Chigwell: Parish government and poor relief

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.


'Chigwell: Parish government and poor relief', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred, ed. W R Powell( London, 1956), British History Online [accessed 23 July 2024].

'Chigwell: Parish government and poor relief', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Edited by W R Powell( London, 1956), British History Online, accessed July 23, 2024,

"Chigwell: Parish government and poor relief". A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Ed. W R Powell(London, 1956), , British History Online. Web. 23 July 2024.


The surviving court rolls of the manor of Woolston Hall run from 1423 to 1749 (fn. 1) and are continued by court books for the period 1750- 1863. (fn. 2) There are no rolls for 1460-82 and 1509-46 and there are a few short gaps later in the series. The manor court took an active part in local affairs until the end of the 17th century. Aletasters were appointed regularly until 1640 and constables until 1840. In the early 19th century, when there was a single constable, he combined this office with that of woodward, and the court continued to appoint a woodward by that title alone up to 1862. There appears to have been a manorial grange and bakehouse which was derelict by 1463. (fn. 3) The court dealt with minor nuisances and occasionally with cases of assault. In 1578 the Poor Relief Act of 1576 (fn. 4) was invoked to deal with an 'idle woman' harboured in the house of a manorial tenant. In 1427 and 1606 it was presented that the lord of the manor ought to repair bridges, but in 1682 the parish surveyors were presented for failing to repair a footbridge.

There are court rolls for the manor of Chigwell Hall for the periods 1595-1619 and 1687-1721 and books for 1734-99 and 1882-1901. (fn. 5) So far as can be judged from these rolls alone this court during the 17th century and later dealt only with business relating to the copyhold tenements of the manor. There are no records of the appointment of local officials in the court, but in 1790 the parish vestry nominated two constables, one for Chigwell Hall lordship and one for Barringtons lordship (see below). (fn. 6) Neither was the same man as was appointed constable by the Woolston court in the same year.

Existing court rolls of the manor of Barringtons cover the period 1652-1751. (fn. 7) On every occasion except one during this period the court met only as a court baron. In 1695 it also viewed frankpledge, and appointed a constable. The appointment by the vestry in 1790, however, suggests that a constable was appointed for this manor on occasions after 1695 which were not recorded in the rolls.

There is little information concerning poor relief before the 18th century. The Guild of the Holy Trinity (see above, Church) took a regular part in relieving the poor. The poor men's chest in the parish church is mentioned in 1550, (fn. 8) and the collectors of the poor in 1564. (fn. 9)

Vestry minute books have survived for 1712-49, 1789-1804, and 1847-94. (fn. 10) There are overseers' accounts for 1821-36 and an almost complete series of bills for 1784-1836. (fn. 11)

For a large and fairly populous parish attendance at the vestry was normally not numerous; there were rarely more than twelve ratepayers present. Meetings were usually held in the vestry room, but in 1870 and 1872 exceptionally large attendances necessitated an adjournment to the 'King's Head'. At the 1872 meeting more than 200 attended to discuss an advance to the Chigwell School Board. In the later 19th century the ratepayers of Buckhurst Hill, who outnumbered those in the rest of the parish, disliked travelling to Chigwell for vestry meetings, especially because there was still no direct road between those two parts of the parish.

There seems to have been no particular system of rotation in appointing parish officers. Until 1770 churchwardens were appointed for two successive years but afterwards they often served for longer terms. From 1730, or earlier, one churchwarden was appointed by the vicar and the other by the parish. Overseers of the poor usually served only for one year, two being appointed each Easter. There is a vague suggestion that during the 18th century one was appointed for the lordship of Chigwell Hall and the other for that of Woolston. Three surveyors of highways were appointed each year, one each for the lordships of Chigwell Hall, Woolston, and Barringtons. This office was often taken by the gentry, and in the middle of the 18th century William Harvey, lord of Barringtons, served his own lordship for many years. There is no evidence that the vestry nominated constables before 1790. A resolution of 1721 prohibited the appointment of a deputy by any parish officer without the vestry's approval. A paid assistant overseer was appointed in 1827 and served continuously until 1839, when he became the relieving officer for Epping District under the Epping Board of Guardians. An assistant overseer was again appointed in 1840, and in 1852 he was also made collector of the poor rate and paid a commission of 3 per cent. of the rates collected. (fn. 12)

In 1727 there were 2 men, 5 women, and 5 children receiving regular poor relief. A year later a house in Chigwell was converted into a workhouse and in 1733 the vestry resolved to send all out-pensioners there. In 1730 a workhouse master had undertaken to maintain the poor for a 10d. rate, but this arrangement seems to have lasted only a few years. In 1745 all pensioners were ordered to wear the parish badge. The workhouse remained adequate for the needs of the parish until 1790, when a larger house in Gravel Lane was taken on lease. This was used as the parish workhouse until 1836 when it was taken over by the Epping Union, (fn. 13) which used it until the new Union house was opened in 1838. (fn. 14) In 1796 the poor were farmed out to a workhouse master at 15 guineas a year; he also received 2 guineas for acting as parish beadle.

Of the 94 surviving settlement certificates dated between 1699 and 1791 received by the parish officers 60 were issued by parishes in south-west Essex, 12 elsewhere in the county (mostly in the north-west), 6 in Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk, 12 in London, Middlesex, Surrey and Kent. One was for a blacksmith from Taunton and one for a barber and wig-maker from Berwick-on-Tweed. The others were from Wellingborough (Northants.) and Steeple Aston (Oxon.). (fn. 15)

The 106 surviving apprenticeship indentures drawn up between 1671 and 1809 show that most pauper children were apprenticed to masters within the parish. (fn. 16) For many years the ratepayers took these children as apprentices on a rota system. In 1727 a woman paid a fine of £10 to avoid taking a child allotted to her. In 1730 it was resolved not to pay relief to travellers through the parish even though they carried passes; it was considered that as the main road through Chigwell led only to Ongar such passengers had no need of assistance.

In 1792 one of the overseers was Joshua Jenour, a well-known author and pamphleteer and a man of advanced views. (fn. 17) In that year he planned to build a pest-house out of the poor rates. As he had not consulted either his fellow officers or the vestry, the churchwardens ordered him to desist. He moved a resolution at a subsequent vestry meeting that the house should be built, but this was defeated. Among his supporters were three local doctors, while the opposition came mainly from the farmers and larger ratepayers. In 1794 the vestry supported a plan proposed by John Conyers for the relief of the poor of the hundreds of Ongar, Harlow, and Waltham, but later withdrew support. In 1795 the high price of flour was met by subsidizing from the rates the bread bought by the poor from local bakers, and by the agreement of the wealthier inhabitants to use flour from which 7 lb. bran a bushel had been extracted. In 1800 it was decided to provide the poor with substitutes for flour, mainly rice and potatoes, and the ratepayers were urged to use similar substitutes themselves.

The overseers' expenditure in the year ending at Easter 1724 was £151, and in 1745 £180. In 1783 the total poor rate was £485. (fn. 18) Expenditure rose to £716 in 1791 and in 1801 the poor rate was £1,086. (fn. 19) Between 1801 and 1821 the rate fluctuated considerably; it was highest in 1820 (£2,519) and lowest in 1811 (£630), but was usually between £1,000 and £2,000. (fn. 20) Overseers' expenditure was £1,339 in 1823 and £1,614 in 1836.

There are few references to the work of the surveyors of highways. Some of their activities are described above (see p. 19). Nor is there much information about the constables. In 1714 the vestry ordered that the stocks, watch house, and whippingpost should be repaired. John Rowe, constable in 1828-32, arrested while in office 207 offenders, including burglars, highway robbers, and cattle thieves. Probably most of the offences took place not in Chigwell itself but in the forest at Buckhurst Hill or Chigwell Row, both notorious haunts of criminals. (fn. 21)

In 1840 Chigwell became part of the Metropolitan Police District. (fn. 22) In 1851 there were a sergeant and four constables in the parish. (fn. 23) In 1911 there were 3 sergeants, 2 acting sergeants, and 18 constables, attached to J Division, Metropolitan Police. (fn. 24) Chigwell Hall is now the sports club for No. 5 District, Metropolitan Police.


  • 1. E.R.O., D/DEs M94-109.
  • 2. E.R.O., D/DEs M80, 81, D/DZn 1, 2.
  • 3. E.R.O., T/P 17.
  • 4. 18 Eliz. I, c.3.
  • 5. E.R.O., D/DDa M1-12.
  • 6. E.R.O., D/P 166/8/10.
  • 7. E.R.O., D/DU 97/1-6.
  • 8. Will of John Hill: Archd. Essex 21 Thonder; Will of Nicholas Sympson: Comm. Ct. London 144 Clyffe.
  • 9. Will of Thomas Hewett: Archd. Essex 114 Newington. For Charity relief see Charities, below.
  • 10. E.R.O., D/P 166/8/1, 10, 11.
  • 11. Ibid. 166/12/1-7, 10-12. There are many other miscellaneous parish records: see Essex Par. Recs. 78. Unless otherwise stated information below is from the vestry minutes and overseers' accounts and bills.
  • 12. E.R.O., D/P 166/11/6, 166/8/11.
  • 13. E.R.O., G/EM 1.
  • 14. E.R.O., G/EM 2.
  • 15. E.R.O., D/P 166/13/1B.
  • 16. Ibid. 166/14/1.
  • 17. 1755-1853: see D.N.B.
  • 18. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/1. The poor rate had to meet some charges other than relief of the poor, such as rates for county bridges.
  • 19. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/9.
  • 20. Ibid. 1/12.
  • 21. Kent and Essex Mercury, 2 Aug. 1832.
  • 22. Lond. Gaz., 13 Oct. 1840, p. 2250.
  • 23. H.O. 107/1770, 195/1.
  • 24. Essex Almanac, 1911.