Theydon Garnon: Parish government and poor relief

Pages 271-273

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

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Only one volume of vestry minutes (fn. 1) -from 1754 to 1827-survives for Theydon Garnon and this contains little more than the annual appointment of parish officers and summarized details of the parish accounts. Other vestry resolutions have been entered elsewhere, in the overseers' rate and account books, but even so it is impossible to put together a comprehensive picture of the parish government, and for many details it is necessary to rely on entries of payments in the account books, which cover the periods 1715-1817 and 1826-36. (fn. 2)

The Easter vestry was usually attended by some 6 to 10 persons; at such other vestry meetings of which records survive it apparently varied between 3 and 24. Between 1780 and 1796 the rector usually presided at the Easter vestry. In 1729 the vestry resolved that every officer not attending the public vestry on the first Saturday in every month should be fined 6d., and that every other parishioner not attending every quarterly vestry should be fined 3d., but in 1737 it was resolved that the vestry should meet no more than once in every three months, and in 1780 that the vestry should be held in the church on the first Saturday in the month. In 1774 a vestry clerk, to attend the vestry each month, was appointed at a salary of 6 guineas. He was discharged, however, in 1780 and the office abolished.

In the second half of the 18th century there were always two persons in each of the parish offices. The overseers nearly always served for one year only. A woman was occasionally appointed to the office. The churchwardens and constables usually remained in office for at least two years and often for much longer periods. From 1756 until 1781 the surveyors usually served for 1 or 2 years consecutively but the Revd. T. A. Abdy and John Palmer served in the office throughout the period 1781-1792. In 1780 it was resolved to appoint an assistant to the overseer at a salary of 6 guineas; by April 1814 the salary was £20. In 1792 among the parish officers appointed was a 'reive of the waste.'

Between 1715 and 1817 all bills of the churchwardens and constables, and of the parochial charities were paid out of one account-that of the overseers. There was also a single and undifferentiated rate. A 1d. rate in 1683-4 produced £8 3s. 4d. (fn. 3) and it does not appear that this assessment was altered. In 1783 a resolution to do so was defeated. (fn. 4)

The vestry appears to have been watchful of the general interests of the inhabitants. In 1776, for example, the vestry agreed to prosecute Richard Palmer of Epping should he complete the building of cottages for the habitation of poor persons within the parish without intending to lay 4 acres of land, which it was deemed would bring great charge to the parish. Palmer, who was present, agreed not to go on with the building. In 1781 the vestry adjourned to supervise the overthrow of fences on illegal encroachments made by the people of Epping upon the waste of the manor of Hemnalls, and in 1797 it was agreed that a gate should be erected to keep off forest cattle. One scandal occurs in the parish records. In 1774 it was reported that William Le Cocq, one of the overseers, and then in Chelmsford Gaol, had not delivered in his account, and the vestry ordered the parish officers to borrow £100 to pay off his debts.

Most of the parish business naturally concerned poor relief. When the parish accounts begin it appears that the policy was one of out relief only. In 1715 there was a payment of £3 for badges for paupers. There were similar payments for badges in 1729 and in 1746 it was ordered that badges should be worn by all those receiving weekly doles. In 1728 there were 19 people receiving doles; in 1732 16 people, and in 1733 13 people, were receiving doles totalling respectively £1 13s. 7d. and £1 6s. 4d. a week. There were also frequent payments for the provision of clothing, for nursing at home, and for rents. Occasionally, at least, paupers' children were bound out as apprentices. In June 1785 it was decided to advertise in the Chelmsford papers in order to get 3 or 4 boys placed as apprentices; in the following month one was apprenticed to a baker at Henham.

There is a reference to a parish house in 1714, (fn. 5) but this may have been only a pest house, which is mentioned in August 1766. In August 1729, however, the vestry resolved that the churchwardens and overseers should look for a convenient place and house for a workhouse, and in September of that year it was resolved to provide a workhouse. In March 1730 it was again resolved that the parish officers should look for a workhouse with all speed, but there does not appear to be any evidence of one until 1742 when it was agreed to take Mr. Rogers's house for three years at £8 a year. In 1746 the vestry agreed to take the house on a yearly tenancy at a rent of £7. (fn. 6) Subsequent entries for the payment of the rent make it clear that this was being used as a workhouse, and sometimes describe it as in 'The Street', presumably Coopersale Street. The parish appears to have let an orchard attached to this building to John Palmer at an annual rent of 10s. By April 1774 the parish had leased another house, Mr. Bishop's, at a rent of £9. Rogers's house, which in June 1775 was described as 'the old workhouse', was still in use until June 1776, when the parish accounts record a payment for beer when the people were carried out of 'the old workhouse.' In 1782 the vestry agreed that a house called Newmans, belonging to John Palmer, (fn. 7) should be leased for 21 years and converted into a workhouse. In 1805 the parish was given notice to quit both Palmer's and Bishop's houses. (fn. 8) By June 1793 the parish had leased a cottage on the common from the lord of the manor at a rent of £1 10s.; the parish was given notice to quit this house in 1807. (fn. 9) In 1829 the parish held a house at Coopersale Common; it was then occupied by William Brown, a 'poor person', who in November of that year was given notice to quit. (fn. 10)

In February 1774 Edward Robinson was appointed master of the workhouse, in succession to the 'late Mr. Jepp', at a salary of 13 guineas. He was also allowed one pint of ale a day, but was not permitted to charge for tea and sugar brought in. In June 1775 Giles Ashby of Halstead was appointed 'to be the master and mistress of the workhouse' at a salary of 12 guineas, with an allowance of 1 guinea for tea. (fn. 11) In 1803 the parish made an agreement with Thomas Finch for the farm of the poor. He was to be allowed 3s. a head weekly whilst flour should remain under 3s. a peck, and to be allowed a surplus according to the exact consumption in the house to be proved by the bills of parcels. He was to provide three meals daily, to include 'hot meat dinner' on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. He was also to be allowed the benefit of all the work (fn. 12) produced by the poor in the house, an extra guinea for every lying in with 3s. a week for the child at one month old, 4s. for every pauper dying in the house (the parish, however, paying the cost of burial), 1 guinea for loss of time and trouble for every pauper laid up with a broken or fractured limb, and 2½ guineas for shaving the paupers once a week and for sweeping the chimneys. (fn. 13) In 1816 the parish contracted with William Nutt for the maintenance of the poor in the workhouse for one year; the contract was renewed in 1817, Nutt being allowed 5s. a head weekly. (fn. 14) There is in the records one undated proposal, from John Stubbs of Orsett workhouse, for undertaking to maintain the poor at 5s. a head, with an allowance of 1½ chaldron of coal. (fn. 15) In 1828 the parish seems to have found some difficulty in arranging a price per head for the workhouse, and two letters survive from people willing to enter into a contract. (fn. 16)

At first it seems that the parish tried to get all its poor into the workhouse, and the weekly doles ceased in 1762. It was, however, found necessary to reintroduce them during the worst period of the depression at the end of the century, and in November 1799 it was resolved that every family should be allowed 1s. a week for every child above the number of two under the age of 10. There were 37 people in the workhouse in 1793 and 30 in 1805. In 1811 the house was enlarged. (fn. 17)

In 1796 the lord of the manor granted the parish 2½ acres of waste upon condition that 2 acres be planted with potatoes for eventual sale to the poor inhabitants. Payment for digging potatoes on the common piece is recorded in the account books in October 1797 and in March 1798 there were two entries of money received for 'taters'.

The parish always seems to have given much attention to the relief of the sick poor. The first mention of a parish doctor occurs in 1721 when Dr. Dimsdale's bill for £5 for treating a pauper was settled, and there are other references to the settling of apparently casual bills, but this method seems to have caused some alarm, for in 1729 the vestry, after approving Dimsdale's bill, ordered that for the future no bill was to be allowed, unless those afflicted had procured an order in writing from a churchwarden or overseer, except in an emergency. This order was repeated in 1737. The last payment to Dimsdale was in January 1742. In April 1743 the parish settled a bill of Dr. Davies for £10 and there is at least one other similar payment, in March 1744, but these may have been casual payments and need not imply a definite contract. The first definite reference to a salaried doctor occurs in 1749 when Thomas Fletcher agreed to take care of the poor of the parish in pharmacy and surgery at an annual salary of 8 guineas; in 1756 Francis Mitten agreed to take the poor under his care and to supply them with physic and attend in all cases of surgery at a salary of 8 guineas, and also to attend every maternity case at ½ guinea a case. (fn. 18) On one occasion, in June 1764, the parish resolved to pay Mitten 6 guineas for curing a broken leg; he was then described as surgeon at Epping. In 1777, however, Richard Boodle was appointed to attend the poor when necessary and all cases of surgery, midwifery, and inoculation at a salary of 10 guineas. The vestry ordered that one of the overseers should wait on Mitten, who was on this occasion merely described as an apothecary, to pay his salary, to return the thanks of the parish for what he had done for the poor, and to inform him that his future attendance was no longer required, as Mr. Boodle was chosen in his place, the parish not thinking 'the parish business an object worth his notice'. Boodle's appointment was to date from Easter 1777, but these arrangements were apparently abortive, since Mitten received salary to Easter 1778, and Boodle was appointed as surgeon, apothecary, and man midwife at a salary of 10 guineas at the Easter vestry meeting of that year. In 1788 William Stewart was appointed apothecary and man midwife at a salary of 12 guineas; his duties were to include inoculation, and he was to attend accidents to parishioners even if they occurred outside the parish. He was succeeded in 1790 by C. C. Stuart who held the position, on the same terms as his predecessor, at least until April 1806.

In 1613-14 the cost of poor relief was £8. (fn. 19) In 1776 it was £355. (fn. 20) In 1783-5 expenditure averaged £295 a year. (fn. 21) In 1800-1 it reached £1,152. (fn. 22) In 1801-2 the cost was £941 and in 1802-3 £762. (fn. 23) Between 1803 and 1809 it was much lower, being always between £550 and £600 a year. (fn. 24) In 1809-10 the cost rose to £725 and from then until 1817 it ranged between £650 and £850 a year, being highest in 1812-13. (fn. 25)

In 1836 Theydon Garnon became part of the Epping Poor Law Union.


  • 1. E.R.O., D/P 152/8/1.
  • 2. E.R.O., D/P 152/12/1-10. Unless otherwise stated all the following information is derived from these account books and from the minute-book referred to above.
  • 3. E.R.O., D/P 152/5/1.
  • 4. E.R.O., D/P 152/11/3.
  • 5. E.R.O., D/P 152/18/11.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. The house was described as 'late Rogers's.'
  • 8. E.R.O., D/P 152/18/10.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. E.R.O., D/P 152/18/7.
  • 12. In 1804 spinning-wheels were purchased for the workhouse.
  • 13. E.R.O., D/P 152/18/7.
  • 14. E.R.O., D/P 152/11/4.
  • 15. E.R.O., D/P 152/18/7.
  • 16. E.R.O., D/P 152/18/14. Several inventories of the workhouse (1792- 1819) survive as also do regulations for the workhouse diet (1803): E.R.O., D/P 152/15/8; ibid. D/P 152/18/4.
  • 17. E.R.O., D/P 152/18/5.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. E.R.O., Q/SBa 3.
  • 20. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/1.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/9.
  • 23. Ibid.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Ibid.