Stondon Massey: Parish government and poor relief

Pages 247-248

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

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The parish book for Stondon Massey covers the period 1711-1922. (fn. 1) Detailed overseers' account books also survive for 1741-1801 and 1821-42. (fn. 2) The parish vestry usually met only on Easter Monday, for the annual audit of accounts and election of officers. Before 1721 and again between 1772 and 1793 the minutes were not signed. Between 1725 and 1743 John How of Stondon Place, the lord of the manor, acted as chairman whenever he was present. Between 1743 and 1772 the rector, Thomas Smith, usually took the chair. His successor John Oldham was chairman from 1793 to 1821. After 1821 Oldham ceased to attend and there was no regular chairman. The average attendance was six parishioners, including parish officers and the chairman. In 1737 the vestry agreed to allow the parish clerk, who was also sexton, 40s. a year. The expenses of a vestry dinner were regularly included in the overseers' accounts during the second half of the 18th century.

Before 1795 a distinction was usually maintained between the expenses of the church and those relating to poor relief, and separate rates were levied. It was recorded in 1737, however, that repairs to the churchyard were customarily met out of the poor rates. From 1795 the churchwarden's expenditure, after the deduction of rent received for the parish land, was usually carried over to the overseer's account and paid by the latter official 'with the consent of the rector'. A rate of 1s. in £1 produced £21 8s. in 1723. By the end of the 18th century it produced nearly £40. New assessments were made in 1822, when the rateable value of the parish was assessed at £1,425, and in 1848 when it was raised to £1,836. (fn. 3)

One churchwarden, one constable, and usually one overseer were appointed each year. Until about 1750 each overseer usually served for two consecutive years. On the rare occasions when women were nominated for this office they served by deputy. In 1798 it was agreed that the office should be held in rotation by the owners of specific properties, and the rota was entered at the end of the parish book. From 1806 the overseer was allowed a salary of 5 guineas and all expenses except those for making rates and for journeys to Ongar. In 1799 William King was paid one guinea for serving as parish constable.

In 1749 the constable was authorized to erect stocks at the parish expense. These probably stood at the cross-roads near Stondon Place, where the ancient whipping-post certainly stood. (fn. 4) The parish pound was a few yards south of the whipping-post. (fn. 5)

Expenditure on poor relief was small in the early 18th century and did not exceed £100 before 1781. The cost of medical attention for the poor was from an early date a prominent item in the annual expenses. In 1741, the first year for which detailed accounts survive, it amounted to £4 out of a total of £25 14s. In 1746 it was decided that the sanction of a parish officer or four other parishioners was necessary before the surgeon and apothecary could be summoned to attend the poor. From about 1760 the parish doctor received a regular salary. In 1833 John Potter, who had been parish doctor at least since 1822, agreed to a contract giving him £12. In the following year he accepted a less favourable contract whereby he undertook to attend all cases (instead of three, as previously) of midwifery and surgery within 3 miles of the parish, the incorporated workhouse at Stanford Rivers included, at a salary of £10.

In 1794 expenditure on poor relief was £130. In that year the parish subscribed £1 6s. to the poor relief scheme of John Conyers of Epping, which was designed to reward children for knitting or spinning, and parents for rearing large families without parish relief. (fn. 6) The peak of expenditure on poor relief was reached in 1800-1, when it was over £350. In 1801 29 persons were receiving weekly pensions totalling £4 10s. 9d. and in addition 20 of these were receiving pickled pork and potatoes valued at £2 6s. a week. The review of expenditure that produced these figures was followed by economies. Half a hundredweight of rice costing 16s. 6d. replaced the pork and potatoes and general expenditure was also reduced, its average for the next 20 years being under £250. (fn. 7) In 1828 the parish contained 12 permanent and 67 occasional paupers out of a total population of 230. A parish poorhouse had existed in 1793; and inventory of goods there then included three spinning-wheels. The statistics of 1801 do not suggest that a poorhouse was then in use, but in 1834 the parish was renting two cottages, divided into a total of five tenements, from the trustees of Giles's Charity, for use as poorhouses. (fn. 8)

In 1829 Stondon Massey joined the voluntary poor law union under Gilbert's Act with Stanford Rivers and other neighbouring parishes. (fn. 9) Thereafter annual expenditure on poor relief in Stondon rose by about £50 above the average of the four years previous to the union. The parish guardian of the poor succeeded to the salary previously given to the overseer. In 1836 the parish became a member of the Onagar Poor Law Union.


  • 1. E.R.O., D/P 98/8. Some use of this book was made by E. H. L. Reeve in his Hist. Stondon Massey, 83 f. and his Supplementary Notes, 200-3.
  • 2. E.R.O., D/P 98/12/1-7. Unless otherwise stated all the following information is taken from these account books and the parish book.
  • 3. E.R.O., D/P 98/11/1-3: Ratebooks 1797-1850.
  • 4. See above, p. 240.
  • 5. E.R.O., D/CT 337.
  • 6. Acct. of Soc. for Promotion of Industry in hundreds of Ongar and Harlow and halfhundred of Waltham (1797).
  • 7. Detailed overseer's accounts for this period are missing.
  • 8. See below, Charities.
  • 9. See Stanford Rivers.