Lambourne: Parish government and poor relief

Pages 84-85

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

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Vestry minute-books for Lambourne survive for the periods 1671-1764 and 1810-45. (fn. 1) Before 1733 the vestry usually met only at the two appointed times for the election of officers, but these meetings were well attended, there being often ten and sometimes as many as fourteen present. In November 1733 it was resolved to hold a vestry on the first Sunday in every month. This resolution was not fully carried out, but for the next fifteen years meetings were frequent and well attended and a strict control was maintained by the vestry over all sides of parish government. Between 1810 and 1826 four or five meetings were held each year. John Tooke, rector 1721-64, often attended after 1733. Richard Lockwood of Dews Hall often attended between 1736 and 1747 and he or the rector presided over the vestry when present. A dinner was usually held in conjunction with the Easter vestry at one of the public houses in Abridge; the expenses were charged to the churchwarden's accounts. A vestry clerk was appointed in 1745 at an annual salary of 1½ guinea; the person then appointed signed the minutes as clerk.

In 1826 a public vestry resolved unanimously to adopt the second Sturges Bourne Act (59 Geo. III, c. 12) and set up a select vestry. Fifteen members were elected with the addition of the rector, Robert Sutcliffe, as chairman, and the parish officers. The select vestry functioned until May 1836, fortnightly meetings being held in the workhouse during the whole period. Poor relief and the management of the workhouse were its main concern. Public vestries were still held occasionally to deal with general matters and to appoint fresh select vestries at intervals of one or two years. The lord of the manor, Edward Lockwood Percival, and the curate, Morgan Lewis, were usually among those appointed to the select vestry, and either one of them or of the churchwardens presided.

In 1723 a rate of 1s. in the £1 produced almost £69. This was a general rate levied by the overseers, out of which they paid the accounts of the other parish officers. In 1716 deficiencies in the surveyors' and constable's accounts were met out of the churchwardens' and overseers' accounts and the final balance of 8s. 7d. was spent at the vestry. In 1807 a rate of 1s. in the £1 produced over £90. (fn. 2) The parish was surveyed in 1827 by James Thompson and a new valuation made. The rateable value was then over £3,200. (fn. 3) A public vestry fixed the scale of rates per acre and according to different qualities of arable, pasture, and woodland. (fn. 4) In 1837, under direction from the Poor Law Commissioners, the rateable values were raised by 25 per cent.

Relations between the vestry and its officers were not always harmonious. The dispute with the executors of a former churchwarden is mentioned above. (fn. 5) In 1737 the constable's absence from the vestry was the subject of complaint, and there were other occasions when officers were censured. It is possible that this disharmony was caused by a conflict of interests between the shopkeepers of Abridge and the farmers of the parish. (fn. 6)

The normal parish officers were appointed until 1831, when a salaried assistant overseer was appointed at £5 a year. Women were chosen as overseers in 1730 and 1737 and both served. The son of the earlier overseer, however, attended the vestry and signed on her behalf. The constables elected in 1676 were described as being for the 'townside or leite and for the end' (i.e. Abridge and Lambourne End). In 1678 the former was succeeded by the constable for the manor of St. John's with a colleague for the 'Countess of Warwick's leet'. (fn. 7) An ale-conner was appointed in 1685, an assessor of land-tax in 1752, and a reeve in 1826 and 1828, all by the parish vestry.

There were stocks at Abridge in 1585, when a vagrant was reported to have escaped from them. (fn. 8) In 1728 it was decided to build a parish cage at Abridge with the timber recently removed from the church porches. (fn. 9) In 1841 the parish pound stood about ½ mile south of Abridge to the west of Hoe Lane. (fn. 10) In 1832 some labourers were paid 3s. for working the fire-engine.

In 1589 the parishioners subscribed towards the building of a cottage for the poor and petitioned Quarter Sessions for permission to erect it without the statutory 4 acres of land. (fn. 11) During the early 18th century the parish cottages at Abridge were sometimes used to accommodate the poor, (fn. 12) but they were not very satisfactory for this purpose. Plans to convert them into a workhouse were rejected in 1738 and again in 1828. (fn. 13)

In 1742 three houses in 'the Alley' at Abridge were leased by the parish at £4 10s. a year, and in 1748 a house called 'The Old Crown' was leased for use as a poorhouse at £10 a year. The repair and extension of Church House at Lambourne End, about 1810, were for the purpose of housing the parish poor, and this house remained in use as a workhouse until the formation of the Ongar Union.

An Epping surgeon and an apothecary were paid for attending the poor and supplying medicine in 1748, and a midwife received 5s. in 1723 for delivering a bastard child, but it was only from 1810 that regular medical contracts were made for the treatment of the poor. In that year a parish doctor was employed at a salary of 14 guineas. This included all inoculations and attendance at two childbirths, but other childbirths and surgical treatment were excluded, as well as travelling expenses outside the parish. Between 1824 and 1834 further agreements on similar lines were recorded, the appointments usually being reviewed each year.

The annual amounts raised by the poor rates in the 18th century were only irregularly recorded, but by the middle of that century the overseers' expenditure was usually over £100 a year. The vestry was fairly strict with its poor. On several occasions individuals and families were moved around, presumably to make the best use of existing accommodation. Orders for badging the poor were issued, chiefly between 1729 and 1745, but once as late as 1825. In 1831 a woman was ordered to wean her child. The policy of the vestry was not, however, merely repressive. In 1743 a silk thrower was brought down from London to instruct the poor in winding silk, and others who were not receiving relief were encouraged by financial assistance to be similarly employed. In 1832 and 1833 several pieces of land, some given by E. Lockwood Percival, the lord of the manor, were acquired for giving employment to the poor.

As elsewhere the cost of poor relief mounted steeply after 1780. Over £840 was raised by rates in 1800-1, and this rose to £923 in 1806-7. (fn. 14) Between 1810 and 1826 a number of agreements with workhouse masters were recorded. The first of these was for a lump sum, but all the others were on a capitation basis, the tenders varying from 2s. 4d. to 5s. 6d. a head a week. The terms always included an allowance for fuel and an additional allowance for material and the master was allowed to retain all profits. After 1826 the select vestry brought the management of the workhouse more closely under parish control by ensuring that all profits went to the parish. The master's subsequent offer to revert to the old system was rejected. Contracts for the supply of food and other goods for the workhouse were reviewed every six months and a high standard of quality was always required. In 1833 the cheese and soap were sent back to a new contractor as unfit for use and a sample was sent to show the quality required.

In 1836 Lambourne became part of the Ongar Poor Law Union.


  • 1. E.R.O., D/P 181/8/1, 2, 4. Unless otherwise stated all information is derived from these sources.
  • 2. E.R.O., D/P 181/11/1 (Overseers Rate Bk.).
  • 3. E.R.O., D/P 181/11/2.
  • 4. 12s.-18s. per acre for arable, 15s.- 28s. for pasture, 12s. for woodland, and 10s. for forest underwood, with a deduction of one third for waste in the measurement.
  • 5. See above, Church.
  • 6. For the position of Abridge in relation to the rest of the parish see above, pp. 73-74.
  • 7. The Countess was the widow of Charles Rich, Earl of Warwick. Her leet was presumably that of the hundred of Ongar, which had been granted to Sir Richard Rich in 1547.
  • 8. E.R.O., Q/SR 95/66.
  • 9. See above, Church.
  • 10. E.R.O., D/CT 202.
  • 11. E.R.O., Q/SR 110/41. The site chosen was 'near unto barackes abouttinge uppon Chigewell upon the wast soule'.
  • 12. See below, Charities.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/9.