The Poor Law and the case of John Collens 1845


The Leigh Historical Society has a letter dated 24 Nov 1845 and it is sent by the Relieving Officer in Wrotham to the Parish of Leigh (to W Young, Relieving Officer at Leigh) and the reply by Leigh’s parish clerk, Robert Humphrey.  They are given in full below but first a few words of explanation.

Under the various Poor Law Acts, if someone – in particular someone poor and who might become a burden on the parish – arrived in a parish and could not prove his/her settlement in that parish – by means of  a Settlement Certificate – they would undergo a Settlement Examination to establish place of Settlement or entitlement to settle in the parish.  A Parish would not want to have the costs of supporting the poor from other parishes: they were answerable to their own ratepayers.  The parish would after the Examination issue a Settlement Certificate, or a Removal Order from the parish.  Much of this changed after the 1834 Poor Law Act with the creation of Poor Law Unions, which established their own workhouses for the poor.  These Unions were responsible for managing poor relief in several parishes.  The Unions were inclined to look after the interests of ratepayers entirely, not the paupers.  However, vestiges of the Settlement System still remained and the poor continued to be sent back to their own parish of “settlement”.  However as Settlement Certificates had been abolished, many poor persons had no sure ‘home’ Union, so might be shunted to and fro while magistrates decided where that should be.

Hence in this case, in 1845, although the 1834 Poor Law was now in operation, it appears that the Parish of Wrotham was still operating under the old system and that the Parish did not want the responsibility of Mr Collens, who may have lived in Wrotham for some time without proper settlement entitlement, and this has now become an issue as Mr Collens has become a burden on the Parish due to being now both elderly and crippled.

Because of this, the Parish of Wrotham obviously did not want the expense of maintaining Mr Collens and sought to send Mr Collens back to the parish from whence he came which they believed to be Leigh, where he seems to have lived with his father (and mother now deceased) at Riding Lane Farm.

Wrotham Nov 24 1845
John Collens aged 63 years, a cripple unable to maintain himself, has become chargable (sic) to the Parish of Wrotham. He has never gained any settlement himself, consequently goes to his fathers which appears to be Leigh, where he for several years occupied a farm call’d Riding Lane Farm and his Widow was received on that settlement by the parish of Leigh up to the time of her discease(sic) as the settlement of the man is so plain, will you take charge of him without putting Wrotham to the expense of Orders of Removal  Your reply will oblige

Your Ob’t Ser’t
Tho Collings
R  Off  (= Relieving Officer)



There is a reply in the Leigh archives:

Leigh, Nov 28 /45
Mr Thos Collings
Your letter of 24th to W Young Reliev’g Officer has been handed by him to the Overseers of this parish, who have directed me to inform you – in reply, that they do not think they would be justified in receiving the said John Collens without his being first duly examined as touching his legal settlement otherwise they would not wish put the parish of Wrotham to the expence and delay of taking out order of removal for said pauper.
And am Sir,
Your Obt Servt


On looking at the 1841 census, there was a John Collens at Wrotham, an agricultural labourer, living with Jeremiah Hitchcock and family.  This John Collens is given as 50 in the 1841 census:  ages are rounded down in 1841 census, so he would have been about 50-55 in 1841, which would make him 54-59 by 1845: however, the letter says John is 63.  Having said that, ages are often inaccurate – many would not have known their exact age.   So this might be the John Collens referred to in the letter who was at Wrotham in 1841, or it might be a different John Collens.

We do not know the outcome of the above settlement dispute:  Mr John Collens does not appear at Leigh in the 1851 census nor does it appear that he was buried at Leigh Church. As the letter refers to Riding Lane Farm it could be he was buried at Hildenborough: Hildenborough Church St John the Evangelist was consecrated on 9 July 1844.  Or perhaps Sevenoaks: although there is no death registered at Sevenoaks for a ‘John Collens’, but with variable spellings, there is a John Collins death registered in 1862:  the 1861 census gives him as aged 68 living in Sevenoaks and born Chiddingstone.  Or at Wrotham – having searched the civil registration indexes from 1846-1866 at Malling there is a death of a John Collens registered at Malling in 1847 (which incorporated Wrotham for Civil Registration purposes).

Of course we do not know.  But there is a good chance that John was never accepted back at Leigh, but remained and died at Wrotham in 1847.


Joyce Field (November 2015)