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March 2000

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Bastardy in Berkshire

Lisa Spurrier

Rates of illegitimacy were apparently rising throughout the early modern period. It has been calculated that only one birth in 144 was outside marriage in the first half of the seventeenth century, rising to one in 33 in the first half of the eighteenth1 and increas­ing rapidly from the mid 18th century,2 with as many as one birth in ten in the years 1810-1812.3 These calculations are based on entries in parish registers, and may underestimate levels of illegit­imacy, as it seems that some clergy were reluctant to baptise such children.

An example of missing bastards from parish registers can be seen in eighteenth century Aldermaston, where the complaints of curate Zacharias Whiting to the archdeacon illustrate the point. He said that the local almshouses had been "made little better than Houses of common Prostitution". The "Morals of the Parish" were sternly criticised as "In General excessively corrupt and depraved; Prostitution connived at and encouraged - Several Women being suffered to bring Bastard after Bastard, without ever being punished, and in some Instances without being called upon to swear to the Father". The obsession with "lewd Women and Prostitutes unpunished" continued with a list of what Whiting saw as the worst offenders: Elisabeth Pike, Anne and Martha Hitchcock, Mary Gunler, Elisabeth Read and Margaret Webb,

"The Morals of the Parish are in general excessively corrupt and depraved; Prostitution connived at and encouraged - Several women being suffered to bring Bastard after Bastard without ever being punished........

with the number of illegitimate children born to each woman. Mary Gunler had "3 or 4" such children, Margaret Webb just one, and the rest two each. Whiting attested also to the existence of "Others married and unmarried who are well known to live in a state of publick Lewdness". The curate complained also at the practice of Aldermaston parents of "calling upon the Minister to baptise new-born Infants, on Pretence of their being dangerously ill - and afterwards in many Cases the Parents refuse to bring them to Church, tho' called upon repeatedly to do it". Whiting concluded his long list of complaints with the statement that church repairs (perhaps because of the cost to ratepayers) and the establishment of Sunday Schools were "Two of the principal Causes of the Spite, Malevolence and Persecution which Mr Whiting experiences from his Parish of Aldermaston". The docu­ment is undated but is likely to be between 1768 and 1774.4 It is interesting to see that the majority of these women and their bas­tards do not appear in the Aldermaston parish register.5 One woman does appear in the parish overseer's records, with the sur­vival of a bastardy examination of Elizabeth Pike dated May 1769.6 Allegedly married to a seaman, "she has not seen her hus­band for three years and says that John Lampard of Aldermaston, sawyer, is the father" of her child.

Common law in England assumed that the child of a married woman was that of her husband unless there was compelling evi­dence to the contrary - as with the long separation of Elizabeth and William Pike. Technical illegitimacy, where a couple lived together without being married, or whose marriage was invalid, may not be discovered by today's researcher at all. For instance, in Burghfield we find the parish register records the baptism of Elizabeth Prince on 29 April 1750, and her brother John on 17 December 1751, apparently the legitimate children of Henry and Martha Prince.7 Only the discovery in the Archdeaconry records that Henry and Martha were later prosecuted for living together as husband and wife, although Martha was the sister of Henry's late wife Joan or Joanna (incest according to the law at that time) reveals the true story.

Parish register entries of the baptism of an illegitimate child sometimes name the alleged father, but may simply say that the child was a bastard, base born (or abbreviation BB), spurious or other term indicating illegitimacy, naming only the mother. This is often disappointing for the family historian. Some do indeed have to abandon hope of tracing the father, especially as only a minority of cases are reflected in parish records relating to bastardy.9 However, many cases are represented in these records, and they are always worth trying because of the potential value of the information they may contain. For parishes with records deposited in Berkshire Record Office, records relating specifically to bastardy will generally be found in section 15 of the parish catalogues, but other poor law records may also be helpful. The parish was concerned about bastardy, mainly because illegiti­mate children were more likely to require financial upkeep by the community. A bastard was initially chargeable to the parish of birth, whereas a legitimate child took its father's place of settlement. One early instance of the problems this could cause occurred in 1694, when an unnamed, and appar­ently abandoned, two year old girl was brought to Hungerford from Portsmouth "on the pretense or information that the father was John Rayley, a soldier in Colonel Hastings' Regiment, then quartered and legally settled". Hungerford disputed the case, and returned the child to Froxfield in Hampshire.10 From 1744 a bastard was settled in its mother's parish, leading to cases like that of seven year old Sarah Keen, born in Northmoor, Oxfordshire, and returned there alone in 1774 from her mother Martha's new home in Sutton Courtenay (a settlement acquired by her marriage to James Napper).11

Examination of Elizabeth Pike - a document

Examination of Elizabeth Pike - one of the reputed "lewd women and Prostitutes of Aldermaston" - 1769 (BRO D/P 3/15/1/5)

An Act of Parliament of 1576 allowed the Justices of the Peace to imprison the parents of an illegitimate child, and a later Act of 1610 allowed a mother to be sent to prison unless she could provide securities for her future good behaviour.12

"Henry More .... mode yt cursed use of hav[in]g ye keys of ye Church in his keeping to turn it into a bawdy house."

Cases of sexual immorality continued to be brought before the church courts. The churchwardens of each parish were required to make annual presentments of such cases to the authorities at the visitations of the deaneries by the Bishop, Archdeacon or officials of the peculiar jurisdiction, and these sometimes give details otherwise unrecorded relating to bas­tardy cases. One example of 1673 found a parish sexton, Henry More, having "made yt cursed use of hav[in]g ye keys of ye Church in his keeping to turn it into a bawdy-house. One yt charged him with a Bastard & none doubts ye Truth of it s[ai]d upon her Oath yl he got it in ye Chancell".13 Sadly the identity of the mother and child, and location of the parish is unknown. Researchers hoping to use church court records should be aware that they are often difficult to use, and as with other sources, not all cases came to court. Parish officials encouraged pregnant women to marry, as a child born more than a month after the marriage was regarded as legitimate. Where a case involved a dispute between two parishes as to which was liable, for instance if the alleged father was himself a pauper in another parish, records may also survive in the Quarter Sessions records, though this is rare before the mid eighteenth century.14

An Act of Parliament Of 1733 first required mothers needing sup­port from the parish to declare the father's name.15 The overseers would then attempt to obtain maintenance from him by way of a bond of indemnity, and on pain of arrest. For instance in 1761 Jane Dean of Bray, who had been working in Middlesex, blamed George Saunders, "late Post Boy to Mr Parker at the Swan Inn at Egham" for her pregnancy. A warrant was duly issued for his arrest, even though this meant bringing him from his new place of employment in Piccadilly, London.16 We see the stages which might ensue in the case of labourer John Lucas of Stanmore, Beedon, who had fathered the six week old child of Mary Aldridge of Chieveley in 1764. The Chieveley parish records include both the warrant to apprehend John, issued on 28 June, and the bond to indemnify the parish, which he made two days later (he could only afford a shilling a week).17 Even after the parish overseers were superseded by Poor Law Unions and Boards of Guardians, this practice continued. For instance, in November 1843 the Abingdon Board of Guardians applied for a bastardy order on William Pead of Abingdon, father of the child of Arm Moore of Culham.18 From 1844, the mother herself was entitled to apply to the court of Petty Sessions for maintenance from the father whether she was in receipt of poor relief or not.

If they were in the workhouse they might ask the Board of Guardians for assistance, as did Eliza Cam, Lucy Morgan and Caroline Garland in 1885. They appeared before Windsor Board of Guardians "and asked the Guardians to take proceedings against the putative fathers to obtain Orders of affiliation", action which was duly taken.19 An example of levels of maintenance can be seen in the order made to labourer John Wiltshire of Chilton Foliat in 1735.20 He was to pay 1 shilling and 3 pence a week to the churchwardens and overseers of Hungerford until his child by Elizabeth Baggs of Charnham Street, Hungerford, reached the age of eight, plus 40 shillings back maintenance. If the child survived to the age of eight, Wiltshire would then contribute £5 towards the cost of having the child apprenticed. Another man, George Lyon of Hungerford, a goldsmith, rather than making cash payments, arranged in 1735 for certain silver watches, rings, ivory knives and forks to be held in trust for sale, and the pro­ceeds used for the birth expenses of Esther White, about seven months pregnant with his child, and for the upkeep of the infant.21 In another Hungerford case in 1739, Richard North paid £18 to the parish authorities for his child by Elizabeth Bird; the lump sum was handed over to Elizabeth's father Jonathan, and he and her brother Joseph indemnified the parish against further charge.22 Some women refused to name the father, for instance widow Arm Jennings of Burghfield who had a child born in Shinfield in 1753; one Anthony Palmer (a relative?) entered into a bond to indemni­fy the parish in this case.23 In Wantage in 1776, miller John Taylor and grazier William Stroud agreed to pay the costs of the illegitimate child of Sarah Partridge, "to prevent Sarah from being apprehended to be examined concerning the child, and to stop all enquiry and examination as to the father".24 One can only speculate as to their connection with the unidentified father.

Other details, such as period of maintenance or amounts payable, might vary. For instance, John Davis of Hungerford, woolcomber, and John Edmonds of Marlborough, Wiltshire, gentleman, agreed privately in 1714 to jointly maintain Elizabeth, a child born to Davis's wife Naomi by Edmonds before her marriage, until the girl was 16. This story is revealed in the bond they made to parish officials.25 Another person might indemnify the parish, as when in 1716 John Clerke of Kintbury, cordwainer, indemnified Hungerford against the costs of bringing up a boy fathered by his son Jonathan.26 In Drayton in 1756, widow Elizabeth Cowley was prepared to indemnify against the costs of the lying-in (the birth) in the case of her pregnant daughter Martha, provided that she was allowed to stay at home.27 (Martha had a legal settlement in another parish, and the churchwardens had issued a removal order for her to go there). John Couldrey of Besselsleigh, labourer, meanwhile, entered into a bond to pay for his child by Arm Kimber of Drayton in 1791, but specified that it was to be void if Arm married before the baby's birth.28 In 1675 John Brakes of Warfield, yeoman, indemnified the parish on behalf of his servant Elizabeth Blunt, pregnant by her "pretended husband" William Blunt, who had deserted her.29 Former overseer of Warfield William Marlow found himself liable after he kindly (but wrongly) allowed pregnant Elizabeth Skull to live in Warfield in 1802 although she was legally settled in Heckfield in Hampshire. Facing prosecution by his successors, he agreed to indemnify the parish against the costs of the child.30 A mother might also contribute if she did not keep the child herself; for instance in 1775 Elizabeth Orchard was to pay 6d a week if she did not nurse her child, whereas the father, John Bourton, con­tributed is 6d a week.31 This was common practice.

"Elizabeth Grendall explained that her unborn child had been 'begotten' sometime last April on a couch in the hall of the dwelling house of Mr. Sylvester (her employer) ..... by his son"

Bastardy examinations may include details relating to the circum­stances leading to the pregnancy. For instance, widow Hannah Basdell of Wallingford dated the beginning of her relationship with soldier James Haddock very precisely to "3 February last [1759] in her dwelling house".32 Maidservant Elizabeth Grendall explained that her unborn child had been "begotten sometime last April on a couch in the hall of the dwelling house of Mr Sylvester [her employer] in Waltham St Lawrence, by his son Mr George Sylvester ... No other person than George Sylvester ever had car­nal knowledge of her".33 A shocking case in Wantage in 1770 saw Gilbert Cooper junior sleeping with his father's servant [the nursemaid?] Mary Wedge or Paris, in the bed she shared with Gilbert's 12 year old sister Mary and 4 year old brother Edward. Mary added that "after Gilbert Cooper left her she heard the Clock Strike One".34 Robert Shorter of Wokingham allegedly seduced Hannah Soaper of Easthampstead in June 1748 by promising marriage, six months later eventually had the banns published, but then changed his mind. Just before the banns were called for the third time, he appears to have absconded, sending word by a friend that "he would never marry her".35

One factor which should perhaps be borne in mind is that the information contained in parish bastardy records may not neces­sarily be accurate. Some allegations were disputed by the alleged fathers. One example I have come across was that of John Bayly of Streatley, who in 1715/6 enlisted the support of the vicar and churchwardens of the parish against such an allegation.36 In 1808 John Hoffman attempted to deny his obligation to maintain a ten year old child living in Shinfield on the grounds that he was not the father, although from associated accounts it looks as if his appeal was unsuccessful.37 Another incident where it is not clear

"We present the Revd John Schults Vicar of Hagbourn for keeping at his House Rachael Harris a woman of very bad character who has since she lived with him two bastards".

what really happened is the allegation made by Job Lousley and Richard Child, the churchwardens of Hagbourne, in May 1822 as follows:

"First we present the Revd John Schults Vicar of Hagbourn for keeping at his House Rachael Harris a woman of very bad charac­ter who has had since she lived with him two bastards, the Father of which bastards (or one of them at least) we have great reason to believe is the said John Schults; and we beg leave to represent that the said John Schults do even unto this day persist in keeping the said vile woman notwithstanding he is well aware of the scandalous stories in circulation respecting the same."38

Schultes (as he himself wrote his name) did not long survive the complaint, as he was buried in Hagbourne on 26 January 1823, aged 63.39 The parish registers reveal the names of Rachel Harris's two children. The younger, Henry, was born on 27 March 1820 and allegedly baptised privately by Schultes on 17 April. He did not however enter the details in the register. The older child was significantly baptised by the Christian names of Penelope Schultes on 18 April 1819 (though the evidence of her age at death suggests that she was actually born in about 1815). She was also the only child in Hagbourne at that time not to be baptised by Schultes, but by the Revd John Jones.

On 29 April 1823, barely three months after Schultes' death, Rachel Harris married Joseph May, a schoolmaster also living in Hagbourne. Shortly afterwards, the Revd H L Majendie, curate of Didcot, who had married them, evidently made enquiries about young Henry and made a retrospective entry in the baptism regis­ter based on Rachel's testimony. Sadly the child died in April 1825, a month after his fifth birthday. In 1827 Rachel's son by her new husband was baptised Henry Howgate, perhaps partly in memory of his late half-brother.40 The couple seem then to have moved away, perhaps to London, as Penelope Schultes Harris, the elder of the two disputed children, was buried in Hagbourne in January. 1830, aged 14, and then resident in London.41

Schultes had been vicar of Hagbourne since 1791, and patron of the living probably since 1805, succeeding his father, known as John Scoolt, in both capacities. He may have been married when Penelope was born - a Mrs Joann Schultes, aged 58, was buried in Hagbourne on 5 January 1820, but there is no definite evidence that she was his wife. Rachel Harris was probably born in Milton in 1792, the youngest of a sizeable family mostly given Biblical names. The evidence that Schultes was the father of Rachel's chil­dren is not absolutely conclusive; one might suggest that he was merely a benefactor, and that the churchwardens had some grudge against him.

This article owes much to the ongoing project of the Berkshire Record Society and the Berkshire Family History Society to pro­duce a calendar of surviving overseers' records for the county, the first volume of which has been published, covering thirteen parishes in the Kennet Valley.42 Records for the majority of the county - in fact for every parish with surviving records with the exception of the Reading parishes - are available in the Record Office searchroom in the form of the "Overseers' Project" type­scripts. Helpful overviews of the types of record thus created may be found both in Peter Durrant's introduction to the completed Record Society edition, and in the paper on bastardy and appren­ticeship records forming part of the Historical Association's series of "Short Guides"43. One word of warning: although many indi­vidual cases have been recorded, bastardy records, which tend to consist of loose slips of paper, have in many cases failed to sur­vive. Even in parishes with large numbers of surviving documents, the particular details of the person you are researching may remain a mystery.

1 Charles Cox, The Parish Registers of England (London 1910) p72
2 K M Thompson, Apprenticeship and Bastardy Records (Historical Association Short Guides to records no. 29)
3 Cox, op cit
4 BRO D/A2 b5A f27
5 BRO D/P 3/1/2
6 BRO D/P 3/15/1/5; calendared in Peter Durrant (ed), Berkshire Overseers Papers 1654-1834 (Berkshire Record Society) volume 3 (1997) (hereafter referred to as Durrant (1997)) p16
7 BRO D/P29/1/3
8 BRO D/A2 d2 ff35-36
9 W E Tate, The Parish Chest (3rd ed. Cambridge 1969) p219
10 BRO D/P 71/13/4/1; calendared in T/B 58
11 BRO D/P 128/13/2/28; calendared in T/B 69
12 Tate, p216
13 BRO D/A2 c174 ffl80-181
14 Tate, p217
15 Tate, p217
16 BRO D/P 23/15/1/16-17; calendered in T/B44
17 BRO D/P 34/15/2/1 and D/P34/15/5/5; calendered in Durrant (1997) p123
18 BRO G/A1/3
19 BRO G/WI 1/7
20 BRO D/P 71/13/7/8; calendared in T/B 68
21 BRO D/P 71/15/1/21; calendared in T/B 68
22 BRO D/P 71/15/1/24; calendared in T/B 68
23 BRO D/P 110/15/1/9; calendared in T/B 50
24 BRO D/P 143/15/3/41; calendared in T/B 51
25 BRO D/P 71/15/1/3; calendared in T/B 68
26 BRO D/P 71/15/1/6; calendared in T/B 68
27 BRO D/P 48/15/2/2; calendared in T/B 69
28 BRO D/P 48/15/2/3; calendared in T/B 69
29 BRO D/P 144/15/3/7; calendared in T/B 52
30 BRO D/P 144/15/3/32; calendared in T/B 52
31 BRO D/P 71/15/3/7; calendared in T/B 68
32 BRO D/P 138/15/1; calendared in T/B 54
33 BRO D/P 73/15/2/3; calendared in T/B 64
34 BRO D/P 143/15/1/33; calendared in T/B 51
35 BRO D/P 49//15/2/4; calendared in T/B52
36 BRO D/P A2 b5A f358
37 BRO D/P 110/15/5/1-2; calendared in T/B 50
38 BRO D/A2 c118
39 BRO D/P 60/1/5
40 BRO D/P 60/1/6
41 BRO D/P 60/1/5
42 Durrant (1997), OP cit
43 Thompson, op cit


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