M*CH*MORE One Name Study

English Country Life Before the Middle of the 19th Century

(with some sample documents)

by

Bob Muchamore


The medieval English parish tended to be self-sufficient for food and skills. Because of poor roads, transport was generally by foot or horse, using packhorses for freight. Any wheeled carts and carriages were generally slow and expensive to use. So the village tended to survive on subsistence farming, strip farming open fields (inefficient) with access to use of common land for grazing, gathering timber fuel, catching rabbits to supplement the food etc. Difficulty in distribution localised some crops (e.g. fish).

The tendency was for the community to look after its own; shared tools (ploughs) and animals (bull, ram and boar), and mutual aid in time of misfortune - if for no other reason than not knowing when one might need help oneself.

The parish was a unit of government with Churchwardens, and Overseers for lay matters, self-funding from such means as they had. Rates were levied (as now) according to the ability to contribute, and were used for roads, bridges, waterways, church maintenance, local law enforcement and for the poor and needy.

The sick were tended by village women, and either recovered quickly or died quickly!

Widows were encouraged to support themselves, possibly by spinning or laundering. Those with children could receive allowances but were encouraged to remarry (and so not be a parish liability) or to take in orphans or aged persons for whom an allowance could be paid.

Orphans and widow's children (like most children) were expected to help by working (eg at 7 years, by watching livestock or similar tasks). At 14 years they could be apprenticed at parish expense (until 24 as opposed to the normal 21) even if only for "husbandry" or domestic service.

The aged had to work as long as possible, and only when they could work no more would an allowance be paid or housing made available and, finally, maybe a parish burial (which was definitely not necessarily a pauper's burial!)

Able bodied persons in misfortune could be given a parish task to offset the dole (road or bridge maintenance), or craftsmen might be given a loan to replace equipment lost by fire. Rent might be paid for an unemployed male, or perhaps the family would be moved into a parish house until circumstances improved (many houses were tied to employment).

The Overseers controlled revenue assessments and payments, keeping parish records and accounts and generally being sympathetic because they were ratepayers directly involved with the parish. Knowing their fellow-men well, they could fairly assess need or detect exploitation. Many of these records survive.

Every person had, in theory, a place of "settlement" - i.e. a parish which could not deny them assistance, normally the parish of birth to a settled father. If he moved to another parish a man could gain settlement according to certain rules - but if things went wrong then the family could have problems. The rules were constructed to protect the parish from vagabonds and trouble makers and were quite strictly enforced.

By about 1700 the laws had tightened such that settlement was harder to secure, e.g. 40 days notice. A married man (especially with children) was generally only allowed into a new parish if he carried a Certificate from his old parish accepting liability for him, including costs of his return home if necessary. Hence the old parish often restricted the distance they would cover a certificate man.

A wife adopted her husband's settlement - thus even a local girl who married a non-settled person could (in the event of his early death, or misfortune) be evicted from the parish with her children and might face a long and difficult journey to her husband's original parish, where they would not be very welcome as arrivals "on the parish".

Bastards were deemed to belong in the parish of birth - so a local girl could be better off by not marrying a non-settled man. She could not be evicted with him, or on his death. "Non-settled" girls would be given marching orders as soon as any suspicions were roused.

When enclosure of land became more general, village life became more difficult. Fewer people controlled more land, common land vanished and with it the perks of grazing, firewood and rabbits etc, as well as the chance to keep large animals (pigs or cows). Even slight mechanisation of agriculture meant better yields with fewer labourers. Fenced land allowed selective breeding of better stock. Bad harvests would also affect the numbers of needy.

In the 1790's there was a war on, and as a result prices were rising, making life more difficult for the unemployed. In 1795 a group of philanthropic magistrates met at Speenhamland (Berkshire) and defined a minimum rate of relief for the needy. In practice this soon became the maximum given, and even that was reduced!

Most parishes opted for a "roundsman" system whereby the unemployed had to go round local farmers and tradesmen till they found work. The Ratepayers were required to employ them - imagine a small family farm, the taking on such labour often drove them broke too!

Not unnaturally the unemployed flocked to the towns in hope of better conditions, but merely transferred the problem from the countryside. The French Revolution (1789-1795) scared local land and factory owners lest a similar event occurred in England; consequently the punishment for crime (real or imaginary) became more severe and more strictly enforced.

Towns rarely subscribed to the idea of issued relief. Much easier to pack the poor into a Workhouse and make them suffer unpleasant conditions to ensure that most people avoided being such charges to the ratepayers. Because of the complete loss of dignity the town Workhouse became the ultimate shame for the poor.

In 1834 villages were required to group into "Unions" for assistance of the poor. The "Union House", serving a group of parishes, was controlled by a Board of Guardians, hardly familiar with the poor they were supposed to help, and more concerned with the cost to the rates, and what chance would they have of needing assistance anyway!

To some extent the system became self-perpetuating. On the old system of "out-relief" the poor received help and had some chance of getting back on their own feet again. In the workhouse they had nothing, they worked for a pittance in the workhouse and thus had little chance of finding decent work and re-establishment in the community.

Although the settlement system was fading, there were naturally many whose families had suffered as a result of being deported to another parish and this is a major reason why the 1841 census only asked "Born in this county, yes/no" and why there are quite a few incorrect answers in the 1851 census about a person's place of birth - just in case settlement might again be enforced.

Throughout all this, strangers and travellers were always suspect, especially if not fully healthy. Rogues, vagabonds and parasitic beggars have always been with us. The tinker and travelling salesman were tolerated as providing useful services and (like many gipsies) established a territory in which they became known and therefore were accepted (to a degree).

Being described as a pauper was not necessarily related to needs or the ability to write. Certain unpopular taxes were levied at times (eg 1783 Birth & Death registrations) which could be excused if the person were described as a pauper. Since many of the clergy objected to being tax-collectors they were often happy to define people as paupers.

We have already said that bastards were a liability on the parish of birth. It was therefore very much in the parish interest to ensure that such children were adequately provided for.

The fact that a woman delivered a bastard child was not particularly a moral issue in many cases:- Often conception preceded the marriage anyway, or again (subject to settlement rules) a de-facto relationship could be quite stable and therefore not really a risk to the parish.

The child of a married woman was always assumed to be the husband's - unless he could prove that he could not possibly be the father (perhaps away from the district for a long while). Genetics were not understood very well, so even if one child looked very different to the others a man was unlikely to admit that his wife had found solace elsewhere.

The child of a rich man's mistress would generally be well provided for (often much better than the woman could have achieved in marriage), whereas a child of incest seldom survived long after birth!

The main risks to the parish were mainly errors from a casual affaire, a poor man's mistress, or a promiscuous person!

To protect the parish, a non-settled woman would be sent away (to her own parish) long before her confinement. If the woman belonged then she would be formally "examined" by the parish Overseers and was required to name the father (even if the parish already had a good idea who was probably responsible).

The named male would be sent for. If he denied paternity he might eventually finish up at the Assizes where he would need very good witnesses to prove that it could not possibly be his child. Generally, if he had had the opportunity, then he was the deemed father!

He could have arranged provisions with the woman and child before the Overseers got hold of his name, or he could still do so at this stage if his intentions were half-honourable. If he didn't want to be so directly involved the he could agree to pay the parish 40 Pounds (being 2 Pounds for the lying-in, and one shilling per week until the child reached 14 years) and be rid of his problem! Or he could sign a Bastardy Bond, which would probably result after trial at the Assizes anyway, which undertook that he or his guarantor (who might be family or friend) would in future pay the lying-in costs and all future maintenance for the child as necessary. If the child died young, which was quite likely from disease, then he could save much of the alternative 40 Pounds lump sum.

Or he could enlist in the Army or the Navy, and be immune from the Overseers' prosecutions!

It should be realised as quite simple for a girl in a steady relationship to arrange circumstances and then to name the squire's son. Suitable settlement would be paid for the son's indiscretions and could establish the girl and her "true love" quite comfortably. Sometimes where it really had been the squire's son, the bastard child would be adopted into their family as a 'nephew', or maybe endowed for an apprenticeship, or set up with a shop.

Often a bastard child was raised by grand-parents or an aunt, and generally treated and announced as their own child.

So it will be seen that, in many cases, it has become impossible for us to be really sure whose child is whose.

But does this really matter to us, when most often we are chasing a family history and therefore are following the events of family units - who do not necessarily share genes. It is their fortunes, misfortunes and attitudes that have contributed to our own outlooks and ways of life.



A Case History ?

We may not be sure of her parents, or of what happened to them, but young Mary MUCHAMORE found herself in the care of the parish of South Milton. She would probably have been about eight years old when the Overseers made arrangement for her Apprenticeship. A pre-printed form was used; bold italics below show the handwritten additions.

This Indenture,

made the Eleventh Day of August in the Thirty second Year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the third by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, and so forth; in the Year of our Lord One thousand seven Hundred and Ninety Two
Witnesseth That John Pearse ---- Church-Warden of the Parish of South Milton in the County of Devon And William Lidstone ---- Overseer of the Poor of the said Parish, by and with the consent of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the said County --- whose Names are hereunto subscribed, have put and placed, and by these Presents do put and place Mary Muchamore --- a poor Child of the said Parish, Apprentice to William Ball of South Milton aforesaid Yeoman --- with him to dwell and serve from the Day of the Date of these Presents, until the said Apprentice shall accomplish her full Age of Twenty one Years or be married which shall first happen ---- according to the Statute in that Case made and provided.
During all which Term the said Apprentice her said Master faithfully shall serve in all lawful Business, according to her Power, Wit, and Ability; and honestly, orderly, and obediently, in all things demean and behave her self towards her said Master and all his during the said term.
And the said William Ball ---- for him self, his Executors, and Administrators, doth Covenant and Grant, to and with the said Church-Warden and Overseer, and every of them, their and every of their Executors and Administrators, and their and every of their Successors, for the time being, by these Presents, That the said William Ball ---- the said Apprentice in Husbandry shall and will teach and instruct or cause to be taught and instructed ---- And shall and will during all the Term aforesaid, find, provide, and allow, unto the said Apprentice, meet, competent, and sufficient Meat, Drink, and Apparel, Lodging, Washing, and all other Things, necessary and fit for an Apprentice. And also shall and will to provide for the said Apprentice, that she be not any way a Charge to the said Parish, or Parishioners of the same; but of and from all Charge shall and will save the said Parish and Parishioners harmless and indemnified during the said Term, In witness whereof, the parties abovesaid to these present Indentures, interchangeably have put their Hands and Seals, the Day and Year above-written.

  • William Ball
  • Sealed and deliver'd in the Presence of John Sayer

    We whose Names are subscribed, Justices of the Peace for the County ---- aforesaid, (one being of the Quorum) do consent to the putting forth of the abovesaid Mary Muchamore ---- Apprentice, according to the intent and Meaning of the above Indenture.

  • Will Chohoich
  • A Hawkins


  • Sixteen years later, possibly the same Mary, unmarried, finds herself pregnant. The parish, aware of the liability against them, arranges to interview Mary and records...

    The voluntary Examination

    of Mary Muchamore ---- of South Milton ---- in the said County single woman, taken on oath before me Peter Ilbert Esqr --- one of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace in and for the said County --- the fifth ---- Day of July ---- in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eight ----, Who saith, that she is now with Child, and that the said Child is likely to be born a Bastard, and to be chargeable to the said Parish of South Milton ---- and that Thomas Polyblank Junr of South Milton ---- in the said County Yeoman is the Father of the said Child.

    The Mark of Mary X Muchamore
    Taken and signed the Day and Year above-written before me ---- Peter Ilbert



    A son was born on July 28th. Mary was still unmarried, whereon the parish took further steps...

    An Order in Bastardy

    The Order of Robert Hurrell Froude Clerk and Peter Ilbert Esqr ---- two of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace in and for the said County, one whereof is of the Quorum and both residing next unto the Limits of the Parish Church within the Parish of South Milton in the said County, made the Sixteenth Day of September in the Forty Eight year of the Reign of his said Majesty King George the third ---- concerning a male Bastard Child, lately born in the Parish of South Milton aforesaid, of the body of Mary Muchamore single woman.

    Whereas it hath appeared unto us the said Justices, as well upon the Complaint of the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the said Parish of South Milton ---- as upon the Oath of the said Mary Muchamore ---- that she the said Mary Muchamore ---- on the Twenty Eighth Day of July ---- now last past, was delivered of a male ---- Bastard Child at the Poor House ---- in the said Parish of South Milton ---- in the said County, and that the said Bastard Child is chargeable to the said Parish of South Milton and further that Thomas Polyblank ---- of the Parish of South Milton in the said County, did beget the said Bastard Child on the body of her the said Mary Muchamore----

    And whereas the said Thomas Polyblank doth not appear before us, and hath not shewed any sufficient cause why he should not be deemed the reputed Father of the said Bastard Child. We therefore, upon Examination of the Cause and Circumstances of the premises, as well as upon the Oath of the said Mary Muchamore ---- as otherwise, do hereby adjudge him the said Thomas Polyblank ---- to be the reputed Father of the said Bastard Child.

    And thereupon we do order, as well for the better Relief of the said Parish of South Milton ---- as for the Sustentation and Relief of the said Bastard Child, that the said Thomas Polyblank ---- shall and do forthwith, upon Notice of this Order, pay, or cause to be paid, to the said Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the said Parish of South Milton ---- or to some or one of them, the Sum of Twelve Shillings ---- for and towards the Lying-in of the said Mary Muchamore ---- and the Maintenance of the said Bastard Child, to the Time of making this our Order.

    And we do also hereby further Order, that the said Thomas Polyblank shall likewise pay, or cause to be paid, to the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the said Parish of South Milton for the Time being, or to some or one of them, the Sum of Eighteen Pence ---- weekly and every Week from the present Time, for and towards the Keeping, Sustentation, and Maintenance of the said Bastard Child, for and during so long as the said Bastard Child shall be chargeable to the said Parish of South Milton ----

    And we do further Order, that the said Mary Muchamore shall also pay, or cause to be paid, to the said Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the said Parish of South Milton for the Time being, or to some or one of them, the Sum of Six Pence ---- weekly and every Week, so long as the said Bastard Child shall be chargeable to the said Parish of South Milton in case she shall not Nurse and take Care of the said Child herself.

    Given under our Hands and Seals, the Day and Year first above-written.

  • R H Froude
  • Peter Ilbert


    While it has not yet been proved what happened to Mary, it would appear that her child survived. But he was still a liability to the parish, and was also apprenticed (the pre-printed form being similar to that earlier used for his mother).

    This Indenture

    made the Seventh Day of December in the Sixtieth year of the reign of our sovereign lord George the third ... One Thousand Eight Hundred and Nineteen Witnesseth, that in pursuance and in execution of an order under the hands of Abraham Hawkins Esqr and Peter Ilbert Esqr two of his Majesty's justices of the peace, acting in and for the hundred of Stanborough within the county of Devon, bearing date the Seventh day of December instant, (testified by their allowance hereof:) Roger Crimp churchwarden of the parish of West Alington within the said hundred, and William Murch and George Crimp ---- overseers of the poor of the said parish of South Milton have put and placed, and by these presents do put and place Thomas Muchamore aged Eleven years, and upwards, a poor child of the said parish, apprentice to William Ball Junr of South Milton in the said county, with him to dwell and serve, from the date of these presents, until the said apprentice shall accomplish his full age of twenty one years according to the statute in that case and provided, During all which term the said apprentice his master faithfully shall serve ...
    ... the said William Ball the said Apprentice in Husbandry ---- shall and will teach and instruct ... etc

  • William Ball Junr
  • Sealed and delivered in the presence of George King Chappell
  • Justices of the peace: A Hawkins and Peter Ilbert


    It is of interest to compare the wording on a pre-printed form in use in the parish of Halwell in 1824 - especially the restrictions upon the apprentice!

    This Indenture Witnesseth that William Kelland Michelmore of the Parish of Halwell Devon now of the age of fourteen years and upwards, as well as of his own free will as with the consent and approbation of Thomas Laskey and Anthony Goodridge Churchwardens and John Mumford and John Lyndon Overseers of the Poor of the end Parish of Halwell doth put himself Apprentice to William Michelmore of Boreston in the said Parish of Halwell, yeoman to learn his Art and with him (after the manner of an Apprentice) to serve from the Date hereof until he shall attain the age of twenty one Years from thence next following to be fully compleat and ended
    DURING which Term the said Apprentice his Master faithfully shall serve his secrets keep his lawful commands everywhere gladly to do he shall do no damage to his said Master nor see to be done of others but to his Power shall let or forthwith give Warning to his said Master of the same, he shall not waste the goods of his said Master nor lend them unlawfully to any he shall not commit Fornication nor contract Matrimony within the said term he shall not play at Cards Dice Tables or any other unlawful Games whereby his said Master may have any loss With his own Goods or others during the said term without Licence of his said Master he shall neither buy nor sell, he shall not haunt Taverns or Playhouses nor absent himself from his said Master service Day or Night unlawfully But in all things as a faithful Apprentice he shall behave himself towards his said Master and all his during the said term AND the said William Michelmore his said Apprentice in the Art of husbandry which he useth by the best Means that he can shall teach and instruct or cause to be taught and instructed finding unto the said Apprentice sufficient Meat Drink washing apparel Lodging and all other Necessaries during the said term
    ... etc

    Despite all of which, William went to sea as an Apprentice about three years later!


    On 27th June 1830, in the parish of South Pool, Thomas MITCHMOOR married Elizabeth PUTT. In an unfortunate start to their married life Thomas must have become unemployed ("chargeable to the parish"), for we find another pre-printed form...

    Order of Removal

    To the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the parish of South Pool in the said county of Devon, and to the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the parish of South Milton in the county of Devon and to each and every of them

    Upon the complaint of the churchwardens and overseers of the poor of the parish of South Pool aforesaid, in the said county of Devon, unto us whose names are hereto set and seals affixed, being two of his majesty's justices of the peace in and for the said county of Devon and one of us of the quorum, that
    Thomas Mitchelmore and Elizabeth his Wife ---- have come to inhabit in the said parish of South Pool ---- not having gained a legal settlement there, and that the said Thomas Mitchelmore and Elizabeth his Wife ---- is actually chargeable to the said parish of South Pool

    We the said justices upon due proof made thereof, as well as upon the examination of the said Thomas Mitchelmore upon oath, as otherwise, and likewise upon due consideration had of the premises, do adjudge the same to be true; and we do likewise adjudge that the lawful settlement of these the said Thomas Mitchelmore and Elizabeth his Wife ---- is in the said parish of South Milton ---- in the said county of Devon ---- we do therefore require you the churchwardens and overseers of the poor of the said parish of South Pool ---- or some or one of you, to convey the said Thomas Mitchelmore and Elizabeth his Wife ---- from and out of the said parish of South Pool ---- to the said parish of South Milton ---- and thence to to deliver to the churchwardens and overseers of the poor there, or to some or one of them, together with this our order, or a true copy thereof, at the same time shewing to them the original; and we do also hereby require you the said churchwardens and overseers of the poor of the said parish of South Milton to receive and provide for them as inhabitants of your parish.

    Given under our hands and seals, the Eighteenth day of December ---- in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and Thirty.

  • S Wells
  • W I Clark