Sources available 4 books of overseer’s accounts 1731 – 1831 COLLECTIONS Names of the overseers and the rate List of ratepayers and amount they paid DISBURSEMENTS Name of the overseer The reason for payment The amount paid out The name of the recipient
Other records available Parish registers 1558- 1914 Militia lists 1758-1789 Quarter sessions rolls Transportation records Charity records Pre-enclosure survey 1811
1601 An Acte for the Reliefe of the Poore ….. consolidated and replaced a variety of previous legislation and aimed at: Establishment of parochial responsibility, with churchwardens or overseers (from two to four in number, depending on the size of the parish) allocating relief. Collection of poor relief rate based on buildings and land not wealth. Suppression of begging. Provision of work. Use of county Houses of Correction for vagrants. Setting to work and apprenticeship of children.
Categories of the poor those who were too old/ill/young to work: these were the impotent or deserving poor. They were to be looked after in almshouses, hospitals, orphanages or poor houses. Orphans and children of the poor were to be given a trade apprenticeship so that they would have a trade to pursue when they grew up. those who would work but could not: these were the able-bodied or deserving poor. They were to be given help either through outdoor relief or by being given work in return for a wage. those who could work but would not: these were the idle poor. They were to be whipped through the streets, publicly, until they learned the error of their ways.
Who were the overseers ? People of the “middling sort” Usually farmers or tenant farmers Occasionally husbandmen or craftsmen No women They lived in the village and knew the community well Also churchwardens, constables and those on the manor court jury
The home of William Handscombe farmer Overseer 1740-1741
The home of John Crouch cordwainer Overseer 1740-1741
Two overseers were appointed at the annual vestry meeting usually in April Appointments were approved at the Petty Sessions by a JP Had to be able to read, write and add up but not spell! Voluntary but they were paid 5 shillings a month for writing up the accounts Met monthly in private houses to present the accounts, beer was always served
What were their duties ? They were responsible for the poor Administration….. Legal duties………. Disbursement ……
Administration---Finance The Easter vestry set the rate and the overseers collected the money from ratepayers Generally tenants were assessed on the rental values of their property, improvements could be reflected in the valuation year by year In 1731 the rate assessed was 14d in the £ and the annual amount raised was £58.19s.7d. Individual’s contributions ranged from 7d to £9. Weekly amounts of relief paid were for sums between 6d. and 5s. In 1830 the rate assessed was 1s.6d. in the £ and £234 was collected. Individual’s contributions ranged from 1s.2d. for a labourer to £61 for the largest farmer
Some years more money was disbursed than was collected i.e. in 1758 £165.3s.3d. was collected but £166.9s.9d was disbursed. The deficit was made up the following year 1801 was a bad year [poor harvest therefore lots of people needing relief] so in 1802 the rate was raised from 2s. to 3s.6d. The accounts were presented monthly and signed by a small group of parishioners From 1742, when overseers legally had to keep formal accounts, the books were approved and signed annually by JPs in Hitchin
They paid county levy, vagrant tax, and militia accounts. The militia account for 1808 was £20, the county rate for the same year was £22, the vagrant tax for 1766 was £7.1s. Overseers of the highways, or parish surveyors, were appointed annually by the Easter Vestry.Their unpaid job was to maintain all the roads in a parish. Their expenses of around £6 a year were paid by the overseers Constables were also paid annually throughout the period, the amount varied from 9s. to £3
Legal Duties Dealing with newcomers to the village -- overseers had to collect their settlement certificates or arrange their removal and deal with litigation if an appeal arose Sometimes Pirton overseers paid other parishes to look after their poor rather than have them back. For example, the Turner family moved to Weston and became chargeable and Pirton overseers paid for them for 24 years. Other cases were found at Bishops Stortford,Ickleford, Clothall, Ashwell, Shillington, Luton and Great Brickhill “to Barton overseer on widow lows account 17 weeks at 6s. a week up to March 23rd 1816….£5.2s.”
Illegitimate children were granted settlement in the place they were born and this often led overseers to try to remove an unmarried pregnant woman, for example by transporting her to another parish just before the birth, or by paying a man from another parish to marry her Organising a marriage could be expensive as the marriage of pregnant Sara Barber and John Grey in 1764 shows “....examination 2s.,waront 1s., my hors & self the jurney 1s.6d, at Hitchin bear and brakfast 5s.6d., oats 8d., lissonce £1.10s.,marrey fees10s, beer at Ellins, dinna at Ellins. Final payment was a reemufall order 5s.”
Fathers had to reimburse the parish for the illegitimate child’s maintenance, but if they denied paternity it led to appeals and further legal expenses which the ratepayer had to pay William Horten had to pay 3 instalments of £5 for his “natterall child” first in 1805, second 4 months later and finally 2 years later Local fathers paid weekly for their children. In 1825 “William Worseley for Judith Pitts child at 18d. a week.” Judith had 3 illegitimate children as the parish register says: “three bastards by three different fathers”
If no father was proved, the child was the responsibility of the parish. The overseers identified the cheapest option for their welfare. Boarding out was expensive, but they could be admitted to the workhouse or apprenticed Apprenticeships usually began when the child was approaching adolescence, but often informal arrangements were made with local farmers for parish children Only two examples of apprenticeships were found in the accounts, but there is a village charity called Hammonds Charity which was set up in the mid 17 th century to fund apprenticeships, so this may be the reason that there are so few
Disbursements Pensions were the most common form of relief These were by regular weekly, fortnightly or monthly cash payment In 1731 there are 13 named pensioners receiving between 6d. and 5s. a week Paid to the elderly, widows, orphans and the chronic sick It was the simplest and most convenient way of distributing relief. It had the advantage of flexibility. It could be quickly increased or reduced to meet changing circumstances such as growing families, improved work opportunities at harvest and so on
Disbursements Indoor Relief Housing including master’s wages Clothing Fuel Food Medicine Burial Outdoor Relief Housing including board, lodging, rent and repairs Clothing Fuel Medicine Burial
The Workhouse The Poor Law Act of 1601 stated that there was a need for “necessary places of habitation for poor impotent people.” At first overseers tried to make relatives care for them or at least pay for their maintenance. Those without relatives were cared for by the parish. 1723 Act empowered parishes to build workhouses or to contract paupers out to private institutions. Paupers who refused the workhouse could be denied relief. In Pirton there seem to have been two parish houses, the town house and after 1769 a workhouse. Whether they were used concurrently is not clear, but the former was still referred to as the Town House in the Enclosure Award of 1818.
The overseers were responsible for the renting, purchase and repair of the workhouse. In 1768 a barn on Little Green was rented at a cost of 5 guineas per year. In 1769 Peter Goldsmith, carpenter, was paid for building the workhouse and William Hill for thatching it. Peter Goldsmith built a ‘necessary house’ a month later. The accommodation as shown by a later inventory was dwelling house, room next to dwelling house, room over the dwelling house, further house and Jonas Goodwin’s house. It seems as if the workhouse was divided into three houses. A later census shows this to be the case.
Workhouse masters They seem to have a contract for maintaining the paupers in the workhouse between 1766 and 1796. They were given a quarterly lump sum of £84 by the overseers and looked after the daily needs of the poor in the house. They did not live in the house and also had another occupation. In the militia lists, these men’s occupations are given as victualler, farmer, and labourer. Most masters did the job for about 3 years. After 1796 no more masters but money was given to paupers to maintain themselves…a lump sum of around 15s a week depending on how many were there. 15s for 8 adults and 8 children in April 1796.
National returns for 1802/3 show that Poor Law expenditure had doubled in the twenty years from 1783. At a national level, one person in every nine received some poor relief, mainly in the form of outdoor relief. Only one in every twelve receiving relief was in a workhouse (about 1% of the total population) as this arrangement was more expensive for a parish. The annual expenditure per pauper in a workhouse in England was £12.3s.6d., while the average annual cost of outdoor relief per person was only a quarter of this at £3.3s.8d. The Pirton workhouse was not used after 1820.
Outdoor relief.... Housing Rented accommodation usually cottages owned by small farmers, rents paid by overseers at Lady Day and Michaelmas. Rents are paid right through the period from under a £1 a year in 1731 to £5.6s.0d in 1831. Some repairs were carried out on these cottages mainly thatching. General poor could be boarded out with private contractor. 1731 lodging is about 6d a week, board 1s.3d a week. This is usually short term except for orphans.
Clothing 1730s child’s shoes 2s.6d., men’s shoes 4s. and mending 7d......1828 child’s shoes 7s. men’s shoes 12s.6d. Hobnails were hammered into leather soles to protect them from wear. A mix of clothes were made and mended by local women mainly for men or children. Shifts were made from dowlas at 14d. an ell or “gounds” from lince wool at 16d. an ell. Stockings were knitted at 1s.10d. a pair Men and boys were made britches, shirts, waistcoats, stockings and caps. Sometimes “round frocks “were mentioned. (I believe that this is a working smock.) Girls received shifts, bodices, gowns, petticoats, stays, aprons, stockings and cloaks.
Medical The scope of relief extended to cover medical services, although the 1601 Act did not mention this -- but it made sense as the parish was responsible for relieving the sick -- so the quicker they were cured the better. A variety of doctors were initially paid separately for individual patients, but after 1790 a parish doctor was appointed on a fixed price annual contract..this rose from 4 guineas in 1793 to £ 19 in 1830. Doctors treated variety of things including fevers, fits and smallpox. In 1801 Dr Bailly “plaistered the children’s heads” and later in 1828 treated The Kings Evil, which is scrofula or TB of the neck. There is also a record in 1810 of a doctor attending an inquest.
People were bled and there is a record of “6 leeches for John Reynold’s son...2s.6d.” Surgeons set legs and in 1749 there is a record of a women surgeon called Mary Wheeler. Paupers were sometimes sent to hospital -- but these were rare occasions. Most of the nursing was carried out by local women. Their duties include midwifery, caring for people both in their own homes and the workhouse. Local women did nursing irregularly and usually for short periods, but Judith Pitts started when she was 37 and worked for 20 years until she was widowed and became a pensioner. She had a long term patient called “Turner” whom she nursed for 2 years.
There was a big difference in pay for doctors and nurses...1731 setting and curing widow Croote’s leg £3.18s. for the surgeon and 1s.6d. a week for the local person who nurses her. Occasionally a midwife was used for a delivery, but it is not clear whether this was just a local woman or a specialist.........In 1749 a midwife was paid 5s. to deliver two babies. Usually local women, experienced in childbirth themselves, aided mothers. Mothers had a period of “lying in.” In 1760 Judith Trussell was paid £1.15s. for a month lying in when a baby called James was born.
Smallpox There were many instances of smallpox during the 18 th century. Sometimes individuals and sometimes whole families suffered. Many people survived, but John Campkin died after 11 days of nursing. In 1785 John Wright survived, but his wife and two children died. In 1786 a separate house was rented for people with smallpox, but most people were nursed in their own homes as there was no ‘pest house.’ 1799 was a bad year and the disease was caught by many in the workhouse. The first inoculations took place in 1806 when Robert Taylor’s children were vaccinated. By 1809 there was “a parish account” and Dr Foster inoculated 6 people at 2s.6d. a head. There are no more reports of smallpox after that. Some interesting cures were recorded -- Joseph Barber received 6s.3d. for beer when he was a patient.
Death There were no undertakers so villagers looked after the preparation of the body. Village women “sat up” with the dying, and then washed and laid them out. Special clothes or items were bought: for example “cap and muffler 1s.” and “cap and wool 2s.” The coffin was made by the village carpenter Peter Goldsmith at a cost of 7s. in 1740s rising to £1 by 1818. Burial Fees for the minister and clerk were 2s.6d. Mrs Lake -- the licensee of the White Horse -- provided the beer for the funeral at 3d. a quart and Mrs Walker was paid for the bread and cheese. If the pauper had not left a will, the overseers arranged for an affidavit to ensure that the dying person’s last wishes were carried out.
Able bodied poor So far we have seen the organisation of an effective and flexible system for the relief of the deserving poor-- the aged, the sick, one parent families etc. It is very difficult to classify the able bodied. It is possible, however, to distinguish between unemployed and under-employed, individual poverty and mass poverty, long term poverty and short term poverty. For the greater part of our period the overseers were dealing with short term, able-bodied poverty, but by the beginning of the 19 th century the failure of the old poor law to deal adequately with the able-bodied led to the birth of the new poor law with the feared union workhouses.
Initially the overseers had found a variety of parish work for the able bodied unemployed. Examples included: o 1747-1750 Catching sparrows at 3d. a dozen o 1747-50 Catching moles at 1d. each o 1754 Paid 6 men for “pocking in the highways “ at 8d. per day or digging a new ditch across Wetmarsh o 1763 men women and children stone picking at irregular times at 1s. a load. April 1781, Richard Smith the workhouse master organised gangs of stonepickers. 1782 last organised group of stone pickers o 1781 labourers get 2d. a day and 1s. a week working for the parish
Roundsmen System Parish work for the unemployed or under-employed seems to have died out by the mid 1780s and the overseers adopted the roundsman system. A tradition had already been established for the overseers to make cash payments to able-bodied persons in employment, if their wages were too low to support their families, or if their employers were not in a position to employ them for seasonal or economic reasons. Throughout the slack winter months the overseers sent the able-bodied poor round the employers of the parish to do whatever work they could find. The employers paid a proportion of the wage agreed,whilst the remaining portion was paid by the overseers [between 1s-3s.] The overseer’s portion increased the income of the roundsman to a level thought to be appropriate to his circumstances. These arrangements were recognised as being temporary.
The end of the Old Poor Law By 1831 the cost of relief had risen hugely, in 1731 to £1.4s; in 1831 to £10.14s.10d. The reasons were: o The very bad years for agriculture of 1794, 1801 and 1812 and the consequent high prices of corn o After the Napoleonic War imported corn was banned and there was a scarcity and consequent high prices o A rising population ……370 to 758 and same number of ratepayers o Low wages for farm labourers o Mechanisation and improvements in efficiency, which began to reduce the need for unskilled labourers o Increased rents
These developments led to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834
The last word Occasionally there must have been abuses of the whole relief system, but because the overseers knew the applicants the abusers were easily identified. An entry from a local farmer John Kingsley states: ‘June 17 th 1809 John Wright came to me for relief on account of being very ill and I relief im of 5 shillings and on the 19 th [he] set off to the Hay Cuntry and [he ]sent is whife up to me for 7 shillings more saying that if I did no relief her he would go before Mr Whitbread’ [a local JP]. John Wright was certainly known to the overseers. His children were in the workhouse in 1796. Moreover, John Kingsley, who complained about him, had been a witness at his wedding to Mary Pestall twenty years earlier!