Magdalen Laver: Parish government and poor relief

Pages 108-109

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

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The only parish book which survives for Magdalen Laver contains vestry minutes and summarized officers' accounts for the period 1667- 1764 and detailed churchwardens' accounts down to 1869. (fn. 1)

Until 1691 vestry meetings seem to have been held only at Easter in each year. From 1691 meetings were held regularly at Easter to examine officers' accounts and appoint or nominate fresh churchwardens, overseers, and constables, and at Christmas to nominate fresh surveyors. Occasionally meetings were held in September or October. Nearly every meeting was attended, and its minutes recorded, by the rector or his curate, who always signed first. Meetings were seldom attended by more than six parishioners.

The vestry minutes seldom recorded corporate resolutions as distinct from mere approval of the actions of officers. Two of the most notable resolutions were in 1708, when it was agreed that a cottage should be leased for the use of the parish, (fn. 2) and in 1713, when it was resolved that no officer should relieve a passenger on a pass with parish money. (fn. 3) Occasionally there were resolutions on matters relating to poor relief. Generally, however, the officers seem to have been allowed to act without guidance or interference from the vestry.

From 1667 until 1686 one churchwarden, one overseer, two constables, and two surveyors of highways were nominated annually at Easter. From 1686 until 1690 only one surveyor was nominated each year but from 1691 two were nominated annually at Christmas. From 1706 only one constable was nominated. From 1732 two names appear 'in nomination for overseer' but it seems that only one acted. There continued to be only one churchwarden. A paid church clerk appears first in 1731 when the churchwarden accounted for £1 paid to him as his annual salary. In 1797 the clerk was receiving £2 a year. His status may be deduced from the payment in September 1778 of 1s. to 'the Clark for Cleaning the Churchyard'.

The surveyors do not appear to have levied a separate rate but each of the other officers did so until at least 1766. The proceeds of an officer's rates were, however, indiscriminately applied in settlement of other officers' accounts. (fn. 4) The surveyors' small disbursements of 5s.-10s. a year were always paid by another officer. Sometimes officers' own personal money was used to provide the working funds of the parish. This occurred for example in the case of the churchwarden during the period 1713-15. No churchwarden's rate was levied in 1713 or in 1714. At the end of 1713 the parish owed the churchwarden £4 9s. 3d.; during the following year the debt rose to £7 14s. 6d. Not until 1715 was a rate levied to raise £8 5s. 6d. in partial settlement of his account.

In 1682 a 1d. rate produced £5 12s. 4d. Later, only the total product of rates was recorded. From at least 1680 a regular, and unexplained, source of income for the churchwardens was 'money for the fair', always 6s. 8d. a year; it was last received in 1731.

There was a parish house in Magdalen Laver from at least 1708. In October of that year the vestry resolved to take a lease of a cottage, yard, and orchard called Maggots for the use of the parishioners for 21 years at a rent of £2 5s. a year. The lessor, William Cole, lord of the manor, covenanted to do certain repairs. The vestry which met in October 1714 acknowledged the receipt of £5 from him in discharge of this obligation which, it was stated, he had been unable to perform since the cottage was occupied by 'several pensioners of the parish'. At the date of the meeting the cottage was empty. The preceding Easter vestry had resolved to have a chimney built and to have an oven inserted and a new floor made 'in the same room'. In September 1716 Francis Bowtell was instructed to come to the 'little end' of the parish house and Goodman Harrod to remain in the other end. In March 1717 it was agreed that Goodman Storey and his family should be removed into the house.

In most cases poor relief was given, in various forms, outside the parish house. In each of the years 1813-15 there were 16-19 adults on 'permanent' outdoor relief. (fn. 5) Provision for the poor was made in various ways including the payment of rents and the provision of wood, food, clothing, and medicine. All these forms of relief were used in the first years of the period (1670-1764) for which accounts have survived. At a vestry held in October 1692 it was agreed that the overseer should have full power 'to dispose and order all things necessary and convenient for the poore as hee in his prudence shall think fitt'. In March 1693, however, a vestry meeting agreed that the same overseer should 'dispose of the goods of the widow King for the use of the parish and remove Shipton into her house and pay 40s. to Mrs. Wankford for Shipton's rent and do all other things for the good of the poor and the parish as shall seem expedient'. In the following September it was agreed that the overseer should have 'full power to provide a house in this parish or elsewhere for Richard Benton or so to agree with his landlord that he may continue where he now is'. One common form of parish relief, the weekly dole, was mentioned in the parish book only once, in December 1693, when the vestry resolved that a man should have a 'collection' of 1s. 6d., but the use of the common word on this occasion suggests that it was well known to the parish.

In 1614 the cost of poor relief was 48s. (fn. 6) Late in the 17th century and early in the 18th century the cost was in most years between £13 and £22. It rose considerably during the second quarter of the 18th century and in the third quarter was usually above £60. In 1776 it reached £101. (fn. 7) At the beginning of the 19th century there was a maximum of £595 in 1801-2 and the cost did not again fall below £226 in the period before 1817.8" (fn. 6)

In 1836 Magdalen Laver became part of Epping Poor Law Union.


  • 1. E.R.O., D/P 62/5. Unless otherwise stated all the following information is derived from this book.
  • 2. See below.
  • 3. Despite this resolution the constables frequently relieved 'passengers' as was their statutory duty.
  • 4. As in 1715 when the constable and overseer paid the churchwarden and in 1725 when the constable paid the churchwarden.
  • 5. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/10.
  • 6. E.R.O., Q/SBa 3.
  • 7. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/1.
  • 8. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/9.