H. D. (Henry Duff) Traill.

Social England; a record of the progress of the people in religion, laws, learning, arts, industry, commerce, science, literature and manners, from the earliest times to the present day (Volume 3) online

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take the offender into his service for two }-ears, entering into
bond of 10 ; from which we may infer that the life of a
vagabond at this time was considered equal in value to a
labourer's services for two years. It is interesting to notice

1 D 'Ewes' Journal*, p. 220.

- 14 Elizabeth, c. .">. Supplemented by 18 Elizabeth, c. 3. Both Acts con-
tinued by 2'J Elizabeth, c. 5 ; 31 Elizabeth, c. 10 ; and 33 Elizabeth, c. 7.





Poor Law
and the
Statute of

what classes of people the Government proposed to treat m
this fashion. The complaint that the Bill of 1571, which was
certainly more severe than the Act of 1572, was "over sharp
and bloody" was well justified. The term vagabond, according
to the definition in the Act, included the following : (1) Those
who were, or pretended to be, proctors, going about the country
without sufficient authority from the Queen ; (2) those who
practised unlawful games or plays, physiognomists, palmists,
etc.; (3) able-bodied persons having no land or master, prac-
tising no trade or craft, and unable to account for the way
in which they earned their living ; (4) fencers, bearwards com-
mon players in interludes, and minstrels not belonging to any
lord, jugglers, pedlars, tinkers, petty chapmen wandering about
without license from the justices ; (5) able-bodied labourers,
loitering and refusing to work at " suclt.e reasonable wages as
is taxed and commonly yiven in sucJte paries, where surlic
persons do or shall Jnif>/'n to dwell"; (()) counterfeiters of
licenses, passports, and all users of the same knowing them
to be counterfeit; (7) scholars of the universities begging with-
out license from the university authorities; (8) shipmen
pretending losses by sea, other than such as are provided for
in the Act; (0) discharged prisoners begging without license
from two justices.

The inclusion in the above list of able-bodied labourers
who would not work for "reasonable" wages throws much
light on the objects of the Statute of Apprenticeship. The
" reasonable wages taxed and commonly given " were the rates
fixed, or supposed to be fixed, by justices of the peace, as
authorised by that Act. Thus a powerful weapon was put
into the hands of the justices to coerce obstinate labourers, if
they used their powers. The " reasonable wages " were not
what modern artisans mean by a " living wage," but the rates
which appeared reasonable and proper to the labourer's station
in life in the eyes of the magistrates. In order to fully under-
stand how this second Poor Law affected the working classes,
it would be necessary to discuss in detail the administration
of the wages clauses of the Statute of Apprenticeship. This,
however, is impossible in this place ; and it must suffice to
point out that, so far as the evidence goes, the justices did
not perform their duties with the regularity and efficiency


which was required. 1 It was not only in the clauses directly
bearing on the regulation of wages that the Poor Law supple-
mented the Statute of Apprenticeship. The Act of 1572
provided for the removal from their parents of the children
of vagabonds, and for apprenticing them in agriculture, hus-
bandry, or ordinary service. In such cases both the children
and their masters or mistresses were bound by the provisions
of the Statute of Apprenticeship. Fifty years ago it was more
common than it is now for people to declaim about the " rights
of the 'poor " to employment and relief secured to them during
the reign of Elizabeth. But nothing could be farther from
the intentions of the statesmen of this period. They adopted
the principle of compulsory maintenance for the poor very
unwillingly, very slowly, and only after many unsuccessful
attempts to do without it ; to get rid of an abuse which
threatened to grow into a social danger, not to satisfy the
demands of justice or right. In the same way the schemes
for setting the poor to work were based upon the principle
not that the " idle " person, whatever the cause of his idleness,
had a right to be provided with employment, but that severe
pains and penalties were his proper deserts. It was, however,
better to utilise his services, and make him profitable to the
State by setting him to work, than to whip him, maim him,
or kill him outright.

The provisions in the Act of 1572 for the relief of the poor Poor
were carefully thought out, The compulsion to be brought Relie '
to bear on persons objecting to give was made more of a reality.
A weekly charge was to be levied on the inhabitants ; and it
was no longer left to them to say how much it should be.
If, however, they objected to their assessment, they had the
right of appeal to the Quarter Sessions as a remedy. But
refusal to pay in accordance with the justice's award was to
be punished with imprisonment. Collectors and overseers were
to be appointed annually. The penalty for refusal of the former
office was reduced to the sum thought sufficient in Mary's
reign, viz. 40s. ; refusal of the office of overseer meant a

1 The author has discussed the administration of the Statute of Apprentice-
ship at length in his English Trade and Flnancr (1S92) and in the Economic
Journal (December, 1892, pp. 696-698). There are. however, several more
wages assessments in existence than are there mentioned.


forfeiture of 10s. Habitations were to be provided for the
impotent and aged poor; a register to be kept, and a monthly
inquiry to be held, when strangers were to be sent back to the
place of their birth, or where they had dwelt for three years.
The Act The statute was enacted for seven years, and from that time
to the end of the next Parliament. But long before then,

viz. in 1576, it was supplemented by another Act, " for the
setting of the poor on worke, and for the avoyding of idleness."
The mother and the reputed father of an illegitimate child
were to be charged with its support ; and as the " heavy
charge for conveying rogues and vagabonds to prison " caused
them " to be winked at," the Act threw the expense on the
several hundreds through which the offender was conveyed-
The provisions for " setting the poor on work " were certain,
in so far as they were successful, to manufacture more paupers
than were relieved. The collectors were placed in the position
of the factor or middleman in what is known as the domestic
system. They were, out of a rate to be levied for that
purpose, and the voluntary subscriptions of those who saw
the great benefit to be derived from putting this law in
execution, to provide a stock of raw material -. wool, hemp,
flax, and so on. This stock they were to distribute amongst
the poor, who would work it up in their homes. For the
result of their labours, the collectors were to pay ' according
to the desert of the work," and then sell it in the market
lor such goods, just as any other middleman would do. If the
poor refused this mode of assistance, the Act provided the
collectors with a stern answer, in the shape of the houses of
correction now established. Here, " in convenient apparel,'
and "kept in diet as in work," punishment was to be adminis-
tered at the discretion of the overseer of the house.
A House An interesting document 1 has been preserved showing the

organisation of a house of correction at this period, in con-
formity with the law we have just discussed. The justices of
Suffolk drew up elaborate orders for the management of the
house at Bury. They appointed a " forren officer " in every
hundred to search for vagabonds, and, with the aid of the
constable, to arrest them. The vagabonds, after their reception

1 Printed in Eden's Slutr of tin- J'm>r, vol. iii.. appendix vii. Copious extracts-
are also yivon in Ribton Turner's Vdijrdiitx <iu<J Vtit/nniri/. pp. 11G-3 ( .H.



at the house, were to be whipped and put in irons, and then
set to work. The whip used was to consist of two cords,
without knots. More severe treatment was reserved for the
stubborn. The justices appear to have considered every detail
of the management of the House ; the diet of the inmates,
the duties of the officers are defined with precision. With
these orders may be compared those of Christ's Hospital,
Ipswich, where similar regulations were put in force in 1594. 1
During the same period, also, there are many instances of loans,
gifts of money and material, etc., for setting the poor to work ;
and on the whole there appears to have been a fair number of
attempts to give effect to the law. The ecclesiastical authorities


(From a print of 1748/

were not behindhand in inculcating the duty of the wealthy
to contribute liberally for the relief of the poor, and even to
" forbear to have suppers on Wednesdays, Fridays, and fasting-
days" with this object. 2

\Ve come now to the last Parliament but one of Queen The " ow
Elizabeth, in which, for all practical purposes, the principal
provisions of the " Old Poor Law >: were finally determined.
The Session of 1597-98 was largely devoted to social legislation.
It commenced (5th of November, 1597) with Bacon's motion-"

1 Bacon's Annnln of Ipx/rich/-. p 8711.

- Vid" Archbishop Whitg-ift's circular-letter to the Bishops [Tanner MSS..
Ixxvii. (Hi.]

3 The only business before this motion was the first reading- of a Bill against
Forestallers. Resrraters. and Engrossers.


against enclosures, when he brought in two Bills, "not drawn,
with a polished pen, but with a polished heart, tree from
affection and affectation." A committee of the House was
appointed to consider the matter. The House was then in-
vited to inquire into " the sundry great and horrible abuses
of idle and vagrant persons, and the miserable state of the
yodly and honest sort of the poor subjects of this realm.''
This matter also was referred to Bacon's committee. But six
days later Sir Francis Hastings complained that they had so
far spent all their labour on enclosures and tillage, and had
devoted no attention to the punishment of rogues and relief
of the poor, and moved for leave to bring in two or three Bills
on the subject which had been prepared by different members
of the House. It would be tedious to describe in detail the
work of this important session of Parliament, and to follow
the history of the numerous Bills dealing with the poor which
were brought in. By the 22nd of November one committee,
consisting of Cecil, Bacon, Sir Robert Wroth, and others,
which had been appointed on the 19th, had no less than
eleven Bills on this subject referred to it. It must be remem-
bered that many other Bills on social and economic subjects,
as well as private Bills dealing with hospitals and the re-
clamation of waste lands, were being considered in the same
session, and some idea will be obtained of the labours of
this Elizabethan Parliament. The committee on the various
Bills for the relief of the poor used to meet in the Middle
Temple Hall. Out of the numerous Bills now before the
House we shall select two. one of them a Bill "for the relief
of the poor," the other a Bill for " erecting houses of correction."
After reaching its second reading, the former Bill was
entirely remodelled, and in the new form passed the Commons
on 13th of December, 1597. In the Lords it was amended,
carried over the adjournment (26th December-lit h January),
when the Lords' amendments and provisos were considered by
the Commons, and finally became law. 1 The progress of the
.Bill for houses of correction was more difficult, for both houses
were keenly interested in the subject. Amendments accumu-
lated as the Bill went through the Commons. It passed that
House on 5th of December, but the Lords did not intend to let

1 30 Elizabeth, c. 3.



it through without discussion. The committee to which it was
referred (8th December) was authorised " to call such of the
House of Commons unto them at their meeting as they
should find cause to confer withal for the better perfecting of
the Bill." It reached its third reading on the day of the
adjournment (20th December). When the Commons came to


(From an old

consider the Lords' amendments and provisos, strong ob-
jections were urged against them, and they were referred to a
committee consisting of -Raleigh, Cecil. Bacon, and others
(12th January). On the following day Raleigh moved for a
conference with the Lords. Repairing to the Upper House to
ask for it, he, and the members who accompanied him, were



made very indignant at the reception the Lords gave them
" not using any of their Lordships' former and wonted cour-
teous manner of coming down towards the said members of
this House to the Bar, but all of them sitting still in their
great estates very solemnly, and all covered, the Lord Keeper
sitting also still in like manner covered." This supposed
affront was explained to the satisfaction of the offended Com-
mons, but the incident did not dispose them to conciliation.
The tension between the two Houses was also increased by
the disrespectful manner in which the Lords received the
Commons' complaint, that they had sent down their amend-
ments engrossed on parchment instead of being written on
paper. The result of the conference was unsatisfactory, and
we are not surprised to find that (17th January, 1598) " The
Amendments and Provisos .... being read for the third
reading thereof, the Bill being put to the question, and after
sundry speeches and arguments first had, both with the Bill
and against the Bill, was dashed upon the division of the
House." The numbers were 66 for the Bill, and 106 against.
The subject was not allowed to drop. The Lords carried a
Bill of their own " for the punishment of rogues, vagabonds,
and sturdy beggars." It was tossed about between the two
Houses for three weeks, but finally became law. 1

Elizabeth's These two Acts of Parliament constituted Elizabeth's third
P oor l aw - T ne latter, for the punishment of vagabonds, was
very much milder than previous Acts, and there can be no
doubt that it owed this characteristic to the Lords, who
throughout the reign appear to have regarded the unhappy
vagabonds more leniently than the Commons. The Act for
the relict of the poor provided for the annual appointment in
Easter week of churchwardens and overseers. We have also
in this Act the other familar features of the "Old Poor Law."
We find there the principles of relief from a fund raised by a
compulsory rate, leviable by distress ; employment by the
provision of a stock of hemp, wool, etc. ; apprenticeship for
the children of paupers ; the rate in aid of poorer parishes ;
and the appeal to the Quarter Sessions. It was also pro-
vided that parents or children must maintain their relations,
and that special rates should be levied for the prisoners in

1 39 Elizabeth, o. 1. Co;itiiinc<.l. revived, and explained, 1 Jas. I., cc. 7, 25.



the Queen's Bench and the Marshalsea, and for hospitals and

This Act was to endure to the end of the next Parliament.
The last Parliament of Elizabeth, therefore, was bound to and last
reconsider the question of the relief of the poor. On November Poor Law -
5th, 1601, Sir Robert Wroth drew attention to the subject,
but nothing further was done until almost the end of the
Session. A Bill for the relief of the poor, the famous " Old Poor
Law," l was then hurried through both Houses in a little more
than a week. The law complementary to this, for the punish-
ment of vagabonds and erection of houses of correction, which
had been enacted until the end of the first session of the
Parliament of 1601, was allowed to lapse. But it was revived
explained, and amended in the first year of James I. If it^be
asked why so important a measure aroused so little attention
in 1601, it may be answered that Parliament considered the
existing law satisfactory. Cecil only expressed the prevailing
opinion when, in reply to a motion that " no private Bill may
pass this House, but the procurers to give something to the
poor," he said " Our ordinary begging-poor are provided for."

THE great disturber of the public health in the Elizabethan CHARLES
period was plague. How great a disturber it was will appear j^ H
ft 0111 the vital statistics of London, which are accurately known Heaitb.
for a series of five years 1578-82. Over the whole period the
burials were thirty-three per cent, more than the christenings ;
or, one-third more lives were lost in a year than were added to
the population from within. The excess of deaths was wholly
owing to plague. In one of the five years (1580) the plague
was all but dormant, and in every month of that year, except
July (when one of the few influenzas of the sixteenth century
was raging, called the Gentle Correction), the baptisms were well
ahead of the burials, the excess for the whole year being nearly
twenty-five per cent. The inference appears warranted that,
barrino- plague, the public health of Elizabethan London was
good. We look in vain in the vital statistics of later periods
(if they can be trusted), down to the beginning of the nineteenth
century, for any year with the baptisms in London one-fourth

1 43 Elizabeth, c. 2. 2 Townshend's Ifixtcrical Collection*, p. 280.



more than the burials, although that is an excess which is
reached in any year at present, and is surpassed in most. It is
probable that there were two periods of eight or nine years
each in the latter half of the reign of Elizabeth (the years
1583-92 and 1594-1602) when the absence of plague, or the
slightness of its prevalence, enabled the births to exceed the
deaths, perhaps in the same ratio as in 1580. But the excess
in a series of years of immunity from plague was more than
swallowed up by the great plague of a single season. Thus,
in 1563, from June to the end of the year, there died of
plague in the 108 parishes of the City and Liberties 17,404
persons, and in the 11 out-parishes 2,732, making a total of
20,136 deaths by plague, the deaths from all other causes
(doubtless including some others really from plague) having
been 3,524. The other great plague of the reign was in 1593,
when the total deaths by that cause were 15,003, the deaths
from other causes having been 10,883, of which probably one-
half were also really from plague. Twice in the Elizabethan
period the capital lost from a sixth to a fifth part of its popu-
lation by a great plague, and in each of several other years of
the reign its mortality by ordinary causes was more than
doubled by plague. Other towns that had a great epidemic
of plague in this reign were Norwich, Yarmouth, Rye, Bristol,
Plymouth, Totnes, and Tiverton, while the infection was verv
severe in the northern counties about 1596-97, in a time of

The great plague-mortalities extended to all parts of
London, and would probably have included a due proportion
of all classes had not the rich sought safety in flight when
the infection began to wax hot in summer and autumn. But
the better parts of London suffered only from their neighbour-
hood to the rest. In all the great plagues, so far as is known,
from that of 15(53 onwards, the infection began in the poor
The Slums and crowded skirts of the City, in the ring of parishes outside
Elizabeth tne wa ^ s - A medical writer of the year 1564 says that twice
in his memory the plague had begun in St. Sepulchre's parish
(he writes it St. Poulkar's, and would have spoken it Se'Poul-
kar's), the parish outside Newgate, " by reason of many
fruiterers, poor people, and stinking lanes, as Turnagain Lane
[which ran down the slope to Fleet Ditch and ended at its



1 603J

brink], Seacoal Lane, and other such places." It was to check
the growth of these nests and breeding-places of plague that
the proclamation of 1580 was issued, prohibiting buildings on
new sites within a radius of three miles of the City gates, as well
as the sub-division of houses into two or more tenements. The
fear of plague entering among these " multitudes," and ex-
tending thence to the City and throughout the whole realm,
was the avowed motive of that remarkable ordinance. The


(Bravn mid Holienlmrg, " ("tritatcs Orl/ia 1'e r i'i i ruw ," 1573.)

Liberties were then the slums of the City, largely beyond
municipal control, although the mayor's jurisdiction extended
to the Bars of the Freedom. The space outside the walls had
been built, over without any such regularity of plan as the The
City itself had from an early period. It was about 1540 that
the three cross-streets of the Western Liberty were paved
Shoe Lane, Fetter Lane, and Chancery Lane. Between these
lanes, or the corresponding main arteries in the other parishes,
the ground was covered by mean tenements approached by a
maze of alleys. The same process was going on farther afield,



the country roads and adjoining open spaces becoming " pes-
tered." as .John Stow says, "with filthy cottages, and with other
purprestures, enclosures, and laystalls, notwithstanding all
proclamations and Acts of Parliament made to the contrary,
that in some places there scarce reinaineth a sufficient high-
way for the meeting of carriages and droves of cattle."

The proclamation of 1580 was really a confession on the
part of the City of its inability to govern beyond a certain
limit. While it did nothing to check the growth of London,
it allowed some three-fourths of the capital to grow up beyond
the pale of sanitation.

sanitation j^ would be a mistake to infer from the unwholesome state
in Towns. .

or the crowded ring or parishes outside the walls that there was

no sanitary knowledge or practice. Apart from measures of the
nature of quarantine for plague (referred to in a former section),
much was done in the way of radical sanitation. The danger of
nuisances was never unperceived. At first the remedy was " at
his suit that will complain," or by raising an action : but in the
Tudor period certain persons were elected from among the
citizens to represent all the rest as " scavengers." Hooker, of
Exeter, says that the scavengers " are necessary officers who
cannot be wanting in any well-governed city or town, because
by them and their service all things noisome to the health of
man and hurtful to the state of the body of the commonwealth,
are advertised unto the magistrate, and so they be the means
of the redress thereof. And therefore they be called scavengers,
as who saith shewers or advertisers, for so the word soundeth.' 1
They were, in short, inspectors of nuisances. An election to
the office at Ipswich is recorded as early as 1540, on which
occasion also four places outside the town were appointed for .
depositing the refuse or soil upon. Stow, in his " Survey of
London," gives the number of scavengers in each ward of the
City, along with the number of aldermen and councillors. At
Exeter it was part of their duty to attend the mayor to church
on Sunday. The scavengers of Exeter had also " their service "
under them, who may have been employed in the actual work
of nuisance-removal for the common good ; but it is probable
that the responsibility still rested ordinarily with the individual
householder, except in times of plague, when the magistracy
appear to have undertaken certain elementary duties of



municipal police, such as cleansing the streets every other


In smaller towns, or in villages, the old usages of _ the
Manor Court remained for long a system of local sanitary tion
government. The following is an example from the Manor
Court of Castle Combe, in Wiltshire, in 1590 :

"That the inhabitants of the West Streete doe remove the doiige or
fylth at John Davis house eude before the f caste of Seynt Andrew th'
apostell next, and that they lay no more there within a foote of the wey,

* .... -i
sub poeua ins mid.

"And that none shall lay any duste or any other fylth in the wey or
pitte belowe Cristopher Besas house, sub poena pro quolibet tempore xiid.

"And that none shall soyle in the church yerde nor in any of our
streetes, for every defaulte to lose xiid.

"And that the glover shall not wash any skynes, nor cast aiiy <

Online LibraryH. D. (Henry Duff) TraillSocial England; a record of the progress of the people in religion, laws, learning, arts, industry, commerce, science, literature and manners, from the earliest times to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 63 of 68)