Overseers of the Poor Books

The Milton Abbas Local History group are excited to announce that we have today, 14 May 2018, completed our transcription of the Overseers of the Poor Account Book 1771 – 1798, that is 275 double pages, and we now have over 18 000 records in a searchable database.

A huge thank you to a team of transcribers from Australia, Canada and England, who have dedicated hundreds of man (and woman) hours on this unique project.

These give us an insight into the social history of Milton Abbas in the second half of the 18th century, just when Joseph Damer, Lord Milton pulled down the market town they had inhabited for over 800 years, and built some cottages in a valley out of sight for his estate workers to live in.

We now have an insight into the lives of the ordinary people – their poverty, their suffering, their diseases, their hardships, and the ruin of their livelihoods. And all because that “mighty, imperious Lord” wanted a nice view from his manor house.

This is a doubly unique achievement: we know of no other lost village who have examined their history in this way, nor are their searchable transcriptions of Overseers Books.

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In These Times, Jenny Uglow

Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars 1793 – 1815.

In These Times, Uglow, 2015

To quote the dust-jacket ” we know the thrilling, terrible stories of the battles of the Napoleonic wars – but what of those left behind? The people on a Norfolk farm, in a Yorkshire mill, ….”.

Just what I wanted, to see the impact of the wars, the Militia, the food shortages, the bread prices, the incomes on the rural poor. Unfortunately none of this is mentioned. It concerns itself with gentlemen (and ladies), politicians, polite society and the state machinery.

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Victorian Paper Cutter


This paper cutter has a handle of part of of a deer’s leg and is inscribed”Shot at Milton Abbas 1884″.

We have never seen anything like it before. Rather a long blade for a practical letter opener, so probably a souvenir of a hunting party to sit on some gentleman’s desk.

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The Retreat, James Downs, Exeter University

James Downs has shared his research on Aelred Carlyle at The Retreat, Milton Abbas around 1900. We are hoping that this excellent research will be published in due course.

Father Aelred was born Benjamin Fearnley Carlyle (1874–1955), and was a Benedictine monk. Their very small community was along Anglo-Catholic lines and they supported themselves for a short while in Milton Abbas. They had their own wooden chapel at The Retreat, but would process to use Milton Abbey.

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Overseers of the Poor

We are finding many entries which are baffling. For example in 1781

To Barbara Wife of Saml Fiander (Elop’d) 6
Mary Ridout Wife of Thos. (Elop’d) 2
Martha Vacher Spinster 4
Mary Lillington Wd in ye Almshouse 2
Mary Fiander, Wife of Robt F. (Elop’d) 4

Eloped here meaning absconded, went away. Robert and Samuel Fiander ended up in Newfoundland.

Their wives were left behind on poor relief.

Every year the Overseers paid “Gale money” to the Constable of the Hundred – what was this for?

With no Vestry Minute Books for Milton Abbas in the 18th century it makes it difficult to know what was going on.

Does anyone know of any other research into Overseers of the Poor Books of a rural parish of the 18th century?

Are there any books which cover the administration of the poor law from the point of view of an Overseer, or Churchwarden?

We have J H Bettey, Church and Landscape, 1987.


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The Tragic Tale of Ann Seager

We are transcribing the Overseers of the Poor Book  1771 – 1798. Thanks to John Quinn who transcribed these entries for 1777:

12 October Paid for one Pint of gine for Ann Seager

9 Nov Pd. Dockter Mock help taping Ann Seager

Pd. for Brandey for Ann Seager to wett the cloaths and Bandig when Taped 

Pd. for Cadle and Bandey for ann Seager

Pd. for 3 gurneys to Blandford hors and man for Ann Seager

Pd. Ann Seagers Furnel charges

There are many more tragic stories in this Overseers Book as well as an insight into the history of a rural village undergoing a profound change.

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18th Century weather

In order to understand our Overseers of the Poor records we would like to know what the weather was like in Dorset say 1770 – 1830.

In particular winter temperatures because these may be the cause of the expenditure on wood for the poor.

Also they may be part of the higher mortality in Jan – Mar when epidemics of fatal infectious diseases should have been lower?

One of our readers has found this site  And we know of Gilbert White of Selbourne, Hampshire records.

Now thanks to Pamela for finding this Met Office Hadley website which now gives us exactly what we wanted: monthly average temperatures 1659 – 2017, monthly rainfall 1766 – 2017, and seasonal temperatures 1659 – 2017.


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Gail Money

In the Overseers of the Poor books, once again we find the term “Paid the Gail money” £7 5s 0d, this time on 20 Jun 1779. Sometimes it is spelled “Gale”.

Since one entry said “Paid the Gale money to the Constable” we assume that this is for the gaol or jail somewhere.

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Robert Fiander sent to prison for poaching

Thanks to one of our correspondents we have found the Prison Admission Register which shows that Robert Fiander was committed for 3 months at the age of 15 from April to July 1819, for poaching. He was jailed the following year for the same offence.

At this time Caroline Damer was the owner of the Milton Abbas estate.

There may be more information in a newspaper report.

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Overseers of the Poor 1778

OoP p71 Crovining the grave

This entry is mystifying us. It seems to say “Paid the Expences of Crovining and Buring Burgundeys Child she had by John Hobbes £0 16s 7d”

There is no such word as “Crovining” in the full Oxford English Dictionary.

If the author meant “Crowning” why did he put a distinct dot over the “w”?

If he meant “Crowning” – what does that mean? “Crowning and burying an illegitimate child”?

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