Overseers of the Poor Books

The Milton Abbey Local History group is fortunate indeed to have access to three of these books.

Thanks to a team of volunteers in Canada, Australia and England we have now completed the transcription of  the first of these books which covers the period 1771 – 1798. We now have 18 000 records in a spreadsheet which makes searching for the names of people in Milton Abbas so easy.

This is precisely the period when Joseph Damer, Lord Milton built himself a new mansion and removed the Old Town of Middleton.

From this huge effort not only do we know the people receiving poor relief and how much, and why, we also know the people who were paying rates and how much.

We have begun the analysis of these records which clearly show the impact of the wars with France and the move of the Old Town.

We are now beginning to photograph the next Overseers of the Poor Book which covers the period 1798 – 1818. We are looking for volunteers to help transcribe it. This book will be important to show the changes which took place all over England during the French wars with huge price rises, increasing poverty and the frustrations of the lower classes who were powerless and landless. We are looking forward to seeing the impact on our community.

This is a fascinating insight into the social history of the late 18th century. What we really would like is advice on how to analyse these records from social historians or others who have undertaken such research.

There are many questions we can think of:

  • How do the regular payments change with time? Does this correlate with epidemics, grain prices, winter temperatures?
  • how were the rates apportioned between the rate payers?
  • How did the number of people receiving poor relief change with time?
  • When is the first and last occurrence of different family names? Where did these families come from and go to?

We are sharing our results with our members and transcribers.

A typical page from the Overseers of the Poor Book:

7, 1771-12