The Role of the Overseers of the Poor

Following two brilliant presentations to the Milton Abbas Local History Group by members Clive Barnes and John O’Quinn, a number of questions were asked about the Overseers of the Poor of Milton Abbas.

The presentations are available on the Members Section of this website.

The Elizabethan Poor Law Act of 1601was a marked contrast to the degrading and inhuman Acts which had their inception with the passing of the Statute of Labourers.

The 1601 Act directs that in every parish “four, three or two substantial householders shall, under the hand and seal of two or more Justices of the Peace, be yearly nominated in Easter week, and that these, with the churchwardens, shall be overseers of the poor.” In order to carry out the provisions of the Act, the overseers were to raise “weekly or otherwise in every parish by taxation of every inhabitant, parson, vicar and other, and of every occupier of tithes, coal mines, and saleable underwoods in the said parish, “such necessary and sufficient” sum or sums of money as they shall think fit.” The funds so realized were to be expended in the following manner:

First. “For setting to work the children of all such whose parents shall not be thought able to keep and maintain them.”

Second. ” For setting to work all such persons, married and unmarried, having no means to maintain them, and who use no ordinary and daily trade of life to get their living by.”

Third. “For providing a convenient stock of flax, hemp, wool, thread, iron and othep ware and stuff to set the poor to work.”

Fourth. “For the necessary relief of the lame, impotent, old, blind and such other among them being poor and not able to work.”

In Milton Abbas the Easter Vestry nominated and appointed two Overseers for the forthcoming year. Our Overseers of the Poor Account Books run from 1771 to 1836. These records show that in Milton Abbas some paupers were nominated to receive regular payments for the forthcoming year every four weeks, these were called ‘months’, but were not calendar months. Some authors have referred to these payments as ‘pensions’, but this term was never used by our Overseers. There were other payments, which our Overseers referred to as ‘disbursements’, although this term was not used by them after 1804. These disbursements were for those in temporary need, often due to illness, as well as all other payments for expenses such as travelling to see the Justices, warrants, paper, etc. Our Overseers also paid for boots and cloth for the poor as well as doctor’s bills.

I will discuss Gilbert’s Act of 1782 and its impact on Milton Abbas in a later blog.

This entry was posted in history, local history, Milton Abbas, Old Town of Milton Abbas, Overseers of the Poor. Bookmark the permalink.

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