PARISH GOVERNMENT AND POOR RELIEF
Vestry minute-books for High Laver survive for
1657-1804 (fn. 94) and 1863-
1943. (fn. 95)
Until 1682 vestry meetings
seem to have been held only at
Easter in each year. From
1682 meetings were held at Easter and Christmas. In
1739 four meetings were recorded and if a resolution
of 23 April 1739 was carried out there must afterwards
have been at least three meetings a year, at Easter,
Michaelmas, and Christmas. In later years meetings
were sometimes held at other times also.
Until John Cleeve became rector in 1734 the
minutes were brief and rarely signed. Only three
resolutions were entered before 1735 and two of these
were not signed. Only the appointment of officers and
the approval of their accounts were usually recorded.
Until the end of the 17th century the totals of officers'
receipts and disbursements were usually entered, but
from 1696 until 1735 the minutes only recorded the
annual balances and sometimes omitted even this.
Cleeve exercised an immediate influence on the parish
records. He attended vestry meetings regularly and
he wrote the minutes. Vestry resolutions were recorded
regularly and were always signed by him and the
parishioners present. Moreover, from 1735 it was again
the practice to record the details of accounts although
it did not become customary to sign them. From
Cleeve's death in 1777 until 1804 the accounts continued to be minuted in the same fashion, but only
once, in 1790, was a vestry resolution recorded.
The number of parishioners attending vestry meetings before 1776 varied between 2 and 7 but was
usually between 4 and 7 until 1745 and 2 or 3 after
that date. At a vestry in 1771 it was agreed that in
future anyone absenting himself from a meeting without a good excuse should be fined 6d. The next
recorded vestry, in 1776, was attended by six parishioners. Only once after this, in 1790, were the
minutes signed and then there were nine signatures.
In the 17th and early 18th centuries the Mashams of
Otes evidently took an active interest in parish affairs
and attended vestry meetings. Of the five occasions
on which minutes were signed before 1735, Sir Francis
Masham, 3rd Bt., signed twice, in 1665 and 1667,
and F. C. Masham, half brother of Samuel, 1st Lord
Masham, and heir of John Locke, signed once, in 1728.
Sir Francis signed before, and F. C. Masham after,
the rector. When it became the practice to sign the
minutes the Mashams were usually not resident in the
parish and their signatures never appeared in the
minutes. The owners of the capital manor seem never
to have attended vestry meetings, but Abraham
Thorrowgood, tenant of the estate by 1767, took an
active part in parish affairs from 1764 and usually
signed the minutes immediately after the rector.
The main work of the vestry consisted in appointing officers and approving their accounts. It evidently
became the practice, however, for the poor to take
complaints to vestry meetings and for individuals to use
these occasions to settle their accounts with parish
officers. In 1767 it was resolved that 'for the future no
business whatsoever shall be done on the day the accounts are settled but what relates to the parish business
of that day only, so that the poor shall bring their complaints on the vestry immediately preceding, and all
private accounts between officers and others shall be
settled either before or after that day'.
In 1712 it was agreed that 'Henry Marling shall
have 20s. a year allowed for church clerk's wages'. In
1735 it was agreed that 'the clerk shall receive 4d.
yearly of every householder that does not pay to the
poor'. In 1743 it was resolved that 10s. a year should
be added to the clerk's wages.
There were two churchwardens in each of the years
1613 and 1614. There were also two each year from
1657 until 1698. During this period they usually
served for 2-4 years consecutively. From 1698 there
was only one churchwarden, who usually served for
many consecutive years.
Until 1672 there were two overseers each year and
they usually served for two or three years consecutively.
From 1672 there was only one overseer. Until 1724
it was usual to serve two years consecutively, but afterwards the overseers served for one year only. They
were evidently chosen on a rota system and once, in
1802, a woman, Mrs. Elizabeth Speed, tenant of the
capital manor, was appointed to serve.
Constables were nominated in vestry at least from
1657. Until 1704 there were always two, each of
whom usually served two years consecutively. Thereafter there was usually only one. Until 1743 this officer
usually served no more than two years at a time, but
after that date he usually served for at least three consecutively and sometimes much longer.
Two surveyors of highways were nominated annually. From 1682, if not before, they were appointed at
Christmas. The number of years served consecutively
varied from one to five. Sir Francis Masham was
surveyor from 1672 until 1676.
Until at least 1739, and perhaps until 1743, the
overseers, churchwardens, and constables were each
granted separate rates for which they were directly
responsible to the parish. Occasionally one officer was
ordered to pay another officer's deficit out of his surplus. In the churchwarden's account of expenditure
for 1692-3 there were four items, totalling 1s. 11d.,
'for relief'. These items were passed only after some
hesitation and it was resolved 'never to allow any reliefs
hereafter paid by churchwardens'. From 1743, if not
from 1739, the constables were no longer granted
separate rates. Their expenditure was met by the
churchwardens who included it in their account. There
is no clear evidence that the surveyors accounted
directly to the parish until 1743-4 when they received
a separate rate for which they accounted to the vestry.
From 1744 until 1747 the churchwarden, who was
also one of the surveyors, included their expenditure
in his accounts, but after 1747 there was always a
separate surveyors' account.
There was a workhouse in High Laver in 1767.
In that year the vestry agreed 'that the old persons in
the workhouse shall have one-quarter of what they
shall earn and the other three parts shall go to the
governor of the workhouse'. By 1776, however, the
house had become a mere poor house where paupers
were lodged rent free. (fn. 96) It lay on the north side of the
Harlow Road about ¼ mile west of the church. (fn. 97) In
1841, when it was no longer a poorhouse and belonged
to George Starkins, it was a cottage, occupied by three
tenants. (fn. 98)
In most cases poor relief was given, in various forms,
outside the poorhouse. In each of the years 1813-15
there were 20-22 adults on 'permanent' outdoor
relief. (fn. 99) Provision for the poor was made in various
ways, including the binding out of paupers' children as
apprentices, the payment of rent, and the provision of
clothes. Parish apprentices were allotted on a rota
system. In 1738 it was agreed that 'no poor person's
rent should be paid by the parish for any time before
he becomes chargeable without a special order of
vestry'. In 1753 John Parsons agreed to attend the
poor as apothecary and surgeon 'except midwifery and
smallpox' for 3 years at 4½ guineas a year.
In 1613-14 the cost of poor relief was £4 9s. (fn. 1) In
1734-5 it was £24. It then rose sharply to a maximum
of £104 in 1741-2. In 1776 it was £133 (fn. 2) and in
1783-5 it averaged £165. (fn. 3) In 1800-1 it reached
£724, but in the next seven years never exceeded £520
and was sometimes much lower. (fn. 4) In the remaining
years of the Napoleonic war the cost averaged £582
a year and in 1816-17 it was £634. (fn. 5)
In 1836 High Laver became part of the Ongar Poor