"Letters from the Past
Thomas Plumer, a lawyer in London to
James Kinnersley Esquire of Ludlow, Shropshire, 1789. "


Eunice Shanahan

There are only two postal markings, the charge mark of 5 and this covered a distance of less than 150 miles (Act of 1784) and Ludlow was listed as 142 miles from London. The postmark has been poorly applied twice, so that neither of them is legible, but they are of the Bishop Mark evening duty type in use from with the year in 2 figures at the bottom of the circle, applied in London. The letter is on a thick cream paper with no watermark and is reasonably easy to read. It is about a matter of law about the treatment of a vagrant, or pauper. The writer uses abbreviations for some of the words

Dear Sir,
Lincolns Inn 28th Decr 1789

I have been favoured with your Letter, enclosing a Case between the Parishes of Richard Castle &:; St Clements:- I am sorry to be obliged to trouble you on one point, which I shd wish that you and the attorney concerned for the other side would ascertain & acquaint me with, before I give my opinion. I wish to know whr the Mother of the Pauper, Susannah Oliver, had been prior to the first order of Removal dated 2nd Nvbr from St Clements to Claims (?Claines?) for any & what length of time resident in the Parish of St Clement? And whr in the City or County of (Worst –i.e. Worcester?) Or was she a Vagrant casually passing thro’ the Country or found in that Parish? And if so what steps were taken in regards to her prior to her Removal.

He then turned the page and continued

I must request the favour of you to commission these Queries to the Gentleman employed on the part of St Clements. On receiving your joint answer I will immed. form & acquaint you with my Opinion
I am Dear Sir,
Your obedt & Hble Servt
Thos Plumer

Notes: 1) There is also a large red wax seal which had been broken when the letter was opened.

I found the signature difficult but I took a photo of this seal, and found I could decipher most of the motto on the seal, which I interpreted as CONSULTO ET AUDACTER.

This is a much enlarged image.

I thought it was worth putting that motto into a search engine, and found it immediately.
Motto: Consulto et audacter
Motto Translation: With prudence and daring.

This family name PLUMER comes from the occupation of the early holder of the name who would have been a person involved in the selling of plumes or feathers. Although by the time this letter was written centuries later, the writer’s occupation was now a lawyer, with his place of work being Lincolns Inn in London, which was one of the Inns of Court.

Note2) Now for the subject of the letter, I could see that it referred to a question about Parish relief. In my reference book “The English, a Social History 1066-1945” by Christopher Hibbert there are sections about poverty, from the Poor Law of 1601 to the Act of Settlement of 1662 and the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.

The 1662 Act made no clear distinction between vagrants as gypsies, thieves, beggars etc, and poor people who, for reasons beyond their control found themselves without means of support in a village not their own. All of them were liable to be sent back to the parish where they were last settled when ordered to do so by two Justices of the Peace upon receipt of a complaint from the Overseers of the Poor. For many years before this Act was passed, an expensive item in the account books of parish constables was the relief doled out to poor people ordered to return to villages where they had previously lived and where they would almost certainly not be welcome upon their return.

When this letter was written, in 1789 the Speenhamland system was in use. It originated with a decision by local magistrates to provide outdoor relief, on a scale based on the price of bread and the size of the family concerned, both to those who were unemployed and to those whose earnings fell below the settled scale, in effect subsidizing the wages of the lowest paid. As this relief was paid by the people in the parish they needed to know that those receiving it were actually entitled to it as either coming from, or living in, the parish. This led to much concern and investigations before the relief was supplied.

Pregnant women and the sick were pushed about with particular haste for fear they either gave birth to a child which would then be a charge upon the parish, or die in it and require burial. It is possible that the lady referred to in this letter Susannah Oliver, may have been such a person. The decision as to what would happen to her would depend on the answers the lawyer received to his queries concerning her previous whereabouts.

These old letters open such a window into the lives of ordinary people more than 200 years ago.

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