Overseers of the Poor Account Books
It is six years ago when I was in Chris Fookes’ shed that I first saw three original Overseers of the Poor Books. They had somehow been saved by the Fookes family of Milton Abbas for 200 years. Little did I know then how important these manuscript books were. They are each over 200 pages long and crammed with minute detail of the payments to the poor over the years 1771 to 1836.
I did not know what an overseer of the poor was, and knew very little about the history of agricultural labourers, apart from the Tolpuddle Martyrs. What a voyage of discovery this has been!
Six years and sixty thousand records later they are now transcribed into spreadsheets for our members to research. We are beginning to write up They are so important for social history, how the lives of the people of a rural Dorset village played out in the Georgian era. There are so many questions which they can answer:
- what did the people mean by ‘poor’
- how poor were they?
- how long were they poor?
- how generous were the Overseers of Milton Abbas?
- did they get out of poverty?
- how did they fall into poverty?
- how much rent did they pay?
- how much did a baptism, marriage and funeral cost?
- how much did food and clothing cost?
- were they in debt?
- what medical treatments were available?