R is for….

2 November 2013

…. Relief of the poor. Until the early 1830s, individual parishes administered and paid for the welfare support for the poor and infirm. This began back in the sixteenth century, during the reign of Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries and the closing of charity hospitals and almshouses. To achieve this, the parishes raised money by levying rates on each householder. The early rate books were written by the parish officials on parchment or in books, and generally only record a name, the rent they paid and the rate assessed on them.

The rate book for Luffincott in 1819 shows the overall sum of £55 was collected by the overseers, Joseph Spettigue and Samuel Trible, from the parish rector and four named householders – themselves, John Venner and Wm [William] Hopper. Tenements and properties are also listed against the householder’s rates shedding light on family residences before complete censuses were taken.

The parish’s many social obligations included caring for the poor or those unable to look after themselves. Many people who fell on hard times either did not have family nearby or had relatives and friends who were too poverty-stricken themselves to help them. The parish also played a vital role in supporting the unemployed until they could find work, as well as providing for the needs of the mentally or physically ill.

Records of poor relief provide evidence of relationships and information about our ancestors’ lives. From 1601 to 1834, the system of poor relief in England and Wales consisted of the levying of a poor rate and the distribution (by the overseers) of the income to needy parishioners.

This 1815 entry in the ‘disbursements for the parish’ shows Wm [William] Ash, Ann Finimore, John Tidball and Anne Beale who were relieved by the parish to varying financial degrees in the past year during ‘several times of need’.

The Poor Law Act of 1832 (and the Amendment Act of 1834) resulted in the introduction of a system of Poor Law Unions – parishes were grouped together into larger Unions each of which built its own workhouse which was administered by a Board of Guardians.

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