Vagrant being punished in the streets, woodcut c. 1536 (Source unknown)
1547 - the new reign of the boy-King Edward VI was marked with a draconian approach to controlling the kingdom's poor. Penalties for the purported 'work-shy' such as whipping and leg irons were nothing out of the ordinary, but the new law extended this to branding with the letter V (for vagrant) and being made a parish slave for two years. Recalcitrant vagrants faced lifetime slavery or hanging. Children could be seized without their parents' consent or knowledge. Those charged with enforcing the law faced severe penalties if they failed to mete out these punishments. Hard and dangerous times indeed.
We'll be discussing the old poor laws (pre-1834) and their impact on our ancestors in south west England at our SWERD meeting this Friday, 13 April, 12:30 to 2:00 pm at GSV (GSV members only). A vast array of records were created in administering the poor laws and we'll discuss how you can access these to find fascinating new insights into your ancestors' lives. Our May meeting will focus on the impact of the new poor law, 1834 onwards, the era of the notorious Victorian workhouses.
Convener, SWERD - GSV Southwest England Research and Discussion Circle