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THE PARISH VESTRY

 

 

Geoff Ledden writes:

I am indebted to the Devon Family History Society Journal for the following extract:

 

"The utter dependence of poor folk on local relief and alms is proved by Vestry Records. The Vestry consisted of a Chairman ( the parish priest), 6. 8 or even 10 Lay Wardens, 3 or 4 Overseers of the Poor and, after 1834, one or more Guardians to represent the parish on the Board of  their local Poor Law Union.

Overseers of the Poor had various duties. They provided for the aged, sick and unemployed. The Overseer might be a publican, miller, small farmer or craftsman, hardly able to read or write, and ill-equipped to deal with the problems thrust upon him. Some officials were  generous to the point of folly, some were lax, a few harsh, covetous and corrupt. They appeared to have one great advantage: they did know each applicant and could sort out, as they believed, the "deserving" from the "undeserving".

There are such continuous references to the "deserving poor" that qualifications for such a title should be recognised. When casual aid was applied for, no doubt the Vestry debated each appeal on what they regarded as its merits. Any man who was a law-abiding person, a faithful servant, a regular church-goer, quiet and humble in manner, would be classed as deserving. If, however, he was a Wesleyan, Bible Christian, poacher, radical or rebel, then he was an offender against cherished laws and would be called undeserving, and if he applied for a pair of  boots or if his wife badly needed cloth for a new dress, it is likely that he would be met with a blunt refusal. The Vestry could make life very uncomfortable for any member of the "independent" poor who had displeased authority. Radicals, poachers and nonconformists generally came from that class of worker who did not care to accept any relief or charity.

From surviving accounts, it can be shown in detail what the Vestry actually did for the parish poor in the village of North Lew:

It cared for the sick and aged, paying each person from 6 shillings  to 12 shillings a month. It also supported some families by regular payments of 18 shillings to 24 shillings a month. In 1825, 26 persons received 4 pence each from the Parish Stock Money, and in that year £1 was sent to the poor of Manchester. The accounts show some details of expenditure:

Clothing, food and furniture (1803 - 21):

Four yards of Ann Keen (a fabric actually called nankeen) was bought for 3 shillings.

Fustian to mend G.W's jacket cost 1s 8d

Dyed cotton to mend J.R's coat cost 9d

Three Quarters of a yard of duck cloth was purchased for J. M

Lining for A.M's stays, corduroy to mend R. Ball's breeches and money for a shift cost 1s 2d, 2s 7d and 9d

A jacket and waistcoat was bought for R.B at 15s 6d and the very common smock frocks which most Devon workers wore were bought for 5s. "

 

Farmworker wearing a smock

Early 19th century farm workers

Courtesy M. E. Brine

 

 
 
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