Local government
Poor relief and rates to 1837

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Victoria County History

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Patricia E.C. Croot (editor)

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2004

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206-210

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'Local government: Poor relief and rates to 1837', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 12: Chelsea (2004), pp. 206-210. URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=28717 Date accessed: 17 September 2014.


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POOR RELIEF AND RATES TO 1837

Between 1594 and 1613 regular relief was apparently ineffective: several paupers, not all vagrants, were found dead in barns, stables, and yards. (fn. 15) Fines collected from drunken revellers in 1612 were consigned to the use of the poor. (fn. 16) In the late 17th century Quarter Sessions was making orders about disputed settlements in Chelsea; (fn. 17) weekly pensions were paid, and women were paid to feed pauper children. The poor were badged in 1707. The poor rate in 1696 was £58; £52 was spent on pensions. (fn. 18) A rate at 4d. in the pound in 1706 raised £85, and another in 1717 raised £68. Not all was spent on the poor but other sums such as church sacrament offerings were given to them, for example in 1696-7. (fn. 19) Quarter Sessions intervened six times between 1708 and 1733 to order payment of debts to or from the overseers or inspection of their accounts. (fn. 20)

THE WORKHOUSE

The churchwardens were empowered in 1727 to rent a house for the poor, and under a resolution of 1733 a workhouse, capable of accommodating up to 70, was opened in 1735 and completed in 1737 on land given by Sir Hans Sloane north of the King's Road, next to the burial ground. The site was later bounded by Arthur (later Dovehouse) and Britten streets on the west and north respectively. (fn. 21) A new building to serve as a workshop was approved in 1769, though it had not been begun in 1770. (fn. 1) It was probably the new building erected before 1778, when another was ordered to remedy overcrowding. (fn. 2) In 1783 the main building had a three storeys and a basement, with 13 rooms; buildings in the courtyard had a further 8 rooms, with two 'back of' the house including an infirmary. (fn. 3) A west wing was built in 1788, to replace the infirmary, and enlarged in 1807 to extend the infirmary and provide men's dormitories and committee rooms as well. South-west and south-east wings built in 1792 contained sickrooms and dormitories for males and females respectively. (fn. 4) Alterations to the male sickrooms were approved in 1797. (fn. 5) In 1800 part of the north-west wing was adapted to the work of the Chelsea Soup Society, aiming to provide the poor with nutritious soup instead of bread. (fn. 6) Further repairs were made in 1812. (fn. 7) By 1822 many of the inmates had to be lodged in 7 houses in Britten Street, contiguous to the workhouse, (fn. 8) so a further large wing designed by James Savage was built in 1822 to provide additional accommodation including workshops, laundry, infirmary, and space for women and girls. Rooms for homeless strangers were built over the gatehouse in 1824, and a new infirmary was added in 1827. (fn. 9)

In 1735 the vestry set up a committee to manage the workhouse; in its first year those attending the weekly meetings included the rector, one or both churchwardens, at least one overseer, the doctor, the constable, and from 1 to 6 others. (fn. 10) At its reappointment in 1746, besides the rector and officers, a further 38 parishioners were added. (fn. 11) Meetings were more erratic in the late 1740s, and attendance low, (fn. 12) but then and later formal membership was repeatedly increased. (fn. 13) By 1769 it had the officers and 57 parishioners, though only 5 were a quorum; they were to report if the workhouse needed an extra workroom. (fn. 14) The committee remained an established institution; (fn. 15) in 1807 it again met weekly. (fn. 16) Ad hoc committees were also set up, in 1753 to study schemes for farming the poor, (fn. 17) in 1782 to examine workhouse bills, (fn. 18) in connexion with infirmary and other buildings in 1788, 1797, 1807, and 1812, (fn. 19) and for appointments of staff in 1800, 1801, and 1809, though a proposal for one in 1805 was defeated. (fn. 20)

The workhouse had a resident salaried master from 1735, (fn. 21) and a mistress by 1736, who as in the 1750s was probably the master's wife. (fn. 22) Two successive masters in the 1750s left under a cloud. (fn. 23) The master and mistress elected after a contest in 1780 were to be paid £20 besides board and lodging. (fn. 24) In 1783 the master complained that the poor would not obey orders without payment. (fn. 25) On his resignation in 1801, he was appointed clerk to the workhouse; his successor's salary was raised to £30. Both officials were to be elected annually. (fn. 26) The master's salary was raised to £50 in 1804 and all perquisites abolished. (fn. 27) The next year there was a disputed election, 755 voting; (fn. 28) in 1809 the post had 15 candidates, reduced before election to four. (fn. 29) The master in 1822 received a large grocery allowance. (fn. 30) His successor in 1835 was still paid £50. (fn. 31)

The vestry decided in 1792 to appoint a matron, unrelated to the master, to manage the female inmates and train the girls. (fn. 32) Her salary was £15 by 1800, when it was reduced in the light of the need for an assistant, then appointed. (fn. 33) In 1810, however, there was again a sole matron, whose pay then rose from 20 to 30 guineas. (fn. 34) The matron was subject to annual re-election from 1816. (fn. 35) Besides the formal staff, paupers were paid to undertake specific roles to keep down costs; in 1826 the parochial committee decided that that was illegal, since if the paupers were capable of earning they should be outside the workhouse. Nevertheless it agreed to pay superintendents of the male and female paupers and of wood cutting, a cook and her male assistant, a coal and cellarman, a nightwatchman, and a schoolmaster and schoolmistress. (fn. 36) A subcommittee was appointed to draw up rules for the master and mistress in 1735 (fn. 37) and the vestry laid down rules for the master and matron in 1801, (fn. 1) and for the matron in 1815. (fn. 2)

Annual contracts for provisions for the workhouse were being let, for meat from 1735, for milk from 1736. (fn. 3) The vestry rejected in 1753 a proposal to farm the poor. (fn. 4) The diet in the mid 18th century was better, and the mortality rate lower, than in many other parishes in the metropolis. (fn. 5) In the 1770s and earlier 1780s most categories of provisions, including meat, flour, beans, beer, greens, turnips, and loaves were supplied by different tradesmen, though some continued to supply their respective commodities for several years. (fn. 6) In 1782 the vestry ordered the contracts to be made quarterly; the churchwardens and overseers were to examine samples of articles required before and after delivery; (fn. 7) a committee found that year that the parish had been seriously overcharged for many commodities. (fn. 8) In 1801 the master was required to keep detailed accounts of all provisions, and the officers were to inspect those accounts weekly. (fn. 9) In 1809 the vestry forbade parish officers to be involved in selling provisions to the workhouse, but stipulated that all articles were to be supplied by contract with tradesmen of the parish. A committee of 21 non-tradesmen, renewed annually, was to allot six-monthly contracts on the basis of sealed tenders. (fn. 10) The scheme split the vestry, however: it was resisted by a minority who attributed its passage to incomers and it was rescinded, after opposition from the officers, on legal advice that it interfered with the officers' duties. (fn. 11) The overseers for 1820-1, amid much alleged waste and peculation, apparently ordered for the sick in the workhouse 'finest' delicacies which they themselves consumed. (fn. 12) The parochial committee under the St Luke Chelsea Poor Rates Act, 1821, adopted six-monthly tendering, but allowed contractors outside the parish to compete. (fn. 13) In 1823 the committee's bylaws required one overseer to be responsible for workhouse provisioning. (fn. 14) Wines and spirits for the sick were recommended weekly by the surgeon. (fn. 15)

WORKHOUSE INMATES AND OUTRELIEF

It was claimed in 1740 that the opening of the workhouse had substantially reduced demand for the sacrament offertory charity. (fn. 16) There were 131 inmates in 1781, 140 in 1801, 199 in 1816, and 262, including those in rented accommodation, in 1822. (fn. 17) In 1802-3 there were 1,978 poor relieved occasionally, 257 adults on permanent out-relief, and 130 in the workhouse. (fn. 18) The numbers occasionally relieved rose to 5,636 in 1813-14, falling to 4,773 in 1814-15, compared with 802 for all the other parishes in Kensington division. At that time 332 received permanent out-relief and 197 were in the workhouse. (fn. 19) It was claimed in 1819 that there had been over 6,000 paupers in the parish in 1817. (fn. 20) By 1834 the workhouse accommodated 450 men, women, and children. (fn. 21)

In 1735 the workhouse committee agreed to put the workhouse children to work making thread buttons; by 1736 eight girls aged 6-10 were making them. (fn. 22) The inmates were also put to spinning yarn from 1736 to the mid 1750s or later, earning only about 5 per cent of their keep; by 1753 they were also making clothes and stockings. (fn. 23) In 1751 young inmates were sent to work with Sprimont at the Chelsea Porcelain works, in the hope of apprenticeships. (fn. 24) By 1781 'silk work' was carried on at the workhouse, (fn. 25) apparently outwork for the Spitalfields industry, (fn. 26) and in 1792 girls spent so much time at it that they became useless for domestic employment. (fn. 27) By 1804, however, 31 child inmates were employed in an outside factory, reducing the master's income from silk work. (fn. 28) In 1822 male inmates were employed on shoemaking, spinning, and weaving, women on needlework; a report recommended that both should knit. Looms had been bought for a new 'manufactory' at the workhouse. (fn. 29) Stonebreaking and woodcutting were planned. (fn. 30) A superintendent of the inmates' labour was recruited in 1823. (fn. 31) Oakum-picking was evidently also required, since in 1825 a committee advised that it cease. (fn. 32)

POOR RATES

Unequal assessment for poor rates was a grievance in 1721, (fn. 1) and the liability of the Royal Hospital to poor rates remained contentious. In 1721 Quarter Sessions forbade rating of Chelsea pensioners, (fn. 2) but after protracted litigation from 1747 the Hospital agreed in 1750 to pay a modus of £100 for its contribution to the poor rate. (fn. 3) By 1781 the vestry was complaining of the great cost of invalid soldiers and their families, attracted to the parish by the Hospital, who became dependent on casual relief; the cost was five times the modus, the workhouse had had to be extended, while houses were being left empty to avoid rates. After negotiating with the Hospital and the Paymaster-General and petitioning the county MPs, the vestry reluctantly accepted a grant of £200 in 1783. (fn. 4) In 1819 the vestry was using the argument of the burden of outpensioners' families in a petition against the second Sturges Bourne bill. (fn. 5)

Rates set by the vestry required magistrates' approval. Evasion of rate assessment by overseers, clerks, and others involved in parish administration provoked the justices' intervention in 1747. (fn. 6) In 1748 an overseer complained that he was £100 out of pocket because the JP refused to confirm the rate set; (fn. 7) in the same year Quarter Sessions dismissed as frivolous an appeal of 37 inhabitants against the rate, (fn. 8) while in 1767 the vestry refused a rate until it had seen overseers' accounts. (fn. 9) In the 1750s rates were normally set and due twice a year, (fn. 10) but in 1773-4 three small rates were set, apparently in dispute with the overseers. (fn. 11) In 1797-8 three rates were voted, (fn. 12) and from 1798 rates were set quarterly. (fn. 13) In 1786 the vestry compensated an overseer for costs in a parishioner's vexatious action against a distress for rates, (fn. 14) but an attempt similarly to compensate a collector in 1824 was declared illegal. (fn. 15)

THE LOCAL ACT AND THE PAROCHIAL COMMITTEE

By 1795 growing inequities in the poor-rate assessment were resented and a committee to equalize them was set up, its report being gratefully accepted, (fn. 16) but the next year Quarter Sessions supported a petition by Lady Mary Coke against the new assessment. (fn. 17) In 1811 it was resolved to apply for a local Act to enable better assessment and collection of rates, and to sell dust and household waste to reduce the highway composition. A committee of the rector, churchwardens, overseers, surveyors, and up to 21 others was to prepare the petition and Bill. In 1812, however, the committee's draft bill was rejected by the vestry and the proposal abandoned. It was revived in 1820, when a committee of 37 was appointed to draft the Bill, (fn. 18) which became law in 1821. It provided for a committee of 40 substantial householders, half from each end of the parish, to assess and set poor rates, appoint collectors, manage the workhouse and poor relief, and make bylaws. Becoming known as the Parochial Committee, and normally meeting weekly, they were statutorily re-elected in the spring. The Act also required the annual election of five auditors. (fn. 19)

The Act's operation was at first riven by faction, with the committee, despite an energetic start, denouncing the outgoing overseers, whose incompetence and waste were exposed in detail in 1822 by an ad hoc committee, the parochial committee and auditors denouncing one another, and the second committee, elected in 1822, denouncing its predecessor, while considerable bills and arrears of rates accumulated. The parish JPs at petty sessions were unable to receive attestation of the overseers' accounts for 1821-2, and thus no action could be taken at Quarter Sessions. The auditors' report on those accounts did not appear until 1824. (fn. 20) In 1823, however, a new committee proclaimed its intention to avoid party strife, and for some years rate assessment, the workhouse, and outrelief were managed systematically and conscientiously. From 1822 the meetings were often chaired by JPs. The committee spent most of its time discussing rate assessments and appeals, on weekly supervision of casual and pensioned poor, and checking accounts and bills; poor rate defaulters' lists were published in 1824. (fn. 21) It set up standing subcommittees for finance and for buildings, (fn. 22) the former meeting regularly and the latter later known as the workhouse committee. (fn. 23) A separate committee to equalize poor rates was appointed in 1823, and one of 25 besides the officers to revise the system in 1836; it appointed a subcommittee. (fn. 1) From 1823 rates were set thrice yearly instead of quarterly. (fn. 2) The arrangements of the 1821 Act continued until its repeal in 1841. (fn. 3) In 1825 the vestry voted to increase the collectors' poundage from the rates. (fn. 4)

POOR RELIEF: COSTS AND RATES

The average monthly cost of maintaining the poor between June 1745 and March 1746 was £35 gross, £34 net; two rates of 1s. in the £ were raised. (fn. 5) The cost of maintaining the poor in 1776 was £1,310, (fn. 6) and in the three years to Easter 1785 it averaged £1,936. (fn. 7) In 1802-3 more than that was spent on out-relief and a further £2,236 in the workhouse. (fn. 8) From a peak of £9,188 in 1813-14 expenditure fell, the full poor rate being £7,397 in 1816. The rate then increased yearly to £11,908 in 1820-1. Perhaps because of the effects of the St Luke Chelsea Poor Rates Act it then fell, to £8,316 in 1824, but from 1825 to 1835 it fluctuated between £10,608 (1826) and £15,625 (1832). Actual expenditure on the poor was sharply reduced from £9,000 in 1835 to £6,507 in 1836. (fn. 9)

Footnotes

15 Beaver, Memorials, 39.
16 Cal. Middx Sess. Rec. 1612, pt 2, 67.
17 Middx County Rec. Sess. Bks 1689-1709, 173, 186, 195, 200, 202.
18 Faulkner, Chelsea, II. 151-2.
19 Vestry orders, 1662-1718, ff. 66-7, 70, 129v.-135v., 250-9.
20 Middx County Rec. Sess. Bks 1689-1709, 333; Cal. Middx Sess. Bk Jan. 1714-15 Dec. 1718, 120; Jan. 1718/19-March 1721/2, 128; April 1722-Feb. 1726/7, 132; Jan. 1729/30-May 1732, 94; July 1732-Dec. 1735, p. 62.
21 Faulkner, Chelsea, II. 24-5; Beaver, Memorials, 322; Chelsea Settlement Examinations 1733-66, p. xvi (giving 1737 as opening date); LMA, P74/LUK/3; Thompson, Map (1836). In 1781, however, the vestry recalled building a large par. workho. in 1743 × 1750: Vestry orders, 1771-90, f. 70v.
1 Vestry orders, 1745-71, pp. 333, 345.
2 Ibid., 1771-90, f. 41.
3 Ibid., f. 100v.
4 Ibid., ff. 161-2; 1790-1809, pp. 366-8, 377-81; Faulkner, Chelsea, II. 25-6.
5 Vestry orders, 1790-1809, pp. 126-8.
6 Ibid., pp. 196-7.
7 Ibid., 1809-22, pp. 83-4.
8 Vestry mins 1822-33, p. 15.
9 Ibid., pp. 15-19; LMA, P 74/LUK/26, pp. 150-1, 160; Faulkner, Chelsea, II. 25-6.
10 LMA, P74/LUK/3, pp. 1-61.
11 Vestry orders, 1745-71, p. 19.
12 LMA, P74/LUK/3 [not paginated after 1744].
13 Vestry orders, 1745-71, pp. 54, 123-4.
14 Ibid., p. 333.
15 Ibid., 1790-1809, pp. 167, 173-4.
16 Ibid., p. 366.
17 Ibid., 1745-71, p. 139.
18 Ibid., 1771-90, f. 85.
19 Ibid., ff. 161v.-162; 1790-1809, pp. 127-8, 366-7; 1809-22, pp. 83-4.
20 Ibid., 1790-1809, pp. 207-10, 241-3, 313-14; 1809-22, pp. 5-7.
21 LMA, P74/LUK/3, pp. 10, 13, 17, 58.
22 Ibid., p. 42; Vestry orders, 1745-71, p. 176.
23 Vestry orders, 1745-71, pp. 141-2; LMA, P74/LUK/5, 1 March 1756.
24 Vestry orders, 1771-90, ff. 54v.-57.
25 Ibid., f. 99 and v.
26 Ibid., 1790-1809, pp. 240-2.
27 Ibid., pp. 296-8.
28 Ibid., pp. 315-29.
29 Ibid., 1809-22, pp. 7-16.
30 LMA, P74/LUK/26, p. 191.
31 Vestry mins 1833-9, p. 108.
32 Vestry orders, 1790-1809, pp. 26-8.
33 Ibid., pp. 205-12.
34 Ibid., 1809-22, p. 26.
35 Ibid., pp. 191, 273, 295, 340, 363, 384; Vestry mins 1822-33, pp. 11, 85, 129, 147, [1]64, 189, 221, 246, 271, 290, 301; 1833-9, pp. 3, 36, 100, 137, 171.
36 LMA, P74/LUK/27, pp. 281, 461-2. For the cttee, below.
37 LMA, P74/LUK/3, p. 42.
1 Vestry orders, 1790-1809, pp. 242-5.
2 Ibid., 1809-22, p. 183.
3 LMA, P74/LUK/3, pp. 2, 65.
4 S. and B. Webb, Eng. Local Govt [VII]: Eng. Poor Law Hist. pt. 1: The Old Poor Law (1927), p. 294; Vestry orders, 1745-71, pp. 136-9.
5 Chelsea Settlement Examinations 1733-66, p. xvii.
6 LMA, P74/LUK/93.
7 Vestry orders, 1771-90, f. 85.
8 Ibid., f. 97v.
9 Ibid., 1790-1809, p. 243.
10 Ibid., pp. 394-5.
11 Ibid., p. 407.
12 Vestry mins 1822-33, p. 31.
13 1 & 2 Geo. IV c. 67 (Local and Personal); LMA, P74/LUK/26, pp. 17, 21-3, 247; P74/LUK/27, pp. 18-21, 104, 182, 263-5, 343-5, 469-71.
14 LMA, P74/LUK/26, p. 315.
15 Ibid., p. 304; LMA, P74/LUK/27, p. 503.
16 BL, Sloane MS 4034, f. 67. For the char., above.
17 Vestry orders, 1771-90, f. 87v.; 1809-22, p. 199; Vestry mins 1822-33, p. 15.
18 Poor Law Abstract, 1804 (Parl. Papers, 1803-4 (175), XIII), p. 297.
19 Poor Law Abstract, 1818 (Parl. Papers, 1818 (82), XIX), pp. 264-5.
20 Vestry orders, 1809-22, p. 345.
21 Rep. Com. Poor Laws (Parl. Papers, 1834 (44), XXXV), p. 86g.
22 LMA, P74/LUK/3, pp. 19, 21, 26-8.
23 Ibid., p. 53; Vestry orders, 1745-71, pp. 4-10, 13, 146, 157.
24 LMA, P74/LUK/4, 22 Jan., 5 Feb., 22 Feb. 1750/1.
25 Vestry orders, 1771-90, f. 68v.
26 Ibid., f. 99v.
27 Ibid., 1790-1809, p. 26.
28 Ibid., p. 296.
29 LMA, P74/LUK/26, pp. 223-4, 262-3.
30 Ibid., p. 309.
31 LMA, P74/LUK/27, pp. 133, 136-7.
32 Ibid., pp. 302-3.
1 Cal. Middx Sess. Bk Jan. 1718/19-March 1721/2, p. 109.
2 Ibid., pp. 110-11.
3 Vestry orders, 1745-71, pp. 20, 23, 30-1, 84-9, 91-2, 113-14.
4 Ibid., 1771-90, ff. 62-96.
5 Ibid., 1809-22, p. 344.
6 Cal. Middx Sess. Bk Jan. 1744/5-Dec. 1747, p. 117.
7 Vestry orders, 1745-71, pp. 48-50.
8 Cal. Middx Sess. Bk Jan. 1747/8-Dec. 1751, p. 10.
9 Vestry orders, 1745-71, p. 317.
10 Ibid., pp. 130, 144, 152, 160, 163, 173, 175, 179, 183, 188, 195.
11 Ibid., 1771-90, ff. 15-16v.
12 Ibid., 1790-1809, pp. 134, 142, 147.
13 Ibid., pp. 168, 178-80; 1809-22, pp. 348, 350, 352, 360, 377-8.
14 Ibid., 1771-90, f. 142.
15 Vestry mins 1822-33, pp. 131, 135-6.
16 Vestry orders, 1790-1809, pp. 74-5, 89-90.
17 Ibid., pp. 99-101.
18 Ibid., 1809-22, pp. 56-8, 71-2, 367-9.
19 St Luke Chelsea Poor Rates etc. Act, 1 & 2 Geo. IV, c. 67 (Local and Personal); Faulkner, Chelsea, II. 27-8; Vestry orders 1809-22, pp. 386-7, 405; Vestry mins 1822-33, pp. 1, 126-7, 148, 168, 187, 291; LMA, P74/LUK/26, pp. 44 seqq.; S. and B. Webb, Eng. Local Govt [I]: The Par. and the County, 77-8.
20 The Times, 15 March 1824; LMA, P74/LUK/26, pp. 56-7, 69, 75, 78-9, 198-9, 211, 232-3, 239; P74/LUK/27, pp. 176-7; Vestry mins 1822-33, pp. 22-54, 101.
21 LMA, P74/LUK/26, pp. 334-6, 363-6, 402; P74/LUK/27; S. and B. Webb, Eng. Local Govt [I]: The Par. and the County, 77-8.
22 LMA, P74/LUK/26, p. 361; P74/LUK/27, pp. 481-2.
23 LMA, P74/LUK/28; P74/LUK/29, 1834-5.
1 Vestry mins 1822-33, pp. 91-2; 1833-9, pp. 122-3, 127.
2 LMA, P74/LUK/27, p. 49.
3 LMA, P74/LUK/28; P74/LUK/29; Chelsea Poor Law & Highway Act, 1841 (Local and Personal), 4 Vic. c 17, s. 50.
4 Vestry mins 1822-33, p. [150].
5 Vestry orders, 1745-71, pp. 4-10.
6 Rep. Cttee on Returns by Overseers, 1776, p. 101.
7 Abstract of Returns by Overseers, 1787, HC, 1st ser. IX, p. 143.
8 Poor Law Abstract, 1804 (Parl. Papers, 1803-4 (175), XIII), p. 296.
9 Above; Poor Law Abstract, 1818 (Parl. Papers, 1818 (82), XIX), p. 264; Poor Rate Returns, 1816-21 (Parl. Papers, 1822 (556), V), p. 100, Supp. App.; 1822-4 (Parl. Papers, 1825 (334), IV), p. 133, Supp. App.; 1825-9, (Parl. Papers, 1830-1 (83), XI), p. 117; 1830-4 (Parl. Papers, 1835 (444), XLVII), p. 114; Poor Law Com. 2nd Rep. (Parl. Papers, 1836 (595-II), XXIX), pp. 214-15.