Category Archives: Poor Law

The Shame of a Workhouse – An Infant Down the Pit

The publication in 1842 of Children’s Employment Commission’s investigation into the condition and treatment of children in the mines and collieries of the United Kingdom made for particularly shameful reading in Batley. It shone a very unwelcome spotlight on the treatment of workhouse children across the whole of the Dewsbury Poor Law Union in general, with the Batley at the epicentre of the scandal.

To be fair, the investigation highlighted a catalogue of shocking examples countrywide with children, girls as well as boys, working in the pits from very early ages. So horrific were some examples that newspapers compared the practice of children employed underground to a form of slavery.

Sub-Commissioner Jelinger C. Symons, who investigated the West Riding mines (excluding Leeds, Bradford and Halifax) stated:

There are well attested instances of children being taken into coal-pits as early as five years of age. These are very extreme cases; but many begin as trapdoor-keepers, and even as hurriers, as early as seven. Eight is as nearly as I can ascertain the usual age at which children begin to work in coal-pits, except in thin seams when they often come earlier [1].

Trapdoor-keepers, otherwise known as trappers, were employed directly by mine owners. They opened the doors in the mine allowing the coal corves (the tubs used for transporting the coal) to pass through. They also ensured the doors closed afterwards removing any blockages, such as spilled coal, which would prevent this. Often a 12-hour day, it was a responsible job too. This process of opening and closing doors provided ventilation essential to prevent a build-up of dangerous methane gas. It was a lonely job, undertaken in damp, ill-ventilated, drafty conditions and often in total darkness, unless on the occasions when “a good-natured collier will bestow a little bit of candle on them as a treat.[2]

Hurriers, employed by miners themselves, conveyed the coal from where it was hewn to the shaft by means of corves. These oblong small-wheeled wagons were pushed or pulled through the low, narrow passages. Symons wrote:

There is something very oppressive at first sight in the employment of children hurrying all day in passages under 30 inches in height, and altogether not much above the size of an ordinary drain….. [3]

Hurriers and Thrusters with Corves full of Coal – 1842 [4]

The weights of the corves varied. Symons, in his West Riding report, stated that when full these vehicles carried between 2 to 10 cwt of coal, with the corves themselves weighing around 2 to 2.5 cwt. The number of journeys made and distance travelled also varied between pits. Examples cited in Symons’ report ranged from 16 to 24 full corves transported a day and anything between over two miles to nine miles travelled, depending on factors such as weight of the corves, distance to the shaft, the height and incline and whether the hurriers could hand over the final pull to horses, which some pits used. The very youngest hurriers could work in pairs, with those pushing also known as thrusters. The hurrier would also help the miner load the coal onto the corves, including riddling the coal. They were sometimes left alone to finish the task of loading if their hewer knocked off early.

The physical and moral conditions of the children and young persons employed in mines and manufactures. London: HMSO, John W. Parker, 1843. Folding plate showing children transporting coal in mines and collieries. Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY

It was noted that in mining communities, miners with large, young families had a tendency to take their children to work in the mine at an earlier age than better off miners who already had several older children working in the pits and contributing to the family income.

However, the case which was an embarrassment to the local authorities in the parishes which formed the Dewsbury Poor Law Union involved a pauper child, Thomas Townend [5].

In the care of the workhouse authorities, the youngster was ‘apprenticed’ out in contravention of the minimum age allowed for such children. This had been seven under the Parish Apprentices Act of 1698, but increased to not under nine in the Parish Apprentices Act of 1816. These pauper apprenticeships were usually not into skilled trades, but as farm labourers or servants. The industrial revolution opened up factories and mines as an option too. Apprenticeships for these children were largely seen as a form of cheap labour rather than teaching a skilled trade. They also provided an opportunity to offload the responsibility and, more importantly, cost of supporting a pauper child from the authorities. The child’s parents (if living) had no legal rights in the matter.

The example, involving a boy in Batley workhouse, was described by Symons as “A very gross case of the unduly early employment of a workhouse child….” apprenticed to a collier in Thornhill before he was even five years old! [6]

The witness statements about the incident in the Appendix documents make for damning reading. I’ve reproduced the relevant passages in full.

No. 180. – Thomas Rayner, Esq., Surgeon, Birstall, wrote as follows. Dec. 26, 1840:
In mines where children are employed, in one coal-pit they will work perhaps 8 hours a-day, and in others 12 hours a-day. It is customary in some districts for miners to take six or seven apprentices; and I am now going to relate what has taken place in my own presence frequently during the past year.
I am guardian for the township of Gomersall [sic], in the Dewsbury Union. When I first attended the Board meetings, I was surprised to find so many applications from miners for apprentices from the Union Workhouse, the answer was, “Go to the house and select for yourself, and we will bind [7] you the one you select.” In some cases children (boys) have been selected at 7 and 8 years of age, because they were strong and healthy. Upon inquiry, I found no question had been asked as to age; and if in a few months the man found the boy was not strong enough (without reference to his age), he brings him back. One instance occurred only on the 24th December, last Thursday, and the boy is again in the Union Workhouse, only 7 years of age. I remonstrated with the other guardians on the enormity of binding a boy so young: they told me they had not bound him, nor should they do until he was 9 years of age; but is not this the same as binding? This boy’s master had five or six in the same way. I am the only surgeon who has ever been a member of the Dewsbury Board of Guardians and the other members do not like to be interfered with. Now, in such a case if the child must have had a certificate of fitness before being sent, he never would have been sent. I was astonished that such things could be…..[8]

No. 181. – Mrs. Lee, Matron of the Workhouse at Batley. Examined May 5, [1841] at Batley Poorhouse, near Birstall: –
The boy Thomas Townend, went on trial to a colliery at Thornhill, belonging to Mr. Ingham; he went on the 19th March, 1840, and came back again in the 6th April, 1840. He is entered in my book as being born in 1836. The reason he was sent back was, that he was pilfering into a neighbour’s house. He went to a collier, who employed him. It is the practice of the colliers or masters who want children to go to the Board-room, and they get an order to take a child, after they have picked them out at the workhouse. They inquire what the age is; they are not bound before 10, but they go on trial before that. Joseph Booth was born in 1833; he was discharged from here 12th March, 1840; he went to Robert Lumb, a collier, but an uncle interfered and took the child away, because he was not he thought, sufficiently fed. He went to his uncle, and remained at uncle’s till he was re-admitted on December 24th at this house. George Booth, a brother of Joseph Booth, is now at Dewsbury poorhouse. I am quite sure that Townend was not hurt in health by going to the pit. I believe there was a mistake made by the Board about his age. [9]

No. 182. – Joseph Booth, examined May 5, [1841] at the same workhouse, aged 8 years: –
I remember being in the pit; I used to hurry with another; I used to like being in the pit. Please they gave me plenty to eat. We used to go in at 5 in the morning, and they came out at 5. We had a bit of bread to eat in the pit, and stopped to eat it; we used to sit down to have it. There were four boys and six girls. The work did not tire me much. [10]

No. 183. – Thomas Townend (stated to be born in 1836). Examined at the said Workhouse: –
I remember being in the pit. I liked it; but they would not let me stay. [11]

No. 268. – Thomas Rayner, Esq., Surgeon, of Birstall. Examined May 26, 1841, at Birstall:-
….The Board of Guardians at Batley apprentice children without due care to ascertain their age. The boy Thomas Townend, aged 5 years, would not have been brought back to the workhouse had not the grandfather interfered and demanded it. We threatened to acquaint Mr. Chadwick and the Commissioners with it….. [12]

Another witness, Joseph Ellison, Esq., of Birkenshaw, a former Guardian , claimed it was notorious that when colliers needed hurriers they applied to Poor Law Guardians for pauper children because “They cannot get them elsewhere, on account of the severity of the labour and treatment hurriers experience; and which makes parents prefer any other sort of employment for their children.[13]

Essentially, the Dewsbury Poor Law Union was deliberately circumventing the rules around pauper apprentices by using such words as ‘trial’, thus claiming the children were not officially bound until they were of the correct age.

The case of Thomas Townend drew special attention from the Poor Law Commissioners. This was the national body providing Parliament with operational information around the Poor Law, and having responsibility for collating statistics and formulating regulations and procedures. As a result of the investigations of the Employment Commission, on 27 June 1842 a letter was sent from the Poor Law Commission to the Guardians of the Dewsbury Union [14] asking about the practice of sending children from the Union Workhouses to work in mines. They requested a return showing details of every child under the age of 16 apprenticed to work in a coal mine from 1840 to 1842. A similar missive went to the Halifax Union Board of Guardians, among others.

The Dewsbury Union return of 9 July 1842 is below. A bigger version can be found here.

In addition, William Carr, Clerk of Dewsbury Union, addressed specifically the case of Thomas Townend stating:

With regard to Thomas Townend, who was sent out of the workhouse to a coal miner on trial at five years old, I have to remark, that he, at that time, appeared by the workhouse books to be upwards of seven years of age. The child had been removed, along with other paupers, from one of the township workhouses to the union workhouse; and as the master of the township workhouse kept no account of the ages of the inmates, the union officers were obliged to get the ages of the paupers from the paupers themselves and their friends; and in this way Thomas Townend was put down seven instead of five. As soon as the error was discovered, which was in a few days after the child was sent out of the workhouse, he was sent back to the workhouse. [15]

Absolutely no mention that it was the intervention of his grandfather, and the threat of reporting the case to Edwin Chadwick and the Poor Law Commissioners that prompted his return to the workhouse, as indicated by Thomas Rayner in his deposition to Symons.

The Poor Law Commissioners were keen to have further information about the boy, writing to the Dewsbury Union Clerk on 14 July 1842 asking:

In reference to the case of one of the children, Thomas Townend, I am to request that the Commissioners may be informed what has become of the boy since he was returned to the workhouse, and whether he is in the workhouse still. [16]

Carr fired a reply back on 16 July 1842 informing the Poor Law Commission that since his return on trial (the Guardians still at pains to stress this was no apprenticeship) with William Bradshaw he had remained in the Union Workhouse at Batley. [17] The location of this workhouse is shown on the map below. Anyone familiar with the White Lee Road/Carlinghow Lane area of town will recognise the spot, which is now housing.

Extract of Six-inch OS Map Surveyed 1847 to 1851, Published 1854 Showing location of Batley Workhouse – Adapted

I have traced Thomas Townend in Batley workhouse in the 6 June 1841 census [18], but nothing definite subsequent to his mention in the July 1842 letter. Unfortunately, of the few remaining records left, the Board of Guardian Minutes, held by West Yorkshire Archive Services do not survive beyond 1842.

As a result of the report of the Children’s Employment Commission, the Mines and Collieries Act of 1842 was passed. Crucially, from 1 March 1843, it was made illegal to employ women or girls of whatever age underground in any mine or colliery in Britain. Boys under the age of 10 were no longer permitted to work below ground either.

As for pauper apprentices, the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1844 banned the binding of children under nine years of age, and of children who could not read or write their name.

Notes:

[1] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[4] Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842 – out of copyright, accessed via The Internet Archive
[5] In most documents his name is Townend. However, in the Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines the spelling is Townsend.
[6] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[7] Put out to apprenticeship.
[8] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[9] Ibid
[10] Ibid
[11] Ibid
[12] Ibid
[13] Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842
[14] The Board of Guardians oversaw the operations of the particular Poor Law Union, in this case Dewsbury Union. The Guardians were drawn from all the constituent parishes of the Union. At this stage Batley had two Guardians on the Board of 23. Other parishes represented were Heckmondwike, Lower Whitley and Thornhill (one each); Liversedge, Morley, Ossett and Soothill (two each); Gomersal and Mirfield (three each); and Dewsbury (four). Source http://www.workhouses.org.uk/
[15] Parliamentary Papers Volume 1842:v.35. London: H.M.S.O., 1842.
[16] Ibid
[17] Ibid
[18] Thomas Townend, 1841 Census. Accessed via Findmypast, Reference HO107/1267/67/2

Sources:

  • Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
  • Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842. Accessed via Google Books
  • Parliamentary Papers Volume 1842:v.35. London: H.M.S.O., 1842. Accessed via Google Books
  • The Condition and Treatment of the Children Employed in the Mines and Collieries of the United Kingdom. London: W. Strange, 1842. Accessed via The Internet Archive
  • Higginbotham, Peter. “The History of the Workhouse by Peter Higginbotham.” Accessed July 31, 2019. http://www.workhouses.org.uk/.
  • Lake, Fiona, and Rosemary Preece. Voices from the Dark: Women and Children in Yorkshire Coal Mines. Place of Publication Not Identified: Overton, 1992.
  • Raymond, Stuart A. My Ancestor Was an Apprentice, How Can I Find out More about Him? London: Society of Genealogists Enterprises, 2010.
  • OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
  • Wellcome Library https://wellcomelibrary.org/

With special thanks to the staff at the Leeds Local and Family History library for their help in locating a copy of the Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners.

Elation and Frustration: The Reality of Family History Research

Another day, another archives visit. Off I went to the aptly named “Discovery Museum” in Newcastle which houses the Tyne and Wear Archives. Filled with anticipation and enthusiasm, I was on the trail of my one-handed gypsy 5x great grandmother Charlotte Burnett.

img_1606

Newcastle’s Discovery Museum – by Jane Roberts

As in my previous post about her, I knew she was in Newcastle in 1829. I knew the Newcastle All Saints Overseers of the Poor advertised seeking her whereabouts in February 1830. And I knew from the West Riding Quarter Sessions of April 1830 their advert bore fruit, as in indicated in Removal Orders and Child-Stealing Chimney Sweeps.

I also wanted to find any information about another linked family, that of my 4x great grandmother Ann Jackson. She married Charlotte’s son, Robert. She and her parents and siblings were from Newcastle All Saints Parish.

I decided against looking for anything about Robert Burnett and his father Stephen. It would have to wait as I needed to concentrate on one Parish.

I’d done my forward planning and had my list of records to search. So maybe this would be the next big breakthrough. But I only had three hours and my list was very long in terms of Newcastle All Saints Parish records and registers.

All Saints Church, Newcastle – by Jane Roberts

It didn’t prove long enough. My visit proved to be a mix of frustration and elation. One of those days. 

In terms of positives:

  • I took photographs on this visit, including of the previously discovered 27 May 1788 Bastardy Bond information for Ann Jackson’s illegitimate child. My photographic day pass cost £10 and I’m glad I went for the option;
  • I discovered more references in the early 1790s Vestry Minutes to Anne’s sister, Amelia. She was one of the Parish poor children undertaking work making pins in return for a small sum of money. More evidence of poor relief for the family and another occupation to explore;
  • The Apprenticeship Register had an entry on 9 February 1795 for 14 year-old Amelia Jackson. Her parents were dead. She was bound to George Thompson, a Sunderland gingerbread baker, until she was 21. So out of Parish and a new area to search. And confirmation that John and Elizabeth Jackson (my 5x great grandparents) were dead by early 1795 so a narrowing of search years; and
  • A meeting of the Vestry on 30 December 1829 noted the Removal Order from the Township of Drighlington for widow Jane Burnett (31), Ann (7), Stephen (5), Maria (4) and Jackson (1). Sadly no further details.

The negatives:

  • I didn’t have time to look at the microfilm All Saints Parish Registers so I’m still relying on my FreeReg searches;
  • Neither did I get chance to look at any overseers accounts, a big omission but I went for the quick searches first. In a way that was good. I’ve ticked off a batch of records and I have narrowed date parameters further;
  • Although I have a cut-off date for searches I still don’t know when Ann and Amelia’s parents died. Or what happened to sibling Jane; and
  • Charlotte Burnett is continuing to prove elusive.

The reality is research is not as portrayed in Who Do You Think You Are? It’s painstaking, time-consuming work. You may get lucky and find some quick-win gems, especially in the early stages of research. But it is more usually a long-game, sifting through un-indexed records with searches often gleaning little more than a negative result. Eventually puzzle pieces are slotted into place. However brick-walls remain. It’s certainly not one hour and here’s your entire family tree with lots of interesting accompanying family background information. You’re never done – there is always more to discover.

And it’s addictive. I’m already planning my next Tyne & Wear Archives visit, including looking at those Parish Registers, overseers accounts and possibly revisiting the various poor house records in the light of new information. But it may have to wait until 2017.

Sources:

  • Tyne and Wear Archives – Paupers’ Records: Newcastle All Saints Apprenticeship Register, Bastardy Bonds, Examination Books, Overseers Accounts, Select Vestry Meetings, Vestry Meetings and Removal Orders: https://twarchives.org.uk/

Removal Orders and Child-Stealing Chimney Sweeps: How Newspapers Demolished a Brick Wall – Part 1

In my post about Bigamy in Batley I introduced my 4x great grandparents Robert Burnett and Ann Jackson. Due to Robert’s job as a tinner/brazier, the Burnett family moved frequently in the early days of their marriage. They finally settled in Drighlington in the early 1800s, presumably once Robert had earned sufficient money to establish his own business. Their first children were born in the Halifax area (1794 and 1798) and Flockton (1796). But for a while the origins of the couple remained a puzzle to me.

Robert died before the 1841 census[1]. Ann’s entry in that census indicated Yorkshire roots. She died in 1848, so there were no further clues. From death certificates it appears Robert was born in around 1771 and Ann in 1772.  I suspected Ann’s maiden name was Jackson. This theory was based on the fact that two of her sons, John and James, had children named Jackson Burnett and Ann Jackson Burnett. Their wives had no apparent link to this surname.  The only likely marriage I could find between a Robert Burnett and Ann Jackson took place on 7 January 1793 at Kendal, Westmorland[2].

After that I drew a blank. There the mystery lay for quite some time, until FindMyPast began rolling out their British Newspaper collection.  Playing about with names I was trying to find out any information about their son, Stephen Burnett, and his wife’s possible bigamous marriage. A search for him fetched the following extract from the West Riding Easter Sessions as reported in the Leeds Intelligencer of 29 April 1830:

“….She proved that when about 22 years of age, she lived some time in a slate of concubinage a man named Stephen Burnett, who was a chimney sweeper at Stockton….”

By this time Stephen, Robert and Ann’s son, had died. Neither was Durham associated with my family history research. But the name piqued my interest.

The article turned out to be a newspaper report of a case heard in Pontefract in which All Saints Parish, Newcastle upon Tyne was appealing against an order for the removal of a pauper Jane Burnett, widow of John Burnett, and her four children from Drighlington to All Saints. John Burnett, who was one of Robert and Ann’s sons, died in June 1829.

Under the complex Poor Law rules of settlement everyone “belonged” to a parish and this parish and its ratepayers were responsible for supporting them if the need arose. In larger parishes of the north the financial burden was the responsibility of the smaller township unit. This issue of settlement was a complex and contentious one, the number of inter-parish disputes and court cases a testimony to this. Generally your settlement parish was that of your father but this could be superseded by a number of other factors. For example a woman took the settlement parish of her husband on marriage. If illegitimate your settlement was the place you were born, but this changed from 1743/4 when you took the settlement parish of your mother regardless of your birthplace. There were other permutations too including being a parish ratepayer, renting a property in the parish assessed at £10 pa or more, serving an apprenticeship, or being hired to work in the parish for 12 months; but all in all the rules were a veritable minefield.

In the case of Jane Burnett and her children the Officials responsible for the Poor Law in Drighlington township were trying to prove their rightful settlement for this family was Newcastle All Saints. They were seeking to ship them off to an area of the country the family in all probability had never visited, in order to save Drighlington poor rate payers the expense of providing parish relief for them. And All Saints Newcastle similarly did not want the burden of costs falling to their ratepayers, possibly for many years to come as the children were all under ten years of age.

All Saints Church Newcastle upon Tyne - Blue Plaque

All Saints Church Newcastle upon Tyne, Blue Plaque

In the course of the case Mr Maude, acting for Drighlington, called forward Ann Burnett, wife of Robert. She affirmed that her maiden settlement was Newcastle All Saints where members of her family had received frequent parish relief. Ann had also given birth to an illegitimate child in the workhouse there.

So this appeared to be the very thin grounds for the wish to send the family to this Parish: the fact that Newcastle All Saints was the Parish of John’s mother. However from Parish Registers John was born in wedlock so to my mind should, in the absence of other superseding reasons, have taken the settlement of his father Robert.

All Saints Church, Newcastle upon Tyne

All Saints Church, Newcastle upon Tyne

In turn Mr Blackburn, acting for All Saints, called Charlotte Burnett the 82 year-old grandmother of the deceased. The report contains no mention of Charlotte Burnett’s maiden name, unless that too was Burnett, or her origins. She now lived in Carlisle with her daughter, Mrs McGregor.

In her testimony she stated that when she was around 22 years old she had lived for some time in a state of “concubinage” with a man named Stephen Burnett, a Stockton chimney sweep. Going one day with his apprentices to sweep chimneys in Darlington, she went into labour and gave birth to Robert[3], the father of the deceased, at a place called Long Newton.  Darlington is just over 11 miles from Stockton-on-Tees, with Long Newton a shade over four miles into the journey, so a fair trek in circa 1771 for a heavily pregnant woman. And I am baffled as to why she was making the journey in the first place; she could hardly be sweeping chimneys!

It was therefore claimed that, being born illegitimate, Robert’s place of settlement was Long Newton. And because his son John had gained no other settlement elsewhere the decision was made that he too belonged to Long Newton, as did his widow and children. The court therefore decided that Jane and her children should be removed forthwith to that Parish.

There is some doubt about whether the order was ever carried out. If it was, it only lasted for a short period. Jane Burnett remarried on 27 September 1832 at Leeds Parish Church. The Parish Register entry states that she lived in Armley Parish. The 1841 census shows she was living once more in Drighlington with her children by John, new husband Jeremiah Newell and their children.

So even though I have been unable to trace records of the case in West Yorkshire Archives, due to the contentious nature of the operation of the Poor Law in that period and the newspaper report of the ensuing court case I have a wealth of information, including names and locations, which I am in the process of following up.

From initial searches on FreeReg and a visit to Tyne and Wear Archives it appears that John Jackson, mariner, married Elizabeth Hay at All Saints on 20 April 1772. Ann was baptised on 22 August 1773; daughters Amelia and Jane were baptised on 4 November 1787 at the ages of six and two respectively. Various Jacksons feature frequently in the return of clothes given to the poor. Sadly the poor house admission/discharge register does not cover the period for the birth Ann Jackson’s illegitimate child. However the bastardy bonds include an entry on 27 May 1788 for an Ann Jackson. Jas Atkinson, Shoemaker, appears to be the putative father and house carpenters Gilbert Dodds and Wm [Reid?] are named as those charged with paying bonds of indemnity. However further research is needed so another visit to Tyne and Wear Archives beckons.

That is not the end though. Newspaper searches have produced some further articles which potentially relate to my 5x great grandfather Stephen Burnett, father of Robert. I will return to these in Part 2.

Sources:

[1] GRO Death Certificate date 31 July 1837
[2] “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NJV1-NYQ : accessed 5 July 2015), Robert Burnett and Ann Jackson, 07 Jan 1793; citing Kendal, Westmoreland, England, reference yrs 1700-1795; FHL microfilm 97,376.
[3] Giving an estimated birth year for Robert of around 1770-1771