Chesterton: Charities for the poor

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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'Chesterton: Charities for the poor', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds, (London, 1989) pp. 38-39. British History Online [accessed 18 April 2024]


Alms for the poor given until the 1540s by the Resurrection guild were perhaps continued after the Reformation out of the Church and Town lands. (fn. 1) Distributions were put on a regular basis under a Chancery decree of 1729, which assigned most of the town lands income of £35 to them: £5 a year for fuel in November; £10 each November and February to those not receiving the parish collection; and £5 for occasional distribution by the vicar and churchwardens. That arrangement continued in substance until the 1810s. Under the new decree of 1818, when the total income exceeded £100, the poor were to receive seven 20ths, of which four were to be for fuel, one each for the two regular distributions, and one for discretionary gifts. In the mid 1830s, when £20 went to the poor, coal was given indiscriminately in lots of 2-3 bu. per household, and cash, at the rate of 6d. a child to poor families, and also to widows, 2s. each. (fn. 2)

In the early 1840s there were complaints that the charity was not distributing fuel despite the hard winters, all the funds having been diverted to church repairs. (fn. 3) After similar disputes in 1849 the vicar showed in 1851 that £480 had been given in cash and coal since 1836. (fn. 4) In the 1850s the charity was distributed as before, in cash to widows and children, and coal, c. 3 cwt. each, to poor households. (fn. 5) By the 1860s only a third of the poor's £60 went in cash, the rest in coal, (fn. 6) in 1870 4 cwt. going to each of 200 families in the village and suburb. (fn. 7) After the land sale of c. 1895 the poor received their gifts from the Town part of the capital, thereafter reckoned as c. £4,500. (fn. 8) Their share was worth £95 a year in 1965, £420 by 1985. It was still being given in coal to 70-80 people in 1965. (fn. 9)

A tenement was used as an almshouse by 1567. (fn. 10) Thomas Parish before his death in 1584 settled poor folk in a row of houses on copyhold land off Mill Lane and by his will directed his widow and son Thomas to let five poor widows or fatherless children dwell there rent free, and to maintain the houses. If they failed to do so, the churchwardens were to hold those dwellings in trust for the inhabitants of the town. (fn. 11) Although the son sold his lands to Thomas Hobson in the 1590s, the parish continued to nominate poor people to those almshouses. In 1622 the Hobsons exacted £20 from the parish for a transfer of title to the houses. (fn. 12) In the 17th century two feoffees held the almshouses or town houses in trust to be occupiedby poor people, chosen by six leading inhabitants, the rents going toward their repair. (fn. 13) The town lands charity occasionally provided funds to maintain the almshouses, possibly reconstructed in 1863, and repaired in 1873 and 1878. (fn. 14) In the 19th century they numbered five, standing at the corner of the high street and Union Lane, and were occupied by five old men or women. (fn. 15) The trustees sold two cottages off that lane in the 1920s, retaining up to five almshouses there, some in poor condition, until they were sold for road widening in 1942. The price received was added to the Town part of the charity stock. (fn. 16)

Dr. John Craister, vicar 1722-8, by will of 1736, gave £100 for the poor of the parish; only £37 was actually received, which was accumulated until by 1786 £80 was in hand. Another £100 was given by John Scott by will of 1752. In 1783 those legacies together yielded £9 a year, but the capital was used c. 1840 to pay the costs of inclosing the town lands. A bequest of £50 stock by Mary Chettoe in 1797 had already been lent to the parish to buy a workhouse, the interest being given in the 1830s with the Town Lands charity. (fn. 17) That charity has not been traced later.


  • 1. P.R.O., SC 12/6/5; cf. above, churches.
  • 2. P.R.O., C 93/56/17; C.R.O., P 40/25/25 (1), pp. 17-22; 31st Rep. Com. Char. 80-1; cf. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 1/6.
  • 3. C.R.O., P 40/25/26: J. W. Doughty, Address on Chesterton Char. (Camb. 1841).
  • 4. Camb. Chron. 19 May 1849; 24 May 1851.
  • 5. e.g. ibid. 3 Feb., 17 Mar. 1855; 24 Jan. 1857; 19 Feb., 26 Mar. 1859; 10, 31 Jan. 1863.
  • 6. C.R.O., P 40/8/1, pp. 159-66.
  • 7. Camb. Chron. 20 Feb. 1869; 10 Mar. 1871.
  • 8. Char. Com. files, corr. 1893-4; cf. above, churches.
  • 9. Char. Com. files, accts. 1959 and later.
  • 10. W. Suff. R.O., E 3/15.104/1.
  • 11. P.R.O., PROB 11/67, f. 80v.
  • 12. Ibid. C 2/Jas. 1/S 11/1; cf. C.R.O., P 40/25/20.
  • 13. e.g. C.U.L., Doc. 3974, ct. bk. A, ff. 264-6; C.R.O., 399/M 2, pp. 77-9; 399/M 3, pp. 495-500.
  • 14. Char. Digest Cambs. 1863-4, 382-3; Camb. Chron. 3 Mar. 1873; C.R.O., P 40/8/1, s.a. 1878.
  • 15. e.g. P.R.O., HO 107/1759; ibid. RG 11/1660.
  • 16. Char. Com. files, corr. 1925, 1929, 1943 and later.
  • 17. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 81-2; cf. Char. Don. i. 86-7; Char. Digest Cambs. 1863-4, 382-3.