Settlement Records


Was your ancestor among the wandering poor of late 17th century Stratford-upon-Avon?


The Settlement Act of 1697 allowed the Overseer of the Poor to dispense settlement certificates to parishioners who were moving to another parish, certifying that the family or person would be accepted back in the event that they subsequently required relief. This system allowed some mobility since a receiving parish would allow migrants with settlement certificate to stay, knowing they could be returned to their parish if they required poor relief. Newcomers usually had to file their certificates with the officials of their new parish so that those officials could prove their case against the home parish if the migrants became a liability. Justices of the Peace would issue a removal order if they were satisfied that a person or family needed relief, but had no right of settlement in the parish. A removal order would direct that a person or family be returned to their parish of legal settlement. 

It may seem strange to describe these records as treasures, yet the story they tell of the wandering poor at the turn of the 18th century is a detailed, graphic illustration of the existence of those whom life had dealt a difficult hand. The Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive has a particularly fine surviving set of records, which will be of use for many people with ancestors from the historic parish of Stratford. Life for some of them was hard and these records give us a window on to their world. That they survive is probably a testimony to the care taken to preserve the records of Stratford Corporation, given that they also include documents relating to William Shakespeare and his family.