Stapleford Tawney: Parish government and poor relief

Pages 237-238

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

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



Parish books survive for Stapleford Tawney from 1723 and detailed overseers' accounts from 1745 to 1836. (fn. 1) Before 1781 vestry meetings were usually held twice a year, at Easter and Christmas, for the election of officers and audit of accounts. After that date additional meetings were called at irregular intervals each year to pass the overseer's accounts. The average attendance, inclusive of parish officers, was from 4 to 6, and most of the parishioners who attended usually served at some time as parish officers. Some rectors attended regularly, notably Parson Parkes between 1723 and 1732, William Smijth between 1754 and 1775, and Richard Smijth between 1781 and 1793. Thereafter, except in 1831-2 when the rector, another Richard Smijth, presided at nine meetings, neither the rector nor the curate often attended vestry meetings. In their absence the churchwarden generally presided. It was stated in 1823 that a vestry dinner was held every year at a cost of about £6, which was charged to the overseer's account.

There was a tendency from an early date to use the poor rates for all purposes and after 1784 this became the general practice. In 1749, for example, the surveyor's and constable's accounts were paid by the overseer, and in 1778 the overseer's disbursements included the payment for a bottle of wine for the sacrament. From 1784 the overseer levied one general rate for the whole parish out of which he paid other officers' bills and was responsible for the final annual balance. This practice was abandoned in 1823 after an investigation into the keeping of accounts between 1810 and 1822. (fn. 2) A rate of 1d. in the pound produced £3 11s. 2d. in 1727. A century later a rate of 1s. brought in between £53 and £54. (fn. 3) A new valuation was made in 1839, when the approval of the Board of Guardians was sought for the payment of £36 out of the poor rates towards the expense of making it. A further valuation was made in 1861, when the rateable value was fixed at over £2,658.

The parish officers served unpaid until 1817, when Charles Clark, overseer for the two years 1817-19, was allowed a salary of £15 each year. This practice was apparently not continued with his successors. Other parish officers tended to serve for long periods at a time but the overseer was usually changed each year. Women were appointed as overseers on two occasions in the 18th century, and of these Mrs. Haddon of Tawney Hall served for two consecutive years 1725-7. The overseer was responsible for levying rates and keeping accounts but he was relieved of some of the labour of attending to the wants of the poor during the years when this duty was most pressing. Between 1798 and 1830 the task of paying weekly doles was delegated to others, principally to John Shuttleworth, who periodically submitted an account to the overseer.

Occasional bills for medical attention for the poor were included in the overseer's accounts from at least 1757, but a regular medical attendant was not appointed until 1791, when the apothecary's salary of £5 5s. was first recorded. A note was entered in the parish book in 1726, just after the parish school (see below) was founded, stating that the schoolmaster was to pay the church clerk 30s. a year for life, but it is not clear whether the clerk was to give any assistance in return. The pound stood in the road about 120 yds. north of the church. (fn. 4)

Rents for two parish houses were received in 1723. In 1767 repairs were carried out at two parish houses, described as the Parish House and the Church House. In 1826 a bill was paid for the erection of a cottage on Tawney Common. All the parish property, then described as consisting of cottages on Tawney Common and two adjoining the church, was offered for sale in 1837 and the proceeds were used to repay to Lady Smith the money borrowed by the parish for their share in building the incorporated workhouse. The cottages by the church are said to have been demolished about 1887.

Annual expenditure on the relief of the poor, after averaging about £33 during the period 1725-50, rose steadily to over £100 for the first time in 1772 and then remained fairly constant for the next 20 years. The parish subscribed to the scheme, formulated by Mr. Conyers of Epping in 1794, for the promotion of industry. (fn. 5) From 1793-4 expenditure rose steeply until 1801 when it amounted to over £428 and a general rate of 8s. 6d. in the pound was levied. This figure was surpassed in 1814-15 when over £540 was spent. An average of about £360 was raised by the rates each year between 1801 and 1817. Special grants, occasioned presumably by the inclinations of individual overseers, supplemented the normal forms of relief. During a scarlet fever epidemic in 1822, the sick were provided with 'neck of mutton and bullocks' feet for jelly', and in 1829 and 1830 the expenses of two weddings, including licence, ring, and fees, were borne by the parish.

The vestry did little to control its officers in the discharge of their duties until a crisis had occurred in the parish in 1823. In January of that year the vestry refused to grant a rate requested by the overseer, Thomas Ford, a man whose well-meaning schemes for relief did not always meet with general approval. (fn. 6) 'Owing to the depressed state of agriculture', various unemployed paupers had applied to him, as overseer, to find work for them. As a result he hired some of them on his own small farm, in excess of his actual requirements, paying them a basic wage of 1s. a day himself and supplementing this with a further 6d. each for themselves and every member of their families out of the poor rates. (fn. 7) The vestry objected to this, stating that the basic wage had been fixed at 1s. 6d. a day, and refused to grant a rate. Thereupon Ford paid off his surplus labour and bought them 1s. worth of marbles, with parish money, to keep them out of mischief. He then counter-attacked by questioning the accuracy of the overseers' accounts for the years 1810-22. He claimed that, owing largely to the disappearance of some annual balances and the failure to produce vouchers for the overseers' payments on the accounts of other parish officers, over £625 remained unaccounted for. A committee of four, including Thomas Ford and the curate, William St. Andrew Vincent, who presided, investigated the charges and, under the curate's influence, cleared the officers concerned, to the evident dissatisfaction of Ford. The committee recommended, however, that in future overseers should account only for sums spent on the poor. The vestry thenceforth began to control more closely the overseers' disbursements and the audit of their accounts and each succeeding overseer was made to sign both for the receipt of the account book and for his predecessor's balance.

In 1829 Stapleford Tawney joined with nine other parishes in the voluntary establishment of an incorporated workhouse under Gilbert's Act (22 Geo. III, c. 83 (1782)). (fn. 8) The accounts of the overseer in 1831 included the payment to Capel Cure of Stapleford Tawney's share of the mortgage raised for building this workhouse.

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


  • 1. E.R.O., D/P 141/8/1-2; ibid. D/P 141/12/1-3. Unless otherwise stated all the following information is derived from these books.
  • 2. See below.
  • 3. E.R.O., D/P 141/11/2.
  • 4. O.S. 6 in. Map (1st edn.), sheet lviii.
  • 5. Account of the origin and progress of the Society for the Promotion of Industry in the Hundreds of Ongar and Harlow and the Half Hundred of Waltham in the County of Essex (1797).
  • 6. He was also responsible for relief during the scarlet fever epidemic, 1822.
  • 7. i.e. A man with a wife and 2 children received 2s. a day from the parish.
  • 8. This voluntary union had its workhouse at Stanford Rivers (q.v.).