The Solicitor's Waste Bin

3. The Removal of Ann Robinson

The Bednall Archive 

Last updated 08/11/2007  


Two documents[1],[2] from the Solicitor’s Waste Bin concern the removal of Ann Robinson, widow and her five children from Ipstones to Greatgate in Staffordshire, in 1809 and in particular to an appeal by the Overseers of the Poor of Greatgate against the removal order.  Their content (rephrased, below) briefly outlines the life of a poor Staffordshire day labourer at the turn of the 19th century and illustrates the problems that the sudden death of the head of a family could pose not only for the family but also for local Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor faced with the problem of supporting them. 

The Removal Of The Robinson Family 

Samuel Robinson was born in Greatgate, Croxden, Staffordshire in or about 1773 and was illegitimate. When he was about a month old he was put out to nurse to a Cynthia Tunnicliffe of Alveton (Alton), Staffordshire who was paid by the parish of Croxden to care for him.  Samuel’s working life started at the early age of seven when he left Cynthia’s home to live with and work for William Cotton of Alton, as a day labourer.  This arrangement continued for more than 17 years “under four separate hirings”.   In this he was fortunate because many farmers at that time, fired their labourers before the end of each year and rehired them shortly afterwards to prevent them acquiring legal settlement in the parish. 

 In October 1797 Samuel married, Ipstones born, Ann [?] in the Alton parish church and afterwards Samuel continued to work for and live with William Cotton while Ann lived with Cynthia Tunnicliffe in Alton.  The following Christmas, however, Samuel quit the job after a disagreement over wages and hired himself to two farmers in the neighbouring parish of Bradley, working 2 days a week for one (Mr Tideswell) and 3 days a week for the other (Mr Gent).   This remained the situation for the next 3 years with Samuel working in Bradley and returning home every evening to Cynthia Tunnicliffe’s where he and his growing family lived.   

At Christmas1805, Samuel went to work for Mr Cotton of Alton again for half a guinea a month. This time, however, a small cottage at Micklins, Alton, with a garden and an orchard of 40 or more large fruit trees, went with the job.  Cotton also agreed to provide Samuel with “the carriage of 2 load of coals in the year” and allow him to keep a cow,” summer and winter”, on land adjoining the cottage.   Samuel and Ann and their growing family moved into their first real home together on Lady Day 1806 and in May bought a cow which they turned onto Mr Cotton’s land at Micklins.  However, the cow was diseased and so, in July, they bought another keeping both cows on Cotton’s land until Samuel sold the first in November. Ann did the milking.   All went well until Christmas 1807 when Samuel again quit Mr Cotton’s service but continued to live in the cottage at Micklins and enjoy all the other privileges for 4 shillings a week rent.  

 During the following year, Samuel worked for various farmers but in February 1808, he heard of a job in Stoke-on-Trent and after first taking Ann and their children to stay with her father in Ipstones, went to Stoke to apply for it.  Unfortunately, on his return to his father-in-law’s house Samuel was suddenly taken ill and after a few days, died. 

 Removal To Alton

 Following Samuel’s death and having no means of supporting herself and her children (James, Mary, Sarah and Joseph, aged 10, 7, 5 and 3 years respectively and Ann who was just 9 months old) Ann applied to the Overseers of Ipstones for relief.   Relief seems to have been provided and as the JPs later phrased it, the family became “actually chargeable to the Township of Ipstones” i.e. the ratepayers had to support them.  Unfortunately the family had not acquired legal settlement in Ipstones nor had they a certificate proving they were legally settled elsewhere.  The Ipstones Overseers therefore began to investigate Ann’s deceased husband’s place of settlement and subsequently asked land valuer and farmer, John Tilsley, to assess the value of the cottage and privileges of Samuel Robinson’s former job with William Cotton in order to determine whether the Robinsons had obtained settlement by “renting a tenement of £10 annual value” or more[3].

 Tilsley assessed the value of Samuel Robinson’s cottage and orchard at £6 and the keeping of cows on Cotton’s fields £9-8s, making a grand total of £14-8s a year. His valuation was several pounds more than that of John Ginders, another farmer, who accompanied him though even he valued it at more than the £10 a year.  Since Robinson had held this tenancy for more than the 40 days, he appeared to have fulfilled all the legal requirements to acquire settlement in Alton.  Samuel should also have acquired settlement as a result of working for and living with William Cotton for more than 17 years[4].

 The Overseers of Ipstones immediately obtained an order for Ann’s removal to Alton the order was quashed on appeal. The Justices’ decision was based on the evidence given by William Cotton who was only able to act as a witness because the Alton parish officers had struck his name from the ratepayers list so that he could!  (The law then barred anyone likely to derive a financial benefit from a case from acting as a witness.)  

 The key point in Cotton’s evidence was his statement that the Robinson’s cow was not confined to any one field but could be moved anywhere that Cotton chose within the parish.  In the Justices’ view this reduced the value of the Robinson’s tenancy below the statutory £10 needed to acquire legal settlement.  Furthermore, they accepted Cotton’s word and the evidence of Tilsley and Ginders was not called to rebut it. Had it been, Tilsley would have informed the court that Cotton had himself pointed out to them the specific fields he allowed Robinson to depasture their cow in.

 Removal To Greatgate

Having failed in their attempt to return Ann and her family to Alton, the Ipstones churchwardens and the overseer of the poor applied to two JPs for an order to remove the family to Samuel Robinson’s place of birth, Greatgate, Croxden.  They did so on the grounds that on marrying Ann’s place of settlement (and that of their children) became that of her husband even if her own place of settlement was known[5].  On 1 December 1808, the JPs issued the order and the family were immediately removed from Ipstones “and delivered to the Church Wardens and Overseers of the Poor” of Croxden.  

 Although they agreed (initially) that Samuel Robinson’s “primitive settlement” was in Greatgate, the Croxden Overseers nevertheless held that he had acquired settlement in Alton when working for William Cotton and on the 3rd of January 1809 appealed the removal order.  However, because of the result in the Ipstones v Alton case, the Croxden Overseer’s solicitors sought further advice.

The reply from the first barrister approached was not encouraging, he was non-committal on their chances of success, agreed the Justices in the Alton v Ipstones case that the winter keep of a cow should not be taken into account and emphasised the lack of proof of Samuel’s birth. They may have been slightly encouraged, however, by his statement that they were not constrained in any way by the previous decision and that which field the cow was kept in was of no account.

 A few weeks later, a second barrister commented much more favourably on their case, quoting a recent, similar, case in which the decision was “diametrically opposite” to the Alton v Ipstones case.  In his view, Samuel Robinson gained settlement in Alton by hiring and service.  With regard to Samuel’s so called “primitive settlement” in Croxden, he did not believe it could be proved and recommended that the only witness, “a man of very loose character … who has been excommunicated” to it should be rigorously questioned.

 There the story ends as far as the two documents are concerned and what finally happened to Ann Robinson and her children I leave for her descendants to determine.

[1] Draft brief for appellants. Greatgate- Appellants,  Ipstones- Respondents. Staffordshire Epiphany Sessions 1809. Cruso, Jones & Porter, Leek.

[2] Ipstones v Croxden. Draft case for the opinion of Mr Clarke. Cruso, Jones & Porter, Leek.23 December 1808.

[3] The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer by Richard Burn LL.D, 21st Edition, London, 1810, Vol. IV. p.369.

[4] Ibid  p.204.

[5] Ibid  p.150

AWBednall, Macclesfield 2004-07