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Poor Law

In the 17th Century when people fell on hard times, often through injury or illness, they would apply for relief from the Parish. The Overseers of the Poor, who raised money by setting a levy or parish poor rate to be paid by those who could afford to pay, would decide how much support they would give a family but if they were “incomers” to the parish they might apply to the courts for a “removal order” to send them to the parish of their birth, which was their place of “settlement”. If they had worked for more than a year in another parish, or had rented property worth more than £10 a year, then their birth parish could refuse to pay them relief and remove them to such parish. In order to establish these facts the overseers would arrange for an "examination" of the pauper in front of a Justice of the Peace. If they could find work in another parish, their home parish would agree to allow them to go there to work rather than pay them relief, and would issue a "settlement certificate" to the new parish, agreeing to take them back if they needed relief, or to pay that parish to look after them. Occasionally a family member would sign a certificate agreeing to pay if their relatives fell on hard times and this document is a certificate or bond of "indemnity". If a child was left orphaned or a mother widowed and unable to bring up her children, the Overseers might seek a tradesman who would take in the child and teach him a trade, and the parish might pay towards the child’s keep, whilst he was learning the trade. Often children as young as 8 would be “apprenticed” in this way, until they reached the age of 21. Girls were usually taught housewifery and boys were put to a trade. In the 19th Century children were sometimes sent to work in the Nottinghamshire textile mills.

A girl who was pregnant would be asked to name the father of her child, and the parish would seek to claim money from the reputed father to reimburse the parish for the costs of her delivery and the bringing up of the child until it was 16 years old. He would then sign a “bastardy bond”, with a friend or his father standing surety, for his agreement to pay a weekly sum to the Overseers. If the man did not pay, then a "warrant" would be issued to apprehend him.

There are a few documents where men served in the Militia and their wives claimed relief, and a few miscellaneous items, all filed in the parish collection at Northamptonshire Record Office.

Rogues and vagabonds or beggars were also not wanted in the parishes and vagrants may be imprisioned in the village pound and sent on their way the next day.

It should be remembered that these documents do not all survive. Where a second parish is mentioned, that parish collection may contain a duplicate, and the second parish may contain a document that has not survived in the first parish.

Sometimes cases would be fought between parishes as to who "owned" the pauper and these were taken to the Quarter Sessions Court, and the pauper might be removed and returned a few times between parishes. More money might be expended in fighting these cases than it would have cost to pay the relief to the pauper. If they belonged to far away parishes they might be given a pass to allow them to pass through each parish on their way home.

All these papers are refered to as Poor Law papers and were usually issued in duplicate to both parties in any dispute or agreement.

In 1838 the laws were changed, and many poor people ended up in the “Workhouse”, and now in the 20th Century this has become “Social Security”.

Note: We would be grateful to receive notice of any documents from other parishes which contain reference to Rushden parishioners, in order that we might add them to a list of strays.

Poor Law Documents & Accounts

Wellingborough News, 25th March 1882, transcribed by Kay Collins

VESTRY MEETING— At the meeting in the Vestry Hall, on Thursday, Messrs. George Skinner and T. Tailby were nominated as overseers of the parish without opposition. W. Tailby expressed a wish to be relieved of the duties, but in response to the manifest wish of the vestry consented to continue in office.

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