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Notebook Guide to Pre-1834 Poor Law Acts & Statutes, Acts Concerning the Duties of Parish Officers and Acts Relating to Church Affairs researched and compiled by Mike Brown. Published by Dartmoor Press, PO Box 132, Plymouth PL4 7YL. (n.d.) 32 pp. Index. Softcover £3.40 airmail.

The goal of this booklet is to provide the researcher with guidance into the multiplicity of laws that governed the functioning of the various parish officers. The booklet includes laws that added to the responsibilities of the officers from 1189 to 1834. The major laws are marked appropriately. Many revised and amended laws are not included unless they added to the duties of a particular officer.

This was a fascinating read full of many great examples. In 1475, if any person drew a weapon in a Church with intent to strike, the person would be indicted and one of his ears cut off. In 1538, parish registers were ordered to be kept, but the Act was widely disobeyed (unfortunately for researchers), and there was a 3s 4d fine for non-compliance which was to go towards the upkeep of the church. In 1547, apprenticing of pauper children was reintroduced, to remain until girls were 21 and boys were 24, runaways to be treated as slaves. In 1562, apprenticeship was recognized as giving legal settlement. In 1601, the Poor Relief Act was issued as a temporary measure but provided the structure of the Poor Law till 1834. In 1653, custody of Registers was taken away from Ministers; marriages were performed by Justices, not clergy; fees of 1s for baptisms and marriages and 4d for burials were charged. In 1692, a Land Tax was introduced assessing 4s in the pound, often described as the most crippling tax ever introduced. It was not abolished until 1963.

This is just a sampling of the wealth of fascinating material in this excellent little, tightly-packed guide to the laws affecting the parish. A good index to subjects and officers helps you find the relevant laws that you need. This little guide should be purchased by anyone trying to get beyond the basics and to understand of the workings of the parish and the people who served it.

Reviewed by Paul Milner
BIGWILL v. 5 no.6, 1998