During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the 1601 Poor Law Act was brought in, requiring townships to financially support their own poor people, and to raise money locally by taxes and from charities for this. Overseers were appointed locally by the township to administer the raising of the taxes and the distribution of the money.

The Overseers levied a Poor Rate on the leaseholders and freeholders of the township, based on the annual value of their properties. This money was used to alleviate the hardships of the poor. The Overseers were answerable to the township, clergy and the magistrates. All details of the money paid out of the parish funds, and the reason why, were recorded in the Overseers’ accounts.

The home township of a claimant was obliged by law to support that family in times of financial need. However, the main condition of entitlement to Parish Relief was that the man of the household had to show he had a legal right to settlement in that township. The rules, first introduced in 1601, changed little over the following 250 years.

In order to qualify for legal settlement, a man had to show one of the following:

1. That he was born in the township of legally settled parents

2. That he rented property in the township worth at least £10 a year, or paid taxes on such a property.

3. That he held a Parish Office

4. That he had been hired by a legally settled inhabitant for a continuous period of 365 days,

5. That he had served a full apprenticeship to a legally settled man for the full 7 years

6. That he had been granted relief previously

Women changed their legal settlement on marriage, adopting their husbands legal place of settlement. If a couple lived in another township and he died, she would automatically be removed to his place of legal settlement along with any issue from the marriage. This unfair situation is seen in the story of recently widowed AMANDA HAIGH where she was removed by order of the Magistrates to Todmorden, a town she had never previously lived in, simply because her deceased husband's ancestors had been "of Todmorden".

If a person could satisfy one of the six requirements he could move into a new parish using a settlement certificate providing his home parish would issue one. This was virtually a form of indemnity issued by the home parish stating that he and his family and future issue belonged to them and they would take responsibility if he became chargeable to the new parish. Because of the expense of removal it would be unlikely his home parish would issue a certificate for a parish a large distance away. A settlement certificate was only valid if it bore the seals of the overseers of both parishes and that of the local magistrates.

If a man or his family became, or threatened to become, reliant on parish relief and he could not satisfy the strict guidelines for legal settlement, then he was liable to be removed to the place of his last legal settlement. If he possessed a settlement certificate he would be carted back to his old parish at their expense but if no settlement certificate was in force then a removal order was applied for from the local magistrates. This would usually involve an Examination as to Settlement carried out before the magistrate, overseers and another ratepayer in order to ascertain his place of last legal settlement . In tenuous cases others may have to be examined also, parents, grandparents and siblings. These examinations could run into many pages virtually the life story of the individuals family. An example of this is the story of Thomas Law.

Thomas Law, his wife Mary (Sutcliffe), and children Sally aged 8, Hannah aged 6, Betty aged 4 and Abraham aged 2, were the subject of a Magistrate's removal order. They were living on Square in Walsden in 1820. It is thought that Thomas had been in prison for some 4 years during which time his wife had been receiving 7 shillings a week from the township. When Thomas came home the family was investigated as to its true settlement. The township of Todmorden & Walsden applied to have them removed to the adjacent township of Stansfield based on a belief that Thomas inherited his great grandfather's settlement in Stansfield. The township of Stansfield appealed against the order and the following transcriptions from original documents shows the extent to which the townships were prepared to go to establish true settlement. They went back in history to his great grandfather, William Law of Hazelgreave, who died in 1768, some 50 years before the case in question. It is doubtful that Thomas Law the pauper had lived anywhere other than in the township of Todmorden & Walsden, but was made to remove over the border to Stansfield due to his great grandfather having been settled there and never having established his own right of residence in Todmorden & Walsden.


Examination of Samuel Law of Square

(A first cousin twice removed to Thomas.)

The examination of Samuel Law of SQUARE taken this 14th day of April 1820, who sayeth that he was born in 1744, that his grandfather's name was Robert Law and that he lived on Mellings Farm at about £5 per annum when his father, whose name was also Robert Law, was born. He says that he knew William Law, his uncle, when he lived at Wadsworth Mill, that he heard his uncle William Law say that he served an apprenticeship with George Stansfield of Holebottom to learn the business of a shoemaker. He thinks he set up business at HANGINGSHAW when he left Holebottom and from thence he went to live at Hazelgreave and commenced the business of carpenter. He says that he knew Samuel Law, son of the last mentioned William Law, and when he first knew where he, the last mentioned Samuel Law, lived, it was at GAUXHOLME STONES FARM. He thinks that the rent paid by Samuel Law for Stones Farm was about £5. He does not know that he, Samuel Law, had ever had Stones Farm leased to him at £11 per annum, the interest in the latter part of which he sold to ABRAHAM CROSSLEY of Knowlwood. He sayeth that Samuel Law told him that his son, also Samuel Law, would have taken the Stones Farm and stock upon it off him prior to his selling the lease to Abraham Crossley, but that he, Samuel Law, refused to rent it to his son doubting that he might not pay the rent regularly and thinking that he might want all that the lease was worth for himself. He does not consequently remember ever hearing of Samuel Law paying any rates or taxes during his occupation of Stones Farm.


Signed Samuel Law


  Submission of the Magistrates


On the part of Todmorden it has been shown in evidence that William Law, great grandfather of Thomas Law, with his wife Susan and Martha their daughter were removed from Todmorden to Stansfield by order of 2 magistrates. The hearing date was June 10th 1718. On the 15th July following the said family brought a certificate from Stansfield to Todmorden in which the said certificate acknowledged the said William Law, wife and child, to be legally settled in the said township of Stansfield, and promising that if they should become chargeable to Todmorden they would leave, and provide for them according to law.


On 24th July 1718, that is 9 days after the certificate, the Quarter Sessions were held at Manchester at which, no appeal being made by Stansfield, the sessions confirmed the order and filed the same upon the records of the court.


Todmorden have also identified the same William Law, Susan his wife and Martha their child, to be the same named in the certificate by the testimony of their grandchildren. They state their father was Samuel Law of Gauxholme Stones, that their grandfather was William, their grandmother was Susan, and their aunt was Martha Law. By the register of baptism of the said Martha Law at Heptonstall as daughter of William Law, March 3rd. 1716, about 2 years before the date of the certificate, and by the register of baptism for Samuel Law at Todmorden and son of William Law, shoemaker, December 25th 1720, and by the baptism at Todmorden of several other children, issue of William and Susan Law, who were all known by the 3 descendants of Samuel Law attested, and by the further concurrences circumstances of relief to Susan, widow of said William after his death. His burial is registered at Todmorden April 3rd . 1766 and hers at the same place 3rd March 1769. And by the books in which the accounts of returns to the poor of Stansfield is impeached. Which said books were produced at the last meeting by Messrs. Stokes and Crossley. It appears that the said Susan Law, widow, was registered as a reliefee by them from the period of the death of her husband even to the month in which she was buried and while she was residing in Todmorden where she died.


Todmorden have also evidence that Samuel Law, the father of the pauper, Thomas Law, was baptised Aug 26th 1749 and married Susan Dec 3rd 1772 and the date of which marriage, Law's settlement would be with that of his father and as his emancipation then the place, with no subsequent alteration to settlement, the settlement of the father could change the settlement of his son. Todmorden have also proved in evidence that Betty Law, daughter of Samuel the first, removed from Todmorden to Stansfield to bear her bastard child in 1774, which child was named Susey Law and baptised at Cross Stones Jan 5th 1775, and also that Betty Law, now Fielden, daughter of Samuel the second removed from Todmorden to Stansfield to have her bastard child in 1797 and that the township of Stansfield have been relieving the family of William Law, son of Samuel the second and brother of the pauper for now more than 11 years and that in 1809 the said William's family were removed from Todmorden to Stansfield by an order of the magistrates, which said order was never appealed against. Also the family of Thomas the pauper have now been receiving relief for nearly 4 years and the last 3 years at 7 shillings a week. Which said relief appears (?) to these 4 different branches of the descendants of Samuel the first, embracing a period of more than 45 years and given by Stansfield to the paupers while they were residing in Todmorden.


The township of Todmorden contends that this is sufficient to counterveil any settlements in Todmorden if some had been proved, and to have been gained by Samuel the first and by him communicated to his son prior to his emancipation in 1772 and in support of this they have produced and rely on the cases of............ but in this case, they humbly concede the original settlement has never been altered but is continuing in full force to this day. On the part of Stansfield nothing has been brought forward to prove any change of settlement with respect to the family in question, and which they themselves (?) a lease of a small part of ground to build a house upon at Stones, from John Hardman to Samuel Law bearing the date 20 Aug 1748.

The family was ordered to remove in May 1820.


There were five classes of people needing relief from the parish: the sick, the aged, widows, deserted wives and orphans and unemployed able-bodied inhabitants. There were also destitute wanderers and temporary residents. For those who could satisfy one of the conditions of entitlement he could apply for relief and this would be granted by the Overseer at an amount determined by the Overseer. It was usually paid as cash, but sometimes as food or goods. The Poor could also obtain help towards baptisms and funerals.

Emergency payments mostly went to the sick, and in the eighteenth century it was frequently Small Pox that caused the problems. The Overseer of Todmorden & Walsden paid out:

1740 to Robert Hardman when his children had the pox-3 shillings

1740 to John Law when his wife and children were in pox-5shillings

1741 to Abraham Feber when his child had small pox-2 shillings

1747 to Thomas Newall when his wife and children were all badly of the pox-15 shillings

1747 to John Wilde when his children were all badly with the small pox-5 shillings

(information from A History of Todmorden by Malcolm & Freda Heywood and Bernard Jennings)

Private charities relieved the burden of finance on the Overseer  to some extent. One such charity in Todmorden & Walsden was Gartside's Charity. This was money to enable the provision of cloth with which to make sheets and clothing. It was allocated each Christmas Day to the township for distribution to the poor. Each January Todmorden received about 50 yards of linen, which was distributed as follows:


January 1823

Robert Sutcliffe of Calflee Cote - 7.5 yards

Thomas Crossley of Woodbottom - 8 yards

Sally Sutcliffe of Lodge Hall - 3 yards

James Haigh of Knowlwood - 8 yards

March 1823

William Greenwood of Deanroyd - 8 yards

Wife of James Haigh of Knowlwood - 3 yards

November 1823

Reuben Haigh of Watty Hole - 3 yards

January 1824

Sally Sutcliffe of Lodge Hall - 3 yards

John Fielden of Henshaw - 6 yards

John Taylor of Henshaw - 3 yards

Samuel Fielden of Knowlwood - 8 yards

William Fielden of Hollings - 6 yards

James Haigh of Knowlwood - 6 yards

March 1824

John Heyworth of Bottoms - 6 yards

May 1824

John Walton of Sourhall - 6 yards

December 1824

John Heyworth of Bottoms - 4.5 yards

January 1825

John Ogden of Watty Hole - 6 yards

Widow Sutcliffe of Lodge Hall - 3 yards

Jackson near Trap Inn - 6 yards

March 1825

Widow Ogden of Gauxholme - 6.5 yards, but she dying, given to James Haigh of Knowlwood.

September 1825

James Stansfield of Swineshead - 7 yards

Thomas Pearson of Gauxholme - 11.5 yards

Joshua Stansfield of Rochdale - 7 yards

Widow Haigh of Knowlwood - 3 yards

Jackson of Hebden Bridge - 6.5 yards

January 1827

Sally Sutcliffe of Lodge hall - 3 yards

Ely Fielden of Doghouse - 6 yards

John Walton of Sourhall - 6 yards

February 1827

William Gunn of Dean - 6 yards

April 1827

Sally & Mally Sutcliffe of Lodge Hall - 6.5 yards

October 1827

Dan Eastwood of Crosslee - 8 yards

(Annals of Todmorden compiled by Dorothy Dugdale)


As illegitimacy was expensive for the Parish - mothers of babies were not able to work to support themselves - there was an early "Child Support Agency" in existence. If a mother or pregnant girl applied for relief the girl would be questioned and if the father could be identified then an order for both the maintenance of the child and also the cost of delivering the child would be issued by the Church wardens and overseers of the poor. The Order would then be implemented by the Parish constable and if the father defaulted a warrant would be issued by the magistrates for possession of his goods, which would then be sold towards the debt. These Orders were called Filiation Orders or Bastardy Bonds. The maintenance order could be a lump sum of at least £40 paid to the Parish, which was usually out of the question for most fathers, or a fixed sum for the birth and a weekly allowance until the child was 14 years old. It is interesting that a girl could claim relief for herself whilst the child was "at nurse" which was defined as up to 3 years old. Many of these unmarried fathers absconded.

In the very early days, the Overseers went to extreme lengths to avoid the costs of keeping unmarried mothers, even by marrying her off to someone. On one occasion, in about 1727, they paid for the wedding of such a single mother to a John Harrison at a cost of 2 shillings and sixpence. Much cheaper than supporting her and her child for several years. The only John Harrison to marry in the area at that time married Elizabeth Stansfield at St. Marys on 8 July 1727.

Pregnant girls who were not originally of that Parish were more often removed to their home township before the baby was due in order that her home township would have to pay for the cost of the birth, and also frequently the cost of aring for the orphan should the mother die in childbirth. This happened to HANNAH HAIGH, whose story is very poignant.

The following is a transcript from original statements made by the father of the illegitimate child:

I Benjamin Bottomley of Nicklety in the Township of Todmorden and Walsden in the Parish of Rochdale and County of Lancaster, Labourer, do hereby agree to abide by and perform such order as the court of Quarter Sessions to be holden by adjournment at Salford in the said county on Monday the 23rd. day of October instant, shall think proper to make upon me for the maintenance and support of my natural and illegitimate child, born the 16th. September 1835 on the body of Martha Scholfield, singlewoman, which said child is now living and chargeable to the said township of Todmorden and Walsden, without the hearing of evidence by such court. As witness my hand this 7th day of October 1837.
Signed by Benjamin Bottomley

witnessed by John Shackleton (Overseer) 

(Original document at the Lancashire Records Office, Preston).

It wasn't until 1723 that an Act of Parliament authorised Poorhouses, and even then such buildings weren't actually legally required. The homeless were often sent to cottages to lodge with other people, who often were themselves paupers. Orphans and abandoned children were apprenticed and sent to live with their master at his expense. The early Poorhouses were mainly converted cottages rented for the purpose and were not regarded as places of punishment or privation. Although there had been earlier attempts to organise an official Poorhouse in the district, it wasn't until 1801 that the first proper one opened in the township of Todmorden & Walsden. This was at GAUXHOLME.

The only purpose built Poorhouse in the district appears to be one built by the township of Langfield at Croft Carr Green for a cost of £164.12s.1d. The township of Stansfield used a converted building at Blackshawhead.

The Government introduced a reform bill in 1834, the intention of which was to discontinue the small local workhouses and all "out relief", replacing them with larger and very austere Union Workhouses for all relief claimants. The ratepayers of Todmorden & Walsden and also those of Langfield refused to accept the new laws. This resulted in REBELLION and controversy for the next 40 years.