New information revealed

We are working our way through transcribing the Surveyors of the Highways records that we have in our possession. They show both the people paying the poor rates and their assessment, and the accounts which give the names of the labourers being paid and how much. This is important information because it comes before the first Census of 1841 for Milton Abbas.

We have completed the rate book for Milton Abbas 1837 (our ref #496). This shows the names of those paying poor rates:

The Honorable H Damer
The Revd L Masterman
Thomas Fox Esq
George Roberts
Robert Ingram
Samuel Jerrard
George Tett
John Keynes
Robert Rogers
Jacob Webber
James Wallis
Robert Miller
John Ham
Mariah Hawkins
David Bertie
John Jacobb
William Jeaffery
John Masey
Fanny Dyer
John Jukes
Robert Lovell
Jonathan Morey
Revd T Tyrwhitt
William Smith
Lititia Spinney
Richard Bellamy
Thomas Caddy
John Keynes
John Ham
Elizabeth Bellamy
John Cross
Elizabeth Woodward

These are the wealthy people of Milton Abbas. If you have any of these people in your family tree then please contact us for more information. We would love to hear from you.

There will be a list of the labourer’s names coming soon. And a long list of those who were too poor to pay the rates! Then there will be a list of the poor who were being paid for mending the roads for a little as 6d per day. Poor indeed.

There will be more information about the ag labs of Milton Abbas at our forthcoming exhibition 28 – 30 August in Milton Abbas. Looking forward to seeing you there and discussing your ancestors.

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Overseers of the Poor Account Books

The Milton Abbas Local History Group have transcribed 60 000 records of all their Overseers of the Poor Account books from 1771 to 1836, and we are finding they are a fantastic resource for researching local and family history. They are unique records in which the poor are detailed with their names, and what things cost. Every aspect of life is covered – illness, doctors, medicines, treatments, nursing care, moving, funerals, lying in, travelling, old age, clothing, shoes, bedding, chimney sweeping, house rent, who is paying rates and how much. This information gives an insight into the social history of each parish. As just one example, this entry occurs in the Overseers accounts for Milton Abbas in April 1800 “Mr White for Extra Gristing £7 8s 6d”. This led me to explore the events around this time concerning the poor, and write an article and a presentation on the subject. It was possible to chart the price of grains, the amount spent by the Overseers, the amount received by each of the farmers and the amount of rates paid. This information, together with the mortality and birth rates for just this parish show just how tough the years around 1800 were, and how the tenant farmers, miller and overseers handled the situation. Another example is how smallpox was dealt with by the parish – but that is for another blog.

Also for family historians the Overseers of the Poor account books can tell the story of their individual ancestors in need, what illnesses they had, when they suffered from poverty, when they had enough to live on. This information with other documents such as bastardy records, removal records allows a full picture of an ancestor’s life to be told.

I am surprised that family historians are not using their parish records of the Overseers of the Poor moor. A trawl through magazines such as Who Do You Think You Are? and Your Family Tree produces nothing relevant. The great thing about these records is that they are available for many parishes before the censuses and the Union Workhouses, so if you have traced your family back before 1841 they are an essential resource, why not check out the Dorset History Centre catalogue to see if your parish Overseers Accounts are there? Also search this website to our progress on the Overseers of the Poor.

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Exhibition 28 – 30 August 2021

At last! Now we can hold our exhibition. We have so much to show that it will be in both St James Church, Milton Abbas and the Reading Rooms, Milton Abbas.

Lots more details here.

We do hope you can get here to meet us – there is lots to talk about over a cup of tea and cake, and we are very much looking forward to meeting you in person to share our excitement.

In case you can’t make it, we are hoping to video our displays with a commentary and put it on this website.

A huge thank you to our researchers who have made this possible.

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You must be interested in history or you wouldn’t be looking at our website!

Researching history can be lonely, we know what it is like, we have been doing it a long time! But it is exciting too – the chase for that vital piece of information, that brick wall broken through, that old document revealing something that you hadn’t even considered before. 

Even when you have done the research, the writing up is just as challenging and time consuming. You have to make judgements based on imperfect information, you might be frightened of making mistakes or being criticised when your work is seen by others. 

That is where just talking to others who share your passion and interest is so helpful. Come along to our meetings whether on ZOOM or live and the ideas of others will inspire you. Sharing your ideas and research is so helpful, and you will be making such a contribution to our shared culture and heritage.

Our members will help you research and publish, whether it be by exhibiting or presenting or website or blog or article or book.

You can join us for just £10/year. Contact us here.

It would be great if you followed our website – just click on the blue button to the right of any page.

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Stop Press! Latest Findings

From a lease of nearly 250 years ago!

We have recently transcribed this lease which is in the Dorset History Centre. It confirms that in 1773 the trustees of the school were active and looking after the free grammar school of Milton Abbas, which was then already 250 years old. In fact this grammar school was founded in 1521 so would be celebrating its quincentenary this year.

The income for the school to pay the master and maintain the buildings was considerable at £129 per year plus £5 per year for every acre of meadow at Little Mayne Farm. The school would have been considered well endowed indeed. We have not found any evidence that the pupils at the school paid any fees – hence its status as a “free school”. However since most children were at this time needed to help with the land, it is likely that only those of the better off tradesmen and farmers could take advantage of the education.

Little Mayne Farm had been endowed to the trustees to run the Milton Abbas Free Grammar School since 1521 and this endowment paid for the running and maintenance of the school.. 

The trustees were the great and good of Dorset, with the exception of Joseph Damer, Lord Milton, who the trustees never accepted to join them despite his demands to do so.

The thirteen trustees named in this lease of 1773 were:

  • Sir William Hanham, Baronet, of Deans Court, Wimborn Minster
  • George Chafin, Esquire, Chettle 
  • Henry Bankes, Esquire, Kingston Hall (Kingston Lacy)
  • Thomas Gundrey, Esquire, Dewlish
  • Edward Berkeley, Esquire, Winfrith
  • Edmund Morton Pleydell, Esquire, Milborn Saint Andrew
  • Henry William Portman, Esquire, Brianston
  • Richard Bingham, Esquire, Melcombe
  • Henry William Fitch, Esquire, High Hall
  • Radford Gundrey, Esquire, Dewlish
  • David Robert Michel, Esquire, Dewlish
  • Jonathan Morton Pleydell, Esquire, Bath
  • George Bingham, Esquire, Batchelor in Divinity

The Trustees were soon to be involved in a long running legal battle with Lord Milton, who claimed to his peers in the House of Lords that the school was ‘much decayed’, which the evidence from this lease shows was not the case.

The grammar school continued until 1929 despite being moved by Lord Milton to Blandford in 1785.

Little Mayne Farm

Is in West Knighton parish, 3½ miles east of Dorchester. Its recorded history begins in Domesday Book, but it passed through several owners until it was acquired by the Abbot of Middleton from Thomas Kirton in 1521. There was once a medieval village here and the remains lie in the area to the north, south and south-west of Little Mayne Farm.

About the document

This is called “An Indenture”, and many deeds and other legal documents started with this phrase. It simply means that it was copied on to one sheet and then the copies separated with a wavy knife cut, a copy given to the two parties involved.

Note that there is no punctuation, nor paragraphs in the document, which is typical of legal documents, so that the meaning could not be changed by inserting a punctuation mark or extra words. There are many repeats, for example the full list of thirteen trustees are listed fourteen times, this makes it very tedious indeed to transcribe. Many words of the 18th century, especially legal terms, have different meanings to our modern understanding – see the glossary below

Certain key words are highlighted in bold, such as Witnesseth  – these separate the parts of the deed.

What it means in modern English

This is a lease for 8 years to a farmer. The owners of the land are the trustees of Milton Abbas Grammar School. The master of the school had to maintain the school buildings and teach the pupils, but probably had direct access to the money from the rent. 

There were a lot of conditions on the farmer as to what he could do with the land, he did not have any rights over the trees, he had to supply 200 reed sheaves for thatching the farm buildings, he had to provide two days carriage with his horse and cart, and he had to maintain all the buildings, fences and gates on the farm. If the rent was more than 28 days late then the trustees could repossess the farm.

You can help

If you are intrigued by this type of document and what it means to local history then please get in touch via our contact page.

There will be more information on Milton Abbas Grammar School at our planned exhibition – 28 – 30 Aug 2021.

Posted in Damer, exhibitions, grammar school, local history, Milton Abbas, social history, transcription | 3 Comments

Poor House or Work House?

Did you know that there was a Poor House in the new village of Milton Abbas? This was not called a work house in our records until 1804, and was built after the houses in the Street but before the map of 1806. 

One of the people in this poor house may be your ancestor. If their name was one of these then get in touch and tell us more about them.












We have quite a lot of records about the people at this time, including the Overseers of Poor and the Surveyors of the Highways, so we know if they were working ‘on the roads’, how much they were being paid, and whether they were receiving benefits.

By the 1841 Census it was called the ‘Old Poor House’ and was then housing fourteen families, their names can be found in the opcdorset transcription. There were 68 people living here in one large house which is no longer there, but occupied the land between what is now the Hambro Arms and the Post Office. We have an image of it from about 1810 with men outside in ‘stovepipe’ hats. It must have been crowded as there were 14 men, 14 women and 40 children. There were some young couples included, and most of the men were able bodied and their occupation is given as ‘Agricultural Labourer’, probably working on the Milton Abbas estate and its six farms. It seems that even when it was called a workhouse the inmates were not forced to work at picking oakum or other menial task. That all changed after 1836 when paupers were sent to the Blandford Union Workhouse, and we know the names of some of the people who went from Milton Abbas there.  From our transcriptions of the Overseers of the Poor accounts we know that bread, butter, beef and cheese was being supplied to the ‘workhouse’, so it appears that they had a reasonable diet compared with the dreaded Union Workhouses where gruel was the order of the day.

If you would like to share more of the social or family history of the rural poor then we would love to hear from you.

If you would like to use our transcriptions of the Overseers of the Poor, or the bills and receipts of the shopkeepers and suppliers to the poor, then you can join our group for £10 per annum.

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Every parish had its Overseers of the Poor who were responsible for raising the ‘poor rates’ and for the payments to the poor. The agricultural labourers (ag labs) in Dorset at this time were some of the poorest in the country on very low wages. There were many who had been injured at work, or who were too old to work or had died, leaving their families with hardly any income. There may not have been work available every week of the year either, and hence fluctuating income. As well as the Almshouses for ‘six poor widows’, there were many people in temporary or permanent need and there had been a system in place for centuries to help them. This relief of who and how much individuals were to receive was decided on at the Vestry meetings, and there were two different payments: one ‘monthly pay to the poor’ was fixed, and every four weeks the individual would receive so many shillings, the other ‘disbursement’ was for extra needs, when work was unavailable, or injury prevented work, or the winter was hard, or any other case considered worthy. ‘Disbursements’ were also paid by the Overseers for other expenses, such as going to Petty Sessions, buying paper for the accounts, getting the JP to sign the accounts, removing paupers to other parishes, and many other ad hoc items. The Overseers of the Poor Account books for Milton Abbas cover the period 1771 – 1836 without a break, and are an excellent resource for local and family historians. We have transcribed all these records so that they can be searched, a total of 60 000 records. Just a few entries in these accounts mention grist for the years 1800 and 1801. Nevertheless these entries help us understand what was going on at a local level in these very disturbed times, and how people were affected. 

We have researched the use of grist for feeding the poor in Milton Abbas. We would love to know how other parishes managed these very difficult times. Of course, we know that the Speenhamland system began in some parishes which tied the cost of bread to the poor relief, but this was not used in Milton Abbas.

Do get in touch here if you have looked at the Overseers of the Poor records for your parish around 1800.

We will be publishing our research in due course.

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St Samson of Dol

Also spelled St Sampson.

In a recent article in Current Archaeology (373, April 2021), Chris Catling has written an article on the evidence of early Christianity in western Britain.

St Samson was extremely important for Milton Abbey, or at least his relics were, because they were one of the founding gifts given by King Athelstan in 934 along with 120 hides of land (perhaps 14 000 acres) across Dorset. These relics are alleged to have included an arm and his crozier. The land was a very magnificent gift indeed, and one that kept Milton Abbey going as a Benedictine monastery until its surrender at the Dissolution in 1539. St Samson is one of the better know early British saints due to a biography – Vita Sancti Samsonis – being written sometime between 610 and 820. He was born in Wales to noble parents around 485, they place him when he was young with Saint Illtud, abbot of Llantwit Fawr, where he was raised and educated. He became abbot of the monastery at Caldey Island, Wales, and later a bishop. He travelled widely in Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Scilly Isles, Guernsey and Brittany.  

Interestingly, Milton Abbas has another connection with Caldey Island, albeit a much more recent one. Around 1900 a group of monks formed a community under Father Aelred Carlyle and lived at The Retreat. They then moved to Caldey Island. See our blog.

He became bishop of Dol, Brittany, and was later buried there. King Athelstan had good contacts with Brittany and it was the then Bishop of Dol who gave Athelstan the relics.

St Samson’s feast day was on 28 July and this date would have been celebrated in the Abbey of Milton and its estates. The relics would likely have formed part of a procession around the fields of Milton Abbas. A three day fair was granted in 1280 by King Edward I to the Abbey on the feast of St Samson. This became a very important fair and yielded the second highest subsidy (tax) in Dorset in 1337. We continue the tradition with the Milton Abbas biennial Street Fair today. Over one thousand years of history!

For more information on St Samson there is an article on wikipedia, a biography in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and more in The Catholic Encyclopedia. For a comprehensive history of Christianity see Diarmaid MacCulloch History of Christianity.

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Mount Pleasant, Dorchester

Not Milton Abbas, but some news which may be of interest to those interested in prehistory and archaeology is a new study of Mount Pleasant, Dorchester. I have found this enigmatic henge the most interesting of all prehistoric monuments since I first learned of it twenty years ago. It is one of only five mega-henges, and is about 350m across, it is the only one of these built on top of a hill and it had a complete inner palisade of 1300 tree trunks up to 1.6 m diameter and standing 5m above ground. It must have looked stunning in the landscape, but what its purpose was no one now knows. It is now a ploughed field near The Trumpet Major, Dorchester, and was excavated in the 1970s by Geoffrey Wainwright. The artefacts which were uncovered are stored in the Dorset County Museum and it is these which have provided the new radiocarbon dates which shows that it was built around 2500BC in just 100 years. There is also an article in Current Archaeology Feb 2021. For more information and reports, contact us.

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Your family history!

Tired of reading books about kings and queens, the rich and famous? Fed up with Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn? The lives of ordinary people are just as tragic, difficult, triumphant and revelationary. How your ancestors survived the traumas and difficulties that life threw at them is surely more interesting. The diseases, doctors and treatments, their toil, their brushes with authority and justice, their rights and freedoms, their food and cooking, their clothes and washing, shopping, entertainment and every other aspect of their lives must be compared with our lives today.

A troll through the 100 or so books mentioned in the Christmas edition of BBC History magazine would tell you otherwise – no social history whatsoever – unless you are black. From Byron to Chaucer from Richard III to Hitler, the books of 2020 are all about the people who are NOT in your family tree!

Overseers of the Poor

For a totally different take on history we are exploring the lives of ordinary people. Using documents and the surviving buildings we are telling their stories – what offences they committed, how the courts dealt with them, how their houses were destroyed and moved, how they were paid, how they worked, teenage pregnancy, what the doctor could do for them, what taxes they paid, how those in need were treated, how they cooked and ate, how they tried to improve their conditions, how their children were treated, what the church meant to them, what they were paid for catching vermin…. and the thousand other affects on how they lived. 

There can be no doubt that the ordinary people have been oppressed at least since the Norman conquest by their masters and the political system, how they fought for improvements is an enlightening story for us today 

Why not join us to find out more. If you are not hooked on history already, you may be soon. Be warned – the excitement of research is addictive!

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