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Q and A

WHY WERE MY ANCESTORS LABELLED ‘POOR X’?

Q

On a recent visit to Hertfordshire, where I am researching the WELLS and WARD families, I went to the Redbourn Museum and found the 1851 census for Redbourn and parish records for a number of my ancestors.

            Besides some of the baptisms is the phrase ‘POOR X’. Can you please tell me what this means? Does it mean that the child was born in the workhouse or something? I am particularly looking at Frances, daughter of William and Mary WELLS, baptised 2nd November 1788, and Lydia, child of Richard and Mary GRACE, baptised 22nd March 1789 at St Mary’s Church, Redbourn.

 

Julia Blackburn (née Wells)


A

The usual reason why an entry in a parish register was annotated ‘poor’ was because this indicated that the person in question was not liable to pay any fees or taxes.

            In 1694, Parliament introduced duties on birth, marriage and death registration and this money was used to fund war against France. Marriages were taxed at 2s 6d, burials of non-paupers cost 4s, and births were 2s. In 1696 an order was passed that a fine of £2 was to be imposed on all who did not report the birth of a child to the vicar within five days. Parents of children who were not christened were to pay a tax of 6d to the vicar. Vicars who failed to record a birth were to be fined £2 for neglect. This highly unpopular tax was not abandoned until 1706 when the authorities realised that enforcing the penalties would ruin many clergy.

            In an endeavour to raise taxes, the Stamp Act of 1782 imposed a duty of 3d on every register entry for a baptism, marriage or burial. Paupers were exempt from the tax, hence the label ‘POOR X’ next to their names. The officiating minister was given ten per cent for his efforts. The Act was widened in 1785 to include non-conformists. As enforcement proved to be difficult, the Act was repealed in 1794.

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