John Conway, fl. 1775-1786

Poor Child, Apprentice, and Runaway

John Conway (or Conaway) received the full gamut of parochial care available to a poor child in the late eighteenth century, but by running away from his apprenticeship he lost the right to relief from his original parish, in spite of his efforts to return.

Early Life in the Care of the Parish

John Conway was admitted into the care of the parish of St Clement Danes on 7 June 1775. The Parish Register of Poor Children lists John as being three years and six months old and, remarkably, indicates that he could read and say the Lord’s Prayer. We cannot explain exactly why John was placed into the care of the parish, though it is likely that he was an orphan.

He was placed under the care of Nurse Hill at the cost of 2s 6d per week, and he appears three times in the subsequent registers of poor children in her care until he was five years old in 1777. When John appears in the next register, in 1778, he seems to have gained two years in age, and is now reported as being eight years and nine months. Given his precocious literacy, this is likely to be a correction on his earlier age rather than a different child.

At this point Conway is no longer listed in the care of Nurse Hill; instead he is listed as in the workhouse. As he was now above the age of six he was expected to work for his care, spinning mop yarn. A further two entries in the register of poor children show Conway performing this job until he was aged thirteen in 1783.

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Having reached thirteen, Conway was placed in an apprenticeship. He appears in the St Clement Danes apprentice records on 30 August 1783, when he was apprenticed to Morris Jones, a fisherman, in Barking, Essex. Removing the poor, especially children, from London to work in the countryside was a distinctive feature of the poor law at the end of the eighteenth century.

According to the terms of the indenture, after seven weeks of service, Conway's new master, Morris Jones would receive £2, and upon Conway's completion of three years of service, Morris would receive a further sum of £2 2s. How much of this money would be spent on Conway is unknown; the only item Conway was guaranteed to receive was a suit of clothes when he finished his third year of service.

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Runaway and Removal

The apprenticeship did not last. Two years later, at the age of sixteen, Conway appears in the St Clement Danes List of Persons in the Workhouse, having been admitted on 18 April 1785. Like all new workhouse residents, he was subjected to a Settlement Examination (EP) to determine if he was eligible to receive relief from the parish.

In an examination dated 22 April 1785 Conway reveals that after he had served only nine months of his apprenticeship he ran away. (Conway signed his examination with a mark, indicating that though he had learned to read, he still could not write.) On the basis of this evidence, the Justices ruled that his settlement was no longer in the parish and he was ordered to be removed from the parish. The following day this was carried out and Conway was returned to Barking.

Strangely, Conway appears once more in the St Clement Danes Parish Register of Poor Children, on 15 March 1786. His age is now listed as fourteen, the oldest age at which a child might appear on the list. John was in fact sixteen and probably hoped that by lying about his age he could return to the parish and gain support in the only secure home he knew - the workhouse.

But once again he was subjected to a settlement examination. And once again he reported that he had been apprenticed and ran away, and that "since he left his said Master he has done no Act Matter or thing whereby to the best of his Knowledge Information or belief he may have gained any other Settlement". Unsurprisingly, Conway was once again removed from St Clement back to Barking, on 17 March 1786.

At this point Conway disappears from the records and we cannot ascertain what happened to him next.

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About this Biography

Created by

Edward Duncan 

Further contributions by

Robert Shoemaker