Little Laver: Parish government and poor relief

Pages 101-102

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

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The surviving court rolls (1528-84) of the manor of Little Laver consist only of odd membranes, many illegible as a result of decay. (fn. 1) Only one legible membrane records proceedings at a court leet. This court, which was held in 1564, was attended by a jury of eleven.

The parish records of Little Laver are brief and uninformative. Only three isolated memoranda survive before 1705. These are included in the parish register for 1538-1773; (fn. 2) they are the minutes of the vestry held at Easter 1663 and two other memoranda, of 1668 and 1684, also in the form of vestry minutes. A vestry minute-book survives for 1705-1944, (fn. 3) but until the end of the 19th century the minutes were rarely signed, except in the period 1709-14, and did no more than record the appointment of officers and their annual balances. Overseers' account books and rate books survive only after 1836. (fn. 4)

Vestry meetings were held at Easter in each year and from 1725, if not before, there were also regular meetings at Christmas. Occasionally, until 1735, there were meetings at other times also.

The minutes of the vestry held at Easter 1663 were signed by the rector and seven parishioners. The resolution of 1668 was signed by the rector and one parishioner and that of 1684 by the rector and three parishioners. The minutes for the period 1705-9 are imperfect but in 1706 and 1708 they appear to have been signed only by the rector. From 1709 until 1714 the minutes were usually signed by the rector and by the parishioners present; it seems from these signatures and from those which appeared occasionally after 1715 that the number of persons attending the meetings varied between two and four.

The main work of the vestry consisted in appointing officers and approving their accounts. In the first part of the 18th century at least, however, vestry meetings were held as required to regulate the allotment of parish apprentices and the distribution of weekly doles and allowances.

In 1614 there were two churchwardens. (fn. 5) At Easter 1663, however, only one was elected for the following year and it is clear that during the period 1705-1844 there was never more than one. It was usual to spend many consecutive years in this office. From 1844 until 1852 there were two churchwardens each year, one being elected by the rector and the other by the parishioners. From 1852 only one seems to have been elected.

There were two overseers in each of the years 1613 and 1614. (fn. 6) In 1663 and each year from 1709 until 1742 one overseer was appointed. These officers usually served for one year only, but occasionally for two consecutive years. They were evidently chosen on a rota system. On four occasions during the period 1709-42 a woman, Mrs. Collins, was nominated overseer but on at least two of these occasions, in 1721 and 1729, a man was appointed to serve the office for her. The minutes of the vestry held at Easter 1730 recorded, however, that 'Mrs. Collins overseer gave up her account at this vestry for the year 1729'.

There was never more than one constable for the parish. (fn. 7) It was customary for this officer to serve at least two years consecutively and sometimes much longer.

One surveyor of highways was appointed in each of the years 1614 (fn. 8) and 1663. Only ten appointments to this office were recorded in the vestry minute-book after 1705; these were for the years 1725 and 1729 and for most years between 1758 and 1767. These appointments show that in the 18th century one surveyor was appointed annually in December.

In the period 1705-42 the overseers, churchwardens, and constables each submitted a separate annual account to the vestry at Easter. No record of overseers' accounts was kept in the surviving vestry minute-book after 1742. A separate overseers' account book was, however, probably kept from this time when, in other parishes in the hundred, (fn. 9) the cost of poor relief was increasing. The churchwardens and constables continued to account separately to the vestry until 1836, after which no more constables' accounts appear in the minute-book. In the period 1758-67 the surveyors submitted an annual account to the vestry in December. In 1836 the rateable value of the parish was about £545. (fn. 10)

There was a parish poorhouse in Little Laver, situated on the east side of the road to Matching Green, about ½ mile to the north-west of the church. (fn. 11) In May 1836 the overseer paid £4 14s. 'at the workhouse'. (fn. 12) In 1837 and 1838 he received rent for the property. (fn. 13) By 1848 it belonged to C. P. Meyer and was said to comprise two cottages. (fn. 14) It was refaced with flint rubble and largely rebuilt during the second half of the 19th century by Herman P. D. Meyer. It now forms two small dwellings, called Stone Cottages. They are timber-framed internally and may have an 18th-century or earlier origin.

In most cases poor relief was given, in various forms, outside the poorhouse. In each of the years 1813-15 there were 8 to 9 adults on 'permanent' outdoor relief. (fn. 15) Provision for the poor was made in various ways including the binding out of paupers' children as apprentices, the payment of allowances for lodging, the provision of clothes and the payment of weekly doles. The memorandum of 1668 recorded that the inhabitants whose names were subscribed consented that Thomas Ansell be transported 'into his Majesty's plantations of the Barbadoes', he having acknowledged himself willing to go.

It was agreed at a vestry held in 1709 that four parishioners should each take a parish apprentice for three years, and at another vestry held in 1714 that William Clemmory should receive 20s. a quarter for providing his mother with 'meals, drink, washing and lodging only sickness excepted' and that the overseer should buy her a gown and a petticoat. Before this Clemmory had already received 10s. from the overseer to buy bedding for her. At the same vestry it was agreed that the widow Oram should receive a weekly dole of 3s. Other doles recorded soon after this date ranged from 1s. to 2s. 6d. a week.

In 1613-14 the cost of poor relief was £1. (fn. 16) In 1776 it was £65 and in 1783-5 it averaged £77 a year. (fn. 17) In the hard years which opened the 19th century it rose to about £200. (fn. 18) The sums recorded for the years 1800-17 show a minimum of £100 in 1803-4 but the cost was above £160 in almost every other year, 1812-13 and 1816-17 being particularly expensive years at £241 and £231 respectively. (fn. 19)

In 1836 Little Laver became part of the Ongar Poor Law Union.


  • 1. E.R.O., D/DK M27-29.
  • 2. E.R.O., D/P 147/1/1.
  • 3. E.R.O., D/P 147/8. Unless otherwise stated all the following information is derived from this minute-book and from the parish register quoted above.
  • 4. E.R.O., D/P 147/11 and 12.
  • 5. E.R.O., Q/SBa 3.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. See for examples the parishes of Bobbingworth and High Laver.
  • 10. E.R.O., D/P 147/12/1.
  • 11. There was a poorhouse by 1776 at latest: Rep. Sel. Cttee. on Overseers' Retns. 1777, H.C. ser. 1, vol. ix, p. 350.
  • 12. D/P 147/12/1.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. E.R.O., D/CT 210. See above, p. 97, and also Manor of Little Laver Hall.
  • 15. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/10.
  • 16. E.R.O., Q/SBa 3.
  • 17. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/1.
  • 18. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/9.
  • 19. Ibid.