Poor Law Commissioners' Report of 1834
By Nassau Senior
WE, the COMMISSIONERS appointed by YOUR MAJESTY to make a diligent and full inquiry into the practical operation of the Laws for the Relief of the Poor in
Wales, and into the manner in which those laws are administered, and to report our opinion whether any and what alterations, amendments, or improvements may be beneficially made in the said laws, or in the manner of administering them, and how the same may be best carried into effect,–Humbly certify to YOUR MAJESTY, in manner following, our proceedings in the execution of YOUR MAJESTY’S Commission, and the opinions which they have led us to form. [From the Statement of the Proceedings]
First Pub. Date
London: H.M. Stationery Office
Additional preparers include Edwin Chadwick. Includes testimony by Richard Whately.
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
THE 43 Eliz. c. 2, contains no definition of settlement; but we have seen that in a long train of legislation, a person had been considered settled in the parish in which he was born, or in which he had dwelled or been principally conversant for the preceding three years; or under the 39 Eliz. c. 4, in the case of vagabonds, whose place of birth could not be ascertained, for one year. So that until the 13 and 14 Car. II. c. 12, there seem to have been only two statutory grounds of settlement, birth and residence, first for three years, and afterwards in some cases for one.
The 13 and 14 Car. II. c. 12, after reciting that “the necessity, number, and continual increase of the poor, not only within the cities of London and Westminster, but also throughout the whole kingdom of England and Dominion of Wales is very great, and exceedingly burthensome; and that by reason of some defects in the law, poor people are not restrained from going from one parish to another, and, therefore, do endeavour to settle themselves in those parishes where there is the best stock, the largest commons or wastes to build cottages, and the most woods for them to burn and destroy; and when they have consumed it, then to another parish, and at last become rogues and vagabonds, to the great discouragement of parishes to provide stocks, where it is liable to be devoured by strangers,” enacts, “That it shall be lawful upon complaint made by the churchwardens or overseers of the poor of any parish, to any justice of peace within forty days after any such person or persons coming so to settle as aforesaid in any tenement under the yearly value of 10
l., for any two justices of the peace whereof one to be of the quorum of the division where any person or persons that are likely to be chargeable to the parish shall come to inhabit, by their warrant to remove and convey such person or persons to such parish where he or they were last legally settled, either as a native, householder, sojourner, apprentice, or servant, for the space of forty days at the least, unless he or they give sufficient security for the discharge of the said parish, to be allowed by the said justices.”
Never was such important legislation effected by means of exceptions, qualification, and hints, and seldom have any laws been so pertinaciously adhered to after the principal, and in some cases the only, reasons for their introduction had ceased. The direct purpose of the Act stripped of all that qualifies it, is to enable the justices, on complaint of the churchwardens or overseers, to remove any new comer from a parish, though not applying for relief, if they think or profess to think that he is likely to
become chargeable. Such a power, however, was even then felt to require some restriction. It was required, therefore, that it should be exercised within the first forty days after the arrival of the new settler, and persons settling in a tenement of the yearly value of 10
l., a sum equal, according to the present value of money to more than 50
l., were directly excepted. Forty days’ residence, without removal, or occupying a tenement of 10
l. annual value, gave, therefore, a right to remain, or, as it is now called, a settlement, and the direction that persons should be removed to the place where they were
last legally settled as natives, householders, apprentices, servants, or even sojourners, for forty days made also forty days’ residence a means, not only of acquiring a settlement, but also a means of losing any previous settlement, and established birth as a settlement, where no other had been acquired. To these the common law added estate, or property in land, because no person ought to be removed from his estate, and marriage in the case of a woman, and parentage in the case of a legitimate child, on the ground that a wife must not be separated from her husband, or a child, until emancipated, from its parents; and the 3 and 4 Will. and Mary, c. 11, s. 6, added, serving an annual public office, and contributing to the public taxes of a parish.
The object of all the subsequent Acts on this subject has been to restrict these modes of acquiring a settlement. 1st. By enacting, that except in cases of persons serving offices, or paying parochial taxes, unmarried persons, without children, hired for a year, and apprentices, the forty days’ residence, shall be accounted only from the delivery of a notice in writing to the overseers, which they are bound to read in church and register:
*1 2dly. By preventing residence from conferring a settlement on persons bringing a certificate from the overseers of their previous parish, acknowledging them to be settled there:
*2 3dly. By declaring that hiring shall not confer a settlement unless the person hired shall continue in the same service a year:
*3 4thly. By enacting, that the
purchase of an estate for less than 30
l. shall not confer a settlement:
*4 5thly. By preventing a settlement from being gained by payment of taxes in respect of tenements of less annual value than 10
l.:*5 a restriction which has virtually repealed this head of settlement: 6thly. By a series of Acts, all endeavouring to explain and define the circumstances under which renting a tenement shall confer a settlement.
In the mean time, however, the circumstances under which apprenticeship, hiring and service, estate, renting a tenement,
and serving an office, had been held to confer a settlement had changed. We have seen that they were introduced as qualifications and restrictions on the power given by the 13 and 14 Car. II. of removing all new comers whom the overseers chose to consider likely to become chargeable. This power was put an end to by the 35 Geo. III. c. 101, which enacts, that no poor person shall be removed until he shall become actually chargeable. A change so imperiously demanded, not only by expediency, but by justice, that it is difficult to conceive how the arbitrary enactment of the 13 and 14 Car. II. could have been tolerated so long.
It might have been expected that the grounds of settlement which were established when the power of removal was given, would have been reconsidered when that power was taken away. This, however, appears not to have been done, for it cannot be supposed that, if attention had been called to the subject, they would all have been allowed to continue. The consequence has been, that in this instance, as in many others, like a patient who continues the use of remedies after the disease has ceased, we are suffering under laws of which the grounds have long been removed.
The reply to our printed question,—Can you suggest any and what alteration in the settlement laws? almost always contains a protestation against settlement by hiring and service. As the demand for agricultural labour varies with the seasons, it is of great importance to the labourer that he should be engaged by the year. When hired for any shorter period he is in danger of being out of work during the winter months, at the very time when his wants are greatest. It is of the greatest importance, also, to the farmer that the persons on whose conduct his own welfare so much depends should have the local knowledge and skill, and the attachment to his person and his interests, which only long continuance in the same service can produce. Accordingly we find that where things are left to take their natural course, the agricultural labourer is generally hired by the year, and often passes his whole life on the same farm. But instead of things being left to their natural course, the employer has always to consider how his interests may be affected if he allows a labourer to obtain a new settlement, and the labourer, what may be the consequence to himself, of losing his previous one. If the farmer, either from being a proprietor or a lessee, or a tenant-at-will, with the prospect of continuance, is interested in preventing settlements, he effects it either, 1st, by employing no non-parishioners; or, 2dly, by hiring all his non-parishioners for periods less than a year; or, 3dly, by preventing those whom he hires from sleeping in his own parish. The first plan, when
generally adopted in a district, distributes the labourers, not according to the real demand for labour, but to the accidental divisions of parishes. The second plan is sometimes used as a mere evasion, the labourer being hired for 51 weeks, or for 364 days, or some other period less than a year, but practically retained without intermission from year to year. In this case, however, the only protection against settlement, is evidence that the contract between the parties, almost always a verbal one, was for less than a year. The danger that this evidence may be lost, or wilfully suppressed, or falsified, has occasioned it to be more usual to let the service, as well as the hiring, be for less than a year; an interval of a few days being interposed, after which a new contract is made, and a new service begins. This interval, however, is almost always spent by the labourer in idleness, and often in debauchery, to the injury of both parties; and even if it be not so spent, the constant recurrence of a separation and a new agreement destroys the intimacy and security of the connexion, and has a tendency to introduce the still worse practice of hiring by the season, the month, the week, or even the day; a practice which many of our most experienced informants describe as most mischievous to the character and happiness of the agricultural labourers. On the other hand, the labourer, if he thinks his parish a
good one, that is, one in which public or private relief is profusely distributed, is averse to endanger his existing settlement, by leaving it. With that general and vague idea of the law on the subject which floats in the minds of those who have picked it up by hearsay, he is aware that there are many means by which a settlement may be lost as soon as a man has left his parish, though he is not precisely aware what they are, or how they are to be evaded; while he stays, however, he is safe. The land, to use his own expression, is to maintain him, and it is not his business to inquire whether he is wanted elsewhere, or whether he is an incumbrance where he is.
The Rev. R. R. Bailey, chaplain to the Tower, who has had extensive opportunities of observing the operation of the Poor Laws in the rural districts, was asked,—
“Can you give any instances within your own knowledge of the operation of the existing law of settlement?—I was requested by Colonel Bogson, Kesgrove-house, to furnish him with a farming bailiff. I found a man in all respects qualified for his situation; he was working at 9
s. a week in the parish where I lived. The man was not encumbered by a family, and he thankfully accepted my offer; the situation was, in point of emolument, and comfort, and station, a considerable advance; his advantages would have been doubled. In about a week he altered his mind, and declined the situation, in consequence, as I
understood, of his fearing to remove from what was considered a good parish to a bad one, the parish to which it was proposed to remove him being connected with a hundred house, in which there is more strict management. I was requested by a poor man, whom I respected, to find a situation for his son, in London: the son was a strong young man, working at that time at about 8
s. a week: I eventually succeeded in getting him a good situation of one guinea per week, in London, where his labour would have been much less than it was in the country; but when the period arrived at which he was expected in London, he was not forthcoming. It appeared he had altered his mind, and determined not to take the place; as I understood, his reason for refusing to accept it arose from a reluctance to endanger his settlement in his parish. Such are the instances which are continually presented to my observation with respect to the operation of the present system of settlement.”
“Among our present modes of conferring a settlement,” says Mr. Russell, in the replies to which we have already adverted, “that by hiring and service is incomparably the most pernicious; it tells the poor man that he shall encounter a prohibitory duty in every market in which he attempts to dispose of the only commodity he must live by selling; it shuts the door against the most respectable and advantageous employment in which a servant can engage; by abridging the term; it impairs the strength of the connexion between him and his master; and it not only drives the servant from his place, but often betrays him, during the interval between his being discharged from one house and hired at another, into bad company, dissipation and vice.”
There seems, indeed, good reason to suppose that the influx of Irish labourers into London is mainly attributable to the disinclination of the labourers in the neighbouring country to quit their existing settlements. “As far as my experience goes,” says Mr. Tyler, the rector of St. Giles, “I think it probable that the Irish labourers obtain employment here to the extent to which they do, in consequence of the English labourers being kept in their parishes by the present mode of administering the law, and the effects of the present law of settlement”
“I found,” says Mr. Chadwick, “that in nearly every parish I examined, where bodies of Irish labourers are located, the evidence as to the cause of their location was of the following tenor:—
“Mr. Joseph Whittle, one of the guardians of the poor and overseer of the poor, in the parish of Christchurch, Spitalfields, stated—
“In our parish it is a very rare thing to find any labouring men working for less than 12
s. a week: indeed, the average rate of wages throughout the year is not less than from 15
s. to 20
s. a week. A man could not be obtained to work job-work at less than 3
s. a day.
“Are there many Irish labourers in the parish?—Yes; there is a great proportion of them, and especially about Spitalfields market.
“Why are English labourers not employed; or why are Irish labourers preferred?—Because English labourers are not to be had for love or money to perform the labour. Thousands of instances may be given, where the labourers will not stir for fear of losing their parishes. I think the law of settlement is the great means of keeping the English labourers confined to their parishes; it appears to them to be like running away from their heir-looms, or their freeholds. I am sure, from my own knowledge of the Whitechapel and other adjacent parishes, that there are not enough of English labourers to be had for such wages to perform the labour”
“Mr. T. H. Holland, some time vestry clerk of Bermondsey, stated:—
“There are great numbers of Irishmen employed in our parish; but they are only employed because English labourers cannot be got to do the same work for the same wages.
“And what sort of wages are those?—Not less than from 10
s. to 15
s. a week. An English labourer might live upon this. But English labourers would have more wages, if they were to be had for the work, because they are worth more. I have heard a saying amongst the employers of these labourers, that an Irishman must always have his master over him. An English labourer does not require so much superintendence.
“Why is it that, in your district, the English labourers have not taken the employment?—I fear that the facility of obtaining parochial relief indisposes them to exert themselves or seek about to procure employment, or to take the labour which is given to the Irish.”
The third plan, that of preventing the unsettled labourer from sleeping within the parish, accounts for the frequent occurrence in the most pauperized districts of small parishes, with very low or almost nominal rates. When a parish is in the hands of only one proprietor, or of proprietors so few in number as to be able to act, and to compel their tenants to act in unison, and adjoins to parishes in which property is much divided, they may pull down every cottage as it becomes vacant, and prevent the building of new ones. By a small immediate outlay they may enable and induce a considerable portion of those who have settlements in their parish to obtain settlements in the adjoining parishes; by hiring their labourers for periods less than a year, they may prevent the acquisition of new settlements in their own. They may thus depopulate their own estates, and cultivate them by means of the surplus population of the surrounding district. Against such conduct as this a parish, in which the property is much divided, and that is the case in all towns, has no defence. Small master bricklayers and carpenters, and retired tradesmen with
trifling accumulations, find cottages and houses, inhabited by the poor a most lucrative investment. They must exercise, indeed, great vigilance and occasional harshness; they must be ready to wring their rents from their tenants, or to extort them from the overseer, by constantly threatening, and sometimes effecting distresses and executions; and as no educated person could bear to seize the small property of the poor, or to turn whole families into the streets, those who seek a profit, by providing accommodation for the labouring classes, are generally persons whose habits have rendered them not merely indifferent to the general prosperity of the parish, but anxious to promote the pauperism that creates the demand for their crowded and unhealthy habitations. On this point, as in many other, the evidence of the Rev. H. Millman, of Reading, is very valuable.
“I have now,” says Mr. Millman, “between ten and twenty families residing together, who belong to one parish, and, though working for the farmer of their own parish, are obliged to reside in mine, at the distance of two, three, or four miles from their work, and whose cottages have been almost literally pulled down over their heads. Even when cottages are not destroyed none are built where the population increases. Many, again, are bribed by presents in actual money, or by promises of advantage, to seek their fortunes in the town. There are always plenty of speculative builders ready to run up cottages, which spring up around us like mushrooms. More than one has told me that, when they made a request for a cottage, the answer was, ‘there are plenty in Reading.’ I feel convinced, that if the present pressure long continues, that system of demolishing cottages in small parishes, and wherever the landlords can combine for the purpose, will become a general system, and the inevitable consequence will be, to crowd still more those parishes which are already over-crowded, and to force a large portion of the village population into the provincial towns.”
The instances of similar practices on the part of the manufacturers are comparatively few; but we cannot hope that so obvious a source of profit will long be overlooked. If the present system continues, we may expect to see manufactories erected on one side of a parochial boundary, and cottages for the work people on the other; so that all the allowances to the labourers, all the casualties to which they are subject, and the great casualty of the failure of the manufactory, may fall exclusively on that parish in which the master manufacturer owns, perhaps, nothing but the three or four acres which he has covered with his cottages.
The evils arising from settlement by apprenticeship, though less than those produced by hiring and service, are still very considerable. In the first place, it leads to a shameful abuse of the trust reposed in the parish officers who have to bind out
apprentices, a trust of which the importance cannot well be exaggerated, since the whole welfare of the child may depend on its faithful execution.
Mr. Henderson states,
*12 that in some towns in Lancashire (and Lancashire ranks high among the best administered counties) “the practice pursued systematically is to bind the parish apprentices into out townships in order to shift the settlement, so that the binding parish may be rid of them. When he inquired how they turned out, the answer was, ‘we have nothing to do with them afterwards.'” This evil is much promoted in many parishes by charitable endowments, for the purpose of apprenticing children. The premium supplied by the charity affords an easy mode of tempting an out-parishioner to take the children, and it is to be feared that in many cases the parish officers inquire no further; they have changed the child’s settlement, and if he is ruined in consequence, his new parish must maintain him.
“The object of overseers,” says Mr. Single, of Mile End Old Town, “is to get rid of the boy, to find a master in another parish. They seldom take any trouble to inquire into the character of the master who applies for one, nor ever make any inquiry about the lad after he is gone; they have got him off the parish, and they think they have gained something; but, as other parishes do the same, nothing is gained: we have only placed ours on some other parish, and in return have got another one placed on ours. I have known many instances where the masters having obtained the first part of the premium, then turned them adrift. It is a very rare instance now for a respectable, or even a decent tradesman, to take a parish apprentice, consequently the poor boys get badly used, and badly brought up.”
Another evil of settlement by apprenticeship is the influence which it allows to mere accident. An apprentice is settled finally in the parish where he sleeps the last night in his condition of apprentice, provided he has slept there either continuously or at different times, though with intervals even of years, for forty days in the whole. In the meantime he carries with him, wherever he goes, a contingent right of settlement, and may in fact gain as many settlements as there are periods of forty days in the period of his apprenticeship; each fresh settlement suspending all the previous ones, subject to their revival, if his last night is spent in any parish in which he has slept as an apprentice for thirty-nine days. Bitter complaints are made of this grievance by the rate-payers of towns having ports, or situated on the banks of navigable rivers.
The following is an extract from a memorial addressed to us by the overseers and select vestry of South Shields, and printed at length in Appendix (A) p. 149:—
“That the township of South Shields is a narrow piece of ground, bounded on one side by the river Tyne, and on the other by the township of Westoe, and that it consists of docks, manufactories, shops, and houses, which houses are occupied, for the most part, by the working classes.
“That the township of South Shields becomes excessively burthened with ‘sailor poor,’ so much so that of 1500 paupers at present receiving relief, 75 per cent. belong to that class.
“That, as the law at present stands, the settlement of a seaman is purely a matter of chance, depending on the direction and force of the wind, the state of the weather, the manner in which a ship lies moored, and other circumstances purely casual; and that in by far the greater part of the applications made to this vestry by seamen, the settlement cannot be ascertained, and the difficulty is still much greater when the application is made by the widow.
“That all parishes and townships bordering on navigable rivers are more or less affected by the same circumstances.”
“The following case of hardship, from this cause,” says Mr. Maclean, “was represented to me by a gentleman resident in and occupying nearly the whole of
Itchenor, a small parish at the western extremity of the county of Sussex. This parish is divided from that of Bosham by a small arm of the sea running up to the port of Chichester. It is the practice of vessels belonging to the above port to unload their cargoes at Itchenor, and consequently to moor the vessels there. It not unfrequently happens that articles of apprenticeship expire during the time that a vessel is moored there, and consequently the apprentice gains a settlement, as he has probably, during the term of his apprenticeship, slept the requisite number of nights at Itchenor. The allowing a settlement to be gained by the passing of forty (not consecutive) nights off Itchenor is one grievance, but there is another in this case: the channel divides Itchenor from Bosham, and as the cable is long enough to allow the vessel to swing across to the Bosham side, according as the wind may blow, if a man will swear the ship was lying at Itchenor, and the parish officer is unable to prove to the contrary, he will be sent home on an order by the magistrates, and so obtain a settlement. The father of the present occupier tried the point and lost it, as the post to which the vessel was moored was on the Itchenor, and not on the Bosham side of the water. The appeal, I understand, was allowed. The parish of Itchenor derives no benefit from vessels unloading or taking on board their cargoes. It is considered that more than half of the persons having settlements in this parish have obtained them in the above manner; and it is impossible to say how many other persons may have acquired settlements, or how soon, and with what families they may come home. From the above cause the expenditure has increased one-third within the last few years.”
Nearly the same objections apply to settlement by hiring and service, the servant being settled where he slept the last night before his discharge, provided he has slept there during the course
of his service, though at different periods, for thirty-nine days in one year. Years may elapse between the occurrence of the last of these important sleepings, and their consequences to the parish in which they occurred. A man applies to a London parish for relief for himself, his wife, and their six children. He states that he was born in Suffolk, and at the age of fifteen apprenticed to a person in the parish of A.; that disliking his treatment, he absconded at the end of the first two months; that his master, satisfied with having received the premium, made no inquiry about him; that he came to London, and has lived there for the last thirty years, always hired by the day, or the week, or the job. On this statement he and his wife and family are sent to parish A.; parish A., however, endeavours to show that he did not go to London immediately after he ran away from his master, but was hired for a year as a gentleman’s groom, and discharged at the end of his year’s service at B., a small watering-place in Wales, where his master had been spending six weeks. To B., therefore, the pauper with his wife and family are again removed, subject to still further removal, if B. can show that the gentleman with a groom, who is said to have staid six week at the hotel, thirty-one years ago, in fact staid there for only five weeks and a half, or that though six weeks elapsed between his arrival and final departure, yet that during three days he was absent with his groom on a visit, or that though he kept his groom for a year, he did not hire him for a year, or that he discharged him a day before the year ended, or a day before the forty days of residence ended, or can adduce any other fact, however apparently trifling, of equal legal force. And it is on absurdities like these that the question depends, whether parish A. or parish B., neither of which has any real connexion with the pauper, neither of which could by any vigilance have prevented his acquiring a settlement, is to support him and his family, and perhaps his children’s children, for ever.
It is no slight aggravation of these evils that they may arise not merely from accident, but from fraud.
“Settlement, by hiring and service,” says Mr. Maclean, may be converted into a most prolific instrument of fraud upon parishes:
e.g., an individual assessed to a large amount in the parish of A., and to a small amount in the adjoining one of B. wishing to relieve the burdens of parish A., takes into his service at a yearly hiring in the parish of B., parishioners of A.; these he employs for one year, and then discharges, to be a permanent burden on B., and is again at liberty to take others, and act by them in a similar manner.”
The case supposed by Mr. Maclean is described by Mr. Cowell as actually occurring in Ely.
‘A proprietor possessing nearly the whole of a parish at some distance from Ely, as we were told, hired a farm in Ely, which he manages by a bailiff; he sends his own parishioners to work on it. To these persons his bailiff gives settlements in Ely, by hiring, and at the end of the year they are turned off upon Trinity parish in Ely, and their places supplied by fresh immigration from the mother parish. The proprietor may have had very different motives from those attributed to him by our examinants, and this circumstance is not mentioned for the purpose of casting any reflection on him (we do not know his name, nor what account of the transaction he himself might give,) but in order to point out the temptations which ‘settlement by hiring and service’ throws in the way of persons even of station and education. In the case of Great Shelford, are not the landowners, who daily see their property slowly but surely passing away from them, under a strong temptation to save themselves from ruin, by hiring a couple of farms for seven years in two distinct parishes, and bribing their super-numerary families to take service there? And this is clearly possible by the existing law.”
“Many settlements,” says Mr. Everett, “have been obtained in Saint Andrew the Less, Cambridge, by persons who have rented houses of 10
l. yearly value; the rent for which has been in reality paid by other parties or parishes collusively, for the purpose of getting rid of troublesome parishioners, and fixing them in the parish of Saint Andrew the Less.”
“I have been told,” says Mr. Maclean, “that some parishes have arrangements with brokers and other persons in large towns, who are in the habit of letting small tenements, under which the broker or other person receives a premium upon each pauper of whom he so relieves a parish.”
Settlement by estate is a still easier mode of fraud than settlement by renting a tenement, as the slightest interest in land, if acquired gratuitously, even the last six months of a hovel, let at 5
s. a year, confers a settlement. Mr. Majendie mentions the case of an Irishman, to whom, for the express purpose of fixing him and his wife and family in a Sussex parish, his father-in-law conveyed some land. He now receives in consequence a fixed weekly allowance of 11
d. from the parish.
Settlement by marriage seems to be a fertile source of fraud.
“It is the usual custom,” says Mr. Brushfield, of Spitalfields, “when single women are pregnant, for them, as a matter of course, to make application to the parish officers for relief. The parish officers inquire as to her settlement. She belongs to their parish; but they find that the father of the child is single, and belongs to another parish, and acting for the benefit of their own local circumscribed boundary, they immediately begin a sort of negociation for the purpose of marrying the father and the mother previous to the birth of the child. Such negociations
frequently succeed, and so by removing the burthen from the shoulders of their parish altogether, a comparatively light burthen, they inflict on a neighbouring parish a heavy load, and on society a perpetually increasing evil. To such sources may be attributed, as I conceive, a very great portion of that misery, immorality, want of care and affection for their offspring, attachment to home, respect for themselves, and for domestic economy, which are so prevalent among the labouring classes of society. That such negociations are anticipated in many cases by the parties is very evident, for on the first application to the parish officers, the young woman is ready with ‘He’s willing to marry me
if he could afford it, and he does not belong to you’ (viz., your parish).”
“Marriages,” says Mr. Mott, of Lambeth, “are frequently made up by parish officers, in order to throw the charges on other parishes. To evade the odium and avoid publicity, the arrangement is often made by some pretended disinterested person, and the money repaid by the overseers; but the beadles are commonly employed to effect the arrangement. The following case occurred last week:—A young man, named Charles Brockley, belonging to some parish in Hertfordshire, applied to the overseers of Lambeth, offering to marry a young woman, named Sarah Isles, an inmate of Lambeth workhouse (a most determined drunkard.) The overseers bargained with him for two guineas, and agreed to pay, in addition, the marriage fees. Monday, 22nd April, one guinea was advanced to buy Isles some clothes; a gown was purchased, and Isles had it to make. Wednesday, 29th April, was appointed for the marriage. The gown was made by Thursday, and on Friday morning
Isles pledged it for one shilling. On the Monday morning she related the circumstance to Mr. Drouet, with a mixture of pretended regret and laughter, imploring him to lend her a shilling to get the gown out of pawn, otherwise she could not be married. This was done. A person was sent to accompany them to church, and, upon the completion of the marriage, paid the fees, and gave the husband the remaining guinea. Such marriages are very common. In cases where young women are likely to inflict a burden upon parishes, being pregnant, the reputed fathers are frequently induced by such arrangements to marry the girl, and thereby throw the burden of the young woman and her offspring upon another parish. During some inquiries I made, a beadle, in a
small district of one parish, assured me he had alone effected fifty marriages of this description in the course of a few years, and that the aggregate of such marriages in that parish in one year was very considerable.”
To these evils must be added the perjury and falsehood which seem peculiarly incidental to these inquiries. Though the English law has assumed that the minutest interest overbalances in every man and on every occasion, both the love of truth and the fear of punishment, inasmuch as it has declared, that a witness who has anything, however trifling, to gain or lose by the decision,
is unfit, not merely to be fully trusted, but even to be heard,
*20 it yet admits, and necessarily admits, the evidence of the proprietor on points which are to decide whether his property is or is not to support an additional burden, and that of the pauper, when the question is, as to the place where he is to be fixed during the remainder of his life. It admits this questionable evidence where it cannot possibly be verified or contradicted. Settlements are claimed by hiring and service under masters who have long been dead, under apprenticeship when the indentures are lost or destroyed, by renting a tenement when houses have been pulled down. And they are rebutted or supported by narratives of conversations which occurred, perhaps, twenty years before, and which were not of a nature to dwell on the memories of those who profess to report them. We cannot better characterize the evidence on which the justices have to decide in matters of settlement, than by saying, that it is almost as unsatisfactory as that which guides them in matters of relief.
These evils arise almost exclusively from the heads of settlement, which were introduced in consequence of the 13 and 14 Car. II., and might be almost entirely removed if those heads of settlement were put an end to. But there are others greater and more extensive, which arise from the mere existence of a law of settlement, whatever that law may be, which increase in intensity in proportion as the limits of the district, which has to support what are called its own poor, are restricted, and could be mitigated only by its extension, and removed only by its entire abolition.
As soon as it was established by practice, whether legally or not we will not inquire, that all the persons having settlements in a parish must be supported, either paid for working or paid for being idle, it became the interest of every parish, having more parishioners than could be profitably employed, to apportion among the applicants the fund for the subsistence of the labouring classes, in such a manner as to give to all a subsistence, and if possible to none more than a subsistence; to treat them, in short, like slaves or cattle. Every one who endures the painful task of going through this Report must be struck, and, if the subject is new to him, astonished, by the cases which we have cited, in which those men who have accumulated any property are found to be refused employment, to be denied even the privilege of working for hire, until their savings have been wasted in idleness; by the difference in the remuneration obtained from the same master in return for the same exertion by the married and single; and by the studied attempts, by means of mutual compacts
among the farmers, and by rating strangers and excusing parishioners, to drive all who have no settlement from the parish. But all these are the natural results of the parochial system, and cannot be got rid of, unless we are willing either to refuse parochial relief to the able-bodied and their families, or to distribute the burden affording that relief over districts so large as to prevent any individual from feeling that its immediate pressure on himself can be increased or alleviated by his own conduct.
Part I, Section 7