The surviving Overseers of the Poor books for Bottesford cover the period 1783 to 1825. In 1783 the poor rate was 1 shilling and 10 pence in the pound, raising a sum of £121.12s 1d. 1783 William Sansom recorded 9 people in the workhouse, for whom he made a payment of 14 shillings. He also made payments to eight other people, presumably those in need still living in their own homes. Of these, five were widows and four were men. The usual payment seems to have been 2 shillings a week.
Lists of payments can’t tell us what life was really like for the recipients of parish relief, but the accounts suggest that the overseers of this period were conscientious if not always generous. Perhaps they recognised how easy it was to fall into want through sickness, injury or misfortune and accepted their responsibility to care for their aged or infirm neighbours, for widows and orphans, and for those who had lost their livelihoods as a result of rapid economic change.
In addition to regular payments of one or two shillings of ‘out relief’, the overseers also sometimes paid the rent and bought, or had mended, clothing and bedding; sheets, shirts, shifts, stays, breeches, gowns and shoes are mentioned. Through the winter there are regular orders for coal, both for individuals and for the workhouse. Payments for ‘looking to’, or ‘doing for’ a family or individual in need are common Where possible unemployed men would be given paid work; ‘cleaning the causeway’ or ‘breaking the ice on the river’. Bread and ale was provided. Hand-loom weavers were paid for the cloth they produced.
The village workhouse, perhaps the building on Chapel Street sold by the parish in 1828, was maintained by payments for repairs, chimney sweeping, cleaning and also for mending utensils; for example a pail, a pan and a frying pan. Milk, cheese, butter, corn and barley were bought as well as flax and hemp for the inmates work. ‘Paid widow Wright for spinning 2s 1d ½.’ The barber was paid to shave men and sometimes also to bleed them, which cost less. Elizabeth Vincent was paid for washing and for ‘washing workhouse people’. There was medical care, with regular entries to ‘Mr Holmes his Bill Surgeon & Apothecary’, one even amounting to five guineas.
Every year there was an order for beef for the workhouse for the Bottesford Feast. In 1785 Overseer Scarborrow ordered ‘12lb of beef workhouse Christmas’ and ‘Bit of beef workhouse people Feast 13lb’ when there were only six people in the workhouse. Maybe the Overseers shared in the largesse. Payments for ‘garden stuff’ and ‘cowdung’ suggest a workhouse vegetable plot. When they were considered old enough, ‘pauper’ children were apprenticed. Their indentures were paid for and a new outfit was purchased. Hollingsworth’s boy got ‘a coat, two waistcoats making, new shoes, shoes mending’.
One of the commonest entries is for funerals. The Parish seems to have given a decent burial, with the cost of laying out, bearers, grave, bell and ale covered by the parish. Sometimes a coffin was also paid for, an expensive item at 10 shillings.
Often these entries summarize a sad sequence of events. Thomas Scoffin was one who regularly received 2 shillings and coal from the parish. On May 18th 1784 Sarah Hollingsworth was paid 2s 6d for ‘nursing Scoffin’s daughter 5 days.’ On May 23rd an entry reads: ‘Pd for the Bell and grave for Scoffings daughter1s 8d’. The Parish Register tells us this was Sarah, aged 13. On May 29th, ‘Pd for the Bell and grave for Scoffin child 1s 8d’ , Mary, age unknown. On June 3rd, ‘Pd to four bearers for Thos Scoffin’. June 5th , ‘Pd to Sarah Lamb & Susanna Bugg for nursing and laying out Thos Scoffin 5s 6d. The Bell and grave for Scoffing 1s 8d’
Any ratepayer could be called upon to serve as an overseer of the poor, but in a large parish like Bottesford they were usually the most prosperous members of the community. Names like Sansom, Kettleborrow, Hands, Hough, Vincent and Ravel are familiar from monuments and charities. Normally this was a role reserved for men, but in1801 Mary Guy served as an Overseer. As ratepayers the Overseers had an interest in keeping the poor rates down. It was their duty to apply the settlement laws, which meant that anyone moving into the parish or claiming relief had to prove their right of settlement in the Parish, usually by birth or apprenticeship, serving as a parish officer or renting a £10 tenement. There were often considerable sums involved where settlement was disputed: postage, horse hire, expenses for inns and stabling in neighbouring towns, settlement examinations, warrants and removals of people to other parishes could be costly.
The reluctance of parishes to take responsibility for anyone who might become a burden on the poor rates must have caused distress, particularly to pregnant women and families with children. Sarah Arnold, recorded in the Parish Register as having an ‘illegitimate daughter’ had her claim on the parish examined. Unless she could prove her right to settlement she could be removed to the parish where the overseers believed she belonged. Quite often such settlement disputes involved prolonged and costly litigation between parishes, with the expenditure on fees exceeding the cost of granting poor relief.
Sampson Wrath’s case seems to have been particularly complicated, requiring several trips to Newark. It must have been an anxious time for his wife Sarah. The Overseer records: ‘to Abigail Thatcher for Delivering & nursing Wrath’s wife 11 shillings’.
A remarkably large amount of money seems to have been spent on Widow Marriots cow and pig. A total of £3 15s 7d1/2, for pasture, carriage and tolls.
The most surprising entries, however, are the three marriages the parish paid for between 1784 and 1785.In September 1784 they paid ‘expenses upon Robt. Hollingworth marriage £1 17s 6d’. In 1785 £2 19s 5d was ‘expended on Edward Pilgrim’s marriage.’ On August 1st. 1785 Wm Scarborough of Redmile, widower, married Sarah Hubbard, widow, in St. Mary’s at the Parish’s expense, with an additional 5 shillings ‘to Mr. Hillson for Ale at the wedding.’
It is tempting to imagine Overseers of a romantic disposition playing cupid, but the explanation is probably more prosaic. Presumably the parish made this investment in the hope that it would ultimately reduce expenditure. Sarah Hubbard, for example, would be settled in Redmile and her husband would be responsible for her support. We can only hope the outcome was a happy one for all concerned.