Bristol: A history and Guide
Bristol - Parish Boundaries (1)
These pages came about as the result of an enquiry in November 2000 from Margaret Beard in New Zealand concerning the Parish Boundaries for Bedminster.
All over Britain can be found, if you know where to look, the old Parish Boundary markers. They may be of metal or stone and set into walls or simple markers in the ground. At the time they were erected, when the church played a very much more important part in people's lives than it does now, they helped shape the pattern of your life, the taxes you paid and to whom.
The parish bore the responsibility of looking after its poor. Even when they died the parish performed the last earthly act for them and had to bury them. The parish officers were responsible for distributing the Poor Relief, to ease the burden on their funds they made sure that vagrants were moved on. They were especially keen that the children of the vagrants were not born in the parish as these children could claim the right of settlement and the poor relief could be claimed for them.
These itinerants became a major problem for most parishes, and not just in Bristol. In the mid 1700's ships travelling to Ireland had to return one Irish vagrant for every seven tons of load they carried. This movement wasn't all one way, around 6,500 people were returned to Bristol from Middlesex between 1808 and 1820.
In 1555 the parishes were ordered to maintain their own roads. The Act stated that every parish should elect two surveyors or waywards who had the power to force parishoners to work on road repairs. The parishoners were expected to work eight hour days for four consecutive days of the year. The more well-off were to provide a horse and cart as well as the labour. This system was obviously open to abuse, and if they could afford it, people could "buy off" their time. This system of forced labour was replaced in the 1600's to a contribution to the Parish Rate.
The first national Poor Laws can be traced back to 1572 when Elizabeth I was on the throne. In 1576 the compulsion was imposed on local authorities to provide raw materials to give work to the unemployed. The Statute of 1601 compelled the Overseers of the Poor in every parish to buy "a convenient stock of flax, hemp, wool, thread, iron and other stuff to set the poor to work" and to provide for the needy of the parish. But even before this, in 1548, there is an entry in the accounts of St Ewens church for "Bread and ale to poore people vjd. [5 shillings]"
In the 17th century, burglery, horse stealing and theft of items over the value of five shillings all carried the penalty of hanging. In 1699 the scheme popularly known as the Tyburn Ticket was instigated. On apprehension of a criminal committed for a capital offence, the person that apprehended them would be exempt from local dues in the parish that the offence took place for life.
These Tyburn Tickets could be transferred once, this usually meant that they were sold. The Bristol Journal contains several advertisments for these tickets. There is one in the issue for 4th September 1813. They usually sold for around £10 - £25 but the Stamford Mecury of 27th March 1818 announced the sale of one of these tickets for £280.
The Poor Rate system proved very expensive to administer and some parishes were in danger of becoming bankrupt. In 1803 the parish of St John's, Bedminster was giving £891 in Poor Relief, by 1831 this had risen to £3,488. This increase was causing problems for the church and the parishoners who had to pay the Poor Rates, as in 1830 to try and shame the people who received the Rates their names and occupations were posted on the church door. By this time many people expected this money as a right and so this public "shaming" of them had no effect. To try and remedy the situation in 1834 the Poor Law Amendment was passed. This had the effect of leaving us the nasty after-taste of the Victorian workhouse.
The 1834 Poor Law Ammendment stated that :-
no able-bodied person was to receive money or other help from the Poor Law authorities except in a workhouse.
conditions in workhouses were to be made very harsh to discourage people from wanting to receive help.
workhouses were to be built in every parish or, if parishes were too small, in unions of parishes.
ratepayers in each parish or union had to elect a Board of Guardians to supervise the workhouse, to collect the Poor Rate and to send reports to the Central Poor Law Commission.
the three man Central Poor Law Commission would be appointed by the government and would be responsible for supervising the Amendment Act throughout the country.
The idea of these amendments was that they would :-
- reduce the cost of looking after the poor
- take beggars off the streets
- encourage poor people to work hard to support themselves.
Workhouse - includes a history of Bristol's workhouses (look under both Somerset and Gloucestershire) and contains more information on the Poor Laws.
Map of Bristol's Earliest Parishes
The map was re-drawn from the one that appears in "A Survey of Parish Boundary Markers and Stones for Eleven of the Ancient Bristol Parishes" published by the Temple Local History Group in 1986.
1) St John the Baptist 2) Christchurch 3) St Ewen's
4) St Werburgh's 5) St Leonard's 6) All Saints 7) St Mary Le Port,
Of these parish churches, St Augustine's, St Mary Le Port's, St Peter's and St Thomas's (Temple Parish) were blitzed in 1940, the ruins of St Peter's still remain on Castle Green as does St Mary's. The ruins of St Thomas's with its leaning tower are still to be seen just off of Victoria Street. St Ewen's was demolished in 1788, St Leonards was demolished in 1786, St Werburghs was moved to a district that was named after it in 1876.
Many of the parish markers can still be seen in the area around Corn Street. Other districts around Bristol also contain the remnants of these markers, but because these were simple stone markers these have now largely weathered away. Other districts, such as Bedminster, were largely rural and so used local landmarks as their markers. Many, many other parish markers have now just simply disappeared and no trace of them can be seen.
Christchurch 4 and St John the Baptist 29 markers
Reset into a modern building, Tower Lane
St Leonard's 8 and St John the Baptist 4 markers
St Leonard's 16 & 18 markers
St Leonards Lane & 37/39 Corn Street
Restored in 1984, the "1" is missing from STL18
St Leonard's 23, St Nicholas's 33 and St Leonard's 33 markers
Old Library, King Street
According to the Survey of Parish Boundary Markers and Stones by the Temple Local History Group the St Leonard's 23 marker was, in 1986, covered with cast iron letters "STL 32". This seems to make sense as on the same building is the marker for STL 33. Perhaps the original stone masons made a mistake or, more likely, the boundaries were changed at sometime. Over the years this sometimes did happen, and is the reason some markers have "A" or "B" on them.
St Leonard's 35A and 35B markers
Avon House, Telephone Avenue
The "A" was missing by 1986, the "5" went missing between then and 2001
St Leonard's 40 and 41 markers
17 St Stephens Street
The "1" of the STL 41 marker has been missing since at least 1986,
The "STL" from both markers disappeared between then and 2001
St Leonard's 42 and St Stephen's markers
St Leonard's Lane
The St Stephen's marker is un-numbered
St Leonard's 44 marker
Colston Avenue / Broad Quay
This marker was restored in August 1980
St Nicholas's 11 & 12 markers
5 Exchange Avenue
There are faint numerals to the left of the "11" of STN11,
these are "13" and denote the St Weburgh's 13 marker.
St Nicholas's 34 marker
According to the Survey of Parish Boundary Markers and Stones by the Temple Local History Group, in their 1986 survey they were able to make out the numerals "34" above the STN - I couldn't see any trace of them in 2001.
St Nicholas's 37 marker
This was new in 2001 and set into the concrete pavement around the statue of King William III in Queen's Square. It replaced an older ones that were moved during the renovation of the Square.
St Nicholas's 38 marker
This marker is also in Queen's Square, on the opposite side of the statue to the St. Nicholas 37 marker.
St Nicholas's 42 marker
Middle of Bristol Bridge on downstream side
This page created 15th April 2001, last modified 10th September 2009