The Relief of the Salthouse Poor 1792-1810 by Derek Schofield            page 3


Inevitably paupers' funeral expenses appear several times in the Overseers' Account Book and not just for Widow Platten and Benjamin Lynn. Sometimes there is a surprise. As in Benjamin's case, it was not unusual for the parish to pay a local woman to sit up with a dying pauper (presumably a pauper without relatives) but, on one occasion at least, refreshment was provided. Sometime between February and Easter 1793, payments (at 6d per night) were made to women for sitting up over a period of 12 nights with Widow Phoker and in addition there is the following entry:

Pd for Bread and Tea when sitting up for the Women . . . . . . . . .2s. 6d

Not all matters relating to death concerned humans. The Over-seers seem to have taken over responsibility from the Church-wardens for culling sparrows. There are a number of entries similar to:

June 1801 To 4 dozen sparrows killing. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1s. 0d


In previous decades the Churchwardens' accounts reveal many such payments but the number of entries decline as those in the Overseers' book go up. Perhaps concern about some sort of em-ployment for the increasing number of paupers led to the change—or perhaps it is completely without significance since, in the parish of Salthouse at least, the same individuals frequently held both offices concurrently. For example, Thomas Purdy as both Churchwarden and Overseer (with the exception of a single year) from 1792 to 1800, and John Proudfoot held both offices from 1799 to 1809 (except for 1801-2) and possibly to his death some months later.


Salthouse appears to be unusual in the length of time served by individual Overseers. In the 18 years covered by the accounts only 6 persons held the office of Overseer, and it should be borne in mind that two Overseers were in office at any one time. The usual hiss of the country the office was regarded as so onerous and unrewarding (it was unpaid) that most individuals would serve for only one or two years.


During these 18 years the Overseers in Salthouse witnessed a sharp increase in the number of poor people who had to be helped on a regular basis. In the early years covered by the Account Book, between 6 and 9 persons received regular payments and no more than 2 were men. By 1798/99 the total number had risen to 14, and 4 were men. In early 1805 the number receiving regular relief increased to 17, and no fewer than 8 were men.four times the number of men little more than a decade earlier. This increase in the number of men receiving regular poor relief reflected the changes in agricultural and employment practice referred to earlier. Total costs increased equally sharply. In the twelve months from Easter 1792 the Overseers spent a little over £56, but for the year from Easter 1803 expenditure had risen to £125. By then, setting and collecting the poor rate on a half yearly basis had been replaced by quarterly charges, presumably to ease the payments by ratepayers. Some fluctuations occurred, but for the twelve months from Easter 1807 expenditure had risen to over £195—well over three times the level of 1792 and 1793. These local figures reflected the national situation. In England as a whole the total proceeds of the poor rate in 1785 were £1.912 million, in 1803 £4.078 million and in 1817 £7.87 million, [W. E. Tate, The Parish Chest]. With such a trend it is hardly surprising that complaints about the level of the poor rate led later to the draconian Poor Law Reform of 1834 and the establishment of the dreadful Union Workhouses—a reform which certainly reduced costs but which did little to alleviate the condition of the poor.

Derek Schofield, 2002

Read another article by Derek:
The Churchwardens' Accounts 1742 - 1813

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