Learned scholars have gained PhDs answering questions like that I suspect!
If I start the ball rolling I am sure that others on the list who I know to
be more knowledgeable can pick it up.
After 1538 (when the monasteries were abolished, who sort of carried out
this function) and before 1602 when the Poor Law Act was first passed there
was nobody charged with looking after the poor. After 1602 the parish was
charged with doing this. This meant that the churchwardens in practice
collected a rate on all householders and distributed it to the poor. It was
not a part of the church's actual duties to do this. It was I suppose the
first appearance of a 'civil parish' rather than a religious one (although
civil parishes actually came into legal existence in the 19th century,
someone on the list told me last week). One of the groups of people who
could claim money was the pauper pregnant single women who could claim for
their 'lying in' expenses (hiring a maternity nurse-or 'goodwoman'
primarily). Thereafter they could claim a very minimal income from the
parish for themselves and their bastard (and make no bones about it the
stigma of that word was very strong and they were meant to live with it). In
its turn the parish would try to establish who the father was from the
mother and would then take proceeding s to reclaim all their expenditures
from him (often to be seen mentioned in parish registers as the 'putative
father'). By the 19th century there was a slick set of processes going on.
The mother would undergo an 'Examination' by the Board of the Poor Law. If
she failed to co-operate they could make life very difficult for her. The
aim of the Examination was to determine who the father was so that they
could then re-charge him. By this time the local churchwarden connection had
been totally lost in the Uniions of parishes together to save money by
economies of scale and who could also afford to build a workhouse. If my
memory of secondary school education is right the invention of something
called the Speenhamland System in the mid-18th century tolled the knell for
churchwardens' involvement. Thereafter it was a civil jurisdiction. Right
from the start the Examination was backed up by use of the Quarter Sessions
Courts to enforce payments against recalcitrant fathers.
Does that help?
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Saturday, June 29, 2002 8:24 PM
Subject: [DEV] Question about The Poor law.
I wonder if some could tell me where I can find out about The Poor Law or
explain it (very simply ). Did the "church" give payments to "unfortunate
females" to see them through a pregnancy and help them with money through
the early years of parenthood ? Or is something else going on here????
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