12th May 1700. Strolling Vagabonds.

Parish overseers in 1713 could reward anyone with 5 shillings for rounding up disorderly persons.

The manner by which the church exercised its authority through the Overseers of the Poor, is illustrated by the entry dated for today, in the Burton Vestry Book, in 1700.

It recorded: ‘The money collected at the Communion is to be forthwith distributed to the poor, regard to be had in the first place, to those that communicate and are frequenters of the church’ and decided by churchwardens unless ‘obstructed by lawful impediment’; there were special seats for those receiving relief.

However the law has always discriminated between the settled poor, ‘frequenters of the church’, and Vagrancy, as Vagabonds were always considered a threat to the settled life of the local community.

Since medieval times when a ‘pass’ was given to itinerants travelling through the parish, and so not liable to be a local charge.

After the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt, begging was illegal, but in 1505 Henry VII instituted a hospital at the Savoy, for ’pouer, nedie people’ (sic), described by the 16thc writer Stowe, as used by ‘loiterers, vagabonds and strumpets’.(1)

His son Henry VIII again made poverty a crime when he appropriated the revenues of monasteries, which had been given in trust for the poor, resulting in increased vagrancy, requiring harsh laws to combat.

Hark! Hark!, the dogs do bark, the beggars are coming to town. Nursery Rhyme.

Then an Edward VI Act required beggars to: ‘Weare sic) openly upon him both on the breast and back of the uttermost garment some notable badge of token’. Vagabonds and gypsies were branded with a ‘V’ on the breast.(2)

The Elizabethan Vagrancy Act of 1572, specified whipping of unlicensed vagabonds Acting Troupes, which had the affect of these groups, such as Shakespeare’s, allying themselves to wealthy patrons, becoming for example ‘The King’s Men’.

Vagabonds were also fair game for Impressment as The Vagrancy Act 1597 forced disreputable men to be drafted into the navy or army.

In the age of the Hanoverian’s, George II’s Vagrant Act (1744), divided beggars between those without means, and the idle, whilst in 1796 the Tichborne Dole was stopped by magistrates owing to its abuse by outsiders, causing conflict within the parish, for whom it was intended.

With the Industrial Revolution and the post-Napoleonic-War era, vagabondage increased with the discharge of soldiers and sailors, resulting in the 1824 Act. (3)

In modern Britain, witch trials, debtors’ prisons, the pillory and executions have gone, but the 1824 legislation rolls on, (amended in Scotland), to deal with a growing problem of the itinerant homeless.

(1) John Stow had fallen on hard times after becoming a writer, but was given a ‘Licence to Beg’ by the King, as otherwise he could have been whipped as an unlicensed vagabond. Stow’s Survey of London.

(2) The late 17thc reign of William III saw the compulsory wearing of badges of red or blue cloth bearing the letter ‘P’ and the name of their parish.

(3) 21st June 1824. 5 Geo 4c 83. Amended in 1838.











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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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