Bastardy orders

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This is a backup of the West Yorkshire Archive Service's "Off the Record" wiki from 2015. The live went offline in 2016 and remains unavailable.

The following source list was originally available only on paper in one of the West Yorkshire Archive Service offices. It may have been compiled many years ago and could be out of date. It was designed to act as a signpost to records of interest on a particular historical subject, but may relate only to one West Yorkshire district, or be an incomplete list of sources available. Please feel free to add or update with any additional information.


According to Common Law, a child born to married parents was considered as 'legitimate'. Therefore children born to unmarried parents were considered 'illegitimate' or 'bastards'. Although 'bastard' was not techincally a status it did have some legal consequenes including:

  • illegitimate children were not able to inherit their father's property; this was not amended until provisions made in the Legitimacy Act 1926 (16 and 17 Geo.5 c.60) and the Family Law Reform Act 1969 (c.46) changed inheritance law.
  • illegitimate children could not be ordained as priests

There were proceedures in which a man could be named as a child's father and made to contribute with financial assistance until a child was old enough to be apprenticed (usually around the age of 14). These proceedures were generally administered by the parish up to 1834 when changes in the Poor Law system meant these responsibilities were briefly transferred to the Quarter Sessions (the order books are usually the best place to start, ref. QS10). In 1839 this then became part of the Petty Session's jurisdiction, although bastardy orders tend not appear in these records until around 1890. Annual returns were then submitted to the Quarter Sessions from the Petty Sessions.

The general records of illegitimacy available are documents such as:

  • bastardy orders: these were issued after a child was born and include details of who pays what and for how long
  • bastardy bonds: an agreement usually by bondsmen and sureties to say that they will indemnify the parish to which the child is chargeable from all costs (mainly found before 1800)


Description Dates Reference Repository
Bradford Magistrates Court: bastardy orders 1894-1947 P16/235 WYAS: Wakefield
Brighouse Borough Division, WR Petty Sessions: bastardy orders 1899-1951 P10/43 WYAS: Wakefield
Huddersfield Borough Court: bastardy orders/records 1877-1940 P33/7/3 WYAS: Wakefield
Huddersfield Borough Court: bastardy orders/records 1889-1899 P33/7/4 WYAS: Wakefield
Keighley Division (court at Bingley), WR Petty Sessions: applications for bastardy orders (not complete for all years) 1844-1915 P2/6/1-3 WYAS: Wakefield
Keighley Division, WR Petty Sessions: applications for bastardy orders 1848-1880 P3/7/2 WYAS: Wakefield
Sandal St Helen's Church: Bastard children account books 1793-1831; settlement certificates of pregnant women 1823-1827; examinations of mothers 1809-1825; bastardy orders 1783-1840; warrants to apprehend fathers 1795-1830; summons to reputed fathers 1809-1831; warrants disobeying bastardy orders 1825-1842; bonds for maintenance 1796-1799 1783-1842 WDP20/9/10 WYAS: Wakefield
Upper Osgoldcross (Castleford) Division, WR Petty Sessions: bastardy orders 1888-1946 P24/99 WYAS: Wakefield
Wakefield Borough Court: bastardy, information book re summons 1870-1972 P8/133-138 WYAS: Wakefield
Wakefield Borough Court: bastardy, disobeyance of orders 1870-1936 P8/139-145 WYAS: Wakefield