“Letters from the Past”
“Thomas Rogers, Pauper,
to John Garrard, Olney, Bucks, 1802,
regarding Thomas Rogers Settlement Examination.”


Eunice Shanahan

This is a fascinating old letter, an example of actual history in action for Thomas Rogers, a member of the general population, who, more than 220 years ago, was in need of parish relief for his wife and four young daughters. It is written on a large sheet of paper bearing the watermark J CRIPPS 1802, and framed image of Britannia with a spear and shield.

Postal markings: CHELMSFORD mileage mark 29; charge marks 7 then amended to 1/2; a London Circular date stamp in red ink morning duty 3-line G MAR 5 1803.
The reason for the altered charge is not immediately clear, as the distance Chelmsford to Olney was via London and was 85 miles, and the charges in force in 1802 were 7d for between 80 and 120 miles, and the double charge may have been for the weight, as it is a very heavy cream paper.

On the outside it has a filing note 31 December 1802 Copy
Examination of Thos. Rogers late of Brentwood (? Gaol) to his Settlement.

It was sent from Chelmsford.

The writing is absolutly beautiful, making the transcription very easy

“Essex The Examination of Thomas Rogers - lately residing in the Hamlet of Brentwood in the said County labourer taken before us two of his Majestys Justices of the peace in and for the said County this 31st day of December 1802 touching the place of his last legal Settlement

Who on his Oath saith that he is about thirtyfive years of age and that upwards of Nine years ago he hired a Farm and Lands of John Higgins Esquire situate in the Parish of Turvey in the County of Bedford that he entered into possession at Michas (Michaelmas) & occupied the same two years and paid the Rent of £24 for the same and during the two years paid all Rates and Taxes for the same and saith that he hath not since that time done any act whereby to gain a subsequent Settlement, and further saith that about ten years ago he was lawfully married to his present wife Mary in the Parish Church of Puddington in the said County of Bedford by whom he hath four Children namely Sarah aged about eight years Mary aged about seven years, Jane aged about five years and Elizabeth aged about one year. All of whom are now resident in the hamlet of Brentwood aforesaid ...Thos Rogers ”

Sworn before us the day and year first above written

T G Bramston John Strutt

Then there is a further paragrpah to confirm the action of the parish Overseer of the Poor.

“Essex : Robert Manley overseer of the Poor of the Hamlet of Brentwood upon his oath saith that the above named Mary Rogers and her four Children are actually chargeable to the said Hamlet of Brentwood and have been relieved by him this Deponent. Robt Manley

Sworn before us the day and year first above written T. G. Bramston John Strutt

A True Copy”

Inside the letter is a much fainter postscript written by Mr Barker (obviously not his secretary who has written the beautiful copy on the front!)

P.S. Agreeably to your request I have inclosed a copy of Roger’s Examination which appears so clear that you seem to have no grounds to proceed in your appeal. I am not certain but I think it very probable that Mr Wall, who resides at Brentwood is concerned (?) for the respondent

I am Sir J O Baker
4 March 1803 Chelmsford

To put this into context.
Act of Settlements 1662 1692 1697 1701.

A set of laws which defined a place of ‘Settlement’ , thereby conferring rights to Poor Relief under the old Poor Laws. The laws were instituted to marry the need to provide assistance when required with the realities of everyday life and Migration. All the laws provided ways of qualifying for relief. The first Settlement Act (1662) conferred the right through RESIDENCE or participating in the local community through rate paying or office-holding, while a system of certificates was developed stating a person’s settlement and rights to relief in a particular parish. The later enactments, notably of 1692 and 1697, replaced residence qualification with serving as a covenanted SERVANT for a full year or serving out an APPRENTICESHIP, with an Apprenticeship system of EXAMINATION before a Justice of the Peace to determine the Parish of Settlement and the right to remove the pauper to his or her place of settlement (or receive payment from it). Note: **

The settlement system, although often criticised for being intended to curb mobility, was designed to codify existing forms of movement, but came to be increasingly out of step with reality in the 18th century as POPULATION, POVERTY, INDUSTRY, and TOWNS grew, Settlement continued to be an issue under the new Poor Law after 1834, but without the overwhelming importance it had had previously.

The settlement decision was important, because the relief was provided by the other parishioners, to help the members of their own parish, and they could not afford to give this help to anyone just passing through the parish.

In practice, the poor law system, at least when well administered, became caring both to those who, through age or sickness were indigent, and to those who were over burdened with children or found work difficult to get, with relief administered on the basis of settlement. Relief was given as a supplement to wages, sometimes in relation to the price of bread or the size of families, and local Poor Houses took in the aged or sick and provided some work in local industries.

The horror of the ‘Workhouse’ which was prevalent in the Victorian times did not develop until after the New Poor Law Act of 1834, which brought in harsh penalties.

Note** This letter is an example of such an Examination, and the follow up letter on the inside of the letter is confirming the right for the wife and children to receive the relief from the parish.

I could not read which Gaol he was in as the letter was torn on that bit when it was opened, but I cannot help but wonder why he was in gaol when he was obviously a law abiding man who paid his rent and taxes.

References: "Great Britain Post Roads Post Towns and Postal Rates" 1635 to 1839 Alan W Robertson
David Robertson For the Port & Carriage of Letters 1570-1840
"The History Today companion to British History".

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