St Martin in the Fields Settlement Examinations, 1725-93 (SET)

A map showing the built up areas of St Martin in the Fields in 1797. St Martin in the Fields, 1799. © Jeremy Boulton and Leonard Schwarz.


This data was collected as part of the Pauper Lives Project directed by Prof. Jeremy Boulton and Dr Leonard Schwarz. The project was funded by the ESRC, and ran between 2004 and 2007. One of the main aims of the project, as the name suggests, was to construct biographies of London paupers, using all the available local documentation. Two principal classes of material from the parish of St Martin in the Fields are made available here, Settlement Examinations and the Workhouse Admissions Registers. On the London Lives website these resources are only available for keyword and name searching. If you wish to use these materials for structured analysis please contact the Pauper Lives Project directly. Copyright in this material remains with the original investigators, Leonard Schwarz and Jeremy Boulton, and is reproduced here by license, for non-commercial use only.

This database of the Settlement Examinations includes abstracted details of the information contained in the examinations (name, age, etc), and a transcript of the main text of the examination itself. The 10,000 examinations available here, recorded between January 1725 and November 1793, were selected from the over 60,000 surviving examinations because they can be tied to individual inmates listed in the Workhouse Admissions Registers (SWR) (also available through the London Lives site). Each examination represents a single legal event.

The Examinations

The original volumes are ordered by date. If the examination was a Settlement Examination, it would normally be conducted in the presence of a single Justice of the Peace, and written up by his clerk, prior to being signed or marked by the pauper and the Justice.

The resulting examination was a legal document, and would normally be created at the point when the pauper first applied for poor relief or entry to the workhouse, or just prior to their removal from the parish. There is some historical controversy over the extent to which examinations were triggered by a desire to control seasonal migration.

Bastardy Examinations are also included in this series, and contain many of the same details as Settlement Examinations. Legally a woman who knew herself to be likely to bear a bastard child was obliged to present herself for examination prior to its birth, but in practice this only occasionally happened, and many examinations occurred after the birth. Bastardy examinations are particularly concerned to discover the identity of the father, in order to force him to provide a bond and indemnify the parish against the costs of maintaining the child, and they required the presence of two Justices of the Peace sitting in petty sessions.

The Database

The original database is organised into twelve fields, but where fields are blank or repeat information available in another field they have been suppressed in the version displayed here. Where information is available for each possible field the record will include:

  • Unique Project ID: Unique identification number.
  • Examination Text: A full transcription of the main examination text.
  • Manuscript Reference: The original manuscript reference as assigned by the archive.
  • Forename
  • Surname
  • Male OR Female
  • Age: As given, normally in years.
  • Date of Examination: Date of examination, in the form of DD/MM/YYYY.
  • Examination Outcome: A coded notation reflecting the precinct in which the examinee was determined to be settled, or their settlement status. See note on coding below.
  • Page: Page number in the original manuscript.
  • Signed OR Marked: Whether the examinee signed the examination, or marked it with an X, or neither.

A typical entry might look include the following information (excluding empty cells):

  • Unique Project ID: 54629
  • Examination text: Jane Beauford aged 25 years and upwards in the workhouse of and in the Parish of St Martin in the Fields passed from the Parish of St Leonard Shoreditch in the County of Middlesex upon her oath saith that she is the wife of Matthew Beauford (gone from her) to whom she was married at the Parish Church of St Martin in the Fields aforesaid the fifth day of February which was in the year 1764, that her said husband never was bound an apprentice, that her said husband was (while single and unmarried) a yearly hired servant to Mr Pinchbeck, Toyman in Powells Buildings in the Parish of St Martin in the Fields aforesaid for the space of one year and nine months at the yearly wages of 20 pounds diet and lodging, quitted the same about two years ago, that he never kept house rented a tenement of 10 pounds by the year paid any parish taxes nor was a yearly hired servant in any other place for 12 months together, that Joan Beauford, this Examinant's husband's father lived in and rented an house in York Buildings in the said Parish of St Martin the Fields as she this Examinant hath been informed, but how long he kept the said house what rent he paid for the same or when quitted it she this Examinant cannot tell, that he the said John Beauford hath not kept house rented a tenement of 10 pounds by the year nor paid any parish taxes since he quitted the said house in York Buildings to this Examinant's knowledge, that she this Examinant hath two children living by her said husband to wit Elizabeth Jane Charlotte aged one year and nine months, and John aged about two months both now with this Examinant. Sworn the 12th Day of March 1767 before Peter Planck.
  • Manuscript Reference: F5055
  • Forename: Jane
  • Surname: Beauford
  • Male OR Female: female
  • Age: 25
  • Date of Examination: 12/03/1767
  • Examination Outcome: E.W.
  • Page Number: 328
  • Signed OR Marked: signed

Examination Outcome Codes

The clerks who recorded the original examinations used a series of abbreviations to indicate the parish ward in which the pauper's settlement was determined, where for instance they had been apprenticed; or the legal outcome of an examination, whether the pauper was removed from the parish. Occasionally they also included abbreviated statements, such as C.C.W. the child by birth. This particular statement suggests that the mother's settlement was based in Charing Cross Ward, and that her child's settlement was based on its birth in the parish. These codes have been transcribed and are reproduced as either simple abbreviations, eg. S..A.W.; or as abbreviated statements. The most common abbreviations are:

Ward Names

  • B., B.B., B.B.W.: Bedfordbury Ward
  • C.C., C.C.W.: Charing Cross Ward
  • D.L., D.L.W.: Drury Lane Ward
  • Ex., E.W.: Exchange Ward
  • L.A., L.A.W.: Long Acre Ward
  • N.S.W.: New Street Ward
  • S.A., S.A.W.: Spur Alley Ward
  • S.S., S.A.W.: Suffolk Street Ward
  • S.W.: Strand Ward

Examination Notes and Outcomes

  • Q., Q. Rt.: Query Right to Settlement
  • NRt. Remd: No Right to a Settlement, Removed
  • Rt.: Right to a Settlement

The ward abbreviations were probably included to facilitate investigation of the pauper's statement. No guide to contemporary usage of these abbreviations has survived, and their meaning has been surmised from contextual information.

The Parish

At the heart of Westminster, the modern boundaries of the parish of St Martin in the Fields were created in 1724, when St George Hanover Square was removed from the larger parish. Throughout most of the eighteenth century St Martin's encompassed approximately 30,000 inhabitants, including some of the richest in London as well as the more disorderly neighbourhoods around Charing Cross.

These examinations were created to service and reflect the management of the parish as a provider of poor relief, either in the form of doles or workhouse accommodation. The poor law arrangements in St Martin's, and the role of the workhouse within them, was described by Francis Eden at the end of the century:

The volumes reproduced in this database are part of a complex and nearly complete set of parochial records that encompass the whole range of interactions between the parish and individual paupers. This archive includes account books, vestry minutes, outdoor relief accounts, pauper apprenticeship records, sextons' books, and a comprehensive set of Workhouse Admissions Registers (SWR) (also available through the London Lives site). These records form the basis for a series of projects, directed by Professor Boulton and Dr Schwarz, which are producing detailed analyses that promise to refine and change our understanding of the nature of living poor in London.

Using this Dataset in London Lives

The individuals whose experiences are recorded in these examinations were paupers, and they are most likely to appear in other records associated with poor relief. Many will have been admitted to the St Martin's workhouse and are listed in the Workhouse Admissions Registers (SWR).

A significant proportion of paupers were removed from or to another parish, and the existence of a Settlement Examination marked a significant stage in this process. Where the other parish was St Clement Danes, St Dionis Backchurch, or St Botolph Aldgate, the examinee's name should appear in the relevant parish records. Where the parish of settlement or removal was St Luke Chelsea, their name is likely to appear in the St Luke Workhouse Register (WHR)

As St Martin in the Fields was in Westminster, names appearing in the examinations might also appear in the Coroners Inquests (IC) for Westminster. It is unlikely that the examinees would ever have been wealthy enough to serve on the Coroners' jury, but they may appear as either deponents, or in the guise of the dead body at the heart of the inquest. Settlement examinations frequently include details of apprenticeship and service, and the names of masters and employers listed in the examinations are likely to appear in inquest documents. This disjunction of wealth also suggests that the number of ratepayers and voters recorded in the Westminster Historical Database (WHD) who were subject to a Settlement Examination will be tiny.

There is a chance that the examinees from St Martin in the Fields were caught up in the system of vagrant removal or in the criminal justice system, as either victims or perpetrators. If so, their names would also appear in the Sessions Papers (PS) for Middlesex, The Old Bailey Proceedings (OBP), or perhaps in the records of Bridewell if they were charged with vagrancy in the City of London.

Original Sources

  • Westminster Archives Centre, St Martin in the Fields, Examination Books, January 1725 to November 1793, F5018 - F5074.

Back to Top | Introductory Reading

Introductory Reading

  • Boulton, Jeremy. The Poor Among the Rich: Paupers and the Parish, in the West End, 1600-1724. In Griffiths, Paul and Jenner, Mark S. R. (ed.), Londinopolis: Essays in the Cultural and Social History of Early Modern London. Manchester and New York, 2000, pp. 197-225.
  • Boulton, Jeremy. 'It Is Extreme Necessity That Makes Me Do This'. Some 'Survival Strategies' of Pauper Households in London's West End During the Early Eighteenth Century. International Review of Social History. Supplement 8 (2001), pp. 47-69.
  • Schwarz, L. D. London, 1700-1840, vol. 2 of The Cambridge Urban History of Britain, ed. P. Clark. Cambridge, 2000.
  • Schwarz, L. D. London in the Age of Industrialisation: Entrepreneurs, Labour Force and Living Conditions, 1700–1850. Cambridge, 2004.

Online Resources

For further reading on this subject see the London Lives Bibliography.