Waterbeach: Charities for the poor

Pages 265-266

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.

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Charities for the poor.

(fn. 1) Feoffees for the town held the Town osier holts by 1522, and the Jesus holt (perhaps former guild property), 6 a. of arable, and 5 ½ a. of meadow by 1577. (fn. 2) That copyhold, in 1617 comprising 4 a. of arable, 6 a. of meadow, and 3 ½ a. of holts, (fn. 3) was seized by John Yaxley as steward c. 1607. He exacted £40 from the town stock in 1609 for its return. (fn. 4) In 1768 the parish held that land for the public good and general benefit of the inhabitants. (fn. 5) Margery Banks by will proved 1633 left £10 to buy land for the poor, which was shortly invested in 3 a. of fen in Chittering. (fn. 6)

A Chancery decree of 1729 vested all the parish charities, including the almshouses described below, in a single body of trustees. After £3 12s. had been paid for schooling, the balance of the combined income was to provide for the poor £1 5s. from the Banks land, and from the rest £5 in fuel in November, £20 in cash to those not assisted by the parish in November and February, and £5 for clothing for regular churchgoers. Any surplus was to be for church repairs. (fn. 7) The Church and Poor estate was worth £30 a year by 1728 (fn. 8) and c. £27 by 1786, when the trustees did not duly apply its income. (fn. 9) About 1805 they gave out £50-70 a year to labourers in fuel and clothing. (fn. 10)

From the 1810s John Hemington of Denny Abbey, the last surviving trustee, apparently failed to distribute anything to the poor, instead devoting three quarters of the Waterbeach land rent, by 1836 £87 a year, to education. The rest went on drainage rates, ditching, and mole catching, but almost £200 of rent was in arrear by the 1830s. (fn. 11) The charity incurred considerable expense at inclosure; in 1818 it was allotted, for its 6 a. of arable and 16 a. of fenland, c. 8 a. near the village, including Town Holt (4 1/2; a.), and 63 a. in Chittering. (fn. 12) Distribution in kind was resumed in the late 1830s, 50-60 tons of coal being given annually and in some years also blankets and sheets, by the 1850s to up to 250 families. (fn. 13) Although the rent rose from £100 to £175 in the 1860s and 1870s, only £111 was available for the poor c. 1863, (fn. 14) the charity paying £300 to enfranchise its copyholds. When in 1863 and 1865 the vicar diverted most of the income to education, the poor were left with £10, besides £5 to support a clothing club. (fn. 15) Even that £15 was not distributed between 1865 and 1878, when protests arose from labourers united in a Cottagers' Association. They resented the diversion of income and demanded the division of the charity farm into allotments. (fn. 16) Payment was resumed from 1879, the £10 being usually given in coal with the other charities, sometimes in blankets, (fn. 17) into the mid 20th century. (fn. 18)

By will proved 1626 John Yaxley ordered his executors to build six almshouses in brick on his land at the town end toward Cambridge. He charged his Waterbeach copyholds with £12 a year, £2 to each of six almspeople. (fn. 19) Those almshouses were later named after Yaxley's sonin-law John Robson, who probably erected them, and left the poor £1 a year. (fn. 20) Six almswomen had been installed by 1655, (fn. 21) usually, as until the 1850s, widows. (fn. 22) Their income was augmented by a rent charge of £15 left by Jane (d. 1716), widow of John Brigham, by will of 1705. (fn. 23) No provision had been made to maintain their dwellings, which by 1820 were scarcely weatherproof. (fn. 24) The owners of Hall farm, out of which the £12 were paid until after 1913, (fn. 25) occasionally repaired them and assumed the right to name the almswomen into the 1860s. The women received Yaxley's bequest throughout the 19th century, but were denied the Brigham money from the 1830s to after 1900, so that they might instead be assisted from the rates. (fn. 26) The 1865 Scheme provided that vacant places be not filled until sufficient money had been accumulated from unpaid annuities to repair the almshouses, and also gave the trustees power to fix the widows' stipends in future. (fn. 27) The number of almswomen was reduced from four in 1861 to one by 1881, (fn. 28) and successive pairs of almshouses were rebuilt between 1873 and 1896. James Toller induced the parish council to take control of the refilled almshouses in 1909. The Brigham rent charge had lately been redeemed for cash invested in stock yielding c. £13 9s. yearly. A Scheme of 1958 provided that all the income, save for a £30 repair fund and including by the 1960s £10 a year from the charity estate, be paid to the six inmates, poor Waterbeach women, who might be required to contribute towards maintenance costs. The almshouses were substantially repaired c. 1969, while total contributions rose from £5 c. 1968 to c. £800 by 1975. (fn. 29)

Through the influence of Sir George Whitmore, Waterbeach became a beneficiary of the charity founded under the will of the Londoner Henry Smith (d. 1628), with a share of the income of its landed endowment. That share, worth 10 marks at its origin and c. 1725, rose to over £17 following a lawsuit c. 1780, £22 in 1879, and over £46 in 1970. Destined under the Chancery decree of 1729 for the old and sick poor, it was c. 1837 used to supply clothing and bedding every other year. By the 1860s it was added to the coal fund, in 1879 yielding 5 cwt. each for c. 100 poor families. In the 1960s, with the poor's £10 from the Education Foundation land, it went in Christmas doles of 10-15s. each to 60-80 people. (fn. 30)

The Turbary charity land, allotted under the inclosure Act in recompense for the poor's right to cut turf, comprised 18 1/2 a. in Chittering; the income was to buy fuel for the legally settled poor. (fn. 31) The rent was c. £27 in the 1830s, when it was given indiscriminately among the poor every other year, and had risen to £32 by 1858, when it provided over 50 tons of coal annually. In 1879 120 families received 5 cwt. each. About 1891 the rent fell to £18 10s., but after 1960 rose steadily from £25 to £180 by 1970, enabling 8 or 9 tons of coal to be distributed among 80-100 poor people. (fn. 32) In the 1980s cash was given instead in lots of c. £7 a head. (fn. 33)


  • 1. Charities in force in 1729 described, P.R.O., C 93/56/20; in 1837, 31st Rep. Com. Char. 126-9; for period after 1860, unless otherwise stated, Char. Com. files, rep. 1863, 1879, 1892; ibid. corr. and accts. 1860 and later.
  • 2. Par. rec., ct. bk. ii, pp. 223, 276-7; cf. ibid. i, p. 2.
  • 3. C.L.R.O., R.C.E., Paper, no. 127, f. 21v.
  • 4. P.R.O., SP 14/57, no. 43, ff. 87, 88v.
  • 5. Lincs. R.O., ct. bk. ii, pp. 125-7.
  • 6. P.R.O., PROB 11/164, ff. 125-7; 31st Rep. Com. Char. 127.
  • 7. P.R.O., C 93/56/20.
  • 8. C.U.L., E.D.R., B 7/1, f. 32v.
  • 9. Ibid. B 8/1, p. 28; cf. ibid. C 1/4; Char. Don. i. 92-3.
  • 10. B.L. Add. MS. 9413, f. 213v.
  • 11. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 128-9.
  • 12. C.R.O., R 49/11/12; ibid. Q/RDz 8, pp. 448, 473.
  • 13. e.g. Camb. Chron. 29 Jan. 1842; 24 Jan. 1852; 5 Feb. 1863.
  • 14. Char. Digest Cambs. 1863-4, 408-9; Char. Com. files.
  • 15. Char. Com. files, corr. 1860 and later; ibid. Schemes 1863, 1865.
  • 16. e.g. Camb. Express, 2, 16 Feb. 1878; Camb. Chron. 17 May 1879; Char. Com. files, rep. 1879.
  • 17. e.g. Camb. Chron. 5 Feb. 1886; 4 Feb. 1887.
  • 18. For use after 1865, cf. above, educ.
  • 19. P.R.O., PROB 11/150, ff. 152-153v.
  • 20. Ibid. PROB 11/157, f. 245v.; 31st Rep. Com. Char. 126.
  • 21. P.R.O., PROB 11/248, f. 427.
  • 22. e.g. C.U.L., E.D.R., B 8/1, f. 32v.; B 7/1, p. 28; C 1/4; P.R.O., HO 107/1759.
  • 23. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 126-7.
  • 24. Denson, Peasant's Voice, 16.
  • 25. e.g. Clay, Waterbeach, 74; C.R.O., 515/SP 525.
  • 26. Char. Com. files, corr. 1861; ibid. rep. 1863.
  • 27. Ibid. Scheme 1865.
  • 28. P.R.O., RG 9/1018; RG 11/1657.
  • 29. Char. Com. files.
  • 30. [Masters], Short Acct. 8-9; P.R.O., C 93/56/20; Clay, Waterbeach, 75-6; 31st Rep. Com. Char. 127; Char. Com. files, rep. 1863, 1879; ibid. corr. 1861 and later; cf. Camb. Chron. 24 Jan. 1874.
  • 31. Waterbeach Incl. Act, 53 Geo. III, c. 81 (Local and Personal), pp. 1863-4; C.R.O., Q/RDz 8, p. 405.
  • 32. Char. Com. files, rep. 1863, 1879, and later; cf. Camb. Chron. 26 Feb. 1879; 15 Jan. 1896.
  • 33. Inf. from Mr. Cheason.