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The Progress of the Nation page 16


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It was therefore provided that any two justices of the peace should, on complaint made by the churchwardens and overseers of the poor, within forty days after the arrival of any new comer in the parish, proceed to remove him by force to the parish where he had last a legal settlement, either as native, householder, sojourner, apprentice, or servant, unless he either rented a house of ten pounds a year, or could give such security against becoming chargeable as the judges should deem sufficient. This was made more stringent by a subsequent act 1 James II. c. 17, which, to prevent any one getting a settlement by the neglect or oversight of the parish authorities, only dated the day of his entrance into the parish from the time that he gave a written notice of his new abode and the number of his family.

These enactments, in fact, converted the free labourers of England into serfs. They were bound to the soil, and could not move from the spot unless by the will of the overseers and justices. It was not necessary that a man should become chargeable to the parish in order to effect his removal; it was enough that the authorities could assume that he might become so; and it was not till 1795 - in fact, till the reign of George III. - that this oppressive law was ameliorated, allowing working people to change their abode, as they saw a better chance of employment elsewhere, so long as they did not come upon the parish.

The consequences of this new law of settlement were not long in showing themselves. In 1668, but six years after the passing of the act of Charles II., Sir Josiah Child, in his "New Discoveries of Trade," thus describes the condition of the poor under it. After showing the hardships which the industrious labourers suffered by being continually pushed back when they endeavoured to improve their state in a new place, he shows the uselessness of attempting to check vagrancy by it, and the trouble and expense it entailed on parishes for nothing. "A poor, idle person, that will not work, or that nobody will employ in the country, comes up to London to set up the trade of begging. Such a person, probably, may beg up and down the streets seven years, it may be seven-and-twenty, before anybody asketh why she doth so; and. if at length she hath the ill-hap in some parish to meet with a more vigilant beadle than one in twenty of them are, all he does is but to lead her the length of five or six houses into another parish, and then concludes, as his masters the parishioners do, that he hath done the part of a most diligent officer. But suppose he should yet go further, to the end of his line, which is the end of the law, and the perfect execution of his office - that is, suppose he should carry this poor wretch to a justice of the peace, and he should order the delinquent to be whipped, and sent from parish to parish to the place of her birth or last abode, which not one justice of twenty, through pity or other cause, will do, even this is a great charge upon the country; and yet the business of the nation is itself wholly undone; for no sooner doth the delinquent arrive at the place assigned, but, for shame or idleness, she presently deserts it, and wanders directly back, or some other way, hoping for better fortune; whilst the parish to which she is sent, knowing her to be a lazy, and perhaps worse qualified person, is as willing to be rid of her as she is to be gone thence."

The unsatisfactory state of pauperism to which the law of settlement brought the kingdom, set numbers of heads at work to plan schemes of employing the destitute poor, and Sir Josiah Child proposed that persons should be appointed for this purpose, to be called "the fathers of the poor." This seems to be the origin of the modern guardians of the poor. It was too early in the history of endeavour to educate and employ the poor for these recommendations to receive any general attention; but there were some individuals who set themselves zealously to work to convert the swarming paupers into profitable workers and respectable members of society. The most eminent of these were two shopkeepers of London, Andrew Yarranton and Thomas Firmin. Yarranton was a linendraper; and, being employed by "twelve gentlemen of England" to bring over men from Saxony and Bohemia who understood the art of tinning sheet-iron, he there made close observation of the manufacture of linen, and conceived the idea of introducing the linen manufacture, and employing the unemployed poor upon it and the manufacture of iron. He went to Ipswich, to see whether the linen manufacture could not be established there; but he found the poor already so well employed in the stuff and say and Colchester trade, that he did not think it a suitable place. He calculated the paupers of England at that time at a hundred thousand; that by employing this number at fourpence a day each, would occasion a profitable outlay amongst them of upwards of six hundred thousand pounds; by which means almost the whole of the poor-rates would be saved. In 1677 he published a book containing his views on these heads, called "England's Improvement by Sea and Land:" how to set at work all the poor of England with the growth of our own lands; to prevent unnecessary suits at law, with the benefits of a voluntary register; where to procure vast quantities of timber for the building of ships, with the advantage of making the great rivers of England navigable. He gave rules for the prevention of fires in London and the great cities, and informed the several companies of handicraftsmen how they might always have cheap bread and drink. In short, Mr. Yarranton was a regularly speculative man, but one who had a good share of calculating common sense in the midst of his manufacturing and philanthropic schemes. He seems to have travelled the kingdom well, and made careful observations as to the best localities for carrying on his proposed trades; and he seems to have come to the conclusion that the midland counties would be the best for the linen manufactures, and that most people might be employed on it. The midland counties he regarded as admirably adapted for the growth of the flax from the fertility of the land, and for the trade, because of the easy conveyance of goods by water on the rivers Trent, Soar, Avon, and Thames, from the counties of Nottingham, Leicester, Warwick, Northampton, and Oxford. He found many parts of England already so well supplied with manufactures, that he did not think the poor required more work there; and his descriptions of the manufactures going on in different parts of the island give a lively view of the manufacturing industry of the time. "In the west of England," he says, "clothing of all sorts, as in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, and a small portion of Warwickshire; in Derby, Nottingham, and Yorkshire, the iron and woollen manufactures; in Suffolk, Norfolk, and Essex, the woollen manufacture; in Kent, Sussex, and Surrey, some cloth, iron, and materials for shipping. Then the counties to raise provisions and to vend them at London, to feed that great mouth, are Cambridge, Huntingdon, Buckingham, Hertford, Middlesex, and Berks."

He is very copious in his descriptions of the iron works, showing the material benefit to employers and employed, as well as the public at large, by their existence. "I will begin," he says, "in Monmouthshire, and go through the forest of Dean, and there take notice what infinite quantities of sow iron is there made with bar iron and wire; and consider the infinite number of men, horses, and carriages which are to supply these works, and also digging of ironstone, providing of cinders, carrying to the works, making into sows and bars, cutting of wood, and converting it into charcoal. Consider, also, in these parts the woods are not worth the cutting and bringing home by the owners to burn in their houses; and it is because there are-in all these places pit coals very cheap. Consider, also, the multitude of cattle and people thereabouts employed, that make the land dear; and what with the benefit made of the woods, and the people making the land dear, it is not inferior for riches to any place in England. And if these advantages were not there, it would be little less than a howling wilderness."

He adds: - "There is yet a most great benefit in the kingdom in general by the sow iron made of the ironstone and Roman cinders in the forest of Dean; for the metal is of a most gentle, pliable, and soft nature, easily and quickly to be wrought into manufacture over what any other iron is, and it. is the best in the known world; and the greatest part of this sow iron is sent up the Severn to the forges in Worcestershire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, and Cheshire, and there is made into bar iron; and, because Of its kind and gentle nature to work, it is now, at Stourbridge, Dudley, Wolverhampton, Sedgeley, Walsall, and Birmingham, and- thereabouts, Wrought and manufactured into all small commodities and diffused all England over, and thereby great trade made of it; and, when manufactured, sent into most parts of the world. And I can very easily make it appear that, in the forest of Dean, or thereabouts, and about the materials that come from thence, there are employed and have their subsistence therefrom, no less than sixty thousand persons.

"And now, in Worcestershire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, and Derbyshire, there are great and numerous quantities of iron-works; and there much iron is made of metal or ironstone of another nature, quite different from that of the forest of Dean. This iron is short, soft iron, commonly called cold-shore iron, of which all the nails are made, and infinite other commodities; in which work are employed many more persons, if not double, to what are employed in the forest of Dean. And in all those counties the gentlemen and others have monies for their woods at all times when they want it, which to them is a great benefit and advantage; and the lands in most of these places are double the rate they would be at if there were not ironworks there; and in all these counties now named there is an infinite of pit coals; and the pit coals being near the iron, and the ironstone growing with the coals, there it is manufactured very cheap, and sent all England over, and to most parts of the world. And if the iron-works were not there, the woods in all these counties to the owners thereof would not be worth the carting and carrying home, because of the cheapness of the coals, and duration thereof."

A publication like this of Andrew Yarranton was calculated to produce the most beneficial change in the condition of the people. It pointed out the true resources and wealth of the nation, and showed a way to get rid of pauperism, and at the same time to raise and enrich the whole realm. It made landowners aware of the extent to which their estates would be augmented in value by the introduction of these popular industries; and one of the most immediate effects seems to have been the calling out of his fellow London shopkeeper, Mr. Thomas Firmin.

By "The Life of Mr. Thomas Firmin, late citizen of London, written by one of his most intimate acquaintance," 1698, we learn that he was a shopkeeper of Leaden- hall Street. We learn, moreover, that he was born at Ipswich in 1632, and began the world as a tradesman with a hundred pounds. His character for probity and ability was already such that he flourished, married a citizen's daughter with five hundred pounds, and in process of time occupied superior premises in Lombard Street. Here, though a confirmed unitarian, and entertaining the celebrated unitarian leader, Mr. Biddle, and procuring him an allowance of one hundred crowns from Cromwell whilst he was kept prisoner in Scilly, yet he was on intimate terms with Dr. Tillotson, and many other eminent churchmen, "plough not bearing on our main subject, the following extract is worth diffusing amongst the religious of to-day – "During the imprisonment of Mr. Biddle at Scilly, Mr. Firmin was settled in Lombard Street, where first Mr. Jacomb, then Dr. Outram was minister. With these two, being excellent preachers and learned men, he maintained a respectful and kind friendship. Now also he grew into intimacy with Dr. Whichcot, Dr. Worthington, Dr. Wilkins, afterwards bishop of Chester, Mr. Tillotson (for he was not yet doctor), archbishop of Canterbury; but in their dignity, and to their very, last, Mr. Firmin had the same place and degree in their friendship and esteem that at any time formerly he had. While Dr. Tillotson preached the Tuesday's lecture at St. Lawrence, so much frequented by all the divines of the town, and by a great many persons of quality and distinction, when the doctor was obliged to be at Canterbury, where he was dean, or was out of town, either for diversion or health, he generally left it to Mr. Firmin to provide preachers for his lecture; and Mr. Firmin never failed to supply his place- with some very eminent preacher, so that there never was a complaint on the account of Dr. Tillotson's absence; and this Mr. Firmin could easily do, for now there was hardly a divine of note, whether in London or in the country, that frequented London, but Mr. Firmin was become acquainted with him; which thing helped him much to serve the interests of many hopeful, young preachers and scholars, candidates for lectures, schools, cures, or rectories, for whom he would solicit with as much affection and diligence as other men do for their sons or other near relations. See here a trader, who knew no Latin or Greek, no logic or philosophy, compassed about by an incredible number of learned friends, who differed so widely in opinion from him."

The secret of it was the perfect freedom of the man from bigotry, and his perfectly benevolent character. When the plague broke out in 1665, which carried off near a hundred thousand people, and left vast numbers destitute from the flight of the employers, Firmin seized, on the plan of manufacturing linen, so earnestly recommended by Yarranton, and that upon a plan first set on foot by Thomas Gouge, the clergyman of St. Sepulchre's. This was to buy up both flax and hemp rudely dressed, and give it out to the poor people to spin at their own homes. He built a house in Aldersgate, which he called his great work-house or spinning-house, and there he gave out the flax and hemp, and took in the yarn. The object of Firmin was not to make money by the speculation, but to allow the poor people all the profit; and, indeed, he allowed them more, for he sunk a considerable sum of money in it. But he was fast growing rich, and he was too wise to allow himself to become the slave of riches; and though from six hundred pounds his capital had grown to twenty thousand pounds, he determined not to leave more than five thousand pounds behind him. His object was to employ the people instead of giving them money as a charity; and he observed that he found it greatly to the relief of the poor; for that they could earn threepence or fourpence a day, working only such times as they could spare from any other occupations, "who, being at work in their own homes, and where they could with convenience attend it, many of them became so much pleased with it, that so much money given them for doing nothing would not have done them half so much good as that which they got by their own labour in this employment."

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Pictures for The Progress of the Nation page 16

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