Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tucker's Girl

On December 11th 1808 the following entry appears in the Churchwarden's Account Books:
Received of John Tucker on account of Mary Edmunds Child £20 0s 0d.
This was the usual practice when a man responsible for getting an unmarried  girl pregnant was assessed a fine to defray the cost to the Parish - in this case £20. Some months before this entries for payments to "Tucker's Girl" begin to appear, starting with a payment of 2/6d for one week on July 20th 1808. Thereafter, there are regular payments of 2/- a week, paid every fortnight, to Tucker's Girl.


The subsequent account references tell a story.

In September there is a payment of 4/- to the magistrates for a removal certificate and a few days later a payment of 6/6d to "a man to Convey Tucker's Girl to Marsh Gibbon out 2 days." The payments of 2/- a week continue and then on November 5th there is a payment to Bet Williams "for Tucker Girl Towards her Months" - 10s. And again on November 19th another payment of 10s. "Paid Bet Williams on account of Tuckers Girls Month." She gets a similar payment on November 25th and December 3rd and on December 10th is give a further 2/6d for extra trouble. Weekly payments to Tucker's Girl continue to january 7th 1809. Thereafter, Mary Edmunds is entered under her own name and is paid £1 every 10 weeks (still at the 2s a week rate) for a year after this. I assume until the £20 is used up.

My reading of this is that the pregnancy of Mary Edmunds is first recognized and acknowledged in July. She is thereafter paid at a rate of 2s a week. The initial reaction must have been for her to move to Marsh Gibbon, presumably where she had relatives, but that she may have chosen to return. The removal certificate was required for movement from one parish to another at this time. Bet Williams is the midwife who is paid 10s. a week during Tucker's Girl's last month of confinement. Bet Williams appears in other unrelated entries, so she must be local to Wolverton. It is interesting that she is only described as Tucker's Girl until the child is actually born and John Tucker has made his payment of £20. I assume that if the pregnancy had not gone to term or the child had not survived then John Tucker would not have been liable for the whole amount. I assume that Mary Edmunds is not named because of some arcane notion that if no child survived birth then the stain of illegitimate birth would not attach itself to Mary Edmunds.

John Tucker was probably already married when he got Mary Edmunds pregnant, so she was effectively on her own. 2s a week amounted to bare subsistence and was the rate paid to the sick, so out of the £20 put up by John Tucker, she received about 20 months support after the other expenses were deducted. Options for girls in this situation were extremely limited. Support could either come from her immediate family or she could get married. One of my own ancestors got herself into this predicament as a sixteen year old in 1822 when she gave birth to my great great grandfather. Paternity was acknowledged by the already-married farmer, and recorded in the Leighton Buzzard register with a £50 bond. Two years later she married an older man who was able to provide for her and her son. She had no more children and her son took over his adoptive father's business and did fairly well for himself. I hope the Mary Edmunds story had a satisfactory outcome.

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