Wanstead: Local government

Pages 330-332

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

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Court rolls survive for the manor of Wanstead from 1523 to 1856, with considerable gaps in the 16th and 17th centuries. (fn. 1) Courts leet and baron were being held up to 1643, after which only courts baron are recorded. The leet appointed a constable (to 1629), an aleconner (to 1585), and a woodward (to 1536). In the 16th century it frequently presented breaches of the assizes of bread and ale. Scolds were presented in 1532 and 1535 and a barrator also in 1535. In 1575 the court noted that there were no stocks in the manor and ordered a pair to be provided. Litigation between tenants of the manor is occasionally recorded in the rolls. A manorial pound existed in 1637. On the manor of Cann Hall courts were apparently still being held in 1731, (fn. 2) but no court rolls are known to exist.

The parish records of Wanstead form a large collection including vestry minutes 1688–1883, select vestry minutes 1819–36, and overseers' rates and accounts for various dates between 1718 and 1836. (fn. 3) Before 1777 the minutes rarely state where vestry meetings were held. From 1777 to 1786 the meeting-place was usually a public house or sometimes the church. From 1786 to 1832 meetings were usually at the church. The village school was used occasionally from 1814, and from 1833 was the usual meeting-place. The vestry met about four times a year between 1688 and 1750, and about six times a year between 1750 and 1836. Until 1810 the attendance was usually between 5 and 10. After 1810 it was usually between 10 and 20. At important meetings it was sometimes over 30. The rector seems always to have taken the chair when present. In his absence it was usually taken by a churchwarden. Each successive rector attended regularly except Richard Goodere (1750–69). Samuel Glasse (1786–1812) seems to have been the strongest chairman. The lords of the manor of Wanstead rarely attended except on special occasions. William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley appeared once only (July 1812), when he took the chair. The lords of Cann Hall, who were non-resident, hardly ever attended. Up to 1714 the vestry appointed annually a small number of auditors of the parish officers' accounts. In 1800 it set up a standing committee of audit, meeting monthly. In 1768 an ad hoc committee on 'the state of the poor' was appointed. In 1819 the parish set up a select vestry which functioned until 1836. This comprised 20 members elected annually. It met every fortnight in the school under the chairmanship of the rector and later of a churchwarden or overseer.

Until the later 18th century there were only one churchwarden, one overseer of the poor, one parish constable, and one surveyor of highways. A second overseer was appointed from 1761, a second churchwarden (nominated by the rector) from 1787, and a second constable from 1791 or 1792. About 1787 the vestry also abandoned its peculiar recent custom of sending each churchwarden to be sworn in at quarter sessions. These changes were no doubt inspired by Samuel Glasse. No additional surveyor was appointed. The officers often employed deputies, some of whom served for years at a stretch. A deputy might act for more than one officer at the same time. It was not unusual for deputies to receive small payments from the vestry as well as from their principals, though such use of parish funds sometimes aroused opposition in the vestry. From the later 18th century, as the parish grew, the employment of paid officers became more frequent. From 1808 to 1822 the vestry employed a salaried assistant surveyor, part-time. An assistant overseer, appointed from 1820, also acted as rate-collector, and in 1833 he was directed to serve full-time, without other employment. Both constables received a small salary from 1804. From 1825 there was only one constable, salaried and full-time.

The work of vestry clerk appears to have been performed by the rector, Thomas Juson, throughout his incumbency (1724–49), and in 1731 it was agreed that he should receive an honorarium for this service. After his time a separate vestry clerk was employed, being paid fees or a small salary. The vestry employed various minor officials. There are references to the parish (or church) clerk throughout the period covered by the vestry minutes. For some years in the mid 18th century the post was held in conjunction with that of assistant overseer. A beadle appointed in 1770 was also vestry clerk. In 1825 the beadle was also organ-blower and bell-ringer.

Information concerning the finances of the parish is incomplete, and is especially deficient for the years c. 1790–1810, when it would be most valuable. (fn. 4) In Wanstead, as elsewhere, the parish income came mainly from the poor-rates, but church-rates, which before the 19th century were used partly for civil purposes, seem to have provided a larger proportion of the income than was usual in south-west Essex. In the 1690s a separate constable's rate was sometimes levied, but later the constable's bills were charged to the poor-rate or to the church-rate. In the 18th century the surveyor's expenses were met mainly from a levy (not a rate) in commutation of statute labour, with occasional help from the poor-rates or church-rates. The main and recurrent costs of poor-relief were charged on the poor-rates, but casual relief was often provided from the church-rate. In the 19th century, and especially after the appointment of the select vestry, a clearer distinction was made in the use of poor-rates and church-rates, and it also became customary to levy a highway rate. The rateable value of the parish rose from £1,021 in 1688 to £6,178 in 1836.

There is no reference to a parish poorhouse until 1727, when the vestry leased a house from Lord Castlemaine for that purpose and repaired it with the aid of some small legacies recently made to the parish. In 1737 this house accommodated 17 people, mostly old but including 5 children in one family. They occupied tenements of one, two, or three rooms, for which they paid rent. At that period the inmates seem to have given little trouble except by falling behind with the rent. As poverty increased, the poorhouse came to be used for 'problem' families rather than for the aged. In 1761 the vestry resolved to ask the help of the magistrates in enforcing discipline there, and ordered the inmates to 'attend strictly to the service of the church' on pain of forfeiting their allowances. In 1785, after further difficulties, the lease of the house was given up, and the vestry began to farm out paupers to Overton's workhouse at Mile End (Lond.).

The Mile End workhouse appears to have been the only lodging provided by the parish for any of its poor between 1786 and 1801. Those sent there were neither kindly nor efficiently treated and the vestry gradually became reluctant to subject parishioners to such conditions. After 1801, when the parish again provided some poorhouse accommodation, it continued to send its most difficult paupers to London workhouses. The Mile End workhouse continued to be used to a small extent until 1825–6, but after 1820 places were usually sought in the workhouses at Stepney Green, Bethnal Green, Hoxton, or the Borough. Lunatics were usually sent to an asylum at Bethnal Green.

In 1801 the vestry leased a house at Holloway Down to accommodate paupers. It was given up in 1814, but from 1821 two cottages were being rented from the lord of Wanstead manor; they were probably the two parish houses described in the select vestry's report of November 1831 as being in Poor House Alley. The parish also rented a tenroom house and three cottages at Holloway Down (1831–6) and two cottages in George Row (1834–6). In 1834 the select vestry reported that the parish held only four houses, in which were placed the aged and infirm poor, then numbering 13 adults and 5 children. This return seems to ignore the houses on Holloway Down, possibly because their inmates paid rent.

Before 1727 poor-relief consisted mainly of pensions or doles to a few of the aged. Between 1693 and 1699 there was only one regular pensioner. The original poorhouse, leased in 1727, was at first used as a form of cheap accommodation rather than an alternative to out-relief. In 1729 there were 7 parish pensioners, drawing 2s.–3s. a week each. During the next thirty years the number was usually between 5 and 12. In 1749 the vestry resolved to provide relief in kind instead of weekly pensions, which the poor were thought to misspend. This had no lasting effect. Pensions continued, along with doles of food, clothing, and fuel, which the vestry had always provided. These forms of out-relief, along with medical aid, accounted for most of the poor-rate. Payments for medical treatment figure occasionally in the parish records from 1688. From 1759 the vestry was paying a regular retainer to a doctor (between 1794 and 1808 two doctors) who received additional payments for vaccinations and midwifery. Occasional use was made of specialist doctors from outside the parish, as in 1823 when the vestry paid the large sum of 12 gns. for treating the deformed feet of a child. Many payments were made to those nursing the sick poor and to the London hospitals which received the worst cases.

The vestry did its best to prevent the able-bodied from becoming a burden on the rates. In apprenticing pauper children care was usually taken to find suitable masters and even to consult the wishes of the children themselves. Since there was little or no industry in Wanstead most apprentices had to be bound outside the parish, to Barking fishermen, or to such craftsmen as weavers, tailors, shoemakers, or barbers, in east London or West Ham. During the Napoleonic wars any boy who wished to go to sea could depend on the immediate help of the vestry, even if, like one apprentice in 1802, he had lost his settlement in Wanstead. Apart from those going to sea, few children were sent far from home; but in 1788 four went to a woollen factory at Cuckney (Notts.). Able-bodied adults were encouraged to follow their own trades, for which they were often given tools or materials. Under the select vestry the poor were put to work in the parish gravel-pits, on the roads, in the forest, or on local farms. From 1831 onwards more money was paid to the casual poor for work than for relief.

Despite its numerous wealthy residents Wanstead was finding the burden of poor-relief uncomfortably heavy by the end of the 18th century. Before 1750 the rates levied for all purposes had rarely been more than 2s. in the pound, which produced £110 in 1718, and £142 in 1740. After 1750 they began to rise, and by the 1780s 4s. was not unusual, producing about £360, of which about £300 was spent on relief. (fn. 5) During the later years of the Napoleonic wars they reached 6s. or more, and in 1816 the poor-rates alone amounted to 7s., producing over £1,900. The vestry tried various expedients to keep down the costs of relief. A proposal in 1800 to build a parish mill came to nothing. In 1801 the vestry built a communal bakehouse, but the baker who had agreed to manage it withdrew and that project also seems to have been abandoned. Also in 1801 a scheme was launched to provide cheap food for the poor. The necessary funds were drawn from the rates, public subscriptions, or private charity, and the scheme continued at least until 1810.

After 1816 the cost of relief fell. The lavish expenditure by William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley at Wanstead House during that period probably eased the burden of poverty in the parish. The select vestry, soon after formation in 1819, introduced a stricter scale of relief, and ordered that paupers who were dissatisfied with it should be farmed out to London workhouses. The gross expenditure of the overseers had dropped from £1,865 in 1817 to to £1,573 in 1819; in 1820 it was further reduced to £1,128. (fn. 6) Economy was maintained after 1820. This policy culminated in a new code of regulations drawn up in 1833. The overseers were to apply rigid scales of relief. No unmarried man was to be relieved or employed between April and October. Work in the parish gravel-pits was to be more strictly controlled. The wages of parish labourers was to be prohibitively low. The code was so effective that in September 1834 the select vestry claimed to have cut the rates by nearly a quarter, and to have checked 'the spirit of pauperism'. The overseers' expenditure, which had been £1,265 in 1828, fell to £1,202 in 1833, and £1,083 in 1835. In the year ending Lady Day 1834 29 able-bodied men were being employed; 33 infirm men and 6 women were being employed part-time; 14 totally disabled men and 28 women were receiving relief. The parish was also supporting 24 children. How far the select vestry's economies caused hardship to the poor is not clear. The select vestry certainly did not fail to keep the workhouses and the poorhouses under constant surveillance.

The Wanstead vestry never had to deal with any serious problems of law and order. A parish watch-house was repaired in 1693, and in 1711 the vestry ordered two sentry-boxes to be made. Stocks were also set up in 1711, and a cage was built beside them in 1714. A new cage was completed in 1818. About 1830 the parish instituted an armed watch against body snatchers. The watchmen used the vestry room in the church until 1831, when a sentry-box was erected in the churchyard. (fn. 7) This was presumably the stone box, given in memory of the Wilton family, which still stood there in 1971. (fn. 8)

Wanstead became part of West Ham poor law union in 1836, and of the Metropolitan police district in 1840. A local board of 9 members was set up for the parish in 1854. (fn. 9) From 1894 Wanstead was governed by an urban district council of 9 members. (fn. 10) In 1934 the urban district was united with that of Woodford, and in 1937 the combined urban district was incorporated as a municipal borough. (fn. 11) In 1965 Wanstead and Woodford was amalgamated with Ilford and parts of Chigwell and Dagenham as the London borough of Redbridge. (fn. 12)

Wanstead and Woodford Municipal Borough. Azure, a cross flory argent between, in the first and fourth quarters, a leopard's face, and in the second and third quarters, a martlet, or.


  • 1. E.R.O., D/DCw M1–10; D/DM M168; D/DU 182/16.
  • 2. E.R.O., D/DHf M57, and T9.
  • 3. When this section was originally drafted some of the records were missing. They have since been found, and the whole collection has been deposited in the Essex Record Office. All the records are listed in Essex Parish Records (2nd edn.), 225–6. In its final form the following account of parish government, up to 1836, is based mainly on: the vestry minutes (E.R.O., D/P 292/8/6–10); select vestry mins. (D/P 292/8/16–17); overseers' rates (D/P 292/11/19–29, 45–58); and overseers' accounts (D/P 292/12/4–16). Use has also been made of notes from some of these records supplied by Mr. D. Haley.
  • 4. Some of the parish records seem to have been lost about 1813: D/P 292/8/10, Mar. and June 1813.
  • 5. Cf. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/1.
  • 6. Ibid. Q/CR 1/12.
  • 7. E.R.O., D/P 292/8/10, 22 Sept. 1831.
  • 8. W. Eastment, Wanstead, 35.
  • 9. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1890).
  • 10. Ibid. (1894).
  • 11. Wanstead and Woodford Official Guide (1964–5).
  • 12. London Govt. Act, 1963, c. 33.