Penalties for profiteering overseers

An Act of 1815 made it illegal for churchwardens or overseers to profit by supplying goods to their parish in the same year that they held office.  The penalty for infringement was high at £100.  This law was probably more honoured in the breech, but some keen-eyed contemporaries tried to make sure that it didn’t fall entirely out of view.  Samuel Cook, a radical citizen of Dudley, was one man who tried to make sure parish officers were held to account on this score.  He went to the trouble in 1823 of printing a small poster with the heading ‘Overseers liable to One Hundred Pounds Penalty!’ where he copied out some portions of the Act to publicise the (otherwise neglected) legislation.

This poster came to my attention when visiting the archives at Dudley.  I was searching the catalogues for parish records pertaining to locations in the ancient county of Staffordshire, and particularly for overseers’ vouchers that might survive for Sedgley, Brierley Hill, Kingswinford, and Lower Gornal.  None of these parishes have surviving vouchers relevant to our project, but finding the poster was a bonus.

Samuel Cook used the same small poster, no more than six inches square, to ask some pertinent questions about the workings of the Old Poor Law in Dudley.  He suffixed the main content of the poster with questions, asking about malt bags found at the workhouse, and the pay rise of £20 per year recently awarded to Mr Shorthouse (presumably a parish official).  It is a shame there weren’t more acute observers of parish relief to ask these sorts of questions!

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