Our latest parish of Whittington St Giles spent more money on poor relief than any of the other parishes we have studied so far, but what should we read into this?
Of course, Whittington didn’t spend the most money in absolute terms. Large populous parishes naturally spent more than small ones, so the most spent per year in total (so far) by the parishes we have studied has been Uttoxeter. The cost of poor relief in Uttoxeter was always higher than £1500 per year in the period 1816-1834, and rose to its highest in 1818-19, years of particular hardship in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. Then the totals rose to £3350, but never again exceeded £3000 before the change to the law in 1834.
Whittington, though, spent most per head of the population. The parish dispensed thirteen shillings and seven pence for every man woman and child of the population in 1831, whereas Uttoxeter only spent eight shillings. We could understand this in a number of ways. Either the population was particularly needy, or wealthy members of the parish could afford to pay high poor rates (and therefore did not stint in paying relief), or both. Whittington’s proximity to the Cathedral town of Lichfield encourages me to think that it may have been a relatively generous parish with little motivation to cut costs, but full consideration of the vouchers will tell us more…
Starting the new parish of Whittington has presented us with a challenge; how can we find out the names of the overseers when no accounts survive to accompany the vouchers?
Overseers and churchwardens are reliably named on some other forms of parish ephemera, such as apprenticeship indentures, but these may also survive patchily. We can see that at some point in the 1820s the tailor John Beard was appointed as the (salaried) assistant overseer of Whittington, and that he shared the task with at least one other man per year, probably a rate-payer who was taking his ‘turn’ in office. So far the list of men in addition to Beard looks like this:
1827-8 = Thomas Dennitts overseer (Hugh Nevill and John Coleman churchwardens)
1828-9 = John Stanley overseer (Hugh Nevill and John Coleman churchwardens)
1829-30 = [no indentures found so far]
1830-31 = James Whitaker overseer (Hugh Nevill and John Coleman churchwardens)
1831-32 = William Smith overseer (Hugh Nevill and William Wootton Shucker churchwardens)
It is useful to know the names of the overseers, churchwardens, and if possible the constables working in the parish each year, because their names might crop up repeatedly on vouchers. Also they might, like Michael Clewley in Uttoxeter, be acting as parish officials at the same time that they received work from the parish, which was strictly speaking not allowed.
The search for names continues….