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Article by Sue Comont based on records in Northamptonshire Record Office Ref: 285p/2, 6 and 9
The Payment of Poor Relief in Rushden 1821 - 1828

Click here to read extracts from the Poor Law Overseers' accounts

At this time, payment of poor relief was the responsibility of the Poor Law Overseers who levied rates to raise money and paid out relief to those in need. They were answerable to the Select Vestry who directed their activities and who were the leading men of the town. The Overseers were elected annually but the Select Vestry was an autonomous group who filled their own vacancies without reference to the general population. Relief was paid in cash but help was also given in other ways. The following is a brief examination of how relief was given to the poor in Rushden in the period 1821 - 1828.

In 1821, the Select Vestry comprised the following men:

J.M. Edwards

Thos. Williams

Mr Smith

Mr W. Chapman

Mr Edward Chapman

Mr Achurch

Mr Linnitt

Mr Codgebrook

Mr Manning

Mr Hockley

Mr Blott

Payment of cash relief

Much of the business recorded in the minutes is the simple and repetitive ordering of relief to be paid to parishioners who were in need. On 27 August 1821, for example, it was resolved that Daniel Baker’s family should be allowed 6s a week, Widow Barry 2s 6d and Cha. Denton’s family 6s 6d until further orders. The reasons why people needed help varied, and some would require long term assistance, while others needed it to see them through a short crisis, or for a particular purpose. On 10 September 1821 William Lawrence received 3s to enable him to go and find work, while Benjamin Pettit was to have 3s a week while he was ill. In July 1822 James Cunnington was allowed 2s 6d a week for as long as his wife was ill. At the same meeting it was resolved that Benjamin Pettit’s wife should be allowed 2s a week if her husband did not return. No detail is given about where he had gone, but he had probably gone looking for work, having recovered from his illness of the previous autumn. He apparently did not return as on 1 November 1823 Benjamin Pettit’s wife was granted 5s 6d a week. Illness was a common reason for relief to be granted on a short term basis. On 7 April 1825 William Parker was granted 1s a week while he was in the Infirmary, and also to be provided with such things as the Overseers should think necessary. On 15 July 1822 it was resolved that James Cunnington should have 2s 6d a week while his wife was ill in order to enable him to pay for a nurse. The minutes can shed light on epidemics in the town. On 17 October 1826 Thomas Wilmott was to have 5s a week while his family continued to be ill with the small pox as well as 10s towards his rent.

There was a concern to ensure that while they paid allowances where they were needed, payment did not continue longer than necessary. On 11 March 1822 it was ordered that the overseers should call at the house of John Clark and consult the surgeon as to his health. If he was found to be still bad, he was to be given 1s a week more. In contrast, at the same meeting, the overseers were to visit John Clayton’s wife and if she were found to be better, 3s a week was to be taken off her allowance.

The authorities were also very keen to reduce the amount of relief they paid and in August 1821 the overseers were directed to advertise for William Lynn who had absconded and left his family with no means of support and therefore chargeable to the parish.

Relief in kind

There are lists of names of large numbers of people who were in receipt of regular relief but while many people received cash handouts each week, payment in kind was also a frequent way of helping people in need. On 3 December 1821 Samuel Clark was to have a coat while on 28 January 1822 the overseers were ordered to stop 3s a week out of Hangar’s pay to buy shirts for his children. John Clark was to have flannel for a shirt in February of that year and William Knight received a pair of shoes in March, followed by a pair of stockings in July and in January 1823 cloth was to be purchased to make him a shirt. In May 1824 he was allowed 6s to buy another pair of shoes. Shoes were also provided for James Baker in June 1822 and a tin kettle for F. Carter was ordered in December 1822. In November 1822 Widow Bluffield was to have a shift, in February 1825 Widow Bayes was allowed 3s towards her coal bill and in September Widow Cook was to have two sheets and a blanket. In April 1826 T. Harris was to have cloth bought to make him two shirts and he was also to have a pair of stockings. G. Sykes was allowed 1s for a purse in May 1826 and Campion’s boy was to have some “small cloas” [under clothes] in December of that year.

Food relief

Food was another way of providing relief. On 28 March 1828 the allowance of bread to every person was given in half peck loaves as 3 for a man, 2 for a woman, 4½ for a man and his wife and 1½ for every child. In May 1828 Widow Sanders was allowed 2lb of meat to make broth for her sick child.


Help with employment was a good way of removing people from the list of paupers and this could take various forms. On 10 September 1821 it was unanimously resolved that Wm Lawrence should have 3s to enable him to go and find work while James Hewitt, in December of that year, was to be provided with some glass, lead and glazier’s tools.

Despite shoemaking in Rushden being mainly seen as a development of the late 19th century, in October 1821 the overseers were directed to purchase some shoe making tools for William Lynn and work at shoe making was to be found for William Thompson in October 1822. In November of that year Thomas Passelow was allowed “£1 now to get himself instructed in shoemaking and not trouble the parish any more.” The aim was always to enable the people claiming relief to become able to support themselves and their families again. Thomas Sanders, in November 1827 was allowed £3 to commence the weaving business and to buy a frame, which frame was to be the property of the parish.

The parish also paid money to able bodied out of work labourers for working for land owners in the town, and on 20 September 1822 ordered that the men who wanted to work should be employed to dig stone by the yard at 4d per yard and that no man be employed for less time than one week.


Apprenticeship was another way of making sure that the children of paupers could become self supporting. In October 1821 the overseers were to advertise for masters for 4 boys – Gross, Parker, Skinner and Baker. The parish was even prepared to pay a premium to get the boys apprenticed. In March 1822 the overseers were to enter into a written agreement with Thomas Smith to teach Thomas Knight’s son the trade of a shoemaker and in July they paid Joseph Curtis £4 for apprenticing his son to William Marriott.  In November 1827 an advertisement was sent to the Northampton papers for apprenticing some parish lads and this bore fruit as in December the Vestry resolved that “Joseph Baker be apprenticed to Wm Wall of St. Peter’s parish, Northampton for 7 years or till he is 18 years of age, the terms £11 - £6 when bound and £5 when he has served half his time, and that Charles Clark be apprenticed to Charles Smith of St Giles parish, Northampton for 8 years, the term £12, £6 to be paid when the lad is bound and £6 when he has served half his time.”

Apprenticeship could be a double edged sword. It was a good way of ensuring that the children of poor parents grew up with a trade or skill which would enable them to earn their own living and support their family in future therefore ceasing to be a burden on the parish. However, serving an apprenticeship in a parish was one way to gain a settlement in a parish, thereby making the authorities liable to pay poor relief if necessary. Apprenticing children out of the parish was therefore “a good thing” for the overseers, but they were not so keen to have apprentices brought into the parish from elsewhere. On 25 March 1822 a memo was made in the minutes – “ it appears John Pack has lately taken an apprentice from Bedford of which no notice has been given to the officials of this parish.”

Conditional relief

Help was not unconditional. In many cases relief was only offered if certain conditions were met. In November 1821 they resolved that Thomas Knight should receive 4s a week if he taught his son his trade, but only 2s a week if he did not. In November of the next year it was resolved that an allowance of 6d a week to Jane Mackness be stopped unless she consented to live with and take care of Sear’s wife. In January 1823 the overseers were to stop 1s a week out of Samuel Clayton’s pay if he continued to allow his wife’s sister to live in his house. In April 1823 a shilling was to be given to “the person who attends on Lynn’s wife” for herself in addition to his pay. Widow Perin in April 1825 was not to be allowed anything from the parish while she kept a lodger who did not belong to the parish. November 1826 saw the overseers ordering that Mary Baker had to send her son away or she would receive nothing from them. On 26 February the following year, M. Baker was granted 6d a week, so presumably she had indeed sent away her son. Henry Hanger was given a house for 1s a week in December 1827 on condition that he put his son Charles in school. On 7 October 1822 the Vestry ordered that handbills be printed and circulated to the effect that all poor persons who kept dogs or suffered persons lodging in their house to keep them should have no relief from the parish and that the Vestry would not sign the certificate in April exonerating such persons on account of their poverty from the window and assessed taxes.

Withdrawal of relief as punishment

Relief was used as a way of securing good behaviour on the part of the poor by withdrawing it as a punishment. June 1823 saw several instances of this:

“That the allowance of 3/6 per week to James Robinson’s wife be stopped in consequence of her bad conduct.

That William Lynn and Joseph Bailey be each stopped 3s in consequence of their having been at the public house on Saturday night.

Also that no payment should be made to Baker or Robertson while they conduct themselves so badly.”

Drinking in the pub seems to have been particularly frowned upon as the 3s punishment for this far outweighs the 1s per week which was deducted from John Clayton’s allowance for insulting and bearing false witness against Mr Chapman on 7 October 1822.

The Workhouse

Rushden  had a Workhouse at this period as although Workhouses generally date from after the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, it was possible for parishes to set up Workhouses before this date under an Act of 1723. There are frequent references to the Workhouse in the records. On 1 July 1822 it was resolved that June Mackness and Mary Hopkins should be allowed 6d a week each and that the former should go out of the workhouse. On 3 February 1823 “Wm Knight be not allowed any shoes and if dissatisfied with 2/9 per week is to go into the workhouse.” Robert Clark’s family were sent into the Workhouse on 4 August 1823 and James Ward on 4 September 1827.

Unlike the infamous Workhouses of the New Poor Law, these earlier Workhouses were houses of industry where the poor were put to work and their efforts sold to raise money. Often the enterprise was farmed out to an individual who would pay the parish so much per head for each inmate, hoping to make a profit by the sale of the work done by the poor. In Rushden William Denton farmed the Workhouse in 1823, paying 3s a head each week to the authorities for the privilege, but in April 1825 John Packwood took it over, paying 3s 6d per head per week. The Workhouse was also a place of confinement in the last resort; on 27 November it was ordered that “Mary Clark was to be put in the workhouse and to have the strait waistcoat on.”

Illness and relief

Family were called on initially to take care of people who were ill, but they did receive payment for it. In November 1822 the family of William Ellard were to be allowed 6s a week “if they confine him to the house but if he is seen away from home, Mr Chapman to pay them only 5s.” Sadly, in December, it was ordered that W. Ellard, a lunatic, should be got into Bedford Lunatic Asylum. His family were obviously unable to cope with him. Often it was the wife who was ill and other women in the town were paid to take care of them while the men went off to work, so in 1822 Jane Mackness was being paid 6d a week to live with and take care of “Sear’s wife.” “Lynn’s wife” also needed caring for and in April 1823 a shilling a week was to be given to “the person who attends on her”. In November 1827 the sum was increased to 1s 6d a week. Widow Elstow had 1s per week for attending to W. Sargeant in March 1824.

Many people were too poor to afford to bury members of their family when they died, so the parish paid for coffins. On 6 November 1826 the vestry allowed the cost of a coffin for “Mackaness’ child,” and the following year William Tompson was allowed a coffin for his child.


The overseers seem to have had considerable power to determine where people lived. In May 1823, after William Ellard had been removed to the Asylum in Bedford they ordered that “Wm Hensman and his family to be removed into Wm Ellard’s home and Daniel Baker’s family to be put into Hensman’s house.” In November 1827 they ordered a partition to be put across Sam Clayton’s house and on 7 March 1828 a wall was to be put across John Ward’s garden to fence it from Mr Spencer’s. The parish authorities also seem to have had houses which they rented out. On 22 October 1821 the overseers were “ empowered and directed to meet with Wm Rice for the purchase of his house,” and in December 1827 it was resolved that Henry Hanger was to have a house for 1s per week on condition of putting his son Charles to school.

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