|St James the Less, Pangbourne, Berkshire|
Recently I’ve been reading the Berkshire Parish Overseers’ Records. They give a comprehensive view of how the poor and needy were provided for at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th. The Overseers were respectable men from the middle class selected annually to administer funds available for the poor in their parish.
When there was doubt if an individual came from your parish, Removal or Settlement Orders were made, so that each pauper was helped in their own parish, not a place they had moved to. In 1816 when her husband was away in the army, Mary Warner was removed from the town of Reading to her home village of Pangbourne, since she would receive no money to support their family from his army pay until he returned home.
Earlier in 1798, one soldier whose wife had been allowed to accompany him, wrote home from the island of Jersey begging for assistance.
The Overseers needed to provide employment for orphans and needy children in their parish and the best solution was a 7 year apprenticeship. Boys might be sent to a Master to learn skills such as carpentry, shoe-making or barge-building, but it might be husbandry (caring for animals and tilling the soil). In most cases, girls were apprenticed to learn housewifery.
An apprenticeship established Settlement in a parish, which might explain why the Berkshire Overseers were eager to send their paupers to parishes on the outskirts of London, from where they were unlikely to return.
The other problem they had to deal with was bastardy. Unmarried pregnant women should preferably be provided for by the man who was responsible.