A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.
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PARISH GOVERNMENT AND POOR RELIEF
FROM the 16th century the part of the city within the ditch, except for the Friary estate, made up St. Mary's parish. The southern part of the city was in St. Michael's parish and the northern part in St. Chad's; both those parishes also included a large area outside the city. The Close formed a separate parish. The Friary remained extra-parochial until under an Act of 1857 it became a parish. In 1934 it was added to St. Michael's. (fn. 1)
St. Mary's church had a single warden in 1457. (fn. 2) In 1490 property for the maintenance of a lamp there was given to 'special wardens' of the church, and there were two churchwardens in the mid 16th century. (fn. 3) In the earlier part of the century they apparently presented thier accounts to the guild of St. Mary and St. John the Baptist; in the 1630s the accounts were passed by the city bailiffs, the vicar, and others and in 1679 by the bailiffs and the vicar alone. (fn. 4) By 1733 one of the churchwardens was appointed by the vicar and the other by the parishioners. (fn. 5) Sidesmen existed by the 1630s; by 1714 two were elected. (fn. 6) Surveyors of the highways were mentioned in 1637–8, and by the later 1690s two were appointed by the bailiffs. (fn. 7) In 1728 there was a complaint that several parishioners were refusing to carry out their statute labour on the roads, either personally or by substitute, and the corporation ordered the bailiffs to enforce the law. (fn. 8)
There were two parish clerks in 1466. One of them, William Sumner, was accused not only of moral failings and neglecting his duties but also of acting in an unclerical way: his manner was refined, his shoes were pointed, his hair was styled and flowing, he wore no belt, and his expression was supercilious. (fn. 9) Two clerks were being maintained by the guild at the time of its suppression. (fn. 10) The clerk's chamber, mentioned in 1630–1, was taken down in 1635–6. (fn. 11) In the 18th century the clerk was appointed by the vicar. (fn. 12) A sexton was appointed by the parishioners in 1760, 1771, and 1821. (fn. 13)
St. Michael's church had keepers of the fabric and lights c. 1300, (fn. 14) and there were two churchwardens in 1463. (fn. 15) They apparently presented their accounts to the guild in the earlier 16th century, and later in the century they accounted to the bailiffs. (fn. 16) By 1731 the curate appointed one of the wardens and the parishioners the other. (fn. 17) Sidesmen existed by 1596–7. (fn. 18) In 1637 seven were elected, one being for Greenhill and the rest for places outside the city, but thereafter the Greenhill appointment was dropped. (fn. 19) By the later 1690s two highway surveyors were appointed by the bailiffs, evidently for the city portion of the parish. (fn. 20) There was a parish clerk in the mid 1550s. (fn. 21) In the 18th and earlier 19th century the office was held with that of sexton and appointments were made by the vicar of St. Mary's. (fn. 22) The vestry met in the chancel of St. Michael's in the mid 18th century; a meeting room was built in the angle between the chancel and the south aisle in the mid 1780s. (fn. 23)
In 1346 a 'keeper or syndic or proctor' led the 'parishioners' of Stowe in resistance to the demand by the prebendary of Gaia Major for a tithe of the stone quarried for work on St. Chad's church. (fn. 24) The St. Chad's churchwardens, of whom there were two by the mid 16th century, apparently accounted to the guild earlier in the century. (fn. 25) By 1740 it was customary for the curate of St. Chad's to choose a warden for the city portion of the parish; there was a separate warden for the 'country' portion, presumably chosen by the inhabitants of Curborough and Elmhurst, who were appointing by 1755. There were also two sidesmen. In 1829 the vestry decided that it was 'essentially necessary that the parishioners should in future appoint one churchwarden'. They duly did so, with the curate appointing another. There was no mention of Curborough and Elmhurst, but from 1830 there was a warden appointed by the curate, another appointed by the parishioners, and a third for Curborough and Elmhurst. The last was variously styled sidesman and churchwarden from 1851 until 1865 when two sidesmen were appointed instead. (fn. 26) By the 1690s two highway surveyors were appointed for the parish by the bailiffs. (fn. 27) By the earlier 18th century a parish clerk was appointed by the vicar of St. Mary's, the office being combined with that of sexton. (fn. 28)
In the Close the clerk of the cathedral was also sexton in the 1690s. (fn. 29)
Each parish organized its own poor relief. There were two overseers for St. Mary's in 1642. (fn. 30) By the late 1690s the bailiffs appointed two overseers for each of the three city parishes. (fn. 31) It was the custom by the later 1730s for the parishioners of St. Chad's to submit six names. (fn. 32) The dean and chapter appointed two overseers for the Close; in 1833 they were the chapter clerk and the senior verger. (fn. 33) The parts of St. Michael's and St. Chad's outside the city organized their poor relief separately from the rest of their respective parishes. (fn. 34)
In the 1770s there were several unsuccessful schemes for co-operation between the three city parishes in administering relief. One of the St. Mary's churchwardens issued a pamphlet in 1775 urging the union of all three for relief purposes and the building of a single workhouse. (fn. 35) In 1777 a St. Mary's committee recommended the extension of its workhouse so that it could take in the paupers of the other two parishes. (fn. 36) In the same year the St. Chad's vestry set up a committee to discuss the idea of a single workhouse with the other two parishes. It was stressed that there was to be no question of a union with St. Mary's or of any contribution towards the St. Mary's poor. (fn. 37)
The St. Mary's committee of 1777 also recommended the establishment of a committee of nine besides the churchwardens and overseers to organize relief in the parish, helped by a salaried overseer. (fn. 38) In 1788, after complaints of irregularities, the vestry appointed a committee of 25, including the churchwardens and overseers, to inspect the overseers' accounts and supervise relief; it worked through a subcommittee of six appointed monthly. (fn. 39) In 1818 the vestry ordered that the overseers' accounts were to be certified quarterly by a small committee. It also required the master of the workhouse to submit a monthly return to the vestry giving details of inmates and the amount spent on them; if they were employed, details were to be given of any income, which was to be paid into the parish funds. (fn. 40) The governor of the workhouse appointed in 1826 also acted as assistant overseer. (fn. 41) A select vestry was established for St. Mary's in 1820 (fn. 42) and one for St. Michael's in 1827. (fn. 43)
In 1691 the corporation let a house on the south side of Sandford Street east of the bridge over Trunkfield brook to Francis Burditt of London and others as a linen manufactory where the poor of the city would be employed and paid a wage; the corporation carried out the necessary repairs and alterations. There was a proviso that the liberties of the city tradesmen were not to be infringed. (fn. 44) The manufactory lasted only until 1696. (fn. 45) The building was later let for other purposes, although it continued to be called the workhouse. It seems to have been used for the poor in 1701–2 when the bailiffs spent 6d. 'in removing Mrs. Ward to the workhouse'. (fn. 46)
In 1724 the corporation decided to give the occupants notice to quit so that it could turn the building into a workhouse for the city, and in 1725 it carried out extensive repairs. (fn. 47) A master had been appointed by December that year, and the Conduit Lands trustees bought two stocking frames for use at the workhouse. The corporation assigned part of the building as a house of correction with the master of the workhouse acting as governor. (fn. 48) Poor from St. Mary's parish were occupying part of the workhouse by 1728, and that year the corporation gave St. Michael's permission to put its poor in the lower part at a rent of 4d. a year, with the right to take in a garden and erect a pigsty. (fn. 49)
In 1740 St. Michael's and St. Chad's decided to establish their own workhouse. St. Mary's continued to occupy the Sandford Street building at a rent of 5s. a year, paying the corporation £5 5s. back rent in 1741–2. (fn. 50) In 1743 and 1744 the Conduit Lands trustees made two payments of £15 to St. Mary's towards the cost of repairing and furnishing the workhouse. (fn. 51) In 1738–9 the parish had received £15s. 8d. for work done at the workhouse with a further 12s. for linen cloth and 2s. 2d. for cabbage cloth; £33 7s. was received in 1744 for tammy made at the house. (fn. 52) In that year the parish entered into an agreement with John Phillips for farming the poor in the workhouse at 14d. each a week. (fn. 53)
In 1777 a parish committee recommended the extension of the workhouse as a house of industry under a salaried master and mistress who were to be husband and wife. Work was to be done both in the house and elsewhere; women were to do spinning for the clothiers of the area. Adults were to be allowed to keep 2d. in every shilling earned, while children were to have 'some gratuity out of their wages'. The master was to be 'a person of some education' so that he could spend at least four hours a day teaching the children, and he was also to superintend the workroom. He was to have 'a boy or two' to help in the house and the garden, and his wife was to be allowed some girls to help her on the domestic side; children would thereby become better qualified for going out to service. (fn. 54) A salaried master was duly appointed. (fn. 55) In August 1795 a little blanketing was being made in the house for the use of the inmates, of whom there were 41. (fn. 56) In the year ending Easter 1803 the inmates earned £60 5s. 11d. towards their maintenance, chiefly by working on stock provided by a cotton manufacturer, probably Sir Robert Peel who had a works in Sandford Street. (fn. 57) Between February and May 1805 the parish received £3 8s. 1d. for work done in the house, and in July there were 35 inmates. (fn. 58) In 1831, to save the cost of a charwoman, the select vestry ordered that women in receipt of weekly pay who were capable of work were to be used to clean the workhouse. (fn. 59) In 1832 it instructed that all children from the workhouse who had been put out to nurse 'at Meat's of Chorley' (in Farewell) were to be brought into the workhouse. (fn. 60) It decided in 1833 to have a uniform of grey cloth made for able-bodied male inmates. (fn. 61)
The parish also maintained poorhouses. In 1778 it paid for work on poorhouses in Stowe Street. (fn. 62) In 1822 the select vestry ordered six men and one woman to quit the parish houses which they occupied; the woman lived in Sandford Street. One of the men had been given his house the previous year for himself, his wife, and their five children, along with an allowance of 5s. a week for his family and an advance of £3 to buy materials for his trade as a woolcomber. In the event two of the other men were allowed to remain, one of them rent free. (fn. 63)
In 1740 St. Michael's and St. Chad's agreed to rent or buy a house and convert it into a joint workhouse. (fn. 64) One had been established at Greenhill by 1741 when St. Chad's appointed six trustees or governors for it. (fn. 65) The Conduit Lands trustees provided £30 for furniture. (fn. 66) In 1746 the St. Chad's vestry found that poor of the parish lately turned out of the workhouse were being maintained more cheaply on outdoor relief, and it ordered that they were not to be sent back to Greenhill. (fn. 67) Later the same year it ordered that several paupers were to receive outdoor relief and were not to go into the workhouse. (fn. 68) St. Chad's appointed no workhouse trustees that year but did so in 1747. (fn. 69)
There continued to be a workhouse at Greenhill, but by 1780 different premises there were being used, evidently by St. Michael's alone. (fn. 70) There was a fire in 1790, and perhaps as a result St. Michael's no longer had a workhouse in 1795 and was still without one in the early 1800s. (fn. 71) By 1811 it again had a workhouse at Greenhill, occupying part of the former White Hart public house, which had been converted into two dwellings. (fn. 72) In 1827 the workhouse consisted of a parlour and a kitchen on the ground floor, four chambers on the first floor, and two attic chambers. (fn. 73) That year the St. Michael's select vestry drew up a scheme for the transfer of the inmates to the St. Mary's workhouse, but the St. Mary's vestry rejected the plan. St. Michael's then appointed a master for Greenhill who agreed to farm the poor at 3s. 9d. each a week for those aged over 14 and 3s. for those under 14, inclusive of three meals a day, coal, and candles. (fn. 74) By 1833 the 3s. 9d. had risen to 4s. (fn. 75) Meanwhile, in 1830 the vestry ordered that those in receipt of outdoor pay had to attend divine service every Sunday unless they were ill. (fn. 76)
The St. Chad's overseers took a lease of a house in Stowe Street in 1781 and turned it into a workhouse, described in 1819 as an old and inconvenient building. (fn. 77) There were six inmates c. 1803. (fn. 78) A new governor of what was called the Stowe house of industry was elected by the parishioners in 1816. (fn. 79) In the earlier 1830s the workhouse poor were farmed at 3s. 6d. each a week. (fn. 80)
St. Chad's was the only one of the three parishes to be maintaining any poorhouses in 1776. (fn. 81) A house adjoining the churchyard was used as a poorhouse in 1781. (fn. 82) A range of cottages called Littleworth west of the church was maintained by the churchwardens in 1758, presumably for the benefit of the poor. (fn. 83) There was evidently some rebuilding in 1790 when 3,000 bricks were delivered to Littleworth. (fn. 84) In 1848 three of the cottages were held by the overseers of Stowe and the fourth by the overseers of Curborough and Elmhurst. From c. 1850 the Curborough and Elmhurst overseers charged a rent of 6d. a week for their cottage; the other three were given rent free to the poor by the churchwardens, usually to widows and spinsters. The Curborough and Elmhurst cottage was pulled down in 1912 after standing empty for 10 years. From 1913 a rent of 3d. a week was charged for the other three as new tenants came in. (fn. 85) The two nearest the church were made into a single dwelling in 1932. (fn. 86) In 1934 the parochial church council decided to repair the cottages and charge 3s. a week for the larger and 2s. for the smaller. Electric lighting was installed in 1935. In 1944 the cottages were let to the Beacon Street boy scouts. (fn. 87) They were rebuilt in the later 1940s as a single house for the caretaker of St. Chad's well. (fn. 88) By 1984 the house was used as a day centre for the unemployed.
The injunctions to the Lichfield cathedral clergy at the royal visitations of 1547 and 1559 included orders enjoining hospitality to the poor and the maintenance of all existing alms and doles. (fn. 89) Chapter accounts, which survive from the 1660s, show numerous payments to the poor, including money for the support and education of the children of two deceased vicars. Widow Morgill received 2s. 6d. a month from 1668 to 1674, with the stipulation in 1671 that she must attend prayers daily. (fn. 90) In 1694 Bishop Lloyd decreed that, in accordance with the 1559 injunction concerning hospitality, £13 a year was to be levied at the rate of 5s. a week from the commons of the dean (1s. 8d. a week) and the four residentiary canons (10d. a week); the 5s. was to be distributed to the poor of the Close every Thursday after morning prayers. (fn. 91) Although the chapter accounts do not record such payments until 1693–4, the bishop may merely have been confirming by statute an existing arrangement: in 1693 5s. a week was already being distributed to the poor at the cathedral in bread. By 1738 the £13 was known as bread money. (fn. 92) In 1694 Lloyd also ordered that the offertory money received at the cathedral was to be distributed weekly to needy Anglicans of both the city and the Close. (fn. 93) By 1738 the poor were further provided with 'an hospitality not to be named', (fn. 94) perhaps a public lavatory. In 1773 the dean and chapter, faced with a great increase in the number of poor living in the Close and the need to levy a poor rate, assigned both the bread money and the offertory money to the overseers in the hope of keeping down or avoiding rates. They recommended that their successors should continue the practice. (fn. 95) From 1799 part of the bread money was given to the cathedral choristers, and by the later 19th century they received all of it. (fn. 96)
A rate was regularly levied by 1807. (fn. 97) In 1832 the amount raised was £102 6s. 8d., with a further £37 1s. in donations and offerings; £205 18s. was spent on poor relief. (fn. 98) Early in 1833 the Close, which had no workhouse, was giving weekly pay to 9 women and 5 men, all former domestic servants, and to 10 children. One of the men, who had a wife and three children and had earlier been the dean's coachman, received 8s. a week and had his rent paid. (fn. 99)
The Lichfield poor law union, covering the city and a large surrounding area, was formed in 1836. (fn. 100) At first the St. Mary's parish workhouse and that at Rugeley were retained as the union's workhouses. (fn. 101) In 1840 a workhouse, designed in a Tudor style by G. G. Scott and W. B. Moffatt, was opened for the union in Trent Valley Road. Casual wards were added in 1874 and an infirmary in 1893. The building, much altered, is now St. Michael's hospital. (fn. 102)
There have been several other sources of relief. In the Middle Ages alms were distributed in the Close. On one occasion, in or shortly before 1293, a distribution at the house of Adam de Walton, the precentor, drew a great crowd of beggars. When the door was opened, the beggars rushed in, and during the attempt to keep order one of them was struck to the ground by a servant and trampled to death in the crush. (fn. 103) Bishop Langton paid William Tabard of Lichfield to bake and brew for the poor for 10 weeks at the beginning of 1312. (fn. 104) In 1312–13 large quantities of wheat, mixed corn, barley malt, oat malt, eggs, and probably herrings were distributed at the bishop's expense by Alexander the porter, presumably at the gates of the palace. (fn. 105) When Langton's body was translated to a new tomb in 1360, 1,600 poor were given 1d. each. (fn. 106) In 1466 a woman living in Stowe Street, whose husband was seldom at home, survived by sending a boy to the Close to beg on her behalf. (fn. 107) In 1550–1 the vicars gave oatmeal and salt to the poor, perhaps in the form of porridge. (fn. 108)
The endowments of some obits and chantries in the cathedral provided for annual distributions to the poor. (fn. 109) Funerals at the cathedral were sometimes accompanied by gifts of food, cash, and clothing. By will proved 1369 Robert Portjoy, a vicar choral, left 1d. each to 20 poor women keeping vigil round his corpse and 100s. in bread for the poor on the day of his funeral. Canon Nicholas Lichfield (d. 1375) provided a gown and a hood for each of six men praying round his corpse. Canon Thomas Milley (d. 1505) left 50s. to be distributed in bread to the poor on the day of his funeral and 50s. for a further distribution on the day of his trental. William Wrixham (d. 1505), another of the cathedral clergy, left 20s. to be given to the poor on the day of his funeral and another 20s. on the day of his trental. (fn. 110)
The 1622 charter to the city laid down that the market tolls and customs should be used by the corporation primarily for the relief of the poor. (fn. 111) In the later 17th century the corporation made payments to various needy people. From 1718 £2 a year was assigned for poor travellers, and from the late 1770s until the end of the century larger sums were disbursed to travellers. (fn. 112)
The Conduit Lands trustees made numerous charitable payments. In the later 17th century they paid for the apprenticing of many poor children, including girls. Eleven boys were apprenticed in 1667. In 1673 Catherine Johnson was paid £3 10s. towards the apprenticing of her son Michael (father of Samuel Johnson) to Richard Simpson, a London stationer, with a further 10s. for the cost of the journey to London. She received payments of £3 for each of two other sons, Benjamin (also apprenticed to Simpson) in 1676 and Andrew in 1677. (fn. 113) In 1713 the trustees paid Francis Deakin £5 towards the cost of books for his son John, who was at Christ's College, Cambridge. (fn. 114) They again made several payments for apprenticing in the mid 1720s. (fn. 115) They also spent money on weekly pay and grants in kind for the poor between 1724 and 1742; 'decayed tradesmen' were among the beneficiaries, including 'Mr. Johnson', presumably Michael Johnson, who received 10 guineas in 1731. In 1757, when corn was dear and many householders were in need, the trustees bought wheat and rye which they resold to the poor at a much reduced price; in February 270 families benefited, in March 321, and in April 327. (fn. 116)
Medical help too was provided. In 1699 the Conduit Lands trustees paid George Hector £5 for attending nine people; he set several broken bones and cured a scrofulous neck tumour. (fn. 117) In 1727 and 1728 a total of £16 4s. 6d. was paid to 'Mr. Hammond for physic given to poor inhabitants this very sickly time'. (fn. 118) Erasmus Darwin provided the poor with medical help as well as food and other assistance during his time in Lichfield from 1756 to 1781. (fn. 119) In 1828 J. T. Law, master of St. John's hospital and chancellor of the diocese, abolished pew rents in the hospital chapel and asked those who had been paying to give the money instead for the provision of medical help for the poor who suffered accidents or sudden illness. (fn. 120)
A Society for the Suppression of Mendicity was established in 1820, and in 1823 it claimed to have saved the city from being infested with beggars. In the previous 12 months it had relieved 1,943 people, chiefly labourers travelling in search of work and sailors going from port to port. Relief was normally confined to food and lodging, but in exceptional cases money was given to enable people to return to their homes. By 1827 the society's expenditure exceeded subscriptions, and it appealed to the three city parishes for help, pointing out that it was saving expense to the ratepayers. The St. Mary's select vestry refused to subscribe, and the other two parishes, having at first promised help, followed suit. The society was then wound up. It was revived in 1828, and St. Mary's relented and subscribed £5. (fn. 121) The society had its own lodging house by 1827; the premises were at the east end of Tamworth Street in the earlier 1830s. (fn. 122) The society again lapsed, but in 1869 a new one was formed. In its first year it relieved 473 people and the streets were cleared of 'professional' beggars. Persons seeking relief were referred by the police to the society's subscribers, who received tickets according to the amount of their subscription. If thought suitable by a subscriber, the applicant was given a ticket exchangeable only through the police, a restriction which was thought to discourage all but a few. Relief took the form of supper, bed, and breakfast in the society's lodging house, the meals consisting of 8 oz. of bread and 2 oz. of cheese. (fn. 123) The completion of the casual wards at the workhouse in 1874 removed the need to consider claims from tramps. (fn. 124) The society was wound up for lack of support in the late 1870s but was quickly replaced by a similar society which continued until c. 1909. (fn. 125)
In 1820 the corporation received subscriptions to a fund for supplying soup to the poor of the city. (fn. 126) A soup kitchen was set up on the initiative of Richard Greene at the time of the cholera outbreak of 1849, although the city itself escaped. The first distributions appear to have been in January 1850 when over 50 gallons of strong soup were distributed three times a week to an average of 446 families, consisting of 758 adults and 1,046 children. The soup was given free to the aged, the sick, and those receiving poor relief, while those earning less than 15s. a week paid ¼d. a pint. (fn. 127) Subscriptions amounted to £166 8s. 2d. in 1856–7. (fn. 128) In the mid 1870s the kitchen was in Wade Street, and it continued in existence until c. 1902. (fn. 129) A kitchen for invalids was established in 1870. During the season November 1874 to April 1875 it was at Mrs. Blakeman's in Market Street and was open every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Its activities were taken over by the Lichfield nursing institution in 1882 and by the Victoria nursing home, opened in 1899. (fn. 130)
In the 1880s a group of ladies arranged for the Parchments, a cottage near Stowe Pool, to be used as a place where poor girls of the city and its neighbourhood could be given work. (fn. 131) By 1896 a Lichfield branch of the South Staffordshire Association for the Help and Training of Friendless Girls was maintaining a refuge in Beacon Street. Girls of good conduct were sent to be trained as domestic servants at a school opened in 1895 at Brereton, in Rugeley. (fn. 132) It was commented that Lichfield being a garrison town, 'there was much to do'. (fn. 133) Two houses in Beacon Street were bought in 1908 and opened as a refuge and training home for poor girls of the area. Named Beacon Holme, it was run by the Lichfield Ladies' Association for the Care of Friendless Girls and staffed until c. 1920 by sisters from the Community of St. Peter at Horbury (Yorks. W. R.). (fn. 134) By the later 1930s the number of girls at the home had dwindled, and it was closed in 1939. (fn. 135) It was reopened for a time shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War. (fn. 136)
An account of the endowed charities for the poor is given below in a separate section.