A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 14, Bampton Hundred (Part Two). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2004.
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CHARITIES FOR THE POOR
By 1613 the borough owned an almshouse and garden on the site of Nos. 28–38 Church Green north of the rectory house, comprising three separate tenements in which 'the poor of the borough are placed'; when and how it was acquired is not known. By the 1760s it had been divided into four dwellings occupied by five tenants, though whether they were still paupers is not clear: after 1795, when the almshouse was rebuilt as a row of six cottages, each was usually let to non-paupers at commercial rents and the income used for charitable purposes. The rebuilding was financed chiefly by subscriptions, loans, and a subvention from the town's Freeland estate charity, (fn. 1) together with sale of old materials; the new cottages were let at their full value until the loan was repaid, and further improvements in 1814, including addition of kitchens, were funded similarly, both loans being repaid by 1819. The following year just over £61 from the rents was distributed in beef, and though there was disagreement as to whether that was more efficient than using the cottages to house the poor, a similar policy seems to have continued thereafter. (fn. 2) The cottages remained part of the reconstituted Witney Town Charities in the late 20th century. (fn. 3)
Under a decree by the Charity Commissioners in 1613 the almshouse, with the town hall and other charitable property, was placed in the trusteeship of twelve householders known thenceforth as the town feoffees. The body continued until the 20th century, managing and leasing charitable property in the town and distributing income to the relevant trustees, but not directly administering charities or keeping accounts. Two houses on the site of No. 45 Corn Street, also owned by the town in 1613, were similarly vested in the feoffees, and by the 19th century the income was combined with other bread and beef charities. The town hall and an adjoining house were reserved in 1613 for the bailiffs and excluded from charitable uses. (fn. 4)
Two other almshouses were founded in the early 18th and early 19th centuries by Witney businessmen living in London, both of whom made other charitable bequests to their native town. The clothier John Holloway (d. 1724), founder of a school for sons of journeyman weavers, (fn. 5) left money to build an almshouse for six widows to be chosen by his trustees, five to come from Witney and one from Curbridge, with preference given to widows of clothiers or blanket-makers. (fn. 6) The houses, to include an upper and lower room and a garden for each occupant, were built at Church Green immediately east of the church, and in 1868 were rebuilt to designs by William Wilkinson (Fig. 59). Holloway's estate in Curbridge, variously estimated at between 100 a. and 150 a. in the early 19th century, was given as an endowment, producing an allowance of some 5s. for each occupant; falling income forced reduction of the allowance about 1823, and in 1907, following difficulties during the agricultural depression, the trustees sold the farm, investing the proceeds (£1,455) at interest. In 1910 the widows each received a 3s. allowance; applicants had to be at least 50 years old, with preference still given to blanket-workers, but were chosen irrespective of their religious denomination despite a resolution in 1857 attempting to enforce church attendance. Sometimes there were no applications for vacant places. (fn. 7)
William Townsend (d. 1832), a wealthy London haberdasher from a long-established Witney family, built a row of almshouses at Newland for six women inmates in 1827, besides financing a new Congregationalist chapel and endowing clothing or blanket charities. (fn. 8) By his will (dated 1827) the almshouses were endowed with £2,000, producing a weekly allowance of 4s. for each inmate; a deed of 1832 ruled that inmates should be at least 50 years old and should belong to a Christian church professing Trinitarian doctrine. In the early 20th century the trustees did not advertise, but usually had eight or nine applications in hand, deciding each case on its merits; though preference was given to Witney women they considered applications from Oxford and elsewhere and tried to avoid religious bias. (fn. 9)
Other Endowed Charities
Most early charitable bequests seem to have been one-off gifts for distribution at the donor's funeral, or were otherwise limited in duration: thus the vicar John Roper (d. 1534) left a bread charity to be distributed by a chantry priest so long as he remained in orders, while the clothier Leonard Yate (d. 1554) left money to be distributed over twenty years. (fn. 10) From the 1590s to the late 17th century, however, over thirty endowed charities were established by prosperous clothiers, tradesmen, and farmers or by their widows; most were resident, the rest presumably remembering their birthplace or local market town. Most endowments comprised money for investment, varying from a widow's £2 given in 1627 to £100 left by the wealthy landowner and farmer Richard Ashcombe in 1606, and by Henry Heylin of Minster Lovell in 1695. Others comprised rent charges, and a few included property: Ashcombe left a house on the west side of High Street, and the clothier Andrew Holloway (d. 1688) six houses on Corn Street, while John Walter and his sister Elizabeth West left land in Appleton (then Berks.) to benefit Witney and other places. (fn. 11) Money gifts were used by the town to buy additional houses on Corn Street and at Church Green, all of them (though not the Appleton land) vested in the town feoffees; the rent was used for charitable distributions according to original gifts. (fn. 12)
The use to which charitable bequests were put was often left to executors' or town officers' discretion, but in some cases was specified. The charities of John Roper (d. 1534), William Lee (d. 1632), John Walter and Elizabeth West (c. 1640), and Andrew Holloway (d. 1688) were for distribution in bread or beef, while Joan Green (fl. 1640) specified 12d. doles to widows, and John Smith (d. 1646) specified widows and orphans. The commonest bequest, reflecting Witney's commercial character, was money to be loaned to 'poor tradesmen', either free of interest or at beneficial rates, with resulting income used for the poor. At least ten charities between 1594 and 1666 were of that type, while Edward Carter's £50 in 1674 was similarly to 'keep poor boys in work'. (fn. 13) In 1652 most such bequests, together with part of Richard Ashcombe's £100 stock, were on loan to varied tradesmen, for whom they presumably provided useful capital: certainly some recipients, including several mercers and clothiers, seem scarcely to have been 'poor'. In 1682 the lending charities were excluded from the investment of most other charity-stock in land at Eynsham, but by the early 18th century several had been lost through bankruptcy or inadequate security, and by the 1820s none seem to have survived. (fn. 14)
The only explicit apprenticing charity appears to have been John Holloway's endowment of the Bluecoat school for journeymen weavers' sons in 1724, which included provision for clothing and apprenticeship. (fn. 15) Part of the town's general charitable income was regularly used for apprenticing throughout the period, however, at the discretion of the churchwardens and other charity trustees. (fn. 16)
By 1682, excluding loan funds to tradesmen, the town had accumulated some £417 of stock for charitable purposes, which a Charity Commission investigation that year found was not being used efficiently. With an additional £64 belonging to the town it was accordingly invested in an estate at Freeland in Eynsham parish, which was vested in trustees distinct from the town feoffees. Under a decree of 1702 the trustees met every 2 November (All Souls' Day) in the town hall, where they submitted their accounts to the rector, the master of the grammar school, and the bailiffs. More land was bought probably about 1702 using Henry Heylin's bequest of £100, and by the early 19th century, after further small purchases, the estate comprised some 66 a. of arable and woodland in Eynsham, let at £48, with 10 a. at Hailey and 6 a. at Bampton. (fn. 17)
In the late 17th century, a period of economic recession in the town, part of the income was regularly paid to the churchwardens and overseers to keep down poor rates, a policy condemned by the Charity Commissioners in 1701. (fn. 18) By the early 19th century, out of an annual income of £136, around £41 was spent on apprenticing up to 130 boys, £5 was paid to the bailiffs from Ashcombe's charity, and varying sums were spent on repairs to charitable property; the residue was distributed in blankets, coats, and shoes. Recipients were chosen by the trustees irrespective of whether they received poor relief, only those of 'notoriously bad character' being excluded. (fn. 19)
During the 18th and 19th centuries there was a marked decrease in the number of charitable endowments, (fn. 20) partly reflecting the growing importance of parish poor-relief: by the late 18th and early 19th century, when bread prices caused poor-relief costs to soar, charitable income met only a small proportion of the town's expenditure, averaging £165 a year between 1813 and 1815 compared with over £2,400 spent on the poor from parish rates. (fn. 21) Between 1715 and 1881 only ten new endowments were recorded, of which the most significant, though affecting only small numbers, were the almshouses established in 1724 and 1827. (fn. 22) Six other gifts were traditional bread, clothing, or general charities founded by tradesmen or professionals, supplemented, in the late 19th century, by two coal charities. (fn. 23) Of those one was briefly combined with a coal benevolent fund, to which subscribers paid what they could afford; the club closed about 1900 after its administration became too burdensome. (fn. 24)
Nineteenth- and 20th-Century Reorganization
In the 1820s the town's charities were administered by seven separate bodies according to donors' wishes: the town bailiffs, with responsibility for seven or eight charities; the churchwardens, with responsibility for four; the Freeland trustees; and the trustees of the three almshouses and of Elijah Waring's recent bread charity. Charitable property in the town was still held in trust by the town feoffees, who distributed the income among the other bodies. Of the bailiffs' charitable income most, around £43, was distributed on Christmas eve, recipients receiving a pound of beef and a 2d. loaf irrespective of whether they received poor relief; in addition up to 100 widows received a groat on Boxing Day. The churchwardens' charitable income (£50–£60) was mostly distributed in bread on Sundays, 180–200 people receiving loaves in rota; a £4 rent charge was distributed in sixpences on Good Friday to recipients not on poor relief. Waring's charity distributed over 1,880 loaves to 2,890 people in the town and parish on New Year's Day, Witney's and Newland's shares being dispensed at the Blanket Hall, while the Freeland trustees, besides paying for apprenticeships, distributed up to £80-worth of soup, blankets, and clothing a year. Relief was thus largely seasonal and represented a small proportion of the true cost of poor relief. (fn. 25)
From 1895 the newly established urban district council took over management of the churchwardens' charities and appointed trustees, (fn. 26) but no other reforms of Witney's charities were attempted before the 20th century. An enquiry in 1910 found income of some £531 still administered by up to a dozen bodies, while the Freeland charities were still largely distributed in coal, bread, and beef, with a donation to the Witney Nursing Association. Some seasonal doles were allegedly seen as a customary 'right' and failed to reach the genuinely needy: over 2,150 people out of a population of 3,574 received free loaves, collected from individual bakers rather than from the Corn Exchange as earlier. Some of the best beef allegedly went to prosperous tradesmen, and of the six inmates in Townsend's almshouse at Newland, four were noted to be also receiving old-age pension. Recommendations were made for an amalgamated charity overseen by 15 trustees, of whom at least eight should be urban district councillors and some others representatives of local Friendly Societies. The bailiffs, though retaining responsibility for the town hall and Butter Cross, were to be excluded as no longer representative. (fn. 27)
No significant changes were made until 1935 when two Charity Commission Schemes were sealed, by which all of Witney's non-educational charities were combined into two: the Witney Town Charities, comprising 17 separate charities including the three almshouses and others based on town property; and the Witney Parochial Charities, comprising West's, Walter's, Nanny Townsend's, Maddox's, William Townsend's clothing charity, and Waring's Crawley and Hailey charities. The Town Charities received some £610 a year, including £275 rent from property in Witney, £115 from 130 a. in Eynsham, Freeland, Hailey and Bampton, and much of the rest from consols, War stock, and cash vested in the Official Trustee of Charitable Funds, together worth over £8,000. Witney Parochial Charities held £1,396 vested in the Official Trustee and £87 on deposit, and received half the income from £690 War stock belonging to the West and Walter charities. Both Schemes were revised in 1957, the income to be used for gifts in money, bedding, clothing, fuel, or furniture, for weekly allowances of between 2s. 6d. and 10s., and for grants to the sick or to those entering or engaged in trade. (fn. 28)
Rent charges from Yate's, Wiltshire's, and Wilmot's charities were redeemed in the 1970s. In 1979 the Town Charity retained its Church Green and Corn Street houses, together with the almshouses and land at Hailey, Bampton, and Freeland; invested stock totalled over £39,000, with another £4,500 from the sale of Richard Ashcombe's houses on High Street and some £10,500 in an extraordinary repair fund. The Parochial Charities received £785 a year from shares in the Charity Official Investment Fund and £540 on deposit. The trustees of both charities felt that they should be spending a greater proportion of their income on charitable purposes. (fn. 29)
Chronological List of Endowed Charities For The Poor (fn. 30)
John Roper (d. 1534), vicar of Witney: by will proved 1534, land at Hailey to a Witney chantry priest while he remained in orders, the income to be distributed to the poor of Witney four times a year in bread worth 20s.; thereafter the income to go to Witney church for four annual masses, with 5s. distributed in bread and 16d. to the churchmen. (fn. 31) The bequest was not mentioned later.
Leonard Yate (d. 1554), clothier: by will proved 1554, 20 marks (£13 6s. 8d.) to poor inhabitants of Witney, to be distributed by his son-in-law over 20 years in doles of 6s. 8d. at Christmas and Easter. (fn. 32)
Thomas Yate (d. 1591), clothier. by will proved 1591, a 40s. rent charge from houses at Church Green, to be distributed to the poor annually by the churchwardens. In 1660 the houses were demolished for the new grammar school, on which the charge was subsequently levied. (fn. 33)
Henry Jones (d. 1594), clothier, of Witney and Chastleton: by will proved 1594, £20 to be lent to 3 poor tradesmen of the borough for periods of 2 years upon submission of sureties, with preference given to clothiers. (fn. 34)
George Thompson (d. 1603) of Bampton, yeoman: by will proved 1604, £40 to the bailiffs of Witney and constable of Hailey, of which at least £10 was to be freely lent to 4 young occupiers of the town for periods of 1–2 years; the remaining £30 to be used to the town's best advantage at the officers' discretion and distributed on St George's day. (fn. 35)
Richard Ashcombe (d. 1606) of Curbridge, gentleman: by will proved 1606, (fn. 36) £100 stock to the town bailiffs for relief of the poor; a house on High Street, the rent to be paid to the churchwardens by named trustees for the use of the poor; and £10 to be immediately distributed among the poor by the bailiffs. The house was rebuilt as three (Nos. 7, 9 and 11 High Street) before 1761; those were demolished with the neighbouring Congregationalist chapel about 1970 to make way for a supermarket. Ashcombe also left £50 for the building of the Butter Cross.
Leonard Wilmot (d. 1608) of Clanfield, gentleman: by deed dated 1608, a £4 rent charge from land in Clanfield (part of Chestlion farm), distributed by the churchwardens on Good Friday in 6d. doles. Rent charges totalling £13 were given to six other places including Burford and Clanfield. (fn. 37)
William Clempson (d. 1608), mercer. by will proved 1608, 10s. rent from his mansion house in Witney, to be paid to the poor by his daughter on St Thomas's Day (21 December) for 21 years. (fn. 38) Payment ceased thereafter.
Thomas, bishop of Winchester (presumably Thomas Cooper (1584–94) or Thomas Bilson (1597–1616)): by gift at an unknown date, an annual rent charge of £10 from the rectory estate, to be paid to the overseers by the rector for use of the poor. Ralph Trumball (rector 1676–1708) paid the £10 directly to the poor but later withheld it, and following litigation the charity was ruled in 1707 to have been a temporary creation for three lives only. (fn. 39)
Stephen Brice (d. 1620), esquire, and his wife Maud (d. c. 1623): by wills proved 1620 and 1624, (fn. 40) £40 to the town feoffees, to be lent every year to 6 poor tradesmen of Witney on good security, and repaid with 6s. 8d. interest; the interest to be distributed by the churchwardens to 'the neediest inhabitants' on St Stephen's day.
William Cleevely (d. 1623) of Holwell (in Broadwell), yeoman: by will proved 1623, £24 to the town bailiffs and church officers, to be lent to 4 poor tradesmen in the town in portions of £6 for periods of 6 years, on good security; the recipients to pay 4d. each for an annual sermon on the anniversary of Cleevely's funeral. Similar bequests were made to Burford and Abingdon (then Berks.). (fn. 41) The Witney charity was apparently lost by the 1650s.
John Clarke (d. 1627), clothier. by will proved 1627, £13 6s. 8d. for the perpetual relief of poor inhabitants: 13s. 4d. interest was to be distributed annually by his son, and the stock thereafter transferred to the bailiffs and feoffees, with relief delivered at the discretion of the churchwardens and collectors of the poor. (fn. 42)
Elizabeth Sharp (d. 1627) of South Leigh, widow: by will proved 1627, £2 to be annually lent to a tradesmen on good security, for a 2s. fee. (fn. 43)
Thomas Wilsheire (d. 1632), yeoman: by will proved 1632, (fn. 44) a 10s. rent charge on his house in Witney on the site of Nos. 15 and 17 Corn Street, to be paid to the poor by the churchwardens and overseers.
William Lee (fl. 1632) of Abingdon (then Berks.), gentleman: by lifetime gift about 1632, £40 to raise 53s. 4d. a year, of which 40s. was to be distributed in bread and beef on Christmas Day to 40 poor men and women named by the town feoffees; with 10s. for a sermon in the parish church, and 3s. 4d. for drink for the feoffees. In 1632 the money was used to buy a house on the site of Nos. 12 and 14 Church Green, with land adjoining. (fn. 45)
John Walter (d. 1640) and his sister Elizabeth West (fl. 1638) of Appleton (then Berks.): by wills dated 1635 and 1638, land in Appleton (c. 60 a. in 1910) for the poor of Witney, Standlake, and Eynsham, half the income, to be distributed in bread, to go to Witney.
Elizabeth Box (d. 1639), widow: by will proved 1639, £9 to be paid to the town feoffees, to remain as a stock for ever, with another 40s. to be distributed in bread at her funeral. (fn. 46) The bequest was apparently lost by 1652.
Joan Green (fl. 1640) of Shipton-under-Wychwood: by lifetime gift, £20 for relief of the poor of Witney, used in 1640 to buy a cottage on the site of Nos. 92 and 94 Corn Street; (fn. 47) the rents (24s. in 1652) to be paid to poor widows in 12d. doles.
John Smith (d. 1646) of Hailey: by a lifetime gift, 4 a. in Hailey from the death of his wife Joan (d. 1661), half the income to benefit poor widows and orphans of Witney. By his will he left a further £2 for a gallery in Witney church. (fn. 48) The Hailey land was sold in 1930 and the proceeds invested. (fn. 49)
John Palmer (d. 1650) of Bampton, gentleman: by will proved 1650, £50 to the poor of Witney, to be used at the discretion of his executors; further charitable bequests concerned Bampton. (fn. 50)
Thomas Jordan (d. 1666), gentleman: by will dated 1666, £20 to the town feoffees, to be lent to 3 tradesmen who employed the poor at work; the interest to be used for apprenticing a poor child or children. In default, the bequest was to go to Burford. (fn. 51)
Edward Carter (d. 1674) of Alvescot, gentleman: by will proved 1674, £50 to the town of Witney, the interest to keep poor boys in work yearly; similar bequests to Northleach (Glos.). (fn. 52)
John Martin, esquire: before 1682, £5 to the poor of Witney. (fn. 53)
Elizabeth Green (d. c. 1682) of Shipton-underWychwood: before 1682, £16 to the poor of Witney. (fn. 54)
Philip Box (d. 1632 or 1671?), clothier (?): before 1682, £30 to the poor of Witney. (fn. 55)
Andrew Holloway (d. 1688), clothier: by will proved 1689, (fn. 56) 6 houses at Duck Alley in Corn Street worth £5 a year, from the death of his wife Margery; the rents to be distributed annually in bread, with the town's rents from Appleton (Berks.). The houses, reduced to five by 1877, occupied the site of 15 The Crofts and 53 Corn Street.
Henry Heylin (d. 1695) of Minster Lovell: by will proved 1695 (fn. 57) £100 to the poor, later specified for poor householders attending Witney parish church. The bequest, unpaid in 1701, was later thought to have been used to buy copyhold land at Hailey in 1702, subsequently administered with the Freeland charity.
Richard Turner (d. 1750): by gift 1715, a copyhold house and orchard in Hailey, vested in trustees for the benefit of the poor of Witney borough; together with interest on a sum of £20. The income was distributed every Good Friday until Turner's death in 1750, when his widow and heir re-entered the property and refused to pay; an appeal to the duke of Marlborough (as lord of the manor) by the rector, churchwardens, and overseers failed to recover the charity. (fn. 58)
James Leverett (d. 1785), surgeon: by will dated 1783, extensive property in Witney, to be sold to fund bread charities in the town and surrounding parishes. Except for a church organ fund none of the bequests were received, despite unusually strict stipulations in his will. (fn. 59)
Elijah Waring (d. 1815), gentleman: by will proved 1815, £1,000 to the rector and bailiffs, the interest to be distributed in bread among the inhabitants of Witney, Crawley, Hailey, and Newland on New Year's Day.
The income was administered with the Freeland charity. (fn. 60)
William Townsend (d. 1832) of London, esquire: by will proved 1832, endowment for almshouses for 6 poor widows built by him at Newland (above, almshouses); also £400 to trustees, the interest to provide blankets or clothes for 20 aged men or women at the discretion of his heir at law, the Independent and Wesleyan Methodist ministers, and a representative of the Witney Quakers.
Robert Maddox (d. c. 1840) of Reading (Berks.), blanketmaker: by will dated 1811 and codicil, £400 for the poor; variously distributed in calico, coats, and shoes or boots. (fn. 61)
Sophia Warrington (d. by 1883) widow: by will dated 1874, £500 to the town bailiffs, the interest to buy coal for the poor. (fn. 62)