Who in Thorncombe did not sign the 1723 Devon Loyalty Oaths and Why?

By Eve Higgs

Migrants and Paupers

Identifying economic immigrants and emigrants is always problematic. Those who leave the best paper trail tend to be the least mobile members of a community. The 'better sort' and the 'middling sort', landowners and office holders leave wills, leases and such-like. Their means of survival lies on their doorsteps so they are static. Settlement law meant that native paupers drawing parish relief either due to age and/or infirmity also stayed put. As a group they are usually well documented if, as in Thorncombe's case, the overseers' accounts survive.

In the absence of a parish workhouse, the elderly, sick and unemployed received outdoor relief in 1723 for periods varying from 10 weeks to 50 weeks. Some also received ad hoc payments or relief in kind, specifically stockings, shoes, underwear and outer clothing. The parish also met the cost of binding out five apprentices and nine coffins. In all 76 individuals are listed as being in receipt of some form of parish relief, of whom 23 received financial support throughout the year (see Appendix 1).

When Hoskins tried to analyse migration patterns in Devon during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries he found it impossible to follow the movements of a sufficiently large cohort from one parish to another to draw any firm conclusions regarding migration patterns. He was able to show that between 40% and 70% family names disappeared every 100 years, but other reasons such as celibacy, infertility due to inbreeding and mortality crises could also account for this trend.

Tracking movements in a family unit is less problematic. Using his own kin as an example, Hoskins observed his forebears stayed within a 10 mile radius in East Devon, throughout the seventeenth and eighteen centuries, having moved across the border from Dorset in 1585. He put this stasis down to the difficulty of travelling long distances and suggests that the twin factors of improvements in transport and the postal service in the nineteenth century meant that details of opportunities for employment were more widely circulated, contributing to an increase in mobility.13

Analysis of the Thorncombe parish register identified 156 brides, who were not listed in the baptism register and 129 grooms out of a total of 282 marriages listed in the marriage register between 1674 and 1723. This could indicate that around 45% of Thorncombe's total adult population were immigrants. It also suggests that spouses born outside the parish were not unusual and that there were employment opportunities for outsiders and native born adults alike, given those in receipt of regular parish relief, that is the elderly and the infirm, amounted to 23 which was less than 5% of the population. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it might also be implied that emigration during this period, driven by lack of employment was also minimal (see Appendices 2 and 3).

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  1. Hoskins, W., A New Survey of England, (London, 1954), 172-173. [back]