Loughton: Parish government and poor relief

Pages 124-125

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

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The earliest surviving court roll of the manor of Loughton is for 1270. (fn. 1) The next is for 1400, and there are later rolls recording the proceedings of courts held on eleven occasions in the period 1404-69. (fn. 2) There are rolls for 1511, 1538, 1585, and 1593. (fn. 3) A roll for the period 1570-1602 was used as evidence in connexion with the Epping Forest Commission in the 1870's but could not be found in 1894-5. (fn. 4) Rolls and court books for 1609-1865 existed in the 1890's when full abstracts from them were made by W. C. Waller. (fn. 5) So far as it relates to the period after 1609 the present survey is based upon these abstracts, not the original rolls. (fn. 6)

The medieval rolls contain nothing unusual in connexion with local government. They note the appointment of manorial officials, the regulation of minor nuisances such as foul ditches and of the descent of copyhold tenements. There are also a few entries relating to petty civil suits. (fn. 7)

Although few rolls have survived for the 16th century there is evidence that courts were held regularly (perhaps once a year) after the manor had passed to the Crown. (fn. 8) The series that began in 1609 was apparently complete apart from some gaps in the period 1609-59. Courts leet were usually held once a year until about 1780, when they became less frequent. The last was held in 1828. The court retained its vitality for much longer than in many places. The reason was probably the survival of Epping Forest. The main business of the court during its last 300 years was to administer the customs relating to the lopping rights of the tenants. The conditions under which these rights of estover were exercised were frequently restated in the court. The rights were traditionally limited to those holding ancient tenements. Lopping was permitted only between 1 November and 23 April and might be done only on Mondays. (fn. 9) The wood had to be removed on sledges, wheeled carts being forbidden, and no lopper might employ more than two horses to draw his sledge. As late as 1828 there were presentments for cutting wood on days other than Mondays, and for using wheeled carts. Encroachments on the waste of the manor (often the forest) were presented at the leet. Usually they were allowed to remain on payment of a small fine, but sometimes (as in 1794) the court ordered inclosures to be thrown open. There were frequent presentments of foul ditches and of clay pits that had been allowed to become full of water. On one occasion a tenant was ordered to make two foot-bridges. In 1721 it was ordered that each alehouse keeper, baker, and potter within the manor should pay 40s. a year to the poor for the forest wood which he used in his trade. The court habitually appointed two constables and two woodwards. It was sometimes stated that one of the woodwards was elected by the tenants and the other by the lord of the manor (e.g. 1817).

Courts baron were held at the same time as the courts leet and on many other occasions. At some periods there were several courts baron in a year and they continued to be held regularly until 1865. Their main business was the regulation of copyhold tenure, but after the leet had ceased to meet the courts baron became increasingly concerned with grants of waste. In 1864-5, when J. W. Maitland decided to inclose the forest, the manor court was used for the purpose of making grants of waste in extinguishment of common rights. (fn. 10) After a long interval the court was held once more in October 1891, when some copyhold business was transacted. (fn. 11) One tenant complained of encroachments on his land and the bailiff of the manor was ordered to cause them to be abated. No evidence has been found of any later court.

The manorial pound was near the manor house (Loughton Hall). It still existed in 1895. (fn. 12)

A vestry minute-book survives for the period 1720-41. (fn. 13) In each year of that period there were two regular meetings, at Easter for the approval of the accounts of the parish overseer of the poor, the churchwardens and constables, and for the appointment of churchwardens and the nomination of the overseer, and on 26 December for the nomination of the surveyors of highways. As noted above the appointment of constables continued to be made in the manor court until the 19th century. In 1724, 1725, and 1738 these were the only meetings. In other years additional meetings were held when required. In 1726 there were nine meetings. The number of those signing the minutes varied from 4 to 19. At the Easter vestry, which was best attended, 10-12 usually signed. There were two rectors during this period, Christopher Sclater (1706-35) and his son William Sclater (1735- 78). Each regularly attended the vestry and usually kept the minutes. Mrs. Elizabeth Wroth of Loughton Hall was also a regular attendant until her death in 1738, and she frequently signed the minutes first. The parish clerk does not figure prominently in these minutes. There is no evidence that he was paid a cash salary, but there was a piece of land attached to his office. (fn. 14) All parish expenses except the repair of roads seem to have been normally met out of a single, overseer's rate, but special church rates were sometimes levied. The overseer's rate was usually 6d. or 9d. in the £1; a penny rate produced about £10.

One churchwarden was elected by the rector, the other by the parishioners. One usually retired each year but the same man often held office more than once during the period. Most of those who served as churchwardens also served in other years as overseers. There was only one overseer at a time. In several cases a woman acted as overseer. Mrs. Wroth not only held the office but also carried out her duties in person. In 1720 the magistrates at Epping objected to the inclusion in her account of constables' and surveyors' bills, but the vestry reiterated its support of her action. The surveyors' bill, which comprised most of the money involved, was re-entered in the overseer's account in 1722 and was then apparently passed by the magistrates. There is very little other information about the surveyors. It is not even clear how many were appointed. Nominations of persons suitable for the office varied between 3 and 6. No surveyors' accounts were entered in the vestry book.

Between 1720 and 1741 poverty was not a serious problem, and was met mainly by out-relief in cash or in kind. The poor were provided with clothing, medical aid, home-help, and firewood from the forest. In 1723 special allowances were made to victims of smallpox. A few poor children were bound apprentices; usually they went to masters within the parish, but on one occasion (1720) the parish granted £3 to a widow to apprentice her daughter to a cook in Shoreditch.

It is doubtful whether the parish owned a poorhouse at this time. In 1722 it was agreed 'that the overseer of the poor should pay a year's rent ending next Lady Day for the house which Heath lives in, being 50s., and to get it as cheap as the officers can'. In the following year the vestry decided to repair 'the parish house'. Accounts for this work were allowed in 1724 and 1725. In 1726 it was agreed that the parish officers should forthwith provide a workhouse to keep the poor employed, and later in the same year the vestry negotiated with widow Dimion and her son William Rich for the house which she held for life, in order to secure it as a workhouse. In 1743 it was agreed that 'Riches house' should be hired as a workhouse, which suggests that the negotiations of 1726 had not then been successful. In 1726, however, the parish had acquired a copyhold cottage, formerly the tenement of George Baldwin, for the use of the poor. It is fairly certain that this became the poorhouse later known as Baldwins Buildings. (fn. 15)

Later details of poor relief come from returns to government inquiries. (fn. 16) In 1776 the poor rate produced £280, in 1783 £391, in 1784 £464, and in 1785 £332. Between 1801 and 1821 the sums varied between £885 and £491, being highest in 1804 and lowest in 1802. Not all the money was spent on poor relief. Administrative and legal expenses, church repairs, the county rate for the maintenance of jails and bridges, and allowances to the dependants of militia-men on active service were all met out of these rates. Militia allowances were heaviest in 1804 (£63) and 1813 (£87). In 1813-16 inclusive an annual salary of £20 was paid to the overseer. Between 1801 and 1817 the amount actually spent on the poor varied from £785 (1805) to £442 (1802).

In 1836 Loughton became part of the Epping Poor Law Union. (fn. 17) Baldwins Buildings became the property of that union but were purchased by public subscription for use as almshouses for the people of Loughton. (fn. 18)

After 1836 the vestry was mainly concerned with the church, the parish charities, rating assessments, and roads. The vestry book for 1844-69 gives details of these and a few other activities. (fn. 19) In 1865, when the forest inclosures were being made, the vestry adopted some of the new roads. In the same year it was stated that a manor court had directed that the building formerly used as the parish cage, situated on the waste, should be removed, and the vestry accepted an offer of £7 for the materials of the building. The cage stood opposite the 'King's Head'. In and after 1848 the vestry concerned itself with problems of drainage and sanitation through the formation of a nuisance removal committee. (fn. 20)

A parish council was elected for the first time in 1894-5. (fn. 21) It became an urban district council in 1900.


  • 1. SC2/173/30.
  • 2. SC2/173/31-38, 174/42A.
  • 3. SC2/174/42B, 173/19, DL/30/61/ 749.
  • 4. E.R.O., T/P 18.
  • 5. They were then in the possession of the Revd. J. W. Maitland. Their present location is now (1953) being investigated by the National Register of Archives.
  • 6. E.R.O., T/P 18.
  • 7. For fuller details see Waller, Loughton, i, 46.
  • 8. Waller, Loughton, i, 46.
  • 9. The opening date was altered to 12 Nov. in 1753: see above, Preservation of Epping Forest.
  • 10. For the Epping Forest question see above.
  • 11. E.R.O., T/P 13 i. It is evident from the proceedings of the court of 1891 that there had been no court since 1868 or earlier.
  • 12. E.R.O., T/P 13 i.
  • 13. E.R.O., D/P 233/8/1. The book was used by Waller, Loughton, i, 149-53. It contains a single entry, out of order, of a meeting in July 1743.
  • 14. See Charities, below.
  • 15. Waller, Loughton, i, 130.
  • 16. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/1, 1/9, 1/12.
  • 17. In 1844-69 the poor rates for Loughton were usually 2s. in the £1, producing about £500 a year: Waller, Loughton, i, 106.
  • 18. See Charities.
  • 19. E.R.O., D/P 233/8/2. Cf. Waller, Loughton, i, 104-9. See also Church, Charities.
  • 20. See above.
  • 21. E.R.O., T/P 13 i.