The Berkshire Overseers Project

These records were put into a calendar recording all significant details from surviving documents of the administration of the Poor Laws in Berkshire from 1601-1834. These are now deposited with Berkshire Record Office, in Reading.

Brian Hunt, of Berkshire Family History Society led this project, with significant help from the record office. The work took 12 years to complete and was first published on microfiche in 26 volumes. Details of the volumes and the parishes included in each volume appear below.

Fiche have been superseded by a CD publication. This contains all 26 volumes and is readily searchable in PDF format. The CD is available from www.berksfhs.org.uk/shop/

A sample from the CD (for the Abingdon area) can be seen in the Members' Area of this website.

CD publication also removes any need for the abbreviations that were necessarily included in the fiche series. About half of the volumes are still available in fiche form.

Introduction

The poor in England and Wales lived under the shadow of the Settlement Laws from the middle of the 17th century, until the end of the Old Poor Law in 1834. Administration of these settlement laws through the Justices of the Peace, churchwardens and overseers of each parish generated many documents, substantial numbers of which survive today. The main records for the study of the Old Poor Law are the Overseers’ accounts of receipts and disbursements. They include many references to monies disbursed in the administration of the laws of settlement but are not the only details available.

Of great importance to local, economic, social and family historians are the many settlement orders, examinations and certificates, not least because of the surprisingly detailed information they can give about individual cases and family members. Around 6,000 of these have survived in Berkshire.

Besides application of the laws of settlement, justices and parish officers also dealt with many other matters under the various Poor Acts, creating apprenticeship indentures, bastardy allegations, examination records, bonds and militia documents. Some 4,000 of these kinds of document survive in Berkshire.

These 10,000 or so documents can be found in the deposited parish collections at Berkshire Record Office and are listed in the parish catalogue, sections 13 to 18.

Survival rates of these records vary markedly across the county. Some parishes have no original records of this type at all. Others have several hundreds — two have over one thousand. However, the fact that few if any original documents survive for a particular place does not necessarily mean that it is unrepresented in overall record holdings.

For example, exchange of copies of settlement certificates between the parishes concerned, and the surprisingly detailed accounts of an individual's life history (frequently recorded in examinations for settlement) mean that many other linked place names appear in the records of a single parish. In addition, copies or abstracts of documents were sometimes entered in registers or transcribed into minute or account books.

The Overseers Project

An Overseers Project began in 1975, just after the formation of Berkshire Family History Society. It was revived in 1991 as a joint record office/society venture. It was decided to present the work in the form of a calendar or abbreviated document transcript, with comprehensive indexes. Given the size of the task, the completed calendar was issued in a number of volumes arranged by post-1834 Berkshire Poor Law Union.

Calendar Contents

Many Overseers' documents consist of handwritten entries on printed forms, these being subject to minor variations in form over time, and from county to county. Examples of the most commonly used forms can be found at the end of the introduction on the CD (and fiche). They appear in the order in which they usually occur in parish collections.

Transcripts are considerably abbreviated, whilst retaining all relevant details from the original. Researchers are encouraged to consult original documents if able to do so.

In preparing the calendar, these basic rules apply:

  • Names: The same names can appear several times in the same document. Variations in spelling occurring in the same document are included and, where present, full forenames of individuals have been entered, regardless of how the person signed. Where a surname in a signature differs from that in the text, the fact is noted. Any relevant endorsements on the reverse of documents, in margins, or on envelopes are noted where these introduce other name variants.
  • Place names: Document spellings are retained in all cases (but see the note about the place name index in “The Indexes” below).
  • Notes: These are additions or observations made by the transcriber and do not appear on the original documents. They often refer to nearby contemporary documents, but should not be taken as being fully comprehensive.

Apart from cases where there is only one document under a Berkshire Record Office reference, or where the document is a duplicate, each calendar entry has two numbers attached to it. The left-hand number is cumulative throughout each volume, and is the number that is referred to in the indexes. The right-hand number is the “piece number” in the record office holdings, which together with the DIP… etc at the start of each section, gives a unique reference to the individual document. Four of these numbers can be seen at the base of the example documents, which are on the fiche.

The Indexes

Calendar entries are indexed for personal names, place names and occupations. Numbers in the indexes refer to the first or left-hand entry against each document transcript in the calendar.

In the name index, for simplicity, multiple entries of the same name in a single document warrant only one entry in the name index. For example … “John SMITH and Sarah his wife, with their children John and Sarah”… will be indexed once under SMITH, John and once under SMITH, Sarah.

Volumes of the Overseers' Papers

Vol 1 NEWBURY UNION - Chieveley
Vol 2 NEWBURY UNION - Brimpton, Enborne, Wasing & Woolhampton
Vol 3 NEWBURY UNION - Thatcham
Vol 4 BRADFIELD UNION - Aldermaston, Englefield & Pangbourne
Vol 5 BRADFIELD UNION Bucklebury, Burghfield, Stanford Dingley, Sulham, Sulhamstead Abbots, Sulhamstead Bannister & Theale
Vol 6 BRADFIELD UNION - Tilehurst & Padworth
Vol 7 MAIDENHEAD UNION - Bray, Cookham & Waltham St. Lawrence
Vol 8 FARINGDON UNION - Ashbury, Coleshill, Gt.Coxwell, Kingston Lisle, Longworth, Shellingford, Stanford in the Vale, Uffington
Vol 9 WALLINGFORD UNION - Brightwell, Crowmarsh, Gifford, Newnham Murren, Wallingford St Mary & Wallingford St Peter, Long Wittenham
Vol 10 EASTHAMPSTEAD UNION - Easthampstead, Warfield & Winkfield
Vol 11 WOKINGHAM UNION (part) - Shinfield, Sonning, Swallowfield & Wokingham
Vol 12 WOKINGHAM and WINDSOR UNIONS - Finchampstead, Hurst, Sunninghill and Old Windsor
Vol 13 WANTAGE UNION - Blewbury, Brightwell, Hampstead Norris, West Hanney, Harwell, West Hendred, Peasmore, Sparsholt and part of Wantage
Vol 14 WANTAGE UNION - most of Wantage parish
Vol 15 ABINGDON UNION - Abingdon, Cumnor, Drayton, Kingston Bagpuize and Sutton Courtenay
Vol 16-19 READING UNION - Reading St Giles
Vol 20 READING UNION - Reading St Mary (part)
Vol 21 READING UNION - Reading St Mary & St Laurence
Vol 22 READING UNION - Caversham
Vol 23 HUNGERFORD UNION - Kintbury parish and part of Hungerford
Vol 24 HUNGERFORD UNION - Part of Hungerford
Vol 25 HUNGERFORD UNION - Remainder of Hungerford
Vol 26 NEWBURY UNION - Newbury (Settlement Examinations)

page last reviewed 24th May 2017

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