Timothy Dionis, 1704-1765

Parish Care From Cradle To Grave

The life of Timothy Dionis was bound up with the parish and parish officers of St Dionis Backchurch in the City of London. His name appears persistently in the records of the parish detailing the support he received during much of his 61 years. Unfortunately, Timothy's voice does not emerge from these records, but they do provide valuable evidence of the never-flagging care given him by the parish.

Early Life

Timothy Dionis, presumably a foundling, was baptised at St Dionis church on 12 July 1704.1 Like other parish orphans (see also Charlotte Dionis) his surname came from the name of the parish. As a young child, he was under the care of a parish nurse. From at least 1707 until 1709 payments were made by the parish each quarter to Elizabeth Brackley for nursing and lodging him and providing clothing. She received 2s 4d a week for nursing (2s 6d in 1708 and 1709) and 5s a quarter for clothing. Mrs Brackley looked after at least two other small children, including another foundling, Easter Dionis, at the time Timothy was with her.

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In November 1715, when Timothy was about 11 years old, the parish placed him out as an apprenticeship. It paid £10 to Mr Jasper Helmut to take him as an apprentice for eleven years. An additional amount of £2 7s 10d was paid for Helmut's wife to teach Timothy to write. Helmut (or Helmunt, or a variety of other spellings) is recorded at the time of his death as having been a long bow string maker. He was an active participant in the parish life of St Dionis, undertaking over the years many parish offices including those of scavenger, constable, questman and collector for the poor, and he was upper churchwarden from 1736-7.

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Marriage and More Relief

The records provide no evidence of the success or otherwise of the apprenticeship; though it does not appear to have achieved its main objective, of allowing Timothy to earn a decent living. In his mid thirties he married. In August 1740, the parish agreed to pay him 10s 6d "to keep him and his wife from the parish".

This was not successful, for he started to receive casual poor relief (6d or 1s fortnightly) from 1742. At the end of 1742, into early 1743, and sporadically until 1754, his wife also received casual relief. From 1743 and for the rest of his life, in most years, and often more than once a year, Timothy was also the recipient of donations from the charitable funds managed by the parish (varying from 6d to 2s several times a year), and from sacrament money. It is not clear exactly why he was in such need, but he certainly suffered ill health, and it was probably this circumstances that led to his impoverishment.

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Varying Needs and Payments

In addition to gifts from bequests, the parish contributed generously to Timothy's various needs throughout the 1740s. He experienced several bouts of serious illness (unspecified) in 1746 when payments to him were increased to 3s a week for about 7 weeks. Otherwise, in 1746 and 1747 payments were made for lodging him and his wife (usually about 1s 6d a week, sometimes more).

In October 1747, he became ill again with fever, and his payments were increased to 2s 6d a week. He was provided with clothing, and with two women "setting up with him" (who cost 1s 4d). In November that year, he was moved to residential care, to be looked after by a parish nurse, nurse Jackson, to whom payment was made for his board and lodging. On his recovery, 13s 6d was spent on more clothing for him, with generous relief payments (of 6s and 2s 6d) and an additional 7s 6d "to set him up".

From 1750, when he was 46, Timothy Dionis was listed in the accounts of those in receipt of a regular weekly cash pension. From 1751 until 1754, he was paid 9d every week of the year. In 1755, he received six weeks pension at 9d and 39 weeks at 1s. For 1756, there were eight payments of 1s each. Nevertheless, casual relief payments, together with gifts from bequests and sacrament money, continued to be paid to him on a frequent, though irregular, basis throughout the 1750s and into the 1760s. Additional money was paid to him when he fell ill from time to time, as in 1752. The provision of significant amounts of clothing continued, creating heavy bills for the parish. For instance, in 1764 and for the first five months of 1765, £1 11s 2d was paid to him in relief and clothing - shirts, shoes and stockings. The impression is of a man who was out and about a great deal on the streets of London (perhaps he was begging), as his shoes required frequent replacing.

The last payment made to him was dated 20 May 1765, a casual relief payment of 2s 6d. On 25 May, funeral dues of 14s were paid on his behalf at the parish of St Giles without Cripplegate. We do not know the cause of death, but given his frequent illnesses, it is perhaps surprising that he lived so long. Credit for that must go in part to his parish.

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External Sources


1 Family Search, consulted 17 April 2010.

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About this Biography

Created by

Deirdre Palk 

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