Hard Times: The Poor Law In Whilton

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Whilton Local History Society met for this talk on 17th July 2008.   As we have been celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the National Health Service in 2018, this is a reminder about what life was like here before the Welfare State.  


We dipped into several periods of history.  One was the year 1699, a particularly busy time for our overseers of the poor.  Overseer Robert Carr was a yeoman, belonging to an old Whilton family.   William Garner had come from Long Buckby to marry Mary Ball of Whilton in the same year.  This was a sad time for him, as following the birth of his baby son, John, his new wife Mary was buried the same year. 


Just before Christmas in 1698 a pauper family arrived in Whilton  with the order to our overseers and churchwardens that Whilton was “hereby required to receive and provide for them as settled inhabitants there.”  The family had come from Ashby de la Zouche via Achurch in Leicestershire, where they had become chargeable to the parish, but could claim no right to stay there. The Achurch overseers claimed  they were legally residents of Whilton, because William had lived here for two years as a servant of John Butlin of Whilton.  Whilton did receive them and Widow Elizabeth Edmunds was called upon to provide lodging, but this was not seen as a permanent solution.  By Easter the next year Whilton was appealing against this order.  There is no record of the outcome, but as I have found no further record of this family, perhaps they did move on to another parish. They may not have had a comfortable stay here.


There were other problems connected with the stay of the Peake family. When they arrived in 1698, one of the overseers was Thomas Mutton, a husbandman, who had recently built a new house here, the building we know as “Dormer Cottage”.  For some reason Thomas Mutton collected the poor rate, which should have covered the payments to Widow Edmunds, but failed to deliver.  There was also some suspicion over his accounts. The Justices became involved. On 1st July 1699 they ordered the Whilton constables to bring Thomas Mutton on Saturday next to: “ Baylys Coffee House in Northampton by two of ye clock in ye after noone to show cause why he deteineth money in his house due to ye Towne being collected by him in ye time of ye execution of his office refuseing to give an account of ye same, and you are to charge ye said Thomas Mutton to produce the Towne book of accounts and bring it with him.  Hereof faile not.”        


It was in the following week that the new overseer, Robert Carr, was ordered to pay Widow Edmunds, her sixteen shillings  “for receiving into her home a man, his wife and child by direction of ye inhabitants of Whilton.”.  Presumably the money had been recovered from Thomas Mutton.


The overseers had other anxieties that summer.  Whilton had some “town houses”, which we would call almshouses today.  These almost certainly stood by the Green, facing the Church, roughly at the end of the modern Dove Close entrance. In 1699 three townhouses were burned down.


William Dunkley and William Tomalin , who were probably the churchwardens, were ordered by the Justices of the Peace to report on the cost of rebuilding.   It appears that their first quote of £17-7-11 was not acceptable, as on 9th June 1699 they were sent back to consider their valuation and ordered to report to the Justices at Bayly’s Coffee House in Northampton by Saturday next.  

The two remained firm and would not reduce their estimate.  On 16th June it is recorded that they said: Wee William Tomalyn and William Dunckley upon a second reference of ye matters mentioned having thoroughly considered the same doe…report as wee have already reported (that is to say) that the charge in repaireing the above said houses cannot in the whole as neere as we can compute itt amount to be less than £17-7-11.” (The townhouses were certainly rebuilt, and were finally sold off in 1837 following the building of Daventry Workhouse, after the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.)


The expenses of the churchwardens and overseers in going backwards and forwards to Northampton  were carefully recorded.  Spelling was a challenge. The account was headed: “Charges for attending  one the guestesses”  and the “oufer seares attended one the justesses 7 dais.”


We moved on through time and saw how two centuries later Whilton paupers were sent  to the Daventry Workhouse. In the early 1880s a number of our parishioners were living there.  These included  Thomas Linnell , aged 82 when he entered the Workhouse in 1880.  He was described as “not able bodied” and came to end his life there.  In the next year the Dodd family arrived.  Fanny, a laundress, pregnant with “infant Dodd,” brought with her Ellen and Charles, identified as “illegitimate children of inmate”.    Ellen and Charles had both been born during previous stays in the Workhouse.  “Infant Dodd” died after 7 ½ weeks, but the family remained inmates for a year or two.  In fact “infant Dodd” had a name.  He was buried in Whilton as George Arthur.  


The Dodd family had old Whilton connections.  Fanny  appears to have been brought up here by her grandparents, Thomas and Hannah Andrews of Whilton.  Thomas Andrews was very likely descended from the Thomas and William Andrews who both suffered from sciatica in the 1700s and were treated in Northampton Hospital.


By Michaelmas 1882, Thomas Linnell and the Dodds were still there, and yet another Whilton family had arrived at the Workhouse, but through different circumstances.  George Lewis, Mary Ann and Isabella were the children of Joseph and Sarah Ann Adams.  Joseph was a farm labourer living at Whilton Locks and Sarah the daughter of William Boot, a gardener.  In giving birth to their fourth child, Sarah Ann died.  Joseph had difficulty in managing and for a while the children were in the Workhouse.  Thus for a period Whilton was paying for 8 people in this harsh regime.


Most of us agreed that, despite its shortcomings, life under the current system is a great improvement.