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Continued research (one of the advantages of lockdown!) into the local textile industry in the Medieval and post Medieval periods has led to a scanned  copy, on line, of Wiltshire Records Society Vol XXXI with a wonderful transcription by Paul Slack of documents to do with ‘Poverty in Early Stuart Salisbury’.

We learn that, according to the vagrancy statute of 1598 “rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars over the age of 7, found ‘begging, vagrant, wandering, or misordering themselves’, were to be whipped by the order of any justice of the peace or constable and immediately sent back to their parish of birth, or, if that could not be discovered, to the place where they last lived for a year or more.” A statute of 1604 allowed branding of such people but most local authorities were reluctant to do this.

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A vagrant being whipped

Although the punishment of beggars and vagrants may come as a shock to our enlightened views, the whole system was intended to be transparent and fair, with such characters generally treated in some kind of an appropriate way. In Salisbury in 1600 £187 was raised to give relief, distributed at Easter. In 1602 a workhouse for 12 people (on a short term basis) was built in St Thomas’ churchyard but it quickly became inadequate.

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Salisbury then tried to work out a system of poor relief which it could afford (there was no central government support), and which offered some kind of opportunity to youngsters, as well as support for the sick and elderly. At the forefront of these efforts, particularly after the plague year of 1628, was sometime mayor of the city, John Ivie.

As Paul Slack says of the efforts of Ivie and the the local authority, “It is the aspiration rather than the final achievement which commands respect.”

Ivie, together with colleagues Matthew Bee and Henry Sherfield raised money from donations, church and ale-house collections, and fines for swearing, in order to build a re-modelled workhouse and to set up a store house (not unlike a modern food bank) where people could buy food and other essentials at cost price (using tokens to avoid misuse of distributed funds). They also set up a municipal brewery (in Milford Street) to create work. Meanwhile, local employers were canvassed to see who could offer apprenticeships to children. It was doomed to fail, unfortunately, perhaps too early for its time. Corruption, abuse of the system, a boycott of the brewery organised by other brewers and general hard times meant the system could not deal with the numbers involved.

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A 17th C token from Salisbury

‘Strangers’ continued to be returned to their place of origin and Salisbury’s Register of these for the years 1598 – 1669 still survive. Thanks to the work of Paul Slack and the Wiltshire Records Society, we can see these for ourselves.

Here are a handful of the entries here, with more to come next week. The very first entry is:

20 April 1598 1. A passport is made unto Margery Lane, the daughter of William Lane of Humington in the county of Wilts., who was taken within this city as a vagrant person and hath had and received punishment of whipping according to the statute made in the last parliament in that behalf, by which passport she is appointed to go and travel to Homington aforesaid where she was born, there to be employed in work or otherwise as in the same statute is provided, and two days is assigned for her passage &c.

In each case the vagrant was given a fixed period of time to make the journey. It appears to have been, in most cases at least, the time it would take to walk there. Homington is out by Combe Bissett.

For some it was a long way indeed:

John Hall, a vagrant and idle person, a rogue and sturdy beggar, was punished. Passport to Corcke in Ireland where he was born; 20 days assigned.

Quite a few of the vagrants recorded were women:

Magdalen Lewes with her child, Parnell, aged 4 years, helping Margaret Evans, a sick woman, from King’s Somborne, Hants, to this city. Passport to Romesey, Hants, where she was born; 2 days assigned.

What distressing ‘backstories’ so many of these people must have had.