Abbess Roding: Parish government and poor relief

Page 196

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.

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The court rolls of the manor of Abbess Roding survive for 1472-1530 (fn. 1) and those of Berwick Berners for 1382-1819 with a gap between 1484 and 1574. (fn. 2) Both courts exercised leet jurisdiction and each elected its own constable. The last recorded appointment of a constable for Berwick Berners manor was made in 1681. A manorial pound is mentioned in the Abbess Roding roll of 1473.

The earliest surviving minutes of parish vestry meetings are entered in a parish register. (fn. 3) They cover the period 1708-52. They are continued in a separate parish book from about 1752 to 1803, but most of the entries for the first dozen years of the new book are illegible owing to decay. (fn. 4) The Easter vestry at which officers were elected was generally the only one in the year, and the rector usually took the chair. From 1785, coinciding with a change of rector, the vestry's interest in the parish government almost ceased. The entries were no longer signed and recorded only the continuing in office of the same three persons as churchwarden and constables. Their accounts were passed without scrutiny and there never remained any balance to be carried over. In 1729 it was agreed to hold a vestry dinner at Easter for all ratepayers, each to pay 6d. whether he attended or not.

The parish clerk had an income of £2 a year from a rent charge left under the will of Nicholas Burton (proved 1678). (fn. 5) In 1834 the sum was allowed in the rent paid by the then clerk, who happened to live in Falkiners, the house charged. In 1910 the property charged was called Willington Cottages, and the clerk was still receiving the payment in 1914. The payment is now being made from Falkiners at the rate of. 10s. a quarter. (fn. 6)

The vestry appointed two constables, one for the 'township' and one for 'Berwick hamlet'; perhaps originally each represented a separate township or vill and subsequently the manors of Abbess Roding and Berwick Berners respectively. Morant (c. 1768) stated that the constable of the hamlet of Berwick Berners attended at the court of the hundred of Dunmow, 'which causes it to be reputed within that hundred'. (fn. 7) There had been an ancient connexion between the manor of Berwick Berners (see above) (fn. 8) and Dunmow hundred. Separate surveyors of highways were nominated for the township and Berwick hamlet and sometimes also separate rates were levied. In 1762 a rate of 3d. in £1 for the hamlet produced just over £3. An earlier undated memorandum in the parish register shows that a rate for the township produced one third more than that for the hamlet. In 1836 the rateable value of the whole parish was £859. (fn. 9)

During the first half of the 18th century only one overseer was appointed and he almost invariably served for two consecutive years. There is no reference to the overseer in the parish book covering the second half of the 18th century, but between 1824 and 1836 two overseers were sometimes appointed. (fn. 10) During the whole of this latter period five persons only shared the offices of churchwarden and overseer. They occupied the largest farms in the parish and included the widow of a previous overseer.

In 1710 the overseer spent £20 on poor relief. After that date the vestry minutes ceased to record the detailed disbursements of any officer, but only gave the balance in hand. After 1785 even this was abandoned, and for information on parish expenditure we are dependent on parliamentary returns. (fn. 11) These show that between 1783 and 1785 an average of £150 was raised by the poor rates. This rose to a peak of over £644 for 1800-1. This was the equivalent of a rate of 15s. in £1 on the rateable assessment of 1825. No other year's rates were as high as this but between 1800 and 1817 the annual average was about £400. Between 1824 and 1833 an average of £330 was raised each year by the poor rates.

In 1776 the parish was renting a house for use as a poorhouse. (fn. 12) In 1829 it united with Stanford Rivers (q.v.) and other parishes in a voluntary poor law Union under Gilbert's Act. In 1836 Abbess Roding became part of the Ongar Poor Law Union.


  • 1. E.R.O., D/DP M55-84.
  • 2. E.R.O., D/DHf M28-41 (1382- 1484 and 1574-1727); ibid. M16 (1729- 1819). The last is a book recording courts baron only.
  • 3. E.R.O., D/P 145/1/1.
  • 4. E.R.O., D/P 145/8.
  • 5. Rep. Com. Char. (Essex), H.C. 216, p. 241 (1835), xxi (1); Char. Com. files.
  • 6. Inf. from Miss Rowe of Falkiners.
  • 7. Morant, Essex, i, 139.
  • 8. p. 192.
  • 9. E.R.O., D/P 145/11: Overseer's Rate Bk.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/1, 1/9, 1/12.
  • 12. Rep. Sel. Cttee. on Overseers' Retns. 1777, H.C. ser. 1, vol. ix.