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This 'Acte for the Reliefe of the Poore' marks the foundation of the Old Poor Laws. Under this Act, the responsibility of the parish was clearly established. The annual parish vestry meeting would elect unpaid Overseers of the poor, who, under the act, had the power to raise money by charging parishioners according to their ability to pay. This charge, called the Poor Rate, was originally a form of income tax, but evolved into a property tax or "rate" based on the value of real estate. Generally, the tenant rather than the owner paid it. Failure to pay could lead to a summons to appear before the Justices, a fine and sometimes prison.

By applying the money raised by the Poor Rate, the Overseers were able to provide food and clothing to the poor, and pay for the upkeep of the parish poorhouse. The aims of which were to provide work for adults, apprentice poor children and set them to work, and suppress and punish beggars and vagabonds, in some cases by admitting them to county "Houses of Correction".

Thus, every parish was a self-governing body, responsible for its own poor people.

Overseers kept account books, which recorded the poor rates collected and the payments made to and on behalf of paupers.

Here are some examples from Witheridge in the 1750's.

  • Paid William Hodge in need 1s.6d
  • Paid for 2 wastcoats for his children 6s.8d
  • Mary Warren several times in need 4s.
  • For a coat for her and making 4s.8d
  • For an under wastcoat for her 2s.3d
  • For a pair of shoes for her 2s.8d
  • For a shroud for her 2s.8d
  • For lying her forth and affidavit 3s
  • For a coffin for her 5s.6d
  • For making the grave and ringing the bell 2s.
  • Paid for her in all £1.6s.9d

The Devon and Exeter Hospital (the 'Royal' came later) opened in 1743. It was possible for parishes to subscribe to the new hospital and so become entitled to send patients there. Witheridge was one of first to subscribe. This may have been partly due to the fact the hospital's secretary was Witheridge man, William Chapple. In 1757 the parish was caring for Susannah Milford, and when she became ill they sent her on horseback to the new hospital in Exeter (Exon was the old word). Ambrose Burrow's wife went with her to care for her on the way.

  • Paid Susannah Milford at several times in need 8s.
  • Paid for cloathes for her and making when sent to ye hospital £1.3s.8d
  • Paid for a change for her 2s.7d
  • Paid for a coat and cloak for her to Exon 7s.
  • Paid for a horse to carry her to Exon 1s.
  • Paid Ambrose Burrows wife for keeping her and going to Exon 2s.6d
  • Paid for a pair of shoes for her 3s.3d
  • Paid for her in all £2.9s.10d
  • John Veysey was paid 5s 'for carrying Sarah Conelius to Exon'.

Some of the poor were helped on an annual basis.

  • Paid Grace Downey 50 weeks at 1s.3d per week £3.2s.6d
  • Paid Richard Chilcott 50 weeks at 1s. per week £2.10s
  • Paid Parkhouses child 50 weeks at 1s.6d per week £3.15s
  • Paid for a change for her 1s.
  • Paid for a coat and apron for her 2s.9d
  • Paid for Bechoram, Serge and Canvas for her 1s.4d
  • Paid Mrs Coles for keeping Collards boy 37 weeks at 6d per week 18s.6d

Parishes generally did not help those from outside their boundaries, but there were exceptions, as an undated entry reveals two poor sailors were paid 1s.

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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