Jul
17

Deciphering minute by minute

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I had taken pictures of a book of minutes from the Foundling Hospital, which were written in the worst handwriting ever – and the time has come to decode them. I’m making good progress through my large collection of pictures from the archives, and alternating staring at my computer with reading other primary sources on the Poor Laws, including Joseph Townsend’s ‘A Dissertation on the Poor Laws’ which helpfully suggests that the social order must be maintained by keeping the poor at the level of subsistence, because “hope and fear are the springs of industry” and that hunger is the best motivator of the poor, therefore “he who feeds them is their greatest enemy.” Townsend also theorized that at least some of the poor would always have to starve if they continued to reproduce too quickly, and his connection between population growth and the checks asserted by the food supply struck me as very Malthusian – so I’ll be reading his Essay on Population next.

In the first few pages of the Foundling Hospital Committee Minutes I found the story of Ann Peers, sent out as an apprentice from the Foundling Hospital, and sent back pregnant. The general committee seemed to think this was an unfortunate mistake (the fault of her master?) and not a sign of bad character, and agreed to provide for her delivery at a lying in hospital. But the minutes say that the secretary should also ask for some support from the parish of St Anne’s, Soho. This is important, because as a foundling, Ann would have no contact or knowledge of her parents, her name having been changed on admission to the hospital. So which parish does the committee think should be responsible for her – the parish of her mother or father? of her birth or baptism? or even the parish where she was apprenticed or of the father of her child? This entry was so badly written that I was about to beg the William & Mary hive mind to help me figure out what it said, until looking at it just now I finally made sense of the letters. But here’s a picture of it anyway as an example of what I’ve been dealing with. Only about 200 pages to go…

"Resolved, that the same be not adopted but that the Secretary do inform the Overseers of the Parish of St Anne's Soho that the committee have obtained an admittance into the Lying In Hospital and will endeavor to procure her a situation after she comes out of it."

“Resolved, that the same be not adopted but that the Secretary do inform the Overseers of the Parish of St Anne’s Soho that the committee have obtained an admittance into the Lying In Hospital and will endeavor to procure her a situation after she comes out of it.”

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