Stapleford Abbots: Parish government and poor relief

Pages 230-231

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

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The existing vestry minute-books for Stapleford Abbots cover the period 1777-1899. (fn. 1)

From 1777 until 1808 vestry meetings usually seem to have been held only at Easter in each year. (fn. 2) From 1808 until 1822 meetings were always held at Easter and in September but not, it seems, at any other time, except in 1811 when there was one in May and in 1813 when there was one in January. From 1822 until after 1834 four to eight meetings a year were recorded.

The number of parishioners attending the meetings, in addition to the parish officers, varied between 1 and 12, 3 to 6 being usual. The chairman was never named as such in the minutes until 1833 but the rector or, in his absence, one of the churchwardens, nearly always signed first. Dr. William Gould, rector from 1767-8 until 1799, seems to have attended meetings only occasionally until 1791 and not at all after April in that year. His successor, J. Hudson, rector until 1829, attended nearly all the recorded meetings until 1822. Afterwards he regularly attended the Easter and September meetings, when the officers' accounts were audited but, it seems, attended other meetings only occasionally. His successor, J. Hamilton, attended meetings regularly until the end of 1831. Afterwards the Revd. Joseph Stanfield attended regularly on his behalf. On several occasions, including two when the rector was present, the first person to sign the minutes was John Rutherforth Abdy, lord of Albyns from 1798 to 1840. (fn. 3) On several other occasions Abdy signed immediately after the rector. Abdy's attendance at vestry meetings was erratic but he showed more interest in parish business than did his father, Thomas Abdy, who seems not to have attended one meeting from 1777 until his death in 1798. (fn. 4) More active than J. R. Abdy in the parish affairs were the tenants of Battles Hall, (fn. 5) William Fitch and later George Fitch (from 1810), and those of Hammonds Farm, (fn. 6) Henry Shuttleworth and then John Fitch (from 1806-7). The Fitches rarely missed a vestry meeting. (fn. 7) John Fitch was overseer from 1808 until 1810 and churchwarden from 1811 until 1815. George Fitch was overseer in 1811-12 and churchwarden from 1815 until 1819. (fn. 8)

It seems to have been the Easter vestry of 1829 which adopted the second Sturges Bourne Act (fn. 9) and set up a select vestry. J. R. Abdy and George Fitch were among the seven parishioners then chosen to form such a vestry. From May 1829 it met at frequent intervals until at least 1832. In 1829-30 Abdy seems not to have attended any meeting of the select vestry but George Fitch was chairman at several meetings. Abdy was one of 11 parishioners chosen to form the select vestry for the year 1830-1 but he did not attend a meeting of it until September 1830.

In 1783 it was agreed that John Bastick should be Vestry Clerk at a salary of £2 2s. a year 'so long as he shall continue the school and settle all parish accounts'. In 1788 Thomas Allen was appointed to this office on the same terms. In 1803 John Richardson was appointed clerk, upon the resignation of his father David, at a salary of £8 a year. In September 1827 the churchwarden, Philip Taylor, represented to the vestry that David Richardson the clerk was '81 years old and extremely infirm in body and mind and unable to perform his duty properly'. It was then decided that James Dixon should officiate for Richardson until the following Easter. In 1828 it was agreed that Dixon should be clerk at a salary of £5 a year. In 1830 Dixon was dismissed and Richard Stevens was appointed in his place at a salary of £5 a year.

The work of the open vestry consisted mainly in nominating parish officers, granting rates, and auditing officers' accounts. In 1780 the rateable value of the parish was £1,158. In 1802 receipts from rates totalling 6s. in the pound were £515 5s. This implies a rateable value of about £1,717 10s.

There were usually 1 overseer, 1 or 2 churchwardens, and 1 constable. Churchwardens usually served for at least 2, and often 3 or 4, years consecutively. During the period 1776-1836 one churchwarden, R. Young, served for 9 years (1826-35) consecutively and two, R. Stokes and P. Taylor, served for 8 years consecutively (1788-96 and 1827-35 respectively). The overseer usually served for one year only. No overseer is known to have served more than 2 consecutive years until 1821. In 1809 it was agreed that John Fitch, who had already been overseer in 1808-9, should be paid £10 for performing the same office in the ensuing year. There was apparently no payment to the overseer for the year 1810-11 but in May 1811, a few days after the Easter vestry, it was agreed 'by the major part of the parishioners' that George Fitch should serve as overseer for 1811-12 at a salary of £10. No salary appears to have been paid to the overseers for the years 1812-15. (fn. 10) The overseer for 1815-16 may have been paid but the overseer for 1816-17 was probably not. There is no further evidence on the matter until 1822 when at the Easter vestry it was agreed that Joseph Green, who had already been overseer in the preceding year (1821-2), should be allowed £10 for serving again in 1822-3. Green remained overseer for several years after this. It is not clear whether he was paid a salary between Easter 1823 and Easter 1829 but at Easter 1829 he was appointed assistant overseer at £10 a year. He filled this office until at least 1830. Before 1800 there were at least three illiterate overseers. (fn. 11)

From 1777 until 1779 the overseer, churchwarden, and constable each submitted a separate account of his term in office. From 1780 until 1833, however, neither churchwardens nor constables submitted separate accounts, their receipts and expenditure being incorporated in the overseers' accounts which continued to be submitted to the Easter vestry each year. Until 1808 it is not clear what the usual practice was in regard to the surveyors' accounts. The surveyors delivered an account in September 1779 but after this there is no evidence about them for nearly 30 years. From 1808 two surveyors regularly submitted their account each September.

At some time there was a parish poorhouse, situated at Tysea Hill. In 1841 the vestry resolved to sell it. It does not seem to have been used as a poorhouse during the period for which the vestry books survive.

In 1776 there were 30 poor households in the parish. Several consisted of only one person, usually old, but most of them consisted of labourers and their families. (fn. 12) Few of these households appear to have had constant relief. In 1776-7 there were 9 persons in receipt of doles, the total of which amounted to £1 4s. 6d. a week. In 1777-8 there were 10 persons receiving weekly doles totalling £1 9s. The following year there were 11, and the doles totalled £1 16s. 6d. a week. Between 1779 and 1782 there were 8 people each year, the average total of the doles being £1 7s. In each of the years 1813-15 there were 17 persons, excluding children, in receipt of 'permanent relief'. (fn. 13) None of these received relief in a workhouse. (fn. 14) There were also 30 persons relieved occasionally in each of these years. (fn. 15) Weekly doles and occasional gifts of money and clothing continued to be paid to poor persons in the parish until the end of the old Poor Law. In February 1829 an unusually large vestry, consisting of 12 parishioners in addition to parish officers, unanimously agreed 'to join for a Corporation workhouse'. (fn. 16) In December 1830 an open vestry agreed that £109 should be borrowed towards the Incorporated House. A few days afterwards a select vestry resolved that 10 persons, including 5 children, should be sent to the Incorporated House forthwith. Some persons were still maintained in the parish on weekly pensions, and at least two of those committed to the Incorporated House do not appear to have gone there immediately, for in the months following their committal each was allowed a small weekly pension by the select vestry. In 1832 it was resolved to apply to Lady Mildmay, owner of Battles Hall, (fn. 17) for the grant of waste land on her manor 'for the purpose of employing and bettering the condition of the poor'. In April 1832 when Guardians for the Incorporated Workhouse were appointed for 1832-3 it was resolved that the 'visiting Guardian be allowed £3 4s. per annum for his trouble in executing the office'. In 1833 it was proposed by the Guardians 'that certain lands in this parish belonging to the parish should be sold by public auction for the purpose of defraying the medium as far as it will go towards erecting the associated workhouse'.

In 1776 the total cost of poor relief was £100; (fn. 18) in the three years 1783-5 it averaged £160 a year. (fn. 19) The rise continued irregularly and in the years 1789- 90, 1790-1, and from 1794 onwards it appears to have been over £200 a year rising to nearly £400 in 1799- 1800. In 1800-1 it was £635 but after Easter 1801 it declined to £313 in 1802-3. Between 1803 and 1811 it varied between about £370 and £474 a year. In 1812-13 and 1818-19 it reached peaks of £620 and about £700 respectively. In the 1820's it was usually a little under £500 and in the early 1830's it declined, being about £300 in the last year of the old Poor Law. (fn. 20)

In 1836 Stapleford Abbots became part of the Ongar Poor Law Union.


  • 1. For these books, which are kept by the rector, see Essex Par. Recs. 195. Unless otherwise stated all the following information is derived from them.
  • 2. Two meetings, however, were recorded in 1802-3, 3 in 1803-4, 4 in each of the years 1779-83, and 5 in 1788-9.
  • 3. See above, Manor of Albyns.
  • 4. Thomas Abdy was, however, also Rector of Theydon Garnon and was not resident at Albyns.
  • 5. See above, Manor of Battles Hall.
  • 6. See above, Manor of Stapleford Abbots.
  • 7. George Fitch attended vestry meetings more regularly, perhaps, than any other parishioner.
  • 8. Both John and George Fitch held office again some years after their long terms of office.
  • 9. 59 Geo. III, c. 12.
  • 10. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/9.
  • 11. In the same period there was at least one illiterate churchwarden.
  • 12. In most cases there were 2-4 children.
  • 13. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/10.
  • 14. Ibid.
  • 15. Ibid.
  • 16. This was the voluntary union under Gilbert's Act, which had its workhouse at Stanford Rivers (q.v.).
  • 17. See above, Manor of Battles Hall.
  • 18. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/1.
  • 19. Ibid.
  • 20. The exact amounts spent on poor relief are known only for the years 1776-7, 1783-5, 1800-1, 1802-3, and 1804-17. For all other years a close approximation is possible on the basis of the overseers' total disbursements.