Some apprenticeships were organised by the overseers of the poor in a parish in order to enable a poor child to provide for himself and his family in future years. These documents may be found in the parish chest and can often give a little more information than expected.
For example, an apprentice indenture, dated 12th January 1772, found in the Down Hatherley records, relates to young William Gibbs and informs us that William was the son of the late John Gibbs who was a labourer from the hamlet of Wotton, and that his mother was Dorothy who was then married to John Finch of Wotton, also a labourer. William was being apprenticed to John Blanch who was a cordwainer in Down Hatherley.
Many years later, on 28th February 1801, William Gibbs was declaring to the overseers that George Piff of Down Hatherley had his apprenticeship indenture. No reason was given for why he did not have it himself.
A week later, William Gibbs was examined by the authorities – presumably he had become dependent on the parish for some reason. In his examination on 4th March 1801, he declared that he had been born in the hamlet of Wotton in the parish of St Mary de Lode and, about 27 years before, had been apprenticed to John Blanch of Down Hatherley, cordwainer, with whom he had served 5 years. This qualified William for settlement in Down Hatherley and therefore to support from the parish.
On 6th March 1801, the overseers of Down Hatherley were ordered to pay William Gibbs the vast sum of 3 shillings per week.
For many years I tried to find a link between my Worcestershire Gwinnetts and the Gloucestershire family without success. Then, thanks to an index to Gloucestershire Overseers of the Poor documents, I located a settlement certificate from the overseers of Painswick to their colleagues in Bewdley, stating that they did ‘own and acknowledge’ Richard Gwinnett of Painswick and his wife Ann and their issue. This meant that, should Richard fail to support himself and his family once he settled in Bewdley, Painswick parish would pay any costs incurred in supporting him and removing him to his home county. Read more about settlements and removals in my latest book.
Poor Law was administered by each parish following an Act of Parliament in 1597. It authorized the parish to levy a rate to be paid by those who could afford to so do. Collection of the rate was the duty of the Overseers, who also distributed the money to those in need, either in cash or in kind. Overseers had to keep accounts and they are very useful for finding out more about the poorer members of society.
As well as distributing money, the Overseers could organize apprenticeships for poor children and orphans, could question single mothers and order reputed fathers to pay maintenance so that the illegitimate children were not a charge on the parish, and could examine and remove people to their parish of origin who were in need of funds but who perhaps were not qualified to belong to that particular parish. So Overseers Papers include apprenticeships, bastardy bonds, settlement examinations and certificates and removal orders as well as rates for the poor and details of poor relief.