Risley with Hopwell Parish Council

Serving the people of Risley with Hopwell

Clerk RFO: Sue Dunkley
34 Sparrow Close, Ilkeston
Derbyshire DE7 4PW

Tel: 07854591073

Chapter 4


As in the case of the Constable and the overseer of the Highways someone had to be found each year to undertake the post of Overseer of the Poor. It was not a popular job since it took quite a lot of time and was unpaid, and so a rota of those eligible was made, and women if they owned land had to serve their turn just as did the other landowners. Mary Alsop was Morley Overseer of the Poor for a year in the 1790s. Sometimes a parish might hire an overseer, but Morley in 1788 decided that this should not be done until everyone who was. eligible for duty had served their turn.

Each parish was responsible for everyone born in it or who had been settled there for over a year, unless the Overseer had applied to their native parish to determine that if they needed help their original parish would accept the responsibility. It was because of this sys¬tem that each parish tried to keep out new sett¬lers and to keep paupers on the move back to their home parish. The money came from a rate levied each year by the Overseer in committee mith the parish vestry, and a popular Overseer was one of course who kept the rates down. In 1788 the levy in Morley was one shilling in the pound of rateable value, but in the following year was only fourpence. In England as a whole however rates were rising rapidly in the eighteenth century from one million pounds in the 1750s to ten million pounds in the 1800s. This was the major reason why 1833 saw the start of the notorious workhouse system.

Poor relief wasn't all of an Oliver Twist nature however. Morley was a small parish, only forty-eight families were listed in the 1801 census, and everyone must have known everyone else and have known their opportunities and their difficulties.

When 1800 Thomas Smith was thrown into jail at Lenton in Nottingham the vestry decided 'the said Pauper's family is to be immediately brought home to Morley' and the words 'home to Morley' have a welcoming ring to them.

The principles on which poor relief were given in Morley were the same as those generally current in England as a whole. In 1780 they were set in the minutes of a vestry meeting:-

1. No new settlers were to be admitted unless they brought a certificate from their last place of legal settlement, accepting responsibility for them if they became paupers. For example Morley itself sent an acknowledgement to Brails¬ford in 1779 that Samuel Slater belonged to Morley parish. It was this principle that made the growth of industries so diffictlt since it prevented new labour coming in. In 1800 the Reverend Mr. Wilmot opposes a suggestion for a factory in Morley 'a building by Godfrey Turner ... liable to be detrimental by introducing into Morley a stocking manufactory with its certain attendant ills by increasing the poor rate'.

2. Those settlers without a certificate were to be removed.

Some of those who lived on the common had no legal right either to land or to residence in Morley. There was too the curious case of a man who claimed assistance for his child¬ren, but rumours must have been rife for the vestry-decided to 'inquire-into the truth of his being legally married to the woman he now calls his wife", , They were right to do so, for 'she was the wife of another man, he purchased her from him'. The children consequently were the responsibility of the woman's home pariat4, and not Morley.

3. Men who were the putative fathers of illegitimate children were required to pay maintenance for the woman and her child if they were in any position to do so.

Quite large sums (thirty pounds spread over three to seven years) were demanded on several occasions. If the father was unable to support the child then 'the parish could be required to do so. Chaddesden for instance applied to Morley's Overseer for the maintenance for a child of Elizabeth Lands.

4. Able-bodied poor were to be sent 'on the rounds':which meant that they went to each ratepayer in turn and had to do whatever work was given them. They were to be allowed sixpence a day and their keep. In 1744 Joseph Sandey 'did consent to have his two lesser children put out and is allowed two shillings per week and is to be employed as follows' and a list of the-ratepayers was then given.

Fifty years later Hensley who applied for relief was sent on the rounds and allowed five shillings a week for his family.

William Chambers however, had his relief stopped in the spring on the grounds that 'he should now be able to make money from brickmaking as the season begins'. Perhaps the season wasn't very good though since in the June the Parish provided money to buy him a bed.

5. Women who were able to work were provided with tow for spinning: as were Mary Longman and Olive Fletcher's daughter in 1795.

6. Children were to be apprenticed out.

In 1796 the Overseer of the Poor was instructed 'to inquire for a situation to apprentice Samuel Stansby's unfortunate son to a stocking needlemaker'. They must have been unsucc¬essful however for in 1799 he was sent to Crich Workhouse 'as the most human act that can be done for him, there being a school close to the Workhouse where he may get instruction sufficiently to enable him to get his liveli¬hood as a country schoolmaster, and thereby be rendered a useful member of society, and be freed from the most intolerable burden a man can possibly bear - that of ignorance accompanied with idleness.

The girls were not so fortunate. 'Female children who are able to berforth any work are to be sent for a year to each inhabitant (ratepay¬er) of Morley and clothed at the Parish expense'. Life must have seemed very hard to these unhappy drably clothed little drudges.

These principles may not however have been applied strictly according to the letter, and indeed in the accounts there seems to have been far more real help given than insistence on the letter of the law.

1787 Poor Account:—

May 12th Slater for medicines 13th 2s. 0d

Wm. Bailey for wooleys. 6s. 0d

Jun.29th Martin for childs cloth 2s. 0d


Jul. 9th Burrow's Ohildren 3s. 6d

13th A shirt for Slater 3s. 41/2d

24th A shirt for Longman 4s. 0d

30th nos. Smith 3/4 rent £1. 10s. 0d

Aug.13th Burrow's children 4s. 0d

Oct. 3rd Burrow's children 3s. 0d

Dec.15th Cloth for Slater's child 8s. 5d


Jan 7th 3 Prs. shoes and shirt 10s 0d

8th Sarah Oxley's coals 11s.6d

23rd Mary Roper's coals 5s. 0d

drawing (N.B. tolls to be paid) 5s. 0d

Feb, 26th Tho. Martin 8s. 0d

for mending the child's shoes 1s. 0d

Mar. 2nd Longman 2s. 0d

11th Burrow's fatherless children 8s. 0d

29th Longman 2s. 0d

24th Shirts for Slater and Long 9s. 0d

These were only part of the accounts for one financial year which totalled nearly £46, and they do 'suggest a reasonably generous attitude on the part of the Vestry.

One of the problems Morley faced as they noted in 1789, was that in previous centuries money had been left for the poor, and these char¬ities attracted people from other parishes who once they had established residence in Morley by working for a year, often below the average wage rate, would be able to benefit from the eleven or twelve pounds a year that was distributed. So it was laid down that this money was not to go 'to people who own a cow, house or land nor those receiving poor relief'. Robert Wilmot records with some naivety the reaction of one woman to this news. 'Widow Joyce Smedley has purchased land and built herself a house this last, year and so become disqualified. When I told her so she showed the greatest discontent and re¬sentment towards myself and in her passion she declared that I should not have that plea to de¬prive her of the money another time, for that she would sell her house and land ... He continues, 'I think it would be a good idea to have the regulations for the distribution of the Charity money wrote upon a board and stuck up in the Church, as no person after that can claim a share of it if not entitled thereto, which will prevent much vexation and disappointment for themselves and do away with all ground for abuse of the distributors who ought always to be the Rector, the Churchwarden and the Overseer of the Poor'.

These charities derived their income from various pieces of land that had been left by charitable donors. There was land in Nun's Green in Derby, in Morley, in Ockbrook and in Leices¬tershire, and also the interest on £20 left for the poor. These charities can still be seen re¬corded on boards in the church.

There are records of two particularly interesting cases of poor relief in the late eigh¬teenth century. One was that of William Hardy. He was not simply a labourer but a man of some small substance, he rented land on which he pas¬tured a cow and his house had at least one mark of refinement about it for he possessed a clock. When Hardy fell ill he was unable to meet the rent for his land and applied to the Vestry for help. They obviously felt that he should be helped to keep some sort of independence and de¬cided to advance him the money for the rent, in¬stead of demanding that he sell his cow and maintain himself with that money. They did however, charge the Overseer 'to sell his clock which they judged to be an useless article, towards paying the money now wanted, and they agreed that his cow shall not be meddled with till it shall to seen whether he recovers'.

After a while 'Hardy was suspected of pretending sickness, as all the faculty who had been consulted respecting him declared they discov¬ered no symptcms of ill-health'. The Vestry then decided to stop payments 'which had the desired effect, for he immediately became perfectly well tho' he had been supported by the Parish for two years under the idea of his being unable to work and for the last year and half had regular pay from the Overseer of the Poor - for two years past he sat constantly in the house and appeared always wrapped up about his head. The whole of his conduct appears extraordinary as he had a good character and had been esteemed a good and able labourer'.

In another case' the Vestry ran into difficulties.

Mary Merry of Smalley which was part of Morley parish, married Thomas Longman in 1780 and they obviously had to turn to the poor rates quite early in their married life, for the name turns up quite regularly in the accounts. In 1794 she was left a widow with two young chil¬dren and had to depend completely on poor relief. The Vestry with its eye on the rates decided that Mary could do something towards her own support and instructed the Overseer to procure tow, another member of the Vestry had an old spinning wheel that could be put into running order, and Mary was to spin enough yarn to bring in the two or three shillings necessary for her own needs. Whether Mary felt that this was ex¬pecting too much of a woman for whom life had always been hard, or whether she genuinely suf¬fered from ill-health we cannot at this distance say but certainly the monthly minutes record with almost unfailing regularity that Mary had been unable to spin enough yarn and had there¬fore needed extra help.

The crisis came eventually. Perhaps the Overseer spoke harshly to an ill woman or per¬haps Mary was inspired to get her own back on that governing body who she must have felt, had had it easy all their lives. Anyway Mary knew her rights. She walked to Derby to see the magistrate John Port dismissed the complaint without making any order thereon, and he declared he thought the complainant ought to have been punished. We are at any rate left in no doubt about the Vestry's reactions. The next entry in the fly records covers the full page, and every downstroke of the pen is overflowing with righteous indignation. Here was a woman whom they had supported for years. Not merely supported but furnished with the comforts of coal, clothing and food. Admittedly at that moment the bed clothes promised had not actually been delivered, but one can almost hear them declaring that nothing would persuade them to deliver them now. Mary Longman and the Vestry had been at loggerheads far too long, for them to bear her presence any longer. The solution lay in their Shands and the Rector Mr.Wilmot was instructed to put in hand negotiations for her immediate despatch to Crich-Workhouse.

He first went to see the Workhouse and came back with a glowing report. 'He had arrived at House at the instant that the Dinner was serving - Each inmate had a porringer of broth with bread in it and then a dish of excellent boiled mutton, a bit of bacon, plenty of good potatoes and a very large piece of bread. It was more than the generality of them consumed at once but was set aside by them for their four o'clock or afternooning. Two days in the week they have such hot meat dinners, and on two days cold meat and bread and cheese, the other days puddings, milk porridge, and their breakfast is milkand their supper bread and cheese. The bedrooms were perfectly clean and sweet, and there was a sitting room for the women separate from the men. The paupers so far from complaining declared they had every comfort. Asked if they had plenty of food always they said yes, and one of them went so far as to say that they 'had not only plenty but that which was good that indeed they lived upon the fat of the land'. A far cry this from Oliver Twist but it was still a bitter pill for Mary Longman, for her children were taken away from her. The elder daughter the Vestry decided was now of an age to go out to work and the younger one was taken in by one of the Vestry (incidentally he got almost as much for that one extra mouth as Mary had been recei¬ving for all three of them).

Mary doesn't let things rest at that. No sooner had the Vestry despatched her to Crich with a universal sigh of relief of having rid themselves of a tiresome burden and yet having dealt like upright and just men, than Mary re¬turned. She had walked out of the Workhouse and come back to plead to be allowed to settle in Morley again. Her case however was dismissed in a couple of lines, and she was sent back.

A year later though no more was officially recorded, her name reappears, not on the poor rate accounts, but on those of the charities, and for the next twenty years Widow Longman duly gets a share of Dame Goditha's Dole. Then at last she does vanish. No more charity receipts, no record of death and burial, no further record at all. Perhaps that elder daughter sent to work in 1799 was able to offer a home to her mother. We can only hope that some such happy ending came to round off the life of such a born rebel.

And, too, Mary Longman's story rounds off Morley's poor relief. A record of a group of people who had to find from themselves and their neighbours the money to help their own poor, and who did it not ungenerously.