took place in St Giles, which was enlarged to cope in 1776 and again in early Victorian times. The two parish organisations remained fiercely distinct and all connections with the rural mother parishes were severed. Thus we will see situations here where movement from the east side of Stony Stratford to the west, or vice versa, required a settlement certificate or a bond.

The settlement papers, from the 17th and 18th century, give us some clue to the movement of people in rural communities in those days


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