Wellington settlement examinations
During the first lock down, while working from home, I started cataloguing a volume of settlement examinations for Wellington, ref P291/L/3/1. I’ve just completed this and the index is now online complete with digital images.
The examinations begin from September 1821 and extend to 1830, with some later notes added. They provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives of ordinary people who have fallen on hard times as well as some extraordinary circumstances.
All of the people examined have made a claim for assistance from the parish. The purpose of the examinations was to prove that they had a right of settlement and that the parish a duty to support them. Settlement could be derived in a number of ways: from birth, serving an apprenticeship, owning or renting property in the parish, being employed continually for 12 months, paying the local poor rate or serving as a parish officer. The records therefore detail the applicant’s family connections, their employment history, dependents and if they have been removed from other parishes.
The applicant’s need was not considered as part of the examination, but details of exceptional cases are mentioned. In the case of John Williams, p206, a note has been added saying, “this man has been hurt in a pit, has lost 1 hand and is nearly blinded”. The record says he has a wife, Mary, and four children aged 11, 7, 5 and 18 months.
The dangerous nature of the local industries is reflected in the number of young applicants who are widows. Sarah Steventon was aged 37 and the widow of John who was killed in a coal pit on 10 February 1820, she has six children.
Some women had to resort to help from the parish because they have been abandoned. Margaret Teece was 24 years old and living with Robert Lawly at Hadley. She had married Arthur Turner and had two children, Robert born at Bilston and William born at Lilleshall. When he abandoned her, Lilleshall parish removed her and the children to New Town, her husband’s place of settlement. New Town appealed and “produced a former wife” of Turner’s, so she was then removed to Wellington. Other cases were equally unusual; Elizabeth Robinson’s husband had been transported and John Maxfield had left his wife but also alleged that she had since been killed by a thunderbolt!
The book is arranged alphabetically, so family names are grouped within a few pages, making it easier to identify family connections and repeat claims. One such case is that of Joseph Rigby who requested assistance on 22nd May 1822. Joseph was a collier, aged 35, he and his wife, Phebe, and their five daughters lived at Coalpit Bank. Another claim is recorded on 18th January 1825, in the name of Phebe Rigby who had given birth to a sixth child, this time a boy, but she is now a widow.
Not all the parishioners died young; there are also claims from the elderly that show that some lived to a good age. John Thomas was 83 and living with his wife, aged 75, at Coalpit Bank. He had gained his settlement by rental and having paid the poor rate in 1783. Ann Swift was a widow at 80, having had nine children. However, the record for a healthy constitution should probably go to Ann Purslow, who had given birth to 14 children, 12 of whom were still alive and was herself 79 years old.
Where possible the overseers for the poor made a record of the names and circumstances of adult children as well as those who were dependents. This was probably to assist them incase any of the children made a future claim. For example, the eight children of Samuel Nickliss are recorded as follows;
- John, 36, married
- Charles, 34, married
- Samuel, 32, married
- Phebe, 28, is married in London
- Elizabeth, 26, in service
- Richard, 21, is a nailor
- Mary, 17, at London
- Ann, 15, apprenticed to James Webb
These records can give a surprising amount of information to family historians and contain details and information not included in parish registers or census returns. They have also provided me with a fascinating slice of social history and a view into many families’ lives during my locked down weeks.
How to search
- You can search for names with the register by using a combination search for the reference and names in the search box at the top of the screen eg P291/L/1/3* John Williams
- Remember spellings might vary within the book and you can always use the wildcard * to search for different spellings such as Samuel Nickl*
- Alternatively you can go straight to the catalogue entry and use the ‘browse the collection’ tab to work through page by page.
More tips on searching are on our ‘how to search the catalogue‘ help page.
The writing in the original is very faint, so detail has been included on the index. You can view an image to get an idea of the original and order a high resolution copy if required. Hopefully the index will allow you to find an elusive ancestor or study the nature of poor relief in Wellington.
To find out more about records of poor relief, visit our Poor Law Blog posts.