Little Wilbraham : Charities for the poor

Page 331

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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Richard Johnson by will dated 1501 left all his lands to feoffees, in possession by 1517: after supporting anniversary masses, they were to use the income to pay taxes for all inhabitants of Little Wilbraham except the lords. In 1526 Johnson's freeholds were held to the use of the vill. (fn. 1) In 1688 the land was held in trust, after paying £3 10s. for church repairs, to pay taxes and other rates for the township; a parish meeting in 1614 had agreed that the charity should spend £2 10s. a year on bread for the poor at Easter. An inquiry in 1729 found that two bequests of 1620 and 1662, and four others, all for a stock for the poor called the Town Money, once totalling £39, had been used for church repairs. It was then directed that the sum should be recovered by a rate and transferred to Johnson's trustees who were to use it and their rents, £20 yearly, also allegedly misapplied, for its original purpose. (fn. 2) Under an agreement made in 1743, after £80 of arrears had been recovered from trustees who were then removed from office, the net rent, £20, was in 1776 given partly in bread for the poor, partly in relief for the sick. (fn. 3) At inclosure the charity had, besides 4 cottages and 3½ a. of closes, 41 a. of open-field arable, for which it was allotted 88 a. in Low Fen in 1801. (fn. 4)

In 1837 the rent, £71, was mostly given to the poorer villagers in fuel, largely turf, bedding, and clothing. (fn. 5) In 1863 c. £100 of the £120 rent was given to the poor. (fn. 6) In the 1870s flannel and calico, and in winter coal, were distributed to c. 80 families. At Christmas 2-lb. loaves were given among 300 people. From 1879 the rector had the charity reorganized, despite widespread opposition from the labourers. A Scheme of 1883, after allowing £6 for church purposes, assigned a fifth of the remaining income to education, a fifth to medical assistance, and three fifths to the relief of hardship, preferably in kind. A Scheme of 1976 made a similar allocation. (fn. 7)

The net income fell from £120 c. 1880 to £50-60 after 1890. From 1900 the poor's share, worth £30-36, provided, besides £2 in bread at Christmas, sometimes coal and clothing, sometimes vouchers of 3s. 6d. for c. 135 people. The medical fifth was subscribed to Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge. (fn. 8) Between 1948 and 1957 the charity's four cottages and its land in the fen, poorly drained, were sold for c. £2,000, (fn. 9) which were invested to yield for each fifth £20-30 a year in the late 1970s, £70 by 1988, besides the interest on substantial unspent balances. In the 1980s the poor's three fifths, the Relief Fund, were usually spent in gifts of £10 or more to c. 20 people each year. (fn. 10)

In 1829 the rector built two cottages as almshouses on the site of the parish gravel pit north of the churchyard. The parish maintained them and named the inmates until the rural district council took over the pit in 1895; thereafter the rector chose the inmates. In 1981, the last occupant having died, the cottages, called the Bede houses, were combined with Erasmus Lane's charity as the Bede and Lane Relief in Need charity, and soon afterwards sold for £11,700. The income, initially almost £800 and by 1989 over £2,000, was intended to assist needy parishioners, preferably Anglicans, In the late 1980s over half was given through Johnson's charity, or in cash to 15-20 people. In 1989 an unspent £2,000 balance was invested. (fn. 11)

Frederick Layton, who had emigrated as a child in 1842 and prospered at Milwaukee (U.S.A.), (fn. 12) in 1900 bought the site of his birthplace cottage at the west end of the main street and built on it a row of three 4-roomed cottages, named after his mother Mary Layton. They were to serve as almshouses for elderly local labourers, preferably born in the parish, or their widows. He also gave £1,500 stock to maintain the cottages and provide 6s. a week for their occupants, distributed until 1982. Fully qualified almspeople were hard to find by 1957, but a Scheme of 1958 largely maintained the old rules. In the 1980s the foundation income was c. £500. (fn. 13)


  • 1. R. Masters, Hist. Corpus Christi Coll. App. pp. 58-9; C.C.C. Mun., XXIII/17: 9, 18 Hen. VIII.
  • 2. P.R.O., C 93/50/27; C 93/56/16; cf. ibid. PROB 11/135, f. 319; PROB 11/307, f. 148v.
  • 3. Masters, Hist. Corpus Christi Coll. App. p. 59; C.U.L., E.D.R., C 1/1; Char. Don. i. 96-7.
  • 4. C.R.O., Q/RDz 4, p. 169; cf. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 150-1.
  • 5. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 150-1; cf. Rep. H.L. Cttee. on Poor Laws, 320-1.
  • 6. Char. Digest Cambs. 1863-4, 410-11.
  • 7. Char. Com. file 286102, corr. 1879-83; Schemes 1883, 1976.
  • 8. Ibid. corr. 1897 sqq.; C.R.O., P 175/AM 1, pp. 47-8, 84, 92, 102, 130-2, 143.
  • 9. Char. Com. file 286102, survey 1921; corr. 1946-57.
  • 10. Ibid. accts. 1977-89.
  • 11. Char. Com. files 62330, corr. 1895-8; 284444, incl. Scheme 1981; notes (1973 and later), supplied to V.C.H., by the rector and Mr. K.C. Davison. For Lane's char., above, church.
  • 12. Cf. Camb. Chron. 9 Jan. 1869, p. 5; 13 Jan. 1872, p. 8; 3 Apr. 1880, p. 4.
  • 13. Char. Com. file 269468, papers 1921 sqq., incl. report 1926; Scheme 1958; accts. 1981-88; C.R.O., P 175/25/4.