A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1965.
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In the 17th century a number of people gave or left small sums of money to the parish; they were to be lent out at interest and the proceeds applied to the relief of the poor. Some of the money had been lost by 1683, and by 1724 only £15 remained out of about £100. This money was borrowed by the parish towards the repair of the church, and it was agreed that 15s. a year interest should be paid. This, however, was only done intermittently, and in 1869 the charity was allowed to lapse with the consent of the parish and the Charity Commission. (fn. 1)
There was an almshouse in Warminster in the mid-16th century; it stood at the lower end of the High Street, and gave its name to the bridge which crossed the stream there. In 1607 Clement Abath gave £5 to the inmates, and the building was still in use in the early 18th century. It later fell into decay and was removed about 1750. (fn. 2)
In 1627 Henry Smith, silversmith of London, founded a charity for the benefit of the poor of a number of places including Warminster. The sum allotted to Warminster was at first £10 out of an estate at Stoughton (Leics.) worth £220 a year. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries the sum received was only £6 or £8 a year, but in the 19th century £24 or £25 a year was the usual amount. In 1833 this was usually laid out in calico and dowlas shirting, which was given away in lengths worth 4s. each. In 1868 the Stoughton estate was exchanged for one at Thurlaston (Leics.); by 1903 the annual receipt had fallen to £18, which was distributed in 4s. tickets for buying food. (fn. 3)
In 1670 Stephen Pilchard of London left £120 to the parish of Warminster where he was born, to buy lands; of the revenue 10s. was to be paid to the officiating minister for a sermon on St. Stephen's Day, and the residue was to be distributed to 20 old and needy natives of the town. In 1682 the sum of £7 4s., to allow for the gifts to be of 6s. 8d. each, was secured as a rent-charge on some houses near Almshouse Bridge, which later included the Organ Inn. (fn. 4)
At his death in 1688 John Wadman of Imber left a rent-charge of 50s. a year out of Flintford Farm in Frome to be given away to 20 poor inhabitants. (fn. 5) In 1723 William Slade left a rent charge of 50s. a year out of the former 'King's Arms' in the Market Place to be distributed in the same way. (fn. 6) William King of London by his will dated 1769 left a small piece of land, the rent to be given away yearly at the rate of 10s. a year to each recipient. The income has varied from £2 to £6. In 1949 the land was sold and the proceeds invested. (fn. 7) At his death in 1799 John Langley left £1,000 stock to provide annual payments of 5s. each to 120 poor people. In 1869 the capital was increased by £400 transferred, as Langley had provided, from the charity he founded in connexion with the Old Meeting. (fn. 8) From that time the number of recipients was increased. (fn. 9)
In 1807 George Wansey left £1,000, which was subsequently allowed to accumulate to £1,250, to provide yearly payments of £1 each to aged widows; they had to be nominated to go on the list, and once on it remained recipients for life. (fn. 10) By his will proved in 1818 Ralph Hotchkin left £100 stock so that the interest could be distributed to deserving poor, especially widows and people with large families. (fn. 11) At her death in 1820 Elizabeth Townsend left £200 to provide a number of great coats and cloaks for poor old men and women. In 1833 £3 a year from another charity she founded for singing an anthem in the parish church was allotted to this one. (fn. 12) About 1830 Sarah Lawes gave just over £100 for the benefit of the industrious poor. Similar bequests or gifts were made later in the 19th century by Jane Benett, £100, Mary Anne Wyche, £100, J. S. Halliday, £100, Mary Aldridge, £100, Susan T. Taylor, £98, F. H. Langley, £1,000, and G. T. Vicary, £50. (fn. 13) Other bequests were made by Letitia Leat, £100 to provide fuel, Charles Bleeck, £400 to give away beef at Christmas, and John Doel, £200 to provide boots and shoes. (fn. 14)
Since at least the early 19th century it has been customary to distribute the income from most of these charities at Christmas. In the 1820's and 30's some £120 was generally given to nearly 400 recipients. (fn. 15) The same method was still in use in 1962; in 1957 about £140 was given away, mainly in small sums as directed by the donors. (fn. 16)
In 1873 Louisa Warren built four almshouses in Portway in memory of her late husband. They were to provide homes for 4 Protestant widows or spinsters over 60; an endowment of £2,500 was made to allow for the upkeep of the houses and for small weekly payments to the inmates. In 1893 Jane Fish, an almswoman, left £122 to the endowment. The charity still functioned in its original form in 1963. (fn. 17)
Several charities have been endowed for the poor of the district or parish of Christ Church. In 1878 Matthew Davies left £2,000 to provide weekly supplies of coal for old people during the winter. In 1903 the income was sufficient to provide over 100 people with 1 cwt. a week and an extra 1½ or 2 cwt. at Christmas. In 1959 it was given away in 8s. vouchers. (fn. 18) In 1867 Margaret Elling gave a house and 6a. of land at Rehobath near Warminster Common for the general relief of the poor of the district. The estate was sold c. 1922 and the proceeds invested; in the 1950's some £26 a year was given away in money and vouchers. (fn. 19) By his will proved in 1901 S. P. Collier left £100 to provide meat for poor people; this too has been given away in vouchers. (fn. 20)
The formally-endowed charities were supplemented by several subscribing bodies for the relief of the poor. Warminster Infants' Friend Society was founded in 1800 to lend clothes and linen to lying-in women, and to give the infants that lived an adequate set of clothes. The Society for the Relief of the Aged Poor, established in 1814, collected subscriptions of 1d. a week from its members and allowed a number of aged paupers 1s. a week in winter and 6d. in summer to provide comforts in addition to the parish pay, which was not cut. Warminster Ladies' Benevolent Society was founded in 1818 to give small sums of money or clothes and comforts to the sick poor, and the Blanket Lending Society dated from 1827. (fn. 21) There were clothing clubs attached to the church Sunday Schools at the parish church and the Common in 1828, (fn. 22) and in 1835 a Penny Clothing Society was instituted. Members could pay from 1d. to 4d. a week, and at the end of the year were supplied with tickets to buy clothing worth a small amount over what they had paid, the increase coming from subscriptions. (fn. 23) The Society for the Aged Poor and the Blanket Lending Society still carried on their work in 1962. Each had accumulated endowment by gift and bequest, and still received subscriptions from its members. (fn. 24)