The Relief of the Salthouse Poor 1792-1810

by Derek Schofield

Derek Schofield, Treasurer of St Nicholas' Church Salthouse, became fascinated with the early Account books which were found in the forgotten chest in the vestry in the year 2000. Here is the result of his fascination with one of these books:

The calf-bound book 1792-1810

Among the documents recently rediscovered in St Nicholas. Church was the 'Account Book of the Overseers of the Poor of the Parish of Salthouse, 1792-1810'.

These eighteen years were a period of great difficulty for the country in general and for the poor in particular. Not only was there virtually continuous war with France but, in the 1790s, there was also a succession of poor harvests. The shortage of food and the resulting increase in prices meant problems for paupers and all poor people, whether existing on subsistence agriculture or on the paltry wage of the agricultural labourer. The number depending on subsistence farming was decreasing as a consequence of the enclosure of the old open fields and of much common land. New systems of farming led to a reduction in the numbers needed to work a given area of land, and at the same time to a decline in wages. This depression in wages became such an acute problem that from the mid 1790s help had to be given not only to the unemployed and unemployable poor, but also to many people who, although they were in employment, were earning less than a subsistence wage.

This supplementation of the workers' earnings, by the parish, resulted not surprisingly in the employers having no need to pay a proper living wage and being content to leave the parish to pick up the shortfall. Wages became further depressed and the incentive to work diminished.


In the years covered by this Account Book, responsibility for 'poor relief' (i.e. helping the poor) rested with each parish. Although 'poor houses' existed, much of the help given was in the form of 'out relief'—the recipients of help continued to live in the cottages or elsewhere in the parish. 'Overseers of the Poor' (usually two) were appointed annually from among the substantial householders in each parish and they had responsibility for the proceeds of a local tax, the 'poor rate'.
For an explanation of the coinage in use, click click here if you want to be reminded about pre-1971 coinage.
From the poor rate, the Overseers had to provide for paupers, and others in need who had a right to live in the parish —the so-called right of settlement.

Someone who had no such right would not be provided with relief locally but would have to return (or be removed) to the place where he or she had such a right—whether established by birth, by having worked continuously in that place for a full year or (in the case of a woman) by marriage. Certificates were issued to poor people moving from place to place indicating where the right of settlement (and therefore the cost of poor relief) existed.

Val Fiddian 2005