Soham: Charities for the poor

Pages 548-551

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.

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Soham had several substantial benefactions by the 17th century. The largest of the earlier ones was that of Richard Bond. By will of 1501 Bond, who died after 1503, left all his lands from his widow's death to twelve feoffees who were to use the income, besides supporting an obit, to relieve from payment of fifteenths and other direct taxes all villagers save those holding of the Netherhall, Barway, Henney, and Fordham manors. What money was not needed for tax relief was to be accumulated to raise £8 every four years, in £2 instalments, half to repair Soham church, half for highways there. A comb of wheat was also to be given to the poor in bread. The estate supporting those bequests which passed to the feoffees comprised, besides 16½ a. of open-field land in Soham and Fordham, two closes totalling 8½ a., one later called Bond's close. (fn. 1) The income was used to pay a tax due in 1581, but when another fouryear tax was levied from 1593 Edward Barnes the 'eldest feoffee', who had long controlled the charity, allegedly withheld the rents. Only a Chancery suit of 1597-1601 extracted the three closes and 24¾ a. involved from his grasp for its intended purposes, which still included paying tax. (fn. 2) From 1666 the property was augmented with 16 a., copyhold until 1879, representing the third of the 48-a. 'Town lot' in the Moor allotted for the common right of Bond's house on Churchgate Street. (fn. 3)

From the mid 17th century to the early 19th the rent of Bond's land, sometimes called the 'church land', later in part the 'church and highway estate', yielding over £11 in 1783, was collected by the churchwardens, (fn. 4) who shared two thirds, in the 1830s worth c. £45, equally between church and highway maintenance. The poor's third share, c. £20-25 net, had arisen formerly from one other close in Bancroft and 6½ a., represented c. 1830 by 11 a. of fieldland. Once given in bread, its income went in the 1830s in cash doles in proportion to family size. The rents of the fen lot, almost £17, and of the school were then used for general parish purposes. (fn. 5) Of c. £105 received in the 1860s, £40 each went to the church and public uses, only £26 in doles. (fn. 6) Schemes of 1896 distinguished the church and highway parts; the latter were assigned from 1899 to maintain local footpaths. (fn. 7) Bond's poor share, by 1876 supposedly used to assist the elderly poor, but in practice given until 1895 in cash doles of 1-2s. among 500-650 poor people, (fn. 8) was from 1896 merged with several others into the Soham United Charities. Bond's remaining endowments, of which 9 a. was sold between 1948 and 1964, became from 1970 part of the Soham Relief in Need charity. (fn. 9)

John Wright by will of 1500 devised, for an obit and towards paying taxes such as fifteenths for the town, 2¾ a. of the New, later Town or Brook dam close, off Brook Street, partly copyhold of the Duchy manor, which a kinsman enfeoffed for that purpose in 1540. About 1595 Barnes's intervention as steward threatened its forfeiture to the Crown. Probably after 1600, fifteenths being no longer collected, the villagers agreed to divert its rent, formerly 6s. 8d., but £10 by the 1830s, towards the church. (fn. 10) Thereafter it was spent with Bond's church repair funds. Brook Dam close was sold in 1947-8. (fn. 11)

In 1582 Thomas Peachey enfeoffed two tenements off Clay Street to house and support some of the village's poorest inhabitants. By the 1660s those buildings had been converted into six almshouses, probably the 'Town houses' then and later maintained by the vestry from town land rents. In 1666 there was allotted for their two common rights the other two thirds, 32 a., of the 'Town lot' in the Moor. Its rent, £10 in 1783, had risen by the 1830s to £50. Most was then spent on repairing the almshouses, nevertheless in a 'wretched' state, which still stood on Clay Street south of the vicarage. They were divided into nine dwellings, inhabited by paupers, mostly widows, who then as already c. 1700 received part of the lot's rent, up to £13 c. 1835, in fuel. (fn. 12) Nine women aged c. 65-85 still occupied them in the late 19th century. (fn. 13) In the 1860s, when the rent was £45 and stock yielding c. £6 had been bought, the charity bought turf and coal for almspeople who were also paid 3s. each weekly by 1880, when £146 was spent on rebuilding the almshouses. (fn. 14) A Scheme of 1912, transferring management to the United Charities, provided for six almspeople, chosen from Soham residents, to go on receiving weekly stipends. (fn. 15) The almshouses, derelict and ratinfested c. 1975, were sold by 1979 and later demolished. (fn. 16)

In 1630-1 John Tyler (d. 1655) gave for the poor 3/4 a. in the New close from his death, when he added £1 a year to be given for ten years, following a 'godly' sermon. The rent, £1 4s. in 1783, had risen to £2 10s. by the 1830s, when it was given in cash doles, as still in the 1890s, when it went to old people. (fn. 17) Stock was assigned for Tyler's gift after the sale of 1947-8. (fn. 18)

Three other charities derived from the fen inclosure of the 1660s, two of them under the agreement of 1658 and the award of 1665-6. They devoted part of the rent from the 116-a. School Moor east of the village, finally recovered from Sir Thomas Chicheley in 1687, to found a stock to set the poor to work and for binding apprentices. (fn. 19) In the 18th century the Moor trustees let the land for £70 until c. 1780. The rent was then increased to over £90 and by the 1830s to £115-20. (fn. 20) The poor's portion was partly spent from the 1710s at intervals in premiums for apprentices, two or three at a time, in amounts which rose from £3-6 per boy then to £10-20 each between 1800 and 1820. (fn. 21)

From the late 18th century large sums went from the Moor charity to assist parish poor relief. Part was used to maintain the workhouse, bought with charity funds in 1727. From the 1730s the charity also provided its inmates with fuel and clothing. (fn. 22) From the mid 1790s subsidies of £50-60 a year were given to purchase wool for women to spin there. That ceased in practice in 1828-9, formally in 1832. In 1839 the feoffees decided to devote two thirds of their income to a National school, a third to apprenticing, neglected since 1820, a proportion continued by the School Moor Scheme of 1845-7, when c. £55 was available for premiums. (fn. 23) Apprenticeships at Soham were, however, adequately supported from Bishop Laney's bequest, and those from the Moor charity were effectively replaced under the 1916 Scheme by exhibitions for further education for former pupils of Soham schools. (fn. 24) The county council, which controlled the Moor under that Scheme, sold 9 a. of it by 1980, when fierce local opposition blocked its proposal to sell 24 a. more. The trust, vested by 1985 in a new body with more local representatives, still owned 107 a. in 1990. (fn. 25)

The 100 a. by the northern edge of the parish, assigned in the late 17th century for the poor to dig turf, (fn. 26) was still dug in the 1830s for fodder. (fn. 27) That land was subsequently reckoned a charity, styled the 'Poor's Hundred Acres'. From c. 1869 the land was let as allotments; the rents, doubled between then and 1878 to over £200 before falling sharply, were distributed about Christmas in small cash doles among almost 500 poor cottagers, (fn. 28) and by 1890 to 550-75; all who rented property for under £5 a year were eligible. (fn. 29) By 1970, remeasured as 92 a., the land brought in £800 a year. (fn. 30)

Benjamin Laney, bishop of Lincoln 1663-7, then until his death in 1675 of Ely, bought much open-field land in Soham and in 1666 was allotted 70 a. of fen for the common rights of his four houses. (fn. 31) By will proved 1675 he left that Soham estate, including c. 75 a. of open field and meadow there and 25 a. in Fordham Hales, to be held by four freeholders of Soham and Ely in trust to spend the income on providing £10 premiums to apprentice poor boys from those two places. The rent was still being used for that purpose in the early 19th century, when the charity's well-farmed 188 a. included 150 a. in Soham and 38 a. in Fordham, yielding in the 1780s c. £149. (fn. 32) About 1800 the two pairs of trustees at Soham and Ely each took half the rents and independently selected their own candidates for apprenticeships. Allegations made c. 1810 by the Radical Soham lawyer Thomas Wilkin of mismanagement by Soham's Tory trustees led to an inquiry in 1813 and a decree of 1815, which authorized a doubling of the premiums payable. (fn. 33)

From 1816 to the 1910s, and presumably later, Laney's charity gave £20 premiums to apprentices in proportion to its income from rents, which fell from £355 in 1816 to c. £300-20, but rose from the 1830s to reach some £400 c. 1870. It then fell back to c. £300 from the 1880s and to £240-60 by 1900. Until the 1830s most apprentices were drawn from Ely, those taken from Soham coming from its workhouse. Even thereafter the proportion of awards, regularly given in two £10 instalments, made to boys from Soham was usually less than half, and often not much over a third, of the total given. The number of awards, which averaged 15-20 yearly until the 1840s, was 10-15 c. 1845-90, 10 or fewer c. 1900-14. From the 1850s such Soham boys were almost invariably apprenticed to craftsmen from the village. (fn. 34) Grants for apprenticing were still made in the late 20th century. (fn. 35)

In 1714 John Webb gave for the poor a house on Brook Street, later yielding 5s., effectively a rentcharge, given in the 1830s and later with Bond's poor share. (fn. 36) A bequest of £10, providing 10s. in bread, by Martin Wilkin in 1742 was lost after 1796. (fn. 37) In 1744 George Goward of Lakenheath (Suff.) gave the 18-a. Cote Piece south of the village, bought in 1741, to produce £20 a year, partly intended for giving at Soham church after service, on the first Sunday in each month, twenty sixpenny wheaten loaves to twenty poor, honest, regular church-goers. The remaining, at first almost equal, income was for charities at Lakenheath, (fn. 38) which throughout the 19th century, as later, received all but the £6 specifically assigned for bread at Soham. Monthly distribution of the twenty loaves, bought from local bakers, continued until halted by bread rationing in 1947. (fn. 39) A Scheme of 1978 assigned to Soham an eighth of the total charity income, including, besides rent from Cote Piece, interest on accumulated capital. Soham's share, which rose from c. £500 then to over £1,500 by the 1990s, was by then given through its combined charities. (fn. 40)

Elizabeth Cawthorne (d. c. 1753), sister of John Harward, vicar 1731-46, gave c. £105, used in 1750 by his successor John Francis to buy 4½ a. of Soham closes; their rent, as she had directed, after providing 30s. yearly for the clerk of Barway chapel, was to be given to regular Anglican communicants who fell sick in cash doles not exceeding 8s. per household. The rent, over £6 by 1783, £9-10 in the 19th century, was distributed accordingly, c. 1850-1900 to some twenty people a year, later to fewer as the rent was reduced from the 1920s to the 1950s to £5 10s. (fn. 41)

John Whiting by will of 1848 gave £45 of Consols, yielding in the 1860s c. 27s. then given in clothing and medical help. (fn. 42) T. B. Whiting, a Soham solicitor, by will proved 1909 left for medical purposes c. £100 in Consols. From 1970 it was merged into the Soham Relief in Sickness Charity with the proceeds of selling in 1947 an ambulance, initially acquired by subscription in 1928 for the local Red Cross. The charity also received the ambulance station built c. 1930 by the parish at the north-east corner of the recreation ground and let from 1980 to St. John's Brigade. By the 1990s that charity had an income, half from rent, of c. £100 to assist the sick. (fn. 43)

Soham's poor charities were substantially reorganized in 1896 and again in 1970. The Scheme of 1896 combined Bond's, Tyler's, Webb's, and John Whiting's, as the Soham United Charities. After assigning 10s. 6d. of the last for hospital subscriptions, it devoted the rest to assisting the poor with fuel and clothing, medically, and in emergencies even cash. (fn. 44) That of 1970 concentrated property trusteeship in the United Charities, and created as a vehicle for distribution the Soham Relief in Need charity, into which were incorporated with those combined in 1896 Peachey's, the Poor's Hundred Acres, and income from the price of the sold Shade common. All the new charity's income not designated for special purposes was devoted to assist in the then standard ways those villagers needing such help. The income of Bond's 'highway' portion was then, with that from the Rosefield Lane fund, devoted to the general benefit of the inhabitants. The overall income of the combined charities, c. £1,700 in 1970, then as apparently later almost two thirds coming from rents, rose to over £10,000 by the 1990s. Between two thirds and four fifths was spent yearly, partly in grants to various societies in the village, including sports clubs. (fn. 45)


  • 1. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 170-2; cf. C.R.O., P 142/25/7; C.U.L., E.D.R., G, tithe award 1845, p. 30; Pemb. Coll. Mun., Soham, P 4: 6, 19 Hen. VII.
  • 2. P.R.O., C 3/291/12; 31st Rep. Com. Char. 172-3.
  • 3. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 173; cf. below (almsho.); and above, educ.
  • 4. e.g. accts. in C.R.O., P 142/5/1; P 142/8/2; cf. Char. Don. i. 98-9.
  • 5. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 172-4.
  • 6. Char. Digest Cambs. 1863-4, 402-3; cf. C.R.O., P 142/8/2, accts. 1860 and later; Char. Com. file 202479, corr. 1879.
  • 7. C.R.O., P 142/8/2, pp. 395-8; P 142/8/4, s.a. 1890, 1893; P 142/25/30, 33; cf. above, ch. (bldg.).
  • 8. e,g. Camb. Chron. 5 Feb. 1886, p. 8; 2 Feb. 1890, p. 4; 6 Feb. 1891, p. 4; 8 Feb. 1895, p. 8.
  • 9. Char. Com. file 202479; C.R.O., P 142/25/32; cf. below.
  • 10. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 174-5; P.R.O., C 3/291/12; cf. C.U.L., E.D.R., G, tithe award 1845, p. 33.
  • 11. Char. Com. file 202479, corr. 1946-8; above, ch. (bldg.).
  • 12. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 170; P.R.O., E 179/244/22, f. 125v.; ibid. C 229/2, no. 38; C.R.O., P 142/5/1, chwdns.' accts. from 1660s; W. Suff. R.O., 800/1/131 (terrier 1706); C.U.L., E.D.R., G, tithe award (p. 32), and map (no. 1978).
  • 13. e.g. P.R.O., HO 107/1763, f. 213v.; ibid. RG 9/1035, f. 119; RG 11/1600, ff. 119v.-120.
  • 14. Char. Digest Cambs. 1863-4, 402-3; C.R.O., P 142/ 8/2, pp. 94, 128, 391-2.
  • 15. C.R.O., P 125/25/34.
  • 16. Newmarket Jnl. 7 Nov. 1974; 11 Sept. 1975; 10 Mar. 1976; Ely Standard, 8 Jan. 1976; 20 Dec. 1979; inf. from the vicar; cf. Char. Com. file 203219, corr. 1953, 1962.
  • 17. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 175; P.R.O., PROB 11/246, ff. 242v.-245; Char. Don. i. 98-9; accts. in C.R.O., P 142/8/1; Camb. Chron. 7 Feb. 1890, p. 4; 8 Feb. 1895, p. 8.
  • 18. Char. Com. file 202479, corr. 1946-8.
  • 19. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 166; cf. above, econ. (fen incl.).
  • 20. Browning, Hist. Soham Grammar School (1972), 10-12, 21-9; 31st Rep. Com. Char. 166-7.
  • 21. Browning, Hist. Grammar Sch. 51-2; 31st Rep. Com. Char. 167.
  • 22. Browning, Hist. Grammar Sch. 52-3.
  • 23. Ibid. 52-5, 65; 31st Rep. Com. Char. 167.
  • 24. Cf. Browning, Hist. Grammar Sch. 82.
  • 25. Ely Standard, 13 Jan. 1980; 11 Mar. 1982; 16 June 1985; Char. Com. file 311421, Scheme 1990.
  • 26. Above, econ. (fen incl.).
  • 27. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 166; P.R.O., IR 18/13632, report 1837.
  • 28. C.R.O., P 142/25/6.
  • 29. e.g. Camb. Chron. 28 Dec. 1888, p. 8; 25 Dec. 1891, p. 8; 23 Dec. 1898, p. 8; C.R.O., P 142/8/4, accts. s.a. 1888-92.
  • 30. Char. Com. file 203219, Scheme 1970.
  • 31. P.R.O., C 229/5, no. 24. No Soham land shown as owned by Laney on C.R.O., map 1656.
  • 32. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 175-6; Char. Don. i. 98-9.
  • 33. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 176; C.R.O., P 142/25/24-5; Camb. Chron. 7 Dec. 1810, p. 3; 14 Dec. 1810, p. 1; 8 June 1832, p. 2.
  • 34. Based on 31st Rep. Com. Char. 176; char. accts. 1816- 1914: C.R.O., P 142/25/1-3, 26.
  • 35. e.g. Camb. Ind. Press, 15 Dec. 1961.
  • 36. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 177; accts. in C.R.O., P 142/8/2.
  • 37. Char. Don. i. 98-9; 31st Rep. Com. Char. 178.
  • 38. W. Suff. R.O., FL 517/11/95-8; C.R.O., P 142/25/14, 16; 31st Rep. Com. Char. 177; cf. 22nd Rep. Com. Char. [139], p. 168, H.C. (1830), xii (1).
  • 39. C.R.O., P 142/25/17-18.
  • 40. Char. Com. file 253727.
  • 41. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 177-8; Char. Don. i. 98-9; C.R.O., P 142/25/19-23.
  • 42. Char. Digest Cambs. 1863-4, 402-3; accts. in C.R.O., P 142/8/2; Char. Com. file 202485, Scheme 1896.
  • 43. Scheme, 1970, in Char. Com. file 203219; accts. and papers: ibid. 202237; Kelly's Dir. Cambs (1864-1908); Camb. Ind. Press, 15 Dec. 1961; Ely Standard, 3 Apr. 1980; Newmarket Jnl. 11 Dec. 1975.
  • 44. C.R.O., P 142/25/32.
  • 45. Char. Com. files 202479, 203219: Scheme 1970 and accts. to 1990. For Shade common, above, econ. (modern agric., commons).