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So how does Mary's account check out? Perhaps, like us, the Churchwardens did some arithmetic and soon discovered that her tale doesn't add up - there are several missing years unaccounted for. Mary was born in 1759 (baptised on January 1st 1760) so on the day she was questioned, she was in her 48th year. If she started work at 17 as she says, this account should cover 31 years! And here is one of the great weaknesses of the Settlement Act - she simply could not remember the sequence of events which made up her life. 

 

The people she mentioned all existed and would have been known by Peter Lavers and the other churchwardens so was she name-dropping? The Saverys were an old family of considerable means, well-known in the neighbourhood, and her brother John was working on Christopher Savery's estate as a hind at the time of this examination. She mentions two military men by name: the first was Captain Crispin (whose widow she worked for), a Captain of the Dragoons who were stationed in Modbury to act as coast guards and clamp down on smuggling in the area; the second was a Naval Officer, Lieutenant Jeans, whose family lived locally. The Widdecombes, Hodges and Crockers were all close neighbours but she doesn't bother giving the name of the "person at St. Budeaux".

 

Her family information is selective, perhaps because she knows that her listeners are already familiar with most of it - her mother had a pauper funeral paid for by the inhabitants of Ugborough when she died in 1790. She says she went to live with her brother in Ermington and we can identify him as Edmund Stentiford who was married to Elizabeth Coleman. She mentions "her parents being dead about a quarter of a year" but in fact her mother died five years before her father (also a pauper) who passed away in the April of 1795. Poor woman - she rambles on and on but she cannot prove that one salient fact she so desperately needs - the continuous year of employment in Ugborough. She has drifted from place to place, working for little more than her keep for 31 years and has nothing to show for all her efforts. You can hear the despair in her voice when they press her on this point and she agrees "that she never hired herself for a year since that time", "that time" being the onset of her ill-health.

 

The men who conducted her Settlement Examination knew she had nowhere else to go and that the Parish Register proved her birth in Ugborough and they offered her some meagre assistance. But they were prudent men who had to account for every halfpenny raised from the Parish to spend on the poor. In 1810, at the age of fifty, she was married to Henry Gill who was barely known to her, an elderly widower and another of Ugborough's paupers. "Two can live as cheaply as one" was a view firmly held by administrators of the old Poor Laws and like churchwardens everywhere, they would have exerted considerable pressure on both Henry and Mary to marry, making it her duty to care for him as he grew more frail and so relieving the Parish of the cost of nursing him. Henry died, aged 88, in April 1824. Poor Mary survived him by just a few weeks - was there someone to take care of her? She was buried on 26 Oct 1824 aged 65.

 

THE FAMILY OF MARY STENTIFORD

 

Thomas Stentiford
ba 14 Dec 1716 Ugborough
m 2 Sep 1743 (Mary Deering) Ugborough
bu 29 Apr 1795 Ugborough

Mary Deering
ba 25 Feb1714 Yealmpton
m 2 Sep 1743 (Thomas Stentiford) Ugborough
bu 22 Apr 1790 Ugborough

 

Joan
ba  14 Feb 1744 Ugborough bu 30 Apr 1781 Ugborough (37)
No Issue
Thomas
ba 17 Jan 1745 Ugborough  m 17 Sep 1786 Ermington d?
Elizabeth Screech
Mary
ba 14 Oct 1748 Ugborough  bu (baby?)*
No Issue
John
ba 8 May1750 Ugborough m 21 Aug 1777 Rattery  bu 17 Nov 1808 Ugborough
Joan Elliott
William
ba 1 Apr 1752 Ugborough   d (baby?)*
No Issue
Betty
ba  10 Jul 1754 Ugborough bu 30 Mar 1755 (6 months)
No Issue
William
ba 27 Jul 1755 Ugborough bu ? 1771
No Issue
Beth
b 10 Jul 1756 Ugborough d (baby?)*
No Issue
Agnes
ba 15 Oct 1758 Ugborough bu 28 Jun 1764 Ugborough (5)
No Issue
Mary Ann ("Mary")
ba 1 Jan1760 Ugbrough m 22 Oct 1810 bu 26 Oct 1824 (65)
Henry Gill
Edmund
b 1761 Ugborough m 17 Sep 1786 Ermington  bu 5 Sep 1819 Ermington 
Elizabeth Coleman
Nan
ba 5 May1764 Ugborough d (baby?)*
No Issue

 

*The recording of child deaths was an informal matter at this time. There was no compulsion under law to bury children in a churchyard and very poor parents like Thomas and Mary may have interred the children close to their home or on the "wrong" side of the churchyard wall. All had been baptised. Little Agnes is one of just a handful of village children recorded in the Parish Register at this time. 

 

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