High Ongar: Parish government and poor relief

Pages 185-186

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

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The medieval court rolls of the manor of Paslow Hall provide a little information about the government of this important part of the parish. Most of the surviving rolls relate to courts held at Easter or in November. The Easter courts always included view of frank-pledge. The homage usually consisted of twelve men. Few of the entries are unusual. In the first roll (1271) tenants of the manor are presented for obstructing a water-course, selling bread against the assize, and impeding the aletasters. (fn. 1) Later rolls (for the 15th century) contain similar entries. (fn. 2) There were several disputes between tenants relating to the ownership of land. The roll for 1404 records a fine for insulting behaviour. (fn. 3) There were two aletasters in 1404. The election of a rent-collector for the manor is noted in the 1400 roll. (fn. 4)

The modern series of court rolls for Paslow runs from 1542 to 1855 with only one extensive break. (fn. 5) Some of the early rolls in the series may no longer exist, but from 1559 the record is complete until 1609. There is then a break until 1633, after which the series appears to be complete. Between 1559 and 1609 courts were held in most years, and sometimes twice a year. Up to 1575 most of them were held at Easter, for view of frank-pledge and court baron business. Courts baron alone were sometimes held during this period, but usually later in the year. Between 1576 and 1609 the courts were usually held in the summer, most often in September. View of frank-pledge was included on almost every occasion. Between 1633 and 1647 courts were held every two or three years, and always included view of frank-pledge. The view was held in 1651, but after that date, although courts were held at intervals of from one to three years, they were usually courts baron only. View of frank-pledge was next held in 1672. It took place on only eight occasions after that, the last being in 1721.

During the 16th century the homage usually numbered at least 12 and sometimes as many as 18 at courts with view of frank-pledge but was much smaller at courts baron. After 1651 it consisted at courts baron of about 5 men, but occasionally sank to 2. At courts with the view in and after 1672 it was usually 12.

The election of the constable of the manor is frequently recorded in the rolls. Two constables were elected in 1711. In 1719 the court elected a man as constable 'of High Ongar'. In 1721 the constable was elected in the manor court for the last time, by the curious formula 'of High Ongar within this manor'. As will be shown below the jurisdiction of the manor court was at this time overlapping that of the parish vestry.

The woodward of the manor was frequently appointed up to 1660, but after that only in 1672. In 1711 Samuel Pond was elected 'beadle anglice hayward for Paslow Common'. An aletaster was chosen at irregular intervals, the last occasion being in 1605. In 1567 he was also described as a bread weigher.

Most of the business transacted at the courts concerned minor nuisances and breaches of manorial custom. Special attention was paid to encroachments on Paslow Wood Common, either by inclosure or by the pasturing of excessive numbers of animals. There were occasional fines for assault, the last in 1601.

In 1542 it was presented that there was no pillory in the manor, nor a tumbrel, and the matter was referred for discussion with the officials of the king, who was then lord. In 1573 there were said to be no stocks in the manor and the inhabitants were ordered to supply them.

A surviving court roll of the manor of Newarks Norton contains seventeen entries from 1487 to 1668. (fn. 6) It is clear from some of these entries that there were a number of occasions during this period when the court met, but of which no full record now exists. View of frank-pledge was usually held up to 1613, when it took place for the last time. Subsequent courts dealt with baron business only. The homage usually numbered 5 or 6. In 1612 it was presented that there was no pound in the manor and the lord was required to provide one.

The rolls for the manor of Nash Hall, which run from 1582 to 1729, contain only the proceedings of courts baron. The homage usually numbered 2 or 3. (fn. 7)

The existing vestry books for the parish of High Ongar cover the period 1702-76. (fn. 8) Vestry meetings were held regularly at Easter and Christmas and often at other times. In 1732 it was resolved to hold monthly meetings, but there is no evidence that this decision was acted on. Attendance varied from 5 to over 20, being largest at Easter. Up to 1742 William Stane of Forest Hall appears to have acted as chairman of the vestry when he was present. When he was absent the rector was chairman, and after 1742 it was the rector who usually presided. (fn. 9) Other prominent vestrymen were William Baker of Withers Pawne and his son Bramston Baker, and William Wright, who was tenant of Paslow Hall early in the 18th century.

In 1734 the vestry arranged that a house should be built on waste ground belonging to the manor of Withers Pawne for the use of James Paveley, the parish clerk. Later in the same year Paveley was ordered to sell off the beer he had brewed in his house and he was forbidden to brew any more. In 1736 he was granted a salary of 40s. a year, to be paid quarterly, evidently in place of a gratuity at Easter. Robert Miller was appointed clerk in 1775 at an annual salary of £2 2s.

For much of the period the Easter vestry was held in two sessions. At the first the overseers' rate was granted and usually also those of the churchwardens and constables. At the second and more important session, which actually took place in Easter week, the accounts of the above officials were examined. At the Christmas vestry, on 26 or 27 December, the accounts of the parish surveyors of highways were examined and their rates granted. Throughout the period a penny rate produced a little over £7.

The great size of the parish and its detached parts raised unusual administrative problems. During the first 20 years of the 18th century there was another problem also: the overlapping of the powers of the vestry with those of the manor court of Paslow, which has been described above. Constables' accounts are entered in the vestry book from 1703 onwards, and in 1707 Thomas Bridgman was elected constable in the vestry. William Mead and Samuel Barnard, who were both elected constables in the manor court in 1711, rendered their accounts as parish constables at subsequent vestries. The constables appointed for the manor in 1719 and 1721 also accounted to the vestry. In 1719 Samuel Barnard acknowledged the receipt of 12s. 8d. from William Wood in respect of charges at the court at Paslow. Wood was apparently settling accounts on succeeding Barnard as a constable, and the entry seems to imply some financial relationship between manor court and vestry. After 1721 two constables continued to account to the vestry and no doubt were always nominated there. During the later part of this period the nominations were sometimes entered in the vestry book, and were confirmed in the usual way by the J.P.s. By about 1750 there was only one constable. (fn. 10) John Bettis held the office for many years between 1750 and 1775. The constable's expenses were about £8 a year at the beginning of the period and about £20 at the end.

Up to about 1720 there were usually two parish surveyors of highways. From 1725, if not earlier, there were at least three. Each surveyor had responsibility for part of the parish. One usually looked after Marden Ash and 'Bobbingworth hamlet', a second 'the body of the parish', and the third 'Paslow Hall manor'.

In 1737-9 an additional surveyor was appointed with separate responsibility for Bobbingworth hamlet. In 1740 and later the parish was usually divided into three areas as before but two surveyors were sometimes appointed for each area. In and after 1758 there was a variation in the areas. One surveyor looked after Marden Ash, the second Paslow and Bobbingworth hamlet, and the third the body of the parish. Up to 1735 the surveyors' rate was usually about 1½d. For the rest of the period it was usually about 3d. In 1741 it was 5½d. No reason has been found for this unusually high rate. In 1732 the vestry ordered the overseers [sic] of highways to charge their accounts with an allowance of 2d. a day for the labourers' beer, but with no other charges for beer provided for servants.

The parish overseers of the poor, like the surveyors, often accounted individually to the vestry. It is sometimes stated that one overseer was responsible for Paslow Hall manor and the other for the body of the parish. At the beginning of the 18th century the cost of poor relief in the parish was about £50. It rose to over £130 in 1716 but rarely exceeded that figure up to 1750. In 1760 it was £160, in 1774 £183, and in 1783-5 it averaged £470. (fn. 11) By 1801 the total rate had risen to £1,989. (fn. 12) It fell between 1805 and 1812 to an average of about £1,300 but rose to a new peak of £2,054 in 1817. (fn. 13) In 1821 it was £1,670. (fn. 14)

There is no evidence of a parish poorhouse before 1775. In October of that year the vestry paid £20 towards the purchase of a house called Scarlets from William Coe of Stondon Massey. This was the first instalment of a purchase price of £220. In the entries for 1776 (the last in the vestry book) there are references to the parish house. Scarlets adjoined the Tabor almshouses to the west. The almshouses themselves had since their foundation been administered by the rector, churchwardens, and overseers; the accounts of the almshouses were entered in the vestry book and the almsmen were partly supported out of the poor rates. (fn. 15) There is hardly any evidence about the number of persons supported out of the poor rates. In September 1752 there were 20 receiving a total of £1 9s. 3d. a week. The highest individual payment was 3s., and the lowest 9d. In September 1757 the vestry ordered the provision of 'a pair of shoes and hat for the black boy'.

In 1836 High Ongar became part of Ongar Poor Law Union.


  • 1. SC2/173/30 (1271).
  • 2. Ibid. 31-38; SC2/178/21. The dates of these rolls are 1400, 1404, 1409, 1414, 1421, 1460, and 1464.
  • 3. Ibid. 178/21.
  • 4. Ibid. 173/31.
  • 5. E.R.O., D/DGn 317, D/DK M125- 7, D/DCw M120-5.
  • 6. E.R.O., D/DSp M36.
  • 7. E.R.O., D/DGe M242-5.
  • 8. E.R.O., D/P 68/8/1, 2.
  • 9. Robt. Salmon was rector 1701-33. He was succeeded by Jos. Henshaw. It has been assumed that the person signing the minutes first was chairman.
  • 10. A single name was usually put before the J.P.'s but sometimes they made their choice from two.
  • 11. For the last figure see E.R.O., Q/CR 1/1.
  • 12. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/9.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. Ibid. Q/CR 1/12. In 1817, 1818, and 1819 the High Ongar rate was the largest in the hundred. In 1816, 1820, and 1821 it was second only to Chigwell, which had a larger population.
  • 15. See below, Charities.