We've written before about the 1845 Act for The Amendment and better Administration of the Laws Relating to the relief of the Poor in Scotland, which as the name suggests changed the way in which Poor Laws operated in Scotland. As well as formalising on a statutory basis the operation of what would over time evolve into the modern benefits system we know today, the Poor Law (Scotland) Act 1845, as it is often referred, led to the establishment of Parochial Boards in each of the parishes of Scotland. This laid the foundations for the established of local, civil government in Scotland. Under the 1845 Act, Parochial Boards were responsible for administering poor relief.
Parochial Boards would meet regularly to consider the state of Poors Funds in their parish, and to discuss applications for relief. Poor relief was paid by Parochial Boards, which were always keen to minimise their expenditure. Liability was determined by the long-established - and often contentious - system of settlement. While in theory the rules of settlement were relatively clear, there was always room for disputes between Parochial Boards keen to avoid spending their limited resources. As with Kirk Sessions determined to find someone to pay for illegitimate children, it was all about the money.
In most instances, determining the parish of settlement of a pauper or applicant for relief was fairly straightforward - after all, most people didn't move around all that much. That was not, however, always true, as the case of George Thomson shows.
The first time we come across George is in the Treasurer's Accounts of Drumoak parish, in Aberdeenshire:
1847, June 13
Three weeks later, he's mentioned again:
1847, July 4
Another three weeks later, he's mentioned in less happy circumstances
1847, July 25
George has died, and his widow is now in receipt of parochial aid. Another three weeks passes, and George is no longer mentioned by name
Friday 13 August 1847
In order to qualify for parochial relief under the 1845 Act, George would have had to apply to the Parochial Board, satisfying them that he was in genuine need, and that he was settled in the parish. At first, the Parochial Board minute is not particularly interesting:
Church of Drumoak 13 August 1847
However, the detail provided by George in his account is remarkable:
That George Thomson, late husband of Ann Gillespie, was born at Little Mill of Cairney, that his father George Thomson is still alive and is resident at Foggy-Moss in said Parish. That he left his father’s when 13 years of age to be servant to Joseph Horne in Netherton of Cairney, with whom he resided six months; that he then went to serve John Christie in Busswarney in the Parish of Cairney, where he resided 2 ½ years; that he afterwards was in the service of Isaac Robertson, Banks of Cairney, 6 months; that he then went to Alexander Christie, Gangdurnas, parish of Cairney, with whom he resided 6 months; and thence to Charles Bruce in Broadland of Cairney, whom he served six months. That he then removed from his native Parish and entered the service of James Pirie, Culithie of Gartly, with whom he remained for 2 ½ years; that he afterwards went to the Revd Mr Leslie, assistant to the Minister of Rathven, where he remained 6 months; that he then went to James McCulloch, Cleffes in the parish of Grange, and continued with him 6 months; that he thence went to work with a contractor in whose service he worked in different parishes for short periods, and then removed to Fyvie for 6 or 8 weeks, and then to the parish of Belhelvie where he resided with a William McDonald for about 15 months; that he then resided six months with William Stronach carpenter in the parish of Nigg; that he thence removed to the parish of Fordoun and lived with Deacon Bruce innkeeper, Auchinblae about a month; that he then resided with Peter Laing in Banchory Ternan a month, and went to Kincardine O’Neil, where he lodged in the house of William Cooper for about six months. That he then removed to Banchory Ternan and was married 20 June 1840 to Ann Gillespie. That from Martinmas 1841 to the month of September 42 he earned his livelihood by working at Countesswells in the Parish of Peterculter or Banchory Devenick, visiting his family every Saturday night and continuing with them till Monday morning, as long as they resided in Banchory Ternan. That on the 7th of June 1842 his wife and family removed from said Parish of Banchory Ternan to this parish (Drumoak), he himself continuing to earn his livelihood at Countesswells, residing first in the house of Archibald Leslie and then in that of Alexander Watt, crofters in Loanhead of Countesswells. That he continued as before visiting his family every Saturday night and continuing with them until Monday morning till the month of September 1842 when he took up his regular residence in this parish, and resided till his death on 11th July 1847.
Clearly George moved around quite a lot. Based on this declaration, the Board decided that they were not liable for relief payments:
The Board taking the matter under consideration were of opinion that his widow and family had no claim upon this parish, but that Cairney was the parish of settlement, and instructed the Inspector to forward a statement of the case to the Inspector of said parish of Cairney.
Although the Board did not believe they were liable, they continued to make payments to Ann, as we can see if we return again to the Treasurer's accounts:
1847 Octr 3 Seven weeks aliment to Widow Thomson, £1 1s
The day after making this last payment, the Board met again to consider this case. Ann offered some more information about her circumstances:
Drumoak 24 February 1848
While the Board waits for a response from the Inspector at Cairney, they continue to pay George's widow Ann:
1848, March 26 By 4 weeks aliment to Widow Thomson, 12s
They didn't have to wait too long for a response
Drumoak 12 May 1848
Apparently the Inspector at Cairney is not keen to pay for Ann's maintenance either. Meanwhile, the bills continue to mount for Drumoak
1848 July 30 By Widow Thomson’s 8 weeks aliment, £1 4s
Five months later, the Board meets again
Drumoak 31 Oct 1848
Cairney Parochial Board decide to call Drumoak's bluff, refusing outright to pay anything. Drumoak respond by calling in the lawyers, and going to court. In the meantime, they continue to pay Ann
Finally, two and a half years after George initially applied for temporary relief, a resolution of sorts is achieved in court:
Drumoak 31st January 1850
The treasurer of Drumoak records the payment received from the lawyers
1850 Jany 31
Now that liability has been established on the park of Cairney, the Parochial Board are perfectly happy to continue making payments to Ann
1850 Feby 10 By cash to Wid Thomson 4 weeks aliment, 12s
Having initially denied liability, Cairney Parochial Board accept the court ruling, and reimburse Drumoak
1850 July 14, Received advances made to Wid Thomson by this Session on account of the Parish of Cairney, £3 15s 9d
As well as providing an extraordinary amount of information about the working life of George Thomson, and the domestic arrangements of his family both while he is alive and after he dies, these entries also give a good illustration of how the system of poor relief operated in Scotland after the reforms of 1845.
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