Removal Orders and Child-Stealing Chimney Sweeps: How Newspapers Demolished a Brick Wall – Part 1

In my post about Bigamy in Batley I introduced my 4x great grandparents Robert Burnett and Ann Jackson. Due to Robert’s job as a tinner/brazier, the Burnett family moved frequently in the early days of their marriage. They finally settled in Drighlington in the early 1800s, presumably once Robert had earned sufficient money to establish his own business. Their first children were born in the Halifax area (1794 and 1798) and Flockton (1796). But for a while the origins of the couple remained a puzzle to me.

Robert died before the 1841 census[1]. Ann’s entry in that census indicated Yorkshire roots. She died in 1848, so there were no further clues. From death certificates it appears Robert was born in around 1771 and Ann in 1772.  I suspected Ann’s maiden name was Jackson. This theory was based on the fact that two of her sons, John and James, had children named Jackson Burnett and Ann Jackson Burnett. Their wives had no apparent link to this surname.  The only likely marriage I could find between a Robert Burnett and Ann Jackson took place on 7 January 1793 at Kendal, Westmorland[2].

After that I drew a blank. There the mystery lay for quite some time, until FindMyPast began rolling out their British Newspaper collection.  Playing about with names I was trying to find out any information about their son, Stephen Burnett, and his wife’s possible bigamous marriage. A search for him fetched the following extract from the West Riding Easter Sessions as reported in the Leeds Intelligencer of 29 April 1830:

“….She proved that when about 22 years of age, she lived some time in a slate of concubinage a man named Stephen Burnett, who was a chimney sweeper at Stockton….”

By this time Stephen, Robert and Ann’s son, had died. Neither was Durham associated with my family history research. But the name piqued my interest.

The article turned out to be a newspaper report of a case heard in Pontefract in which All Saints Parish, Newcastle upon Tyne was appealing against an order for the removal of a pauper Jane Burnett, widow of John Burnett, and her four children from Drighlington to All Saints. John Burnett, who was one of Robert and Ann’s sons, died in June 1829.

Under the complex Poor Law rules of settlement everyone “belonged” to a parish and this parish and its ratepayers were responsible for supporting them if the need arose. In larger parishes of the north the financial burden was the responsibility of the smaller township unit. This issue of settlement was a complex and contentious one, the number of inter-parish disputes and court cases a testimony to this. Generally your settlement parish was that of your father but this could be superseded by a number of other factors. For example a woman took the settlement parish of her husband on marriage. If illegitimate your settlement was the place you were born, but this changed from 1743/4 when you took the settlement parish of your mother regardless of your birthplace. There were other permutations too including being a parish ratepayer, renting a property in the parish assessed at £10 pa or more, serving an apprenticeship, or being hired to work in the parish for 12 months; but all in all the rules were a veritable minefield.

In the case of Jane Burnett and her children the Officials responsible for the Poor Law in Drighlington township were trying to prove their rightful settlement for this family was Newcastle All Saints. They were seeking to ship them off to an area of the country the family in all probability had never visited, in order to save Drighlington poor rate payers the expense of providing parish relief for them. And All Saints Newcastle similarly did not want the burden of costs falling to their ratepayers, possibly for many years to come as the children were all under ten years of age.

All Saints Church Newcastle upon Tyne - Blue Plaque

All Saints Church Newcastle upon Tyne, Blue Plaque

In the course of the case Mr Maude, acting for Drighlington, called forward Ann Burnett, wife of Robert. She affirmed that her maiden settlement was Newcastle All Saints where members of her family had received frequent parish relief. Ann had also given birth to an illegitimate child in the workhouse there.

So this appeared to be the very thin grounds for the wish to send the family to this Parish: the fact that Newcastle All Saints was the Parish of John’s mother. However from Parish Registers John was born in wedlock so to my mind should, in the absence of other superseding reasons, have taken the settlement of his father Robert.

All Saints Church, Newcastle upon Tyne

All Saints Church, Newcastle upon Tyne

In turn Mr Blackburn, acting for All Saints, called Charlotte Burnett the 82 year-old grandmother of the deceased. The report contains no mention of Charlotte Burnett’s maiden name, unless that too was Burnett, or her origins. She now lived in Carlisle with her daughter, Mrs McGregor.

In her testimony she stated that when she was around 22 years old she had lived for some time in a state of “concubinage” with a man named Stephen Burnett, a Stockton chimney sweep. Going one day with his apprentices to sweep chimneys in Darlington, she went into labour and gave birth to Robert[3], the father of the deceased, at a place called Long Newton.  Darlington is just over 11 miles from Stockton-on-Tees, with Long Newton a shade over four miles into the journey, so a fair trek in circa 1771 for a heavily pregnant woman. And I am baffled as to why she was making the journey in the first place; she could hardly be sweeping chimneys!

It was therefore claimed that, being born illegitimate, Robert’s place of settlement was Long Newton. And because his son John had gained no other settlement elsewhere the decision was made that he too belonged to Long Newton, as did his widow and children. The court therefore decided that Jane and her children should be removed forthwith to that Parish.

There is some doubt about whether the order was ever carried out. If it was, it only lasted for a short period. Jane Burnett remarried on 27 September 1832 at Leeds Parish Church. The Parish Register entry states that she lived in Armley Parish. The 1841 census shows she was living once more in Drighlington with her children by John, new husband Jeremiah Newell and their children.

So even though I have been unable to trace records of the case in West Yorkshire Archives, due to the contentious nature of the operation of the Poor Law in that period and the newspaper report of the ensuing court case I have a wealth of information, including names and locations, which I am in the process of following up.

From initial searches on FreeReg and a visit to Tyne and Wear Archives it appears that John Jackson, mariner, married Elizabeth Hay at All Saints on 20 April 1772. Ann was baptised on 22 August 1773; daughters Amelia and Jane were baptised on 4 November 1787 at the ages of six and two respectively. Various Jacksons feature frequently in the return of clothes given to the poor. Sadly the poor house admission/discharge register does not cover the period for the birth Ann Jackson’s illegitimate child. However the bastardy bonds include an entry on 27 May 1788 for an Ann Jackson. Jas Atkinson, Shoemaker, appears to be the putative father and house carpenters Gilbert Dodds and Wm [Reid?] are named as those charged with paying bonds of indemnity. However further research is needed so another visit to Tyne and Wear Archives beckons.

That is not the end though. Newspaper searches have produced some further articles which potentially relate to my 5x great grandfather Stephen Burnett, father of Robert. I will return to these in Part 2.

Sources:

[1] GRO Death Certificate date 31 July 1837
[2] “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NJV1-NYQ : accessed 5 July 2015), Robert Burnett and Ann Jackson, 07 Jan 1793; citing Kendal, Westmoreland, England, reference yrs 1700-1795; FHL microfilm 97,376.
[3] Giving an estimated birth year for Robert of around 1770-1771

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2 responses to “Removal Orders and Child-Stealing Chimney Sweeps: How Newspapers Demolished a Brick Wall – Part 1

  1. Many thanks for reading this post. Hope it is of interest. I’m thrilled it is receiving an exceptional volume of traffic from Facebook today (28 October 2015). I’m intrigued as to which Facebook page this link is on. Would love to know.
    Jane

  2. Pingback: Elation and Frustration: The Reality of Family History Research | PastToPresentGenealogy

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