Southwold Railway Trust Archive of Wenhaston

History Note #36: The Poor

History Note #36: The Poor
From the poor in the village, to the House of Industry, and the rise of wages for workers

Domesday Book of 1086 indicated that many were poor in our village. There were 28 Borders listed. They held about five acres and were of low rank performing menial work for the Lord, and also three serfs who were no more than slaves at that time. Possibly a third to a half were in poverty.

Laws were passed in the 14th and 15th centuries punishing begging and vagrancy. The abolition of the monasteries in 1538 did not help as they gave some relief to the needy. Poor Laws passed in 1598 made each parish responsible for the poor within its boundaries. It was the duty of the Overseer Of The Poor to direct children to be taught a trade while older and infirm received money from the Poor Rate, which was payable by all owners of property. The Overseer had his office on the ground floor of the Guildhall.

Naturally a great drain on this fund was made and in 1662 a further Act was passed which produced ‘Settlement Warrants’ and ‘Removal Warrants’, which provided proof that one belonged to a particular village. In 1704 the annual amount collected by the Poor Rate was £15.12s.8d, raising by 1771 to £85.16s.2d. In 1740 an entry in the Overseer’s book shows 40 shillings being paid to William Parish to do surgery for the poor of the parish. This state of affairs could not last and the House of Industry appeared through the Workhouse Act of 1723. See a previous note on the House of Industry (History Notes no.4).

Wages for a carpenter in 1780 was 12 shillings a week and by 1830 it had risen to 16 shillings. A farm labourer in 1700 was paid nine shillings and two pence a week, rising in 1803 to 12 shillings and ten pence.