Victorian lives in North Mymms
by Peter Kingsford
As the Crimean War was drawing to its close in January 1856, at a cost of 25,000 lives and 70 million British pounds, two magistrates in Hertford, G W Brassey and Abel Smith junior, ordered John Dymock of North Mymms to be "removed and conveyed’ away to the parish of Ridge. Dymock, a 56-year-old agricultural labourer, had been living with relatives at Water End.
The order may seem curious today when men can be prevented from travelling from one county to another. That Victorian removal was, however, quite lawful, even if today’s practice may be dubious. It was ordered under the Settlement Law of 1662 as amended in 1846. This law was only for the poor. A person had a right to relief from his parish if he had a settlement in it. Originally he could have a settlement only if he or his forbears had been born in the parish but by John Dymock’s time a settlement depended on five year’s residence. If that was not the case the man, woman or child receiving poor relief would be carted off to wherever he or she had a settlement. Relief could be medical and this was so in Dymock’s case but the responsibility for paying it depended on whether the disability was temporary or permanent.
The justices’ order to the churchwardens and overseers of the poor in North Mymms on the elaborate legal document – "Whereas Complaint hath been made to us" etc - stated Dymock had no legal settlement in North Mymms, not having lived there five years, but was receiving relief and therefore must be removed to Ridge where he had one. Ridge appealed in Quarter Sessions against the removal order on the grounds that Dymock was only temporarily, not permanently sick. Then began a legal battle with solicitors and counsel briefed on either side.
North Mymm’s solicitor became busy preparing the defence against Ridge, and his charges mounted up. First he had to confer with William Goulburn, the assistant overseer of the poor. Goulburn had been the schoolmaster for many years and knew all about parish affairs. Next he visited R W Gaussen JP and churchwarden for his instructions, these two items being charged for at 13s 4d. The opinion of the medical officer Dr Drage concernng Dymock’s illness had to be sought - 5s 6d.
At this point the North Mymms solicitor, realising the weakness of his case, asked Ridge to withdraw its appeal. When Ridge refused he proposed that North Mymms should "abandon" the Order. This meant further conference with William Goulburn so that he could put it to the Vestry but the Vestry persisted in its case. There was nothing else for it but to brief counsel (£4 9s 6d.) and to issue subpoenas to Mr Kite the workhouse master, Dr Drage and the relieving officer Myoneth. Finally he wrote to the other North Mymms churchwarden Samuel Blakey, farmer of 400 acres at Potterells, requesting his attendance at Court. Blakey was to bring with him "the Pauper" i.e. Dymock who incidentally was now in service, not in North Mymms nor in Ridge but in South Mimms.
The scene was now set for the Hertfordshire Quarter Sessions of Easter 1856. The result? Ridge failed to enter its appeal in Court and consequently it was ordered to pay North Mymms’s costs. Some one had slipped up. Ridge had to pay £32 3s 10d. As for John Dymock, his illness had ceased before the original Order was signed, sealed and delivered, and he had left North Myrnms, not to return. He was fortunate.
William Goulburn had a number of other cases to deal with in the l850s and 1860s. It was always a question whether a pauper living in another Parish which wanted to remove him or her to North Mymms, had a settlement in North Mymms by birth or residence. If the answer was yes North Mymms had to receive the pauper. Goulburm’s enquiries about settlement, sometimes made through solicitor Longmore, were directed towards preventing any additional burden on the parish rates.
The cases were often straightforward but they could be so involved as to necessitate legal opinion. A pauper could, under the Settlement Act of 1861 one of many amendment to the law, become "irremovable" by virtue of three years’ residence. In the case of Mary Langton, Longmore had to advise North Mymms in 1863 that she had lost that status at Stoke Newington where she lived because North Mymnms had given her relief, and therefore the parish was liable to receive and support her. Parishes throughout England were engaged in such disputes right into the 20th century. Removals of the poor in their thousands persisted until the second world war. The Settlement Law remained until it was abolished by the Labour government in 1948.
Peter Kingsford, 1989
Chapter 7 - Law and Order
Index - Victorian lives in North Mymms
Preface - Why Peter Kingsford wrote the book
Sources - Where Peter Kingsford researched the material for this book.
Photographs - The photographs reproduced by Peter Kingsford in his book