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A Typology of Travellers: Migration, Justice, and Vagrancy in Warwickshire, 1670–1730


This paper examines the relief of travellers in Warwickshire, England. By using an unusually rich set of Constables’ Accounts for the parish of Grandborough, it interrogates the relationship between charity, local justice, and both official and popular perceptions of migration. It argues that the large number of migrants who passed through rural parishes were categorised by the local constable according to cultural and discretionary criteria. This ‘typology’ of travellers determined the nature and extent of the relief they might receive and the actions that might be taken against them. Socially threatening migrants, such as poor pregnant women, the sick, and vagrants, also found themselves affected by this same ‘proscriptive calculation’, often to their detriment.

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1. Warwickshire County Record Office (hereafter Warwickshire RO), CR103, f. 99. Bromley's judicial notebook covers the period between 10th October 1685 and 6th December 1728.

2. More specifically, the reign of Edward III, Statute: 23 Ed. 3. Additional statutes follow with regularity in from 1572 onwards, see 14 Eliz. c5 in Statues of the Realm: Volume 4 (London, 1819), p. 590.

3. Beier A. L., Masterless Men: The Vagrancy Problem in England, 1560–1640 (London, 1985), p. 3, and for vagrancy as a ‘protean concept’, see p. 4.

4. Ibid., p. 4. The 1572 Vagrancy act (14 Eliz. c5) provides the list of trades and persons that were considered vagrant, a list repeated verbatim in the pre-amble to the 1662 Settlement Act (14 Car 2. c12).

5. Slack Paul, ‘Vagrants and Vagrancy in England, 1598–1664’, The Economic History Review, 27:3 (1974), 367.

6. Souden David and Clark Peter, eds, Migration and Society in Early Modern England (London, 1987), pp. 213252. David Souden's chapter in the same volume interrogates overseas migration and vagrancy.

7. For vagrants with destinations and a purpose, see Spufford Margaret, The Great Reclothing of Rural England: Petty Chapmen and their Wares in the Seventeenth Century (London, 1984). For ‘wandering’ outside of the context of vagrancy, see McRae Andrew, Literature and Domestic Travel in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2009). Part II examines the travels of royal progresses, and of John Taylor, Celia Fiennes, and Daniel Defoe.

8. Dalton Michael, The Countrey Justice (London, 1697).

9. 14 Car 2. c12. in Raithby, ed., Statues of the Realm: Volume 5, 1628–80 (London, 1819).

10. Slack Paul, Poverty and Policy in Tudor and Stuart England (London, 1988), p. 31.

11. Styles Philip, ‘The Evolution of the Law of Settlement’, in Studies in Seventeenth Century West Midlands History (Kineton, 1978), p. 175.

12. A great deal of path-breaking work has been done in the last few decades. K.D.M. Snell's Annals of the Labouring Poor: Social Change and Agrarian England, 1660–1900 made perhaps the most thorough use yet of settlement documentation in 1985, but additional subsequent work by scholars such as Steve Hindle, Alannah Tomkins, Peter Clark, and many others, has made innovative and often exhaustive use of settlement documentation.

13. (14 Car 2 c.12) Raithby, ed., Statues of the Realm, p. 401.

14. Many studies, correctly cite a well-known ‘crisis-point’ in the two decades between 1610 and 1630, alongside rapid and sustained population growth from the late Elizabethan period. See Slack Paul, ‘Vagrants and Vagrancy’, in Souden and Clark, eds, Migration and Society in Early Modern England (London, 1987), pp. 4976. The introduction to the same volume also makes a similar contention regarding demographics. Beier's argument in turn also revolves around the pressures of economics and population, although he is careful to note that these causes are not exclusive, see Beier, Masterless Men, p. 172. Also see Sharpe J.A., The History of Crime in Early Modern England, 1550–1750 (London, 1999), p. 142.

15. Beier, Masterless Men, pp. 171–2.

16. Souden and Clark, eds, Migration and Society. See, in particular, Peter Clark's chapter on Kentish migration, pp. 213–52.

17. See Laslett Peter, ‘Clayworth and Cogenhoe’, in Laslett P., ed., Family Life and Illicit Love in Earlier Generations (Cambridge, 1977), pp. 50101.

18. Beier, Masterless Men, p. 172, outlines Beier's conclusions on demography and its impact.

19. Such local periods of dearth have been discovered and commented on most insightfully by Wrigley E.A. and Schofield Roger in The Population History of England 1541–1871 (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 332 ff.

20. See Thirsk Joan, ed., The Agrarian History of England and Wales V. II 1640–1750: Agrarian Change (Cambridge, 1985), p. 879.

21. Jones D.W., War and the Economy in the Age of William III and Marlborough (Blackwell, 1988), pp. 127–34.

22. See the accounts for the 1690s in Warwickshire RO, DRO 111/22. Totals as high as 550 persons annually passing through were reached in this decade.

23. Souden and Clark, eds, Migration and Society, pp. 30–1. Also see the introduction to Ian Whyte D., Migration and Society in Britain, 1550–1800 (Basingstoke, 2000).

24. For a treatment of what this dire experience could be like, see Postles David, ‘Surviving Lone Motherhood in Early-Modern England’, Seventeenth Century, 21:1 (2006), 160–83. See also the case of Sarah Johnson discussed in Section VII of this article.

25. For the importance of discretion in the administration of local justice in England, see King Peter, Crime, Justice, and Discretion in England, 1740–1820 (Oxford, 2000); Hay Douglas and Thompson E. P., eds, Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England (New York, 1975); and Kesselring Krista, Mercy and Authority in the Tudor State (Cambridge, 2003).

26. See Wrightson Keith, English Society 1580–1680 (London, 2003), p. 62. For a more specific look at the discretion of local constables, see Kent Joan, ‘Population Mobility and Alms: Poor Migrants in the Midlands during the Early Seventeenth Century’, Local Population Studies, 27 (1981), 3551.

27. Quoted in Hindle Steve, The State and Social Change in Early Modern England 1550–1640 (New York, 2000), p. 204.

28. Dalton, The Countrey Justice, p. 56.

29. For a much more complete treatment of the English constable and the tensions of the office, see Kent Joan, ‘The English Village Constable, 1580–1642: The Nature and Dilemmas of the Office’, Journal of British Studies, 20:2 (Spring, 1981), 30–1.

30. Beier, Masterless Men, p. 171.

31. For an example of a surviving vagrant pass, see Chester RO: QAV-1, 1701. For several issued and signed by a Justice of the Peace, see Chester RO, PC 16/5 f. 126–149.

32. For examples of another parishes’ constables’ accounts, see Cheshire RO: P241/7/1 Capesthorne with Siddington.

33. For Wrightson's key work on this subject, see ‘Estates, Degrees, and Sorts: Changing Perceptions of Society in Tudor and Stuart England’, in Corfield P. J., ed., Language, History and Class (Oxford, 1991), pp. 3052.

34. See Shepard Alexandra, ‘Poverty, Labour and the Language of Social Description in Early Modern England’, Past and Present, 201 (2008), 5195.

35. Similar to the ‘labelling’ found by Griffiths Paul, see Lost Londons: Change, Crime, and Control in the Capital City 1550–1660 (Cambridge, 2008).

36. See Hindle Steve, The State and Social Change and On the Parish? The Micro-Politics of Poor Relief in Rural England, 1550–1750 (Oxford, 2004). For Hindle's ‘discretionary calculus’ see p. 379.

37. Hindle, On the Parish?, p. 380.

38. See Fumerton Patricia, Unsettled: The Culture of Mobility and the Working Poor in Early Modern England (Chicago, 2006), pp. 312.

39. See Wrightson Keith, English Society 1580–1680 (London, 2003), p. 235; French Henry, The Middle Sort of People in Provincial England 1600–1750 (Oxford, 2008); and Hindle, The State and Social Change.

40. See McInnis L. R., ‘Michael Dalton: The Training of the Early Modern Justice of the Peace and the Cromwellian Reforms’, in Bush Jonathan A. and Wijffels Alain A., eds, Learning the Law: Teaching and the Transmission of Law in England, 1150–1900 (London, 1999), pp. 255–72.

41. Although begging could be licensed by Justices of the Peace under the 1598 poor legislation, it should be noted that begging was technically illegal in England after the 1601 reforms to the law, except in several very specific circumstances such as the awarding of formal ‘alms places’, or in case of fire or other personal disasters.

42. Dalton, The Countrey Justice, pp. 202–5.

43. Gardiner Robert, The Compleat Constable (London, 1692), pp. 30, and 43 for servant testimonial legislation.

44. Ibid., pp. 30–1.

45. Dalton, The Countrey Justice, p. 204.

46. Francis Harvey in the 1630 Assize Resolutions, as quoted in Dalton. Ibid., p. 212.

47. Pugh R. B., ed., The Victoria History of the Counties of England: Warwick, Volume VI (London, 1951), pp. 94–7.

48. Sir Dugdale William, The Antiquities of Warwickshire Illustrated: From Records, Leiger-Books, Manuscripts, Charters, Evidences, Tombes, and Armes, Volume 1 (London, 1730), pp. 312–13.

49. Arkell Tom and Alcock Nat, eds, Warwickshire Hearth Tax Returns: Michaelmas 1670 with Coventry Lady Day 1666 (Stratford-Upon-Avon, 2010), pp. 280–1.

50. This estimate uses the multiplier of 4.3 suggested in Arkell Tom, ‘Multiplying Factors for Estimating Population Totals from the Hearth Tax’, Local Population Studies, 28 (1982), 51–7.

51. The following discussion is based on Warwickshire RO, DRO 111/22: ‘Constables Accounts 1671–1720’, and DRO 111/23: ‘Constables Accounts 1720–1750’; QS 40/1/8 ‘Quarter Sessions Order Book 1709–1720’; QS 40/1/9 ‘1720 onwards’.

52. Warwickshire RO, DRO 111/22.

53. The rest of a constable's expenses were typically administrative or associated with the maintenance of roads and bridges. Warwickshire RO, DRO 111/22, f. 82–84. Accounts for Year 1686–87.

54. Warwickshire RO, DRO 111/22, f. 113. Accounts for Year 1693–94.

55. Wrightson Keith, ‘Estates, Degrees and Sorts: Changing Perceptions of Society in Tudor and Stuart England’, in Corfield P. J., ed., Language, History and Class (Oxford, 1991), pp. 3052.

56. For the phrase ‘Parish and Belonging’, and its fuller formulation, see Snell K. D. M., Parish and Belonging: Community, Identity, and Welfare in England and Wales, 1700–1950 (Cambridge, 2006).

57. Warwickshire RO: DRO 111/22, f. 90. Accounts for Year 1688–9.

58. See Walter J., ‘Gesturing at Authority: Deciphering the Gestural Code of Early Modern England’, Past and Present, 203, Supplement 4 (2009), 96127.

59. Warwickshire RO: DRO 111/22, Years 1675 and 1690.

60. Ratcliff S. C. and Johnson H. C., eds, Warwick County Records: Volume VII. Quarter Sessions Records Easter 1674, to Easter 1682 (Warwick, 1946), p. xxiii.

61. These injunctions were issued in Warwickshire in 1670, 1674, 1677, 1684, 1687, routinely in the 1690s, and yearly in the early eighteenth century. See Warwick County Records, Volumes V, VII, VIII, and IX. For orders in the eighteenth century see Warwickshire RO: QS/40/8/1 ‘to 1720’ and QS/40/9/1 for post 1720. Other counties document similar levels of concern. See Hertford County Records, Volume VI: 1658 to 1700 (Hertford, 1930) and Volume VII for 1700–52.

62. Here the statistical indices of Peter J. Bowden are highly illustrative. See Thirsk, ed., The Agrarian History of England, p. 879.

63. Warwickshire RO: QS 40/1/8 for 1709 to 1720 and QS 40/1/9 for 1720 onwards.

64. Warwick County Records, Volume VII, p. 4.

65. Ibid., p. 93.

66. Ibid., p. 184–5.

67. For more on vagrant spaces see Fumerton, Unsettled.

68. Warwick County Records, Volume VII, p. 195.

69. Beier, Masterless Men, p. 172.

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