North Weald Bassett: Parish government and poor relief

Pages 293-294

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 court rolls of the manor of Marshalls cover the period 1572- 1728 and there is also a court book for 1832- 1924. (fn. 1) For the manor of North Weald there are rolls for 1741-93. (fn. 2) In each case the business recorded is that of a court baron only.

One general parish book survives for North Weald, covering the years 1679-1879. (fn. 3) From about 1750 to 1790 there were usually vestry meetings at Easter and in the autumn of each year. Otherwise there were meetings at Easter but rarely at any other time. The average attendance throughout the period 1679-1836 was fairly high, being about 10. The highest recorded was 21 at the Easter vestry of 1702. George Hellier, the curate, usually presided between 1709 and 1727. Of the vicars only Francis Stanley attended regularly. He usually presided between 1765 and 1781. After 1781 the churchwarden was usually in the chair. John Benton was probably parish clerk in 1687. He was then recorded as living in the Church House. He wrote the rate in the parish book, receiving 1s. for this, and also washed the surplice. After his death his son Isaac succeeded him. In 1774 the clerk was receiving a salary of 2 guineas. In 1803 John Stokes agreed to retire from the office of clerk on payment to him of £5 and the promise that the parish should provide him with a house for life, 'the workhouse excepted'. John Benton, parish clerk in 1707, was also sexton, for which office he was supposed to receive 4d. a year from each house in the parish.

General rates 'for the use of the church and the poor' were levied each year by the overseers. The churchwarden did not usually levy a separate rate but was reimbursed by the overseers. The hamlets of Thornwood and Hastingwood were separately assessed and levied their own rates. In 1679 a rate of 1d. in £1 produced a total of £9 2s. 6d., of which £4 18s. 9d. came from the main body of the parish, £2 5s. 9d. from Hastingwood, and £1 18s. from Thornwood. There was little change in the assessment during the next century: in 1786 a 1d. rate produced £8 17s. 11d. for the whole parish.

Although the vestry met only once or twice a year it maintained a check on the actions of its officers by requiring that no grant of weekly pensions or firewood to the poor was to be made without an entry in the parish book and the subsequent approval of the vestry. It also tried to ensure that all parishioners took their fair share of common burdens. Thus in 1697 it was recommended that all should in turn take poor children as apprentices, with an allowance of 40s. for clothing. Of the 13 persons present 8 did so and 4 others followed their example later in the same year. In 1804 a Mr. Wilson was paid £10 when his son was drawn for the militia.

Until about 1766 4 overseers and 3 surveyors of highways were appointed. Thornwood and Hastingwood each had 1 overseer and the other 2 were responsible for the rest of the parish. There was apparently 1 surveyor for each division of the parish. (fn. 4) These arrangements were already established by 1613. (fn. 5) After 1766 the total number of overseers was reduced to 3, there being 1 instead of 2 for the body of the parish. This continued until 1810 when a single salaried overseer was appointed for the whole parish. From 1822 3 overseers were again appointed. There was evidently a system of rotation for service in this office, for in 1766 an overseer was described as serving out of his turn. Before the 19th century only 1 churchwarden was usually appointed, but sometimes 2.

The parish owned 2 houses, each divided into 2 tenements, for accommodating the poor. One of the houses stood at Weald Gullet and was copyhold of the manor of North Weald; it was acquired for parish use in 1766. (fn. 6) The other was at Skips Corner and was freehold. How long the parish had owned it is not clear, and in 1838 when the houses were sold the deed of conveyance did not recite any earlier deed and only stated that the house had been 'for many years' parish property. (fn. 7)

In 1613-14 the four overseers spent £6 16s. 11d. on poor relief, making grants of money, paying rents, and supplying wood. (fn. 8) By 1680 disbursements had risen to some £30-£40 a year. There was a steady increase throughout the 18th century, £200 being reached in 1761 and £300 in 1781. By 1801-2 expenditure had risen to £863 and it averaged about £800 between 1810 and 1822. The division of expenditure between the hamlets and the main body of the parish varied considerably but usually approximated to their respective proportions of the rateable assessment. The parish overseer accounted for about half the expenditure: in 1801-2, for example, his expenses amounted to £455, those of the Thornwood overseer to £237 14s. and of the Hastingwood overseer to £170 11s. The hamlets were not so independent that they were left to bear the burden of their expenditure alone. The same rates were levied on all, whatever their share of the total expenditure, and at the final audit at Easter a deficit in one account was balanced by the surplus of another. Usually all overseers had surpluses which were.paid to the churchwarden to meet his accounts. Doctors' bills for attending the poor were being paid from 1738. From 1778 the parish doctor received a regular salary of 7 guineas a year. North Weald was one of the parishes which contributed to the Society for the Promotion of Industry founded in 1794 by John Conyers of Epping. In 1836 the parish became part of the Epping Poor Law Union.


  • 1. E.R.O., D/DB M68-76; D/DTc M4.
  • 2. E.R.O., D/DBm M 197-203.
  • 3. E.R.O., D/P 84/8. Unless otherwise stated all information in this section is taken from this book.
  • 4. The appointment of surveyors was not regularly recorded.
  • 5. E.R.O., Q/SBa 3.
  • 6. E.R.O., D/DBm M199.
  • 7. E.R.O., D/DCc T25.
  • 8. E.R.O., Q/SBa 3.