A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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PARISH GOVERNMENT AND POOR RELIEF
Vestry minute books for Bobbingworth survive for the periods 1667-1789 and 1808-1922. There is also a separate book of overseers' accounts for the period 1789-1827. (fn. 1)
Until 1702 vestry meetings usually seem to have been held only at Easter in each year. (fn. 2) From 1702 until 1758 meetings were held at Easter and Christmas. From 1758 there were several meetings each year, held at irregular intervals of between 2 and 19 weeks. Intervals of 5-10 weeks were common. In the early 19th century between four and eight meetings a year were recorded.
Until Jacob Houblon became rector in 1692 the vestry minutes were brief and uninformative. It was the practice to record only the appointment of officers and the balances remaining in officers' hands at the end of each year. (fn. 3) Moreover the minutes were never signed. (fn. 4) Houblon exercised an immediate influence on the parish records. He scarcely ever missed a vestry meeting and he wrote the minutes himself. At Easter 1693 he began a separate account book containing detailed overseers' accounts, which were always duly audited and were signed by the parishioners who passed them. Thomas Velley, who succeeded Houblon as rector in 1740 also attended vestry meetings regularly and during his incumbency the parish records were kept, though rather less methodically, on the lines that Houblon had laid down. J. Lipyeatt who succeeded Velley in 1751 appears, however, to have taken practically no part in conducting parish business. He did not sign any minutes after December 1751. In the next four years his curate, J. Wells, usually signed the minutes but afterwards neither incumbent nor curate appears to have attended vestry meetings until 1782. The complete absence of officers' accounts in the parish books between Easter 1755 and 1758 may reflect the initial apathy aroused by the incumbent's lack of interest. In April 1782 the curate, then J. Lipyeatt the younger, did sign the vestry minutes and his signature appeared twice more in the next seven years. During the period 1759-89 the churchwarden was almost invariably the first to sign the minutes and this practice continued into the second quarter of the 19th century. The rector rarely attended a meeting in the early 19th century.
The number of parishioners who attended vestry meetings varied between 1 and 8 but was usually between 2 and 4. In the century after 1666 members of the Poole family, lords of the manor of Bobbingworth until 1708, took an active and leading part in parish government. John Poole, lord of the manor from 1674 until about 1701, and his son and heir John, frequently held parish office. Each of them held the office of overseer for several years. They nearly always attended vestry meetings and signed immediately after the rector. The younger John continued to take an equally prominent part in parish affairs after he had sold Bobbingworth manor in 1708. From 1708 until 1720 he never missed an Easter vestry. From 1721 until 1740 William Poole was equally active and prominent. The Houblons, owners of the manor of Bobbingworth from 1708, were not resident in the parish and took no personal part in its government. In the period down to 1789 the owners of Blake Hall scarcely ever attended a vestry meeting but Robert Crabb, who occupied the manor farm in 1735, frequently held some parish office between 1726 and 1781.
The work of the vestry consisted mainly in nominating parish officers, granting rates, agreeing on the recipients of weekly collections, and approving officers' accounts. One of the rare occasions in the 18th century when other business was recorded was in April 1708 when it was resolved that in future the church clerk should be paid 20s. a year out of the churchwarden's or overseer's rate 'in lieu of what he has hitherto received yearly by the house as a former custom it being a great hindrance to him in the loss of time to go about to receive the same'. (fn. 5)
There were two churchwardens each year from 1666 until 1682. (fn. 6) During this period these officers usually served for 2-4 years consecutively. (fn. 7) From 1681 until about 1793 there was only one office of churchwarden. From 1690 until 1771 it was the practice to spend many consecutive years in this office. Thomas Nicholls served as churchwarden from 1700 until 1724, William Poole from 1724 until 1740, Samuel Corney from 1741 until 1753, and Robert Crabb from 1759, if not before, until 1771. For a time after 1771 the number of consecutive years spent in the office tended to lessen and from about 1793 it again became the practice to have two churchwardens.
There was usually one overseer. Until 1717 it was usual for the overseer to serve for 2 or 3 years consecutively. George Read served for 4 years from 1717 until 1721. After his appointment for a fourth year in April 1720 it was agreed that 'having served 4 years he shall be excused 7 years following'. Read's successor, William Hamshire, also served 4 years consecutively, but 3 years remained the usual term of office until 1744. From 1744 until 1810 the overseers nearly always served for one year only. They seem to have been chosen on a rota system and occasionally the officer chosen appointed another man to perform the duties of the office. Thomas Woodthorp acted for Capel Cure in 1796-7 and again in 1801-2. Jonathan Lewis, the vestry clerk, acted as overseer for Capel Cure in 1808-9 and for William Clark in the following year. During the year ending at Easter 1811 Lewis again acted as overseer, but on what basis is not clear. If he received any payment for performing the duties of overseer during these years, such payment was not made, it would seem, out of the poor rate. In April 1811, however, a meeting of the vestry agreed 'for Jonathan Lewis to be the acting Overseer for the year ensuing and to have a salary of £10 p. annum and to be paid for journeys'. Lewis continued to act as salaried overseer every year from 1811 until 1835 with the possible exception of the year 1819-20. Each year there was a formal agreement at the Easter vestry to renew his appointment. In 1822 his salary as overseer was increased to £13 13s.
Constables were nominated in Vestry at least from 1667. Until 1721 the parish always had two of these officers, each of whom served several years consecutively. From 1721 there was only one constable for the parish and he usually served for many years. Richard White was constable from 1721 until at least 1740, and R. Perry from 1744 until at least 1760.
Two surveyors of highways were nominated annually until 1700 after which there was usually only one nomination until 1742. The surveyor was chosen from a rota of landholders, as appears from the rector's note on 26 December 1722, 'Mr. William Poole Surveyor as a Deputy for the Revd. Tho. Wragg Clerk for Gainthrops'. (fn. 8) From 1742 there were several nominations each year for the office of surveyor but there are indications that there was only one acting surveyor.
From 1666 until after 1750 the overseers, churchwardens, constables, and surveyors were each granted separate rates for which they were directly responsible to the parish. Until 1702 it was the custom for each officer to present an annual account at the Easter vestry. Occasionally one officer was ordered to pay another officer's deficit out of his surplus. From 1702 the surveyors submitted their accounts at Christmas instead of at Easter but the other officers continued to make their annual account at Easter. From 1758, if not before, the overseer submitted interim accounts to the vestry at intervals of 5-10 weeks in addition to his final annual account at Easter. There is no evidence that the interim accounts continued after 1775, but in view of the increasing costs of poor relief it is very probable that they did so. By 1772, perhaps before 1760, the churchwardens, constables, and surveyors were no longer granted separate rates. Their expenditure was met by the overseer who included it in his account. This practice continued until 1811. From 1811 to 1812 there was again a separate highway rate and from 1813 to 1814 there was a separate church rate.
In 1720 the rateable value of the parish was about £917. In 1790 a 2s. 6d. rate produced £106 15s.; this implies a rateable value of about £854. During the Napoleonic wars the rateable value was generally between £900 and £912. In 1815 a reassessment was ordered as a result of which the rateable value became £1,635; in 1823 it fell to £1,559 and in 1831 rose to £1,586.
There was evidently a poorhouse in Bobbingworth in 1692-3, for in that year 10s. was paid by the overseer for 'straw at the allmnshouse'. By 1783 the poorhouse was situated in Pensons Lane, and seems to have been the cottage which Robert Bourne (d. 1666) left in trust to provide clothing for the poor. (fn. 9) It was rented by the overseer at £1 10s. a year. In 1779-80 the poorhouse was fitted with a 'poor's oven.' In 1784-5 the building housed at least one poor family and in each of the years 1791-2, 1797-8, 1800-1, 1803-7, and 1819-20 it housed at least one poor person. In 1807-8 7s. 6d. was paid by the overseer for '6 yards cloth for strawbed for poorhouse'. Minor repairs were often carried out and in 1807-8 more substantial repairs were done at a cost of £55. In 1823 the stove was repaired.
In most cases, however, poor relief was given, in various forms, outside the poorhouse. In each of the years 1813-15 there were 20-21 adults on 'permanent' outdoor relief. (fn. 10) Provision for the poor was made in various ways including the binding out of paupers' children as apprentices, the provision of spinningwheels, the payment of rent and allowances for lodging or nursing, the provision of wood and clothes, and the payment of weekly doles.
Parish apprentices were allotted on a rota system to farmers in the parish. In the period between 1681 and 1718 three 'great' farms and thirteen 'lesser' farms were on the rota. About 11 children were apprenticed during the period.
In 1787-8 a spinning-wheel was purchased for John Little at a cost of 2s. 6d. In 1799-1800 spinning-wheels cost the overseer £2 4s. In several of the following years 'the poor's spinning' occurs as an item of expenditure in the overseer's accounts.
In 1692-3 there seem to have been 2 widows receiving weekly doles, the cost to the parish being 5s. 6d. a week. In 1719 there were 4 weekly doles amounting to 7s. In the years between 1758 and 1775 there were usually 9 households, including several widow households, receiving weekly doles, totalling between 16s. 9d. and £1 1s. a week. In 1777-8 there were 10 households which throughout the year received doles which totalled £1 5s. a week. In each of the years from 1780 to 1797 there were 15-21 households in receipt of regular weekly doles which cost the parish between £1 5s. and £2 2s. 6d. a week. From 1797 the doles increased, reaching their maximum of £8 5s. 6d. a week in 1801. They then declined to £2 17s. 6d. a week in 1808. From then until 1819 there were usually about 16-18 households in receipt of constant relief at a total cost to the parish of about £2 17s. 6d. a week. From 1819 until 1827 the number of households dependent on weekly doles varied between 20 and 27, the total weekly cost ranging from £3 to £5.
In 1613-14 the cost of poor relief was £4 10s. which was distributed to 5 people. (fn. 11) In the last years of the 17th century the total cost of poor relief was always below £20 a year and was sometimes as little as £7. In the 18th century much higher figures were soon reached, rising to an average of £32 a year in the three extreme years 1716-19. There was then a rapid fall to a minimum of £3 14s. 5d. in 1723-4. In the period 1725-42 figures have survived for only seven years. These are within a range £16-£31. In the period 1743-54 expenditure only once fell below £45 and on two occasions reached nearly £60. In 1754-5 it was £71. Between 1759 and 1771 it averaged about £85. In 1772 the cost reached the £100 level and from then until 1782 it remained fairly stable between £100 and £120 a year. It then rose to £165 in 1782-3 and to £197 in 1784-5. In the next ten years the cost remained within the range £160-£190. In 1794-5 it was £170. In 1795-6 it jumped to £273. After a slight drop in the next three years it rose to £290 in 1799-1800 and then in the following year to £505, its maximum. In 1801-2 the cost was £450. It then dropped to £293 in 1802-3. Between 1803 and 1811 it varied between £246 and £331 a year. It then rose to £477 in 1812-13. After this it varied between £280 and £480, the peak year being 1819-20.