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Vestry Book


Towcester Parish Vestry Book is full of fascinating information about the poor of Towcester in the early 19th century. While the basis of the book is a list of the expenditure on the local paupers for those larger items that their weekly Poor Relief could not be expected to cover, such as shoes, clothing for those going as apprentices, and the provision of midwives, some entries can be unexpected. The rules which governed the poor are seen on occasion, for example, the able bodied boys are expected to stay in the Market Place all day, waiting for hire, to “earn” their daily relief.


Some paupers appear with regularity, such as Samuel Golby. Further investigation reveals a family of 10 children, only 4 of whom were living by the close of this book.  Reference to the patients’ records of Northampton Hospital reveals still further, that when he was 24, Samuel suffered a fractured thigh. While the hospital records him as “cured”, it is plain from his inability to keep himself that “cured” was somewhat relative.


Then there was George French. He must have sunk to some very low depths before applying to the parish – the first record is that “George French needs everything”.


The records were kept by the Overseers, and it is interesting to get a glimpse of the educational prowess of these local traders. Spelling and capitalisation are still somewhat lacking. Entries such as “ the Late Jinnings is House wants Repairing” are typical – “is” appears to be how the Vestry Clerk, Richard Crow, spelt ”his”.


There were three responses to a need expressed by the applicants – Allowed, Not, and Left. One wonders whether the first session was the first for a while, or maybe with a new Vestry, as a greater proportion than normal of the cases are “Allowed”. Those entries which are labelled “Left” appear to be those for which further investigation was deemed necessary.


Officials were appointed once a year, at the March meeting. There were Churchwardens, Overseers of the Poor, the Parish Constable, Parish Clerk and the Hayward (or Howard). This last individual was in charge of making sure hedges and fences were kept in good repair, to stop animals straying.


There were signs of the (economic) times. The Napoleonic Wars finished in 1815, releasing many soldiers and sailors onto the labour market. The price of bread was being kept high by the Corn Laws, while employees were laid off from industries no longer needed to supply a war-time army. Unrest was felt all over the country, with the march of the Blanketeers in 1817 and the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.


Towcester was not exempt from the economic pressures. The shoe industry was hit because the army no longer needing boots, and the lace industry by the resumption of the import of French lace. The Baptist Pastor reported in 1818 that “The trade is so bad some of the poor cannot pay for their seats”, and in 1819 “The continued falling off in those who used to pay for their sittings is occasioned by the continued decline in the lace business”.


The first Vestry in the book listened to 40 pleas, with 26 the following month. The one on 6th April 1817, just over a year later, heard 54, with 56 the following month. Many were asking for help with their rent, which was often disallowed. By May 1817, help was being given, indicative of the hard times many faced. By 1818, there was clear concern over how much money was being spent on the poor, and the Poor Rates were beginning to run at unacceptably high levels.


Even so, some paupers seemed curiously optimistic about what the Vestry might pay for. Thomas Webb, a middle-aged labourer with three children asked for ten shillings to buy a clock. One rather sad entry was a request by William Worth that his son might attend school. He was refused.

Many of the requests allowed were for items which would help a man gain or keep employment. Smock frocks were a common request, particularly for teenage boys starting work for the first time. Shoes were requested for men and children, but not usually for the women.


There were some curious items. Stephen Eales was threatened with having his relief withdrawn if he didn’t have his dog put down. A month later, he was requested to sell his pig to pay the rent.




For those who do not remember the old coinage,

                                    12d = 1s                      12 old pennies in one shilling

                                    20s = £1                     20 shillings in one £


One shilling was the equivalent of 5p today.


In Pre-metric measures, 1 Ell = 1 ¼ yards. 1 yard = 3 feet = 12 inches.


(1metre = 3 feet 3 inches)



An example of one Vestry:

At Vestry Held on the 6th Day of October 1816

John                Golston           wants  Sheets, 1s & Shirt                             Allowd

Sarah              Wilkins           wants 5s for Rent                                        Alowd

Thomas           Webb              wants  £2 12s for Rent & shirt  3 Child      6s Allow

William            Worth             wants  some Linning for Child                      3 Ells

John                Stamp             wants  5s for Rent & Pare Shoes Child       Rent Allow

Robert            Peddifer         wants  1s 6d a week more                             6d Allowd

Ann                 Crosland         wants  £1 3s 6d for Rent                             Allow

Samuel            Golby              wants  Some Cloth for is Children   ü

                        Samuel’s Son  wants  Pare Shoes                             ž          Shoes Allowd

Jess                Hillyard          wants  £1 10s for Rent                                 £1 Allowd

Joseph            Smith              wants  £6 0s for Rent  2 Ch                         Not

James             Sharp              wants  £1 6s for Rent                                   Allowd

Marey             Eales               wants  Sheet Cover Lid                                 Allowd

Richard           Norris             wants  Pare Shoes                                         Allowd

Hry                 Hammon          wants  Sheet                                                  Allowd

Gorge              Sammon          wants  2s a week                                           Allowd

[Thomas]        Barrett           wants  £1 7s 6d Rent                                    £1 all’ed

Thomas           May                 wants  Cloth for Children                             3 Ells

Richard           Oxley              wants  3s a week                                           2s 6d Allow

Samuel            Powell             wants  Cloth for is Children                         3 Ells

John                Harris             wants  Pare Shoes     4 Child                        Allowd

Thomas           Baker              wants  £1 10s for Rent                                 Not

William            Yatts              wants  £1 10s for Rent    4 Child                 £1 Allowd

Thomas           Hayle              wants  £2 7s 6d one years Rent                  £1 3s allow

Fanny              Aburn             wants  6d a week more                                 Not


P Phipps, John Inns               Churchwardens, Overseer

W. Norris, Benjamin Brown  Overseers

Richard Durham, Josiah Simco, George Gurney, Joseph Willsher