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The Act of Settlement

The English government recognised that people did not want to provide poor relief for paupers who did not come from their parishes. So an Act of Parliament was passed in 1662 (during the reign of Charles II) which allowed the overseers of the poor to send away from their parish anyone who did not have "settlement" rights there, i.e. who did not belong there.

A person was said to have "settlement" in a parish if he had been born there, or had moved there to take up an apprenticeship and had worked in the parish for over a year. A wife would take on the settlement of her husband at marriage and any children that they had under the age of 16 would also take their father's settlement. This was to ensure that pauper families would not be broken up when returned to the parish of their "settlement". This system did not mean that people could not move around the country and find work elsewhere. If a man wished to work in another parish he needed a certificate that stated that his birth parish would have him back if he ever required poor relief. The system was designed to prevent people from moving to parishes where the poor relief may be more substantial than in their own, thus creating a build-up of paupers in one area.

In Herefordshire there was a problem with extra-parochial areas. These were areas that fell outside of the parish boundaries and that no parish was responsible for. Haywood Forest in Hereford was one of these areas.

In the beginning this Act meant that anybody who arrived in a parish looking like they might need relief would be refused and made to return to their settlement parish. This law was later changed so that only those who had applied to receive relief from a parish could be sent away. This change in the law also brought about one other change - everyone who was receiving poor relief had to wear a special badge to identify themselves. In Hereford settlement was eventually extended to those who had lived and worked in a parish for more than five years.

Many places, including Hereford, had a problem with vagrants. Initially these people were housed in an old vagrants' house in the parish of St Nicholas and a constable was appointed to oversee them. By May 1838 the Board of Guardians had decided that two rooms should be built on to the workhouse for the reception of vagrants who would then be placed under the care of the workhouse master.

Ratepayers of Hereford were given tickets that they could hand out to anyone begging in the city that would allow them access to the workhouse. By December 1847, it was decided that vagrants should work in return for the relief that they received. For one day's relief it was expected that men would break stones for half a day and women for two hours. This was so that other vagrants realised that they would be expected to earn their relief and perhaps discourage them from taking it.

(For more information, see Sylvia A. Morrill, "Poor Law in Hereford 1836-1851", Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, Vol. XLI Part II, 1974, pp. 239-252)

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2003]