Margate before Sea bathing: 1300 to 1736

Anthony Lee

Chapter 4: The Poor and the Poor Law in Margate

Until the middle of the sixteenth century relief of the poor was in the hands of the parish minister. He was expected to ‘exhort and stir up the people to be liberal and bountiful’ and ‘exhort the parishioners to a liberal contribution’ for the support of the poor of the parish.1 Although this might have worked when parishes were small, it failed as the numbers of the poor increased. During the reign of Elizabeth I an increase in the population of England from three to four million combined with a series of poor harvests in the 1590s, led to high food prices and large numbers of homeless and unemployed. The fear that this would lead to a breakdown in law and order led to legislation designed to help the poor. An Act passed in 1572 did away with the reliance on voluntary collections for poor relief and replaced it with a poor rate system based on compulsory assessment and collection.2,3 A number of ambiguities in the 1572 Act were resolved in later Acts of 1597 and 1601, finally creating the system of poor relief that remained in force for the next two and a half centuries.4,5

The intention of these Acts, jointly referred to as the Poor Laws, was to provide support for the ‘deserving’ or ‘impotent’ poor, that is, those unable to support themselves, principally the old, the sick, and young children. As described in a guide published for the edification of parish officers ‘the statute of Elizabeth distinguishes the poor into two classes, the able-bodied, or those who are able to work, and the impotent; and it directs the manner in which they are to be provided for, namely by setting the former to work, and by furnishing the latter with necessary relief’.6 The impotent were ‘the aged and decrepit, the fatherless and motherless, the lame, the blind, persons labouring under sickness, idiots, lunatics &c’. The Poor Laws recognized the fact that large numbers of men and women were barely able to scrape a living and certainly had no opportunity to save for their old age. Thomas Ruggles, in his History of the Poor published in 1797 emphasized the importance of the Poor Laws: ‘The occupation of the labourer, as well as the nature of his being, subjects him to acute illness, chronic disorders, and at length to old age, decrepitude and impotence . . . without the aid of his more opulent neighbours, or, what is infinitely to the credit of this nation, without the interference of the godlike laws of his country, this useful class of our countrymen would sink in the arms of famine or despair’.7,8

It was up to individual parishes to determine which of its parishioners were deserving of support and to raise the money required to provide this support. The task was delegated to unpaid officers appointed annually by each parish, known as the Overseers of the Poor; each parish was to have between two and four overseers. The overseers were to collect a local tax called the poor rate to be paid by the inhabitants of a parish and by the occupiers of land in the parish.3,9 The first task of newly appointed overseers was to estimate the poor rate needed to cover the costs for the coming year. They were instructed to obtain ‘the balance of money and . . .  other parish property and documents from the late overseers’ and then to ‘minutely examine the state of the parish accounts, ascertain the number of resident paupers in the poor-house, the amount of money paid to out-pensioners, the average dis­bursements for casualties . . . the arrears of rates due and uncollected, presumed to be good, and generally take an account of the parish fund, so as to enable them to ascertain when and to what amount it will be necessary to levy a rate for the relief of the poor, and for the other purposes to which such rate is applicable’.6 They would then be in a position to decide on the poor rate for the following year. As described in Chapter 3 the poor rate was levied on property within a parish ‘from which a profit is derived’, the rate being based on the rental value of the property. The Overseers appear to have had considerable discretion in deciding who would actually pay the poor rate, and anyone deemed too poor to pay the rate was excused. 

Those parishioners paying the poor rate would, of course, expect the overseers to keep the rate as low as possible and cynics suggested that many overseers saw their role as being ‘to maintain their poor as cheap as possibly they can’ and ‘to depopulate the parish in order to lessen the poor rate’.10 Nevertheless, many ratepayers would have been only too aware that they themselves might require relief one day, and this would have ensured a degree of humanity in the system. It is likely though that this humanity would have extended only to the ‘deserving’ poor and not to the ‘undeserving’, able-bodied poor, those judged able to work but reluctant to do so. Support for the deserving poor was provided in a number of ways. As explained in The parochial lawyer, or churchwarden and overseer’s guide and assistant: ‘A principal, if not a primary duty of overseers is to find employment for the poor; and this they are bound to do, not only to ease the burthens of the parish, but for the sake of the poor themselves, to whom no greater kindness can be done than by enabling them to earn their own living by labour, instead of suffering them to eat the bread of idleness, by which their habits and morals must soon be cor­rupted’.6 This duty was stressed in the guide because ‘according to the poor laws, he who is able to labour is to be maintained by labour only, and nothing is to be provided for him but a means of employment.’ It was suggested that the able-bodied poor could be set to work by providing them, out of the poor rate, with ‘a convenient stock of flax, hemp, wool, thread, iron, or other necessary ware or stuff’ with which they could make goods that could then be sold. The money raised in this way would be used to pay the poor for their work and, of course, help to keep down the poor rates. It was suggested that the overseers should persuade local tradesmen to buy the goods produced by the poor, on the grounds that it would be good for the parish.3 The overseers could also provide employment ‘for persons capable of manual labour, but out of employ’ by purchasing or hiring land in the parish where they could ‘employ and set to work in the cultivation thereof, on account of the parish, any such persons as by law they are directed to set to work, and may pay to such poor persons so employed as shall not be supported by the parish, reasonable wages for their work’. 6 Alternatively, the overseers could rent out parish land ‘to any poor and industrious inhabitant of the parish’ which they could then cultivate for their own profit. Unfortunately, ‘the inconvenience of setting up trades for the employment of paupers under the superintendence of the overseers’ was such that the regulations were seldom put into practice and, anyway, were later made redundant by the introduction of workhouses.

The overseers were also charged with providing support for ‘the poor by impotency and defect’, that is, those unable to work and unable to support themselves, but only in cases where their relatives could not support them: ‘the father and grandfather, the mother and grandmother, and the children of every poor, old, blind, lame, and impotent person, and other person not able to work, being of sufficient ability, shall relieve every such poor person according to such rate as a general quarter session shall assess, upon pain of twenty shillings a month, to be levied by distress, &c’. 6 The impotent who needed support from the parish could be placed in the parish workhouse, if there was one, or be supported ‘by allowing them small pensions weekly or otherwise, or by occasional relief in money, victuals, or clothes,’ payments referred as  ‘outdoor relief’. Regular support, a pension, was provided only in the most extreme of cases, mostly to aged widows, and was often handed to the recipients once a week in the church porch after the Sunday morning sermon, ensuring that they would be regular attenders at church.3 The impotent could be supported in their own homes, the parish paying the rent, or the parish could rent or build ‘convenient houses of dwelling for the impo­tent poor, in fit and convenient places’ and ‘place inmates, or more families than one, in one cottage or house’. 6

Children who could not be supported by their parents could be apprenticed, or ‘bound-out’, to work as servants or apprentices  to masters or mistresses willing to maintain and train them, the parish paying the apprenticeship fee. Children were usually bound out at between seven and ten years of age, the apprenticeship continuing until the age of 24 for men or until 21 or on marriage for women.5 Boys could also be sent to sea: ‘parish-officers may, with the consent of two justices . . . bind out any boy, of the age of ten years or upwards, who is chargeable to the parish, or whose parents are so chargeable, or who begs, to the sea service, to any master or owner of a ship or vessel, until he is twenty-one years of age. At the time of the binding they shall pay to the master 50s for clothes and bedding, and they shall send the indentures to the port to which the master belongs, and also convey the apprentice thither’.6

Overseers were expected to make sure that only the poor belonging to their parish received support from the parish. This led to much wrangling between parishes, one parish arguing that a particular pauper was not theirs, but, in fact, belonged to another parish. The Settlement Act of 1662 tried to clarify the position by defining who was legally entitled to claim to be settled in a parish, that is, who was the legal responsibility of that parish.11 The provisions of the Act were slightly modified in 1685 and 1692, and, after these amendments, the principal grounds on which settlement could be claimed in a parish were that you had been born to parents who had settlement in the parish, that you rented property in the parish worth more than £10 per year, or that you paid poor rates on property in the parish worth more than £10 per year; married women took the settlement of their husbands.9,12 The entitlement to settlement for anyone renting property for £10 or more per year would only have been of benefit to the relatively rich since, for example, the average annual rent for a labourer’s cottage in the 1700s was about £1 10s.13 Settlement could also be obtained by serving a full seven-year apprenticeship with a settled resident or by being hired by a settled resident for more than a year and a day, a requirement which, predictably, led to many contracts of just less than a year and a day. Finally, settlement could be claimed by anyone who had lived in a parish for more than 40 days without a complaint having being made against them; a newcomer had to give notice of their arrival in the parish to an overseer and if the overseer thought that the newcomer was likely to become a charge on the poor rate he had 40 days to lodge a complaint with two local Justices of the Peace. These regulations had the unfortunate side effect of reducing mobility and discouraging the unemployed from leaving the parish in which they were born in order to find work elsewhere. The settlement laws continued until 1834 when they were replaced by the provisions of  the Poor Law Amendment Act.14


The Poor in Margate

The parish of St John’s had a few wealthy farmers, merchants, hoymen and maltsters, but the majority of the inhabitants were sailors, fishermen, small farmers and labourers, and their families, and, of course, the destitute. Unhappily, the distinction between the destitute and the labourer was often unclear; many labourers and their families lived at a level barely above subsistence. It has been estimated that at the end of the seventeenth century  earnings of about £30 to £40 a year would be required to keep a family, say of a man, his wife, and three children, free from starvation and free from debt.15 Members of the ‘petty bourgeoisie’ would typically have incomes of between £50 and £100 a year and a Gentleman would have  required a minimum of about £300 to keep up a reasonable style of living.15 These sums can be compared with the earnings of a typical farm labourer. In 1724 the Quarter Sessions at Maidstone laid down that the rate to be paid for a head ploughman in Kent would be £5 a year, for a ploughman’s mate, £3 a year, and for a boy aged between 14 and 18, £2 a year; a farm labourer hired by the day was to receive 14d a day in summer and 10d a day in winter.16 Labourers in the Isle of Thanet probably  received rather more than the average labourer in Kent; John Lewis reported in 1723  that local farmers ‘find it very difficult to get servants [farm labourers] . . . so many of them either going to sea or being employed in the hop-gardens; they give very great wages to their servants and day-labourers’.17 A local guide book of 1763 confirmed that in the Isle of Thanet ‘the wages of labourers and servants are very high’ and that ‘in time of war so many men go into the navy, on the certainty of better pay, or in hopes of prize money, or preferment, that it is no easy matter to procure hands sufficient for carrying on the common business of agriculture, at any price’.18

Even with slightly higher than average wages, it is hard to see how a typical labouring man and his family managed to survive. At best they would have had a tasteless, unsatisfying diet, poor housing with no sanitation, little coal for heating in the winter, and hard, back-breaking work with no prospect of putting money aside for their old age. The brutal truth according to Roy Porter was that ‘everyone below the income commanded by skilled craftsmen was undernourished’; the experience of many, if not most, people at the time was a life of grinding, hopeless poverty, poverty with no relief and no hope of improvement.15 The whole family, including children above the age of about seven, would have been expected to work, and the slightest accident or illness affecting any member of the family could result in destitution, turning the family into paupers dependent on charity or the parish for survival. The result was that most inhabitants of Margate would have depended at some time in their lives on the benevolence of others, sometimes their neighbours and sometimes their ‘betters’. Indeed, many of those of higher rank saw it as their duty to use some of their wealth to relieve distress among their inferiors. In part, this was a matter of religious belief, of following the teaching of Matthew: ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt . . . but lay up for yourself treasures in Heaven.’ But giving to the poor also provided a means of controlling their behaviour; channelling support though the church might encourage the poor to attend church, and giving only to the ‘sober and upright’ might make the poor more abstemious in their ways. It was certainly never the intention of the rich to do away with the poor; both the rich and the poor were thought to have their place in society. William Temple in 1739 thought that ‘the only way to make the poor industrious is to lay them under the necessity of labouring all the time they can spare from rest and sleep, in order to procure the common necessities of life’.19 This was not an uncommon view; in 1771 Arthur Young could write ‘Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower class must be kept poor or they will never be industrious’.20

The intention of the acts of 1572 and 1597, as we have seen, was to move the responsibility for the poor from the individual to the overseers of the poor who were to raise money by a parish poor rate. Of course, some of the wealthier inhabitants of a parish might still have wanted to perform individual acts of charity and, indeed, a few provided bequests for the poor in their wills. For example, George Collmer, after leaving his land to his wife, left 12s each to ‘four seafaring men of St Johns . . . for carrying my body to my grave’ and 5s to the poor of St Peter’s and 4s to the poor of St John’s.21 Similarly, Roger Laming in his will of 1743 ‘gave unto the poor of the parish of St John not receiving alms the sum of £10 to be distributed among them’.22

Unfortunately, heirs were sometimes less enthusiastic about charitable donations than were the deceased, and the records of the Archdeacon’s Visitations to St John’s include several such cases.23 In 1581 a complaint was made about Robert Tittall’s widow who refused to sell a house that her husband’s will had said should be sold for the poor; making matters worse, the house was being lived in by her son and a woman to whom he was not married:

We find the last will and testament of Robert Tuttall partly suppressed, for that where he gave one tenement or house to be sold to the use of the poor of the parish of St John's and St Peter’s, the said tenement is neither sold of his widow, who is yet alive in the parish of St John’s.

We find Mother Tuttall do keep the aforesaid house, given to be sold to the use of the poor of the parish, a house of Bawdry; her son and one Agnes Billing, their living together there, and yet not married.

Sometimes annual bequests of money were ignored. In 1581 the Churchwardens complained ‘We find the poor of our parish deprived of six shillings given unto them, to be paid yearly out of the land and tenement of John Hartye, by the last will and testament of the said John Hartye, withholden by William Matson, now owner of the said tenement and land.’ Similarly, in 1591 ‘the heirs of John Watson’ were reported ‘for withholding 6s 8d the year to be paid out of his land to the poor’. Sometimes the problem was a reluctance to hand over a bequest. In 1596 the Churchwardens complained of ‘John Baldwin of our parish of St John’s, for that the same and report goeth that he keepeth in his hands the sum of £10 given by William Horn, late of the parish of St Peter’s in Thanet, unto the reparation of the Church and poor men’s box of the said parish, which £10 as the speech is hath been paid into the hands of the said Baldwin who refuses to deliver the same, or to yield any security for the payment thereof. It is seven years ago or thereabout since the said legacies were given, and the Church and the poor have wanted the same, having no benefit thereof as we know’. In 1613 the complaint was about John Thurlo ‘for withholding certain legacies or rent from a poor orphan or child dwelling in our parish, named William Adams, for some three or four years past, being 18s 4d yearly, as the same goeth in our parish’. He was called before the Archdeacon’s court and confessed ‘that there is 12s 6d for three years or thereabout in his hand due to the aforesaid William Adams, but saith that the said Adams is dead and departed this life, and no administration thereof as yet taken that he knoweth, so as he knoweth not to whom to pay the same’. In 1620 Alexander Platt, executor of the last will and testament of John Terry ‘late of the parish of St John the Baptist, deceased’ was reported to the Archdeacon ‘for refusing to pay a legacy of three pounds unto the overseers of the poor of the parish of Westgate, given and bequeathed in the last will and testament of the said deceased, as therein and thereby doth manifestly appear. This Platt dwelleth at Ewell in the parish of Faversham or Goodneston as we are informed’.

Wealthier individuals would sometime leave money to establish charities for the poor (Appendix XVII). In 1513 Ethelrede  Barrowe ordered her executor, William Curlyng, to maintain a yearly ‘Give-all while the World endureth’, consisting of a gift of ‘a quarter of malt and six bushels of wheat and victuals’ to the poor people of the parish each year on St James’ day; land was bought near Northdown to provide a rental income to fund the gift.24 John Lewis explained that  ‘the north chancel of the parish church is dedicated to St James;and as it was then usual, in populous towns, to celebrate the anniversaries of their church’s dedication with an accustomed fair, so even in the most private parishes were these yearly solemnities observed with feasting, and a great concourse of people’.25 He went on to explain that ‘in this parish there used to be kept, what the inhabitants called a Fair,on St John Baptist’s day, the saint to which the church was dedicated; but I suppose, there being no such fair on St James’s day, or no provision made for the celebration of it, this devout woman ordered her exe­cutor to provide for an annual feast for ever on that day; which is still observed at a place in this parish called North-downe, and by the country people called North-downe Fair; only instead of a Give-all or a common feast for all goers and comers, the corn and meats are . . .  distributed to poor house-keepers.’

A second charitable gift was that of Thomas Taddywho, in 1566, gave £30 to purchase land at Crow hill, to be rented out and the rent ‘yearly for evermore to be distributed, dealt and given unto the most poor and needy of the Parish’. Then in 1594  John Allen, of Drapers, ‘gave for ever to be distributed tothe  poorest people of this parish on Shrove-Tuesday, 200 of Winchelseabil­lets, and two bushels  of wheat  to  be baked into bread’, a Winchelsea billet being a short, thick piece of firewood, traditionally shipped from the port of Winchelsea. The charity was still in operation in 1837 when ‘one gallon of bread’ and half a hundredweight of coals were delivered each Shrove Tuesday to 16 poor people.24 A fourth charitable donation, of unknown date, was made by a Mr Johnson who gave, ‘out of his farm at Garlinge’, the sum of 6s 8d ‘to be paid yearly to the church wardens ofthe parish, of which 6s to be distributed by them in the time of Lent,to the poorest of the parish, and the 8dto be divided betwixt themselves’. Another small charity was established by Henry Sandford in 1626 who ‘gave unto the poor people of this parish every Sunday or Sabbath-day, throughout the year, six penny-worth of good bread, to be distributed by the discretion of the church wardens and overseers of the poor of the said parish, where most need is’; this charity had ceased to operate some time before 1826.24

In 1673 Francis Buller, of Kingston upon Thames, gave to the Parish ‘several tenements, and half an acre of land, lying at Church-hill, the rents of which are to be laid out . . .  in binding poor boys apprentices to some sea-faring employment.’ The properties owned by the charity came to include much of Church-square, White’s place and Buller’s yard, also known by the names of Buller’s Court and Parish yard. Buller’s yard was used by the parish to house the poor, and is described in more detail below. The largest and best known of the charitable donations to the parish was, however, that of the Quaker Michael Yoakley who, by his will of 1707, established an Almshouse at Drapers, for nine ‘poor men or women as are natives or inha­bitants of the four parishes of St John, St Peter, Birchington, and Acol’, who were to be given ‘warm gowns or coats of shepherd’s gray for outward garments, and firing, and weekly allow­ance, at the discretion of the trustees.’ Comparing the list of charities given by Lewis in 1736 with that in the report of the Charity Commissioners in 1837 shows that the tradition of establishing charities for the poor ended sometime in the early eighteenth century.17,24,25

Despite the importance of these charities, after the Act of 1597 the primary responsibility for maintaining the poor lay with the overseers of the Poor. Four overseers were appointed each year for the parish of St John’s.26-29 Around Easter time each year the parishioners met in vestry to produce a list of those they wished to see appointed as overseers for the following year. This list was submitted to the Mayor and Jurats at Dover, who were the Justices of the Peace for Margate; it was traditional for the Justices of the Peace to appoint those nominated by the vestry.6 The four new overseers would take up their positions on 25 March or ‘within fourteen days after.’ The overseers had to be ‘substantial householders’ resident in the parish. In the period from 1716-1729 the overseers appointed were, on sixteen occasions, farmers, and on three occasions husbandmen (tenant farmers); on five occasions they were mariners and on five occasions they were maltsters (someone making malt to be used in the production of beer); on two occasions they were butchers, and on one occasion each a hoyman, a coal merchant, a cooper, a carpenter and a tailor. Only three men served twice as overseers in this period, Robert Wells and Cornelius Tomlin, both farmers, and Peter Sackett, a maltster.27,29 The list serves to emphasize the importance of farming, brewing and shipping in the parish before the start of a holiday trade.

Each of the four overseers appointed every year was responsible for one of the four rate collections made in that year, in October, January, May and July. The overseers’ accounts started with a reminder of the purpose of the rate, for example:29 

Assessment made 17 Oct 1716 by the Churchwardens, Overseers of the Poor and other parishioners of the parish towards the relief of the poor and for providing a stock to set them to work and for binding out poor children apprentices and assessing a nine pence on every pound rent and the same sum on every £20 stock or ability within the said parish. To be collected by Robert Wells, Cornelius Tomlin, John Bennett and Richard Laming present overseers of the poor of the said parish.

The reference here to ‘rent’ refers to the rent obtainable on a property if it were to be rented out. The quarterly rate of nine pence in the pound raised £59 16s 3d in October 1716, £59 12s 3d in January 1717, £59 16s 10½d in May 1717, and £59 1s 3d in July 1717, totalling £238 6s 7½d   for a 12 month period. 

Inevitably there were sometimes parishioners unable or unwilling to pay. In the sixteenth century such matters were raised with the Archdeacon during his visits to inspect the church.23 In 1574 James Saull, William Reade and Richard Pym were all reported because they ‘will not pay to the poor man’s box’ and even as late as 1598 eight men, William Fleet, Thomas Wood, William Turner, John Watson, Alexander Violett, John Hudson, Arnold Savage, and Ephraim Watson were reported for refusing ‘to pay to the poor man’s box’. Since the first Poor Law doing away with the reliance on voluntary contributions was introduced in 1574, the references to ‘the poor man’s box’ are rather surprising, this sounding as if the old voluntary system continued. In fact, it is not until 1615 that the first unambiguous reference to a Poor cess (a sess, short for assess, being an obsolete word for a tax) appears in the Visitation reports, in the report of a fine: ‘William Saunders, the head tapster at the "King's Arms," for refusing to pay his cess to the poor, being twelve pence.’ Unfortunately no records have survived from between 1620, when the records of the Archdeacon’s Visitations end, and 1666 when the Accounts of the Overseers begin.  

If anyone refused to pay their poor rate, the overseers were expected to obtain a warrant at Dover against the non-payer, allowing them to take away some of their goods and sell them to pay off the debt. Overseers were generally reluctant to take such drastic action against one of their neighbours and debts would build up, to the obvious disadvantage of the other ratepayers. In 1680 the overseers gave 3s 2d to Thomas Markett ‘to go to Dover for a warrant of destresse, and for ye warrant’ and paid someone 1s ‘for writing a letter and a list of those which refused to pay their sesses’.26 In 1681 the Overseers spent 2s 7d ‘at Goodman Seeleys when we sent for a Warrant to destrayne’ and then paid Thomas Pike 4s 6d ‘for a Journey to Dover and 6d for a Warrant’. However, by 1695 the situation had got so bad that the Dover Mayor and Jurats held a special magistrates’ session at Margate, with the outcome being recorded in the Overseers’ Account Book:26

Att a Sessions holden att Margate the 25 June, 1695, before John Hollingbery, Esq, Mayor, and Mr Thomas Scott and Mr Clement Buck, Jurats of the same [of Dover].

Foreasmuch as Complaint is made to this Court by the Chiefe Parishioners of St Johns That former Overseers of the Poore of the said Parish have been very Negligent in the due execution of their Office in not executing Warrants for takeing Distresses upon Defaulters who Neglect and Refuse to Pay their Several Assessments for the Reliefe of the Poore of the said Parrish. For Preventing of this Mischeiffe for the future It is now Ordered that if any Overseer or Overseers for the Poore of the said Parish shall neglect or to refuse to execute any such warrant or warrants. That the Money due Neglected or Refused to be Collected or Leveyed Shall be Answered and paid by Overseer or Overseers to be Leavied upon his or their Goods in case hee or they shall not Answer or pay the same Money Accordingly.

It is not known whether or not this threat to the overseers had the desired effect. What is known is that the costs of supporting the poor continued to rise throughout the country, despite the best efforts of the nation’s overseers, leading to one of the most unpleasant of the Poor Acts, an Act of 1696-7 entitled ‘An Act for supplying some Defects in the Laws for the Relief of the Poor of this Kingdome’.30 The Act ruled that ‘persons receiving alms, their wives, children &c’ should wear a badge, a large letter P, on the shoulder of their right sleeve, the only exception being for children living at home ‘in order to have the care of and attend an impotent and helplesse Parent’. Any poor person not obeying the rule could be committed to gaol and there ‘whipt and kept to hard Labour’, and any Overseer of the Poor giving relief to a poor person not wearing a badge could be fined 20s, half the money going to the person who reported the offence. It is worth quoting this section of the Act in full:

And to the end that the Money raised onely for the Relief of such as are as well impotent as poor may not be misapplied & consumed by the idle sturdy and disorderly Beggars Be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid That every such Person as from and after the First Day of September One thousand six hundred ninety seven shall be upon the Collection and receive Relief of any Parish or Place and the Wife and Children of any such Person cohabiting in the same House (such Child onely excepted as shall be by the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor permitted to live att home in order to have the care of and attend an impotent and helplesse Parent) shall upon the Shoulder of the right Sleeve of the uppermost Garment of every such Person in an open and visible manner weare such Badge or Mark as is herein after mentioned and expressed that is to say a large Roman P, together with the first Letter of the Name of the Parish or Place whereof such poor Person is an Inhabitant cutt either in red or blew Cloth as by the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor it shall be directed and appointed And if any such poor Person shall att any time neglect or refuse to weare such Badge or Mark as aforesaid and in manner as aforesaid itt shall and may be lawfull for any Justice of the Peace of the County City Liberty or Towne Corporate where any such Offence shall be co[m]mitted upon complaint to him for that purpose to be made to punish every such Offender for every such Offence either by ordering of his or her Relief or usuall Allowance on the Collection to be abridged suspended or withdrawne or otherwise by co[m]mitting of any such Offender to the House of Correction there to be whipt and kept to hard Labour for any Number of Days not exceeding One and twenty as to the said Justice in his discretion it shall seem most meet and if any such Churchwarden or Overseer of the Poor from and after the said First Day of September shall relieve any such poor Person not haveing and wearing such Badge or Mark as aforesaid being thereof convicted upon the Oath of One or more credible Witnesse or Witnesses before any Justice of the Peace of the County City Liberty or Towne Corporate where any such Offence shall be co[m]mitted shall forfeit for every such Offence the Su[m]m of Twenty shillings to be levied by Distresse and Sale of the Goods of every such Offender by Warrant under the Hand and Seale of any such Justice one Moiety thereof to be to the use of the Informer and the other to the Poor of the Parish where the Offence shall be co[m]mitted.

The Act was not repealed until 1810.31 In 1699 the Overseers of the Poor at Margate spent 6s ‘for making the Badges for the poor’.26

Some idea of how the overseers spent the poor rate can be garnered from the rate books, which survive from 1678.26-29 One thing that becomes clear is the importance of regular weekly disbursements or pensions, amounting to about half of the total expenditure on the poor. For example, in the first quarter of the financial year starting Easter 1679 the overseers supported 17 people with weekly disbursements of 1s 6d, 2s 6d or 3s a week, costing a total of £21 6s for the quarter.28 This can be compared to the ‘extra disbursements’ over the same period, amounting to £17 3s 1d, including payment of 6 people’s rent at a total cost of £6 12s, a payment of 1s to Good Knock ‘for looking to Widow Ashendon in sickness’, and a payment of 7s 6d to Good Raff ‘for keeping of Marlow’s child’. (Goodwife, usually abbreviated as Goody or Good, was a polite form of address for women, used  much as ‘Mrs’, ‘Miss’, or ‘Ms’ are used today; the equivalent for a man was Goodman.) By 1716 the numbers supported by a pension had doubled to 36 in the first quarter of the year, again mostly given to widows, at a cost that had also doubled to £44 18s. These pensions included 1s 6d a week to Widow Tomson who was still receiving a pension in 1718 although by then it had increased to 2s a week, 2s a week to Widow Horton and 2s 6d a week to Elizabeth Roberts; Stephen Pett received a pension of 2s 6d a week. Comparing these names with those in the parish burial registers suggests that Widow Tomson was Ann Tomson who died in June 1718, that Widow Horton was Mary Horton who died in the winter of 1716/17, that Elizabeth Roberts was a ‘maiden’ who died in 1718, and that Stephen Pett was ‘an antient man’ who died in the winter of 1717/18. These examples show that pensions were paid mostly to the single elderly at the ends of their life; a pension comparable to the wage of a farm labourer seems not ungenerous although, of course, it should be remembered that a farm labourer’s wage was only enough to support a pretty miserable existence. The numbers receiving these pensions were rather small. The 17 pensioners in 1679 represents about 1 per cent of the population of the parish  and the 36 pensioners in 1716 represents about 1.5 per cent of the population. This is relatively low on a national scale,3 suggesting either that the overseers were unusually stingy, which seems unlikely given the level of the individual pensions, or that there was relatively little destitution in the parish.

One of the most important of the overseers’ responsibilities was to ensure that the poor had somewhere to live. Sometimes they would pay the rent for a poor parishioner, allowing them to continue to live in their own homes; once the rent was paid even the elderly might be able to support themselves through casual labour.3 For example, in 1728 the overseers paid £1 10s for Widd Blackbourne’s rent and £1 6s for that of Widd Laming, and in 1731 they paid 10s ‘towards’ the rent of Widd Hatcher. They would also pay for repairs to a house so that the old could continue to live there; in 1679 they paid Robert Pierce 6d ‘for thatching Widd Overys house’ and in 1683 they paid Stephen Goldfinch, a bricklayer, 2s ‘for cleansing of Goodman Knocks Well’.26 Frequently the overseers would rent rooms for the poor in the houses of other poor people, especially for elderly paupers who could then care for one another; in 1666 Widow Petkin was paid 5s for a year’s rent for Richard Harlow, in 1716 Widow Norwood was paid 5s for half a year’s rent for Sarah Stevens and Vincent Knot was paid £2 10s for one year’s rent for Widow Browne.26,27 Payments of this kind are, however, relatively rare in the overseers’ accounts, and it is likely that many of the parish poor were housed in properties given to the parish as charitable bequests, or in properties rented or built by the overseers. It is clear that the parish had a number of properties of this type, but the overseers’ accounts provide frustratingly little detail, and what detail there is is often confusing. In the accounts the properties are referred to as poores-houses, almes-houses, the parish-house, the Pish houses, and Charity-houses, sometimes in the singular but more often in the plural.26-29 In 1680 the overseers spent 1s on ‘the poor’s houses’ and £3 16s ‘for work about the parish house.’ In 1681 they spent £7 2s 6d ‘for work done to the Charity houses’, 1s 10d ‘for work done about the Almshouses’ and £1 5s 1d ‘for work done about the poor’s houses’; in 1679 there is reference to the ‘Frogg house’ and the first reference to the ‘Workhouse’ occurs in 1727. It is hard to say whether these different names correspond to different buildings or whether some are simply different names for the same building.

We can be fairly certain about one of the houses, the Frog house. Lewis, in his History of the Isle of Thanet published in 1736, listed the parish’s charitable benefactions (Appendix XVII).25 These include ‘two small cottages’ belonging to the parish ‘at a place called Frog-Hill’. They were built in about 1648 by Christopher Frenchbourn, who ‘growing necessitous’ sold them in 1662 ‘to the Church-Wardens &c for the consideration of two shillings a week to be paid to him and his wife, so long as they should live together, and of one shilling a week to the survivor of them’.25 Frog Cottage is named on Edmunds 1821 map of Margate, at the bottom of Frog Hill, now called Grosvenor Gardens; presumably by 1821 the two original cottages had been combined into one. In 1679 the Overseers paid 6d ‘for mending Frog well’, and in 1690 John Baker was paid 6d ‘for a Bucket for Frogg house’. Frog house had a thatched roof; in 1702 Matthew Constable was paid 4s for thatching the house; in 1706 3s was spent by the Overseers ‘for thatching and materials about Frogg house’, in 1712 Nicholas Norwood was paid 2s 8d ‘for thatching Frogg house’ and in 1734 William Castle was paid 15s for ‘thatching at Frogg house, and for rods and spindles, and 3 days lowances’, the spindles being used to anchor the rods spread across the thatch to hold it down. The Frog house had proper windows; in 1706 John Ovenden was paid 3s 6d ‘at Frogg House for Glaseing’.

A second charitable donation that ended up providing housing for the poor was Buller’s charity, already described.17,24 In 1673Francis Buller gave to the parish ‘several tenements, and half an acre of land, lying at Church-hill’, the rents from which were to be used ‘in binding poor boys apprentices to some sea-faring employment’. The ‘several tenements’ forming what became known as Buller’s square or the Parish Yard were passed to the parish officers of St John’s in 1775 who then paid rent to the trustees for the properties, and used them to house paupers. The first specific reference to the Parish yard in the overseers’ accounts is in 1735 where there is a record of a payment of £10 ‘to  Mr Robert Brook in full for rent of the houses in the Parish yard, a gift of Mr Buller, which the Parish hires of the Trustees’; Robert Brook was a mariner and trustee of Buller’s charity.26,27 The way in which the Parish Yard houses were run is made clear in the report of a meeting of members of the Margate Philanthropic Institution in 1847 where they discussed the possibility of building alms houses without any endowments, which would allow ‘aged and deserving persons a free occupancy’. It was pointed out that with ‘the al­lowance usually given to aged persons by the parish, and the assistance their children or friends might be able to afford them, it was expected they would be able to live, as many persons now do in the parish yard, who enjoy the advantage of having to pay no rent for their room’.50 The situation was unchanged in 1882: ‘the houses . . . in the Parish yard  . . .were very nice . . . but were without endowment, and those poor women, although they were very glad to get  into those houses, had to depend upon 1s 6d per week allowed them by the parish’.32

Margate Poor house map | Margate History
Figure 26. A map based on that by John Pridden showing the location of the Poor’s House in Margate, 1781. From John Pridden, ‘Collection for the History of the Isle of Thanet’.
The Poor house Margate 1781 | Margate History
Figure 27. A west view of the Poor’s House at Margate, October 14th, 1781. From John Pridden, ‘Collection for the History of the Isle of Thanet’.
The poor house Margate 1717 | Margate History
Figure 28. Detail from John Harris’s 1717 map of Thanet, showing an unlabelled building, possibly the Poor’s house.

Joseph Hall’s Map of Margate published in 1777 shows a ‘Poor house’ located to the east of the parish church, on a road corresponding to the road known later as Prospect Place and then Victoria Road.33 A hand drawn sketch map by John Pridden dating to ca 1781 also shows the ‘Poor’s house’ and its garden on Prospect Place (Figure 26),34 and Pridden provides a drawing of the Poor’s House, showing it to be a fairly large, two storey building (Figure 27). Edmund’s Margate map of 1821 shows the Margate Workhouse on Prospect Place, and William Rowe records that Margate Workhouse was built in 1769,35 so that John Pridden’s ‘Poor’s house’ was, in fact, the Workhouse by another name. Intriguingly, John Harris’s map of Thanet published in 1717 shows an unlabelled building to the right of the parish church (Figure 28), a building of sufficient importance in the parish to warrant inclusion on the map. We do not know what this building was, nor its exact location, but one possibility, given its position on Harris’s map, is that it was an early Poor’s House, either built close to the church, for example on land belonging to Buller’s Charity, or on the site where the Workhouse was built in 1769; another possibility is that it is the Parsonage.

The first mention of a poorhouse in Margate is probably that in the accounts of the Pier Wardens which, in 1679, record the receipt of 3s for ‘rent of the house and poorhouse’; no similar receipts are recorded in later years.36 The first surviving volume of accounts for the Overseers of the Poor starts in 1678 and, although there is a reference to 6d being paid ‘for mending Frog well’ in 1679, the first reference to the ‘Poores-houses’ does not appear until 1680 when 1s was spent ‘at Mr Bushells at sealing the Leases for the Poores-houses’ and 17s 2d was paid to ‘Mr Denn for writings about the Almshouses’. These large expenditures suggest that something major was being done to house the poor in 1680. In 1681 the Overseers paid Thomas Underdown £6 for the rent of the ‘Poores houses’, then in 1682, paid £6 ‘to the Trustees for the Charity houses for rent due at Lady day’, and in 1683 paid £6 ‘to the Feoffees [trustees] one years rent for the Almshouses’ followed later in 1683 with £3 to ‘Thomas Underdown for half a yeares rent for the Almshouses’; in 1688 the Overseers paid £6 to ‘Thomas Underdown, one of the Trustees of the Charity-houses for one years rent due at our Lady day last’.26 These identical rents suggest that the ‘Poores houses’, ‘Charity houses’ and ‘Almshouses’ were all the same, and were rented out to the Overseers to house the poor by a charity of which Thomas Underdown was one of the trustees. Thomas Underdown was one of an important Margate family, at one time owner of Dane Court.37 Thomas Underdown himself was a maltster, and, at various times, Churchwarden, Overseer, and Pier warden;26,38 the most likely of the local charities to own property like this was Buller’s Charity. This would be consistent with an entry in the overseers’ accounts for 1737 recording a payment of £6 ‘to Mr Grainger at taking Edward Whitehead Apprentice to the sea, being the Gift of Mr Bullard [Buller] of the Poor-houses’.27

It is less clear whether or not the ‘Pish-houses’ (Pish being a common abbreviation for Parish) referred to in the overseers’ accounts was yet another name for the Poore’s House, or was a separate set of buildings. There is no reference to a rent  being paid to Thomas Underdown for the Pish-houses , although in 1712 it was recorded that the overseers paid £10 ‘to the Feoffees rent of the Pish houses’. In 1680 John Turner was paid £3 16s ‘for worke and boards about the Pish-house’ and in 1682 the overseers paid £4 2s 6d to Dudley Diggs for ‘Tyles for the Pish-houses’.

Until about 1727 most references in the overseers’ accounts to the Poor’s houses are in the plural, but after that date most are in the singular.27 Assuming that the ‘Poores houses’, ‘Charity houses’ and ‘Almshouses’ do all indeed refer to houses in Buller’s yard, it seems that a new, specially built, Poor-house could have been built at about this time. In 1733 the overseers accounts record a payment of 3s 6d ‘to Goodman Coultroup for work at the Poor-house and Alms-houses’ and, also in 1733, a payment of 8s 1d to ‘Mr [Joseph] Sandwell per bill for the Poor house and Almshouses’, both consistent with the Poor House being an entity separate from the Almshouses. The accounts for 1728 record a payment of £3 ‘to Mr Petken for half a years rent for the [Poor] house’ and in 1731 a further payment of £6 to ‘Petken for one years rent of the Poor house’. An Indenture of 1738 between George Upton of Canterbury and William Petken, the Margate brewer, refers to ‘all that messuage or tenement with appurtenances, commonly called or known by the name of the poor house’ and an Indenture of 1743 between William Petken and Michael Wilkins Conway of Buckingham refers to the messuage ‘commonly known by the name of the Poorhouse with the yard, backside garden and appurtenances . . . which was lately lent to the Churchwardens and Overseers of the poor . . . for the use of the poor . . . at yearly rent of £6’.39,40 It is not known where this Parish House was.     

The dread word ‘Workhouse’ appears in the accounts for the first time in 1727:

To money spent at Parish meetings and business concerning the Workhouse — 12s

To money spent at taking an account of the poor’s goods — 4s 1d

To part changing the lease of the Workhouse — 2s 6d

These entries are anything but clear. Knatchbull’s Act, An Act for amending the laws relating to the settlement, imployment, and relief of the poor had been passed in 1723, with its ‘workhouse test’ by which a pauper would only be granted poor relief if they were admitted to a workhouse.41 The act was adopted by many parishes and it has been estimated that by 1732 there were more than 700 workhouses in the country.12 The aim of the act was to distinguish between the deserving poor, who would be housed in a Poorhouse, and the undeserving poor, that is, those able to work, who would be housed in a Workhouse. Nevertheless, it is doubtful if Margate had a ‘proper’ Workhouse until a very much later date. In 1777 the Government carried out a survey of the nation’s Workhouses and recorded over 1,800, including Workhouses in Birchington and Ramsgate, but the report contains no return for a Workhouse in Margate.42

Putting all this information together it seems likely that from 1727 the overseers started to run a new Poorhouse at Margate on more authoritarian lines, but, not wanting to incur the cost of renting any new buildings, made the Poorhouse serve for both the deserving and the undeserving poor. Several items of expenditure listed in the overseers’ accounts for 1727 suggest that accommodation for the poor was extended at this time. In 1727 Edward Constant and Gabriel Wilds were paid between them £1 19s 6d ‘for a rug and bed’ and ‘for bed and blanket as per bill’, 15s 9d was spent on ‘three blankets, rug and coverlid [coverlet] for the poor’ and James Stone was paid 4s 6d ‘for bed cords’. Also in 1727 Richard Solley, a carpenter, was paid £5 13s 2d ‘as per bill’ and although no details are given, it is possible that this also corresponded to furniture or work done at the Poorhouse. An entry in the Parish Register for 1728 makes clear the fear engendered by the idea of a workhouse:43

On Sunday August 25 1728 hang’d himself John WOOD aged 95, born at Graveney near Faversham out of a dread of his coming to be kept by the parish and put into the workhouse. He had been for some time stark blind, and took the opportunity of his wife being absent at Church, who when she came home found him dead hanging upon his knees

The first master of the Poor house was Robert Peirse who was paid 4s in 1728 as ‘his half years salary for the Poor House’.27 In 1733 John Overy was appointed master at the slightly less miserly salary of £2 a year; during the year John Overy was reimbursed 11s 8d for ‘small trifles he disburst’ in the poorhouse and for what he had spent ‘for necessaries at the Poor house’. The low salary and the fact that he was referred to as ‘Goodman Overy’ in the overseers’ accounts, rather than as ‘Mr Overy’, suggests that the post of master was not held in high regard. In 1736 Robert Peerse [or Peirse] is back as master of the Poorhouse, possibly with a slightly better salary as the overseers’ accounts record: ‘To Rob. Peerse for ¼ years salary and other necessaries for the Poor-house - 13s 6d’.

It is after 1727 that relatively large bills for provisions start to appear in the accounts, presumably for the poor at the Poorhouse, starting with a payment of 16s 9d to Henry Petken ‘for beer for the poor at the house.’  In 1728 John Pummitt, a small farmer,  was paid  9s 7d ‘for two bushels and a gallon of white peas’, William Small was paid £4 11s 9d for ‘meal, bread, and flour’, William Jarvis, a maltster, was paid £2 12s 6d for ‘14 bushels of malt for poor house’, Matthias Smith, a butcher, was paid £4 6s 5d ‘for beef for the poor’, and Daniel Pamflett, a hoyman,  was paid 18s 9d ‘for cheese from London for the poor’. Payment was also made for coal, £4 4s being paid to Peter Wootton, a coal merchant, ‘for coals for the poor’ with 12s being paid to John Brown, a small farmer at North Foreland, ‘for carriage of 8 chaldrons of coals’, presumably from the harbour to the Poorhouse; farmers, having horses and carts, were often paid for carting goods around the parish. Also in 1728 the overseers gave 4s 4d ‘to the poor people in the house to keep Christmas’. Many more payments for food are included in subsequent years, including payments for pork, beef, mutton, ‘neats [cattle] feet and tripes’, salt-pork, herrings, salt-fish, peas, French beans, apples, fat, malt, yeast, milk, bread, lots of cheese, and ‘wine for the poor in time of sickness’. There are also frequent purchases of ‘shop goods’, including butter, candles, soap, sugar, raisins, linen, worsted [a variety of woollen yard or thread], linsey [a coarse and stout material of which the warp is linen and the woof woollen], dowlas [a strong and coarse linen cloth], bodices, cotton, thread and tape; in 1731 the overseer’s spent 9d on ‘cabbage plants for the Poor House’ and gave 3d ‘to Widd Mainer for herbs to sett at the Poor House Garden’.   

In 1731 the overseers started to pay for schooling for children at the Poorhouse, initially for one boy for whom they paid John Prince 3s 11d for schooling over the course of the year and for whom they bought a primer for 1s 3d. The accounts for 1731 also include payments for ‘schooling at the Poor House’ and for ‘schooling for the boy in the Work-house’, the use of both ‘Poor House’ and ‘Work-house’ again suggesting that these were the same building. In 1732 the overseers gave John Prince 2s, he now being ‘in need’; employing him as a school teacher was a way of providing a poor man with necessary financial support. Later in 1732 the overseers paid Widd Norwood 7s 8d for ‘Francis Baker’s schooling’ and Widd Powell 6s 4d ‘for schooling for the poor children’. In 1733 a payment of 6s 3d was made ‘to Widow Powell and Widow Norwood for schooling for poor children’. The next payment of this type was for 1s 6d paid ‘to Wid Sampson for 6 weeks schooling for 3 poor children out of the Poor-house at 3d per week’. 

The original Poor Laws emphasised that as well as accommodation, the overseers were expected to provide work for the able-bodied poor by providing them with ‘a convenient stock of flax, hemp, wool, thread, iron, or other necessary ware or stuff’.6 There is little evidence in the overseers’ accounts that this idea was pursued at all vigorously in Margate. In 1666 the overseers gave Widow Bell 9d ‘to buy yarne for the Girle she keeps’ and in 1688 the overseers paid Richard Laming 8s 8d ‘for Weaving and for Worke’ and 1s 1d ‘for making the sacks’ and spent 8d for ‘½lb and 2 oz of Twine to sowe the Sacks’.26 In 1700 Widow Hall was given 2s for ‘spinning one dozen of hemp’ and Francis Sanderoff was similarly paid 2s ‘for one dozen spinning’ but there are very few entries of this type. This reflects the pattern nationally, with unpaid overseers being unwilling to spend the time required to supervise the work of large numbers of poor scattered throughout a parish.3 Indeed, one of the arguments for the introduction of workhouses was that it would enable the work of the poor to be supervised much more effectively. The overseers’ accounts are consistent with the idea that the St John’s Poorhouse became more like a Workhouse after about 1727. In 1730 the overseers recorded receiving 7s for ‘1 dozen of work done at the Poor house’, 3s ‘for spinning 6 lb of work’, and 1s 6d from Thomas Cramp, a shoemaker, ‘for work’, presumably for shoes made at the Poor house.  In 1732 1s was paid to ‘the Poor for spinning’ and in 1733 2s 8d was paid ‘for 1lb of the best wool to spin in the Poor-house’ and 10d was paid to ‘the poor in the house for encouragement for spinning’. In 1733 the poor in the Poorhouse were given 1s, calculated on the basis of the value of the work they had produced, at a rate of 2d in the shilling, and the overseers invested 6d in the purchase of ‘thread, tape and needles’ and 1s for ½ a pound of wool for the Poorhouse. The overseers also occasionally gave money to individual men and women to enable them to continue with their trades. In 1679 the overseers paid 1s ‘for mending Goodwife Ashendens [spinning] Wheele and for making Richard Knock a Rake’.26 In 1701 the overseers paid 16s ‘for plowing three Acres of ground for Widd Poynter’. In 1730 John Ryes, a poor fisherman, was given 1s to buy a ‘whiting line’ and ‘Goodman Shoemaker’s wife’ was given 2s 6d in 1738 for a spinning wheel. In 1700 Robert Peirce was given £1 ‘for or towards byeing him a Boate’ and in 1719 James Mount was given 12s ‘to mend his boat’, although in this case it was noted that the payment was made ‘by consent of the parish’.26,27

More often the poor were supported through payments for small jobs done about the parish; for men this often took the form of work on the parish houses. For example in 1716 Nicholas Norwood, a thatcher, was paid £1 6s ‘for work about the parish houses’, although the following year it was necessary for the overseers to give his wife 2s. Women were also employed by the overseers, but largely in caring tasks such as nursing the sick and ‘laying out’ or washing the dead. In 1666 Widow Bing was paid 1s 6d ‘for watching and tending the Wid Witherden’, Widow Poole was paid 6s ‘for looking to Susan Rendall and her child in her sickness of the Small pox, for one week’, and Widow Prickett was paid 1s ‘for Entertayning of Susan Rendall and her child in her home for one weeke.’ In 1679 Good Knock was paid 1s ‘for looking to Widd Ashendon in sickness’. In 1727 the wife of Mathias Mummery, a shoemaker, was paid 3s 6d for ‘nursing several people’, Widd Everitt was paid 1s for ‘washing for sick people’, and the wives of Robert Peirse and Richard Blackbourne were paid 1s 4d and 2s 8d respectively for nursing Mrs Hart. Men were paid to help with male paupers; in 1738 Goodman Housden was paid 4s for washing Gabriel Foard, who presumably was lousy at the time. Payments were also made for looking after children. In 1679 Good Raff was paid 7s 6d ‘for keeping of Marlow’s child’ and in 1716 John Salter was paid 12s 6d for keeping ‘a parish girl’ for one quarter. In 1735 Goodman Kiddal was paid 13s 6d for ‘11 weeks nursing, at 12d per week, Webbster’s bastard child, and other necessaries’ and in 1737 John Neal, a weaver, received 12s ‘for providing clothing and board for Hedgecock’s child’.

Small sums of money could also be earned helping to keep down vermin. In response to a series of bad harvests in the sixteenth century Parliament passed two acts aimed to reduce the numbers of vermin eating seeds and crops, an Act to destroy ‘choughs, crows and rooks’ passed in 1532 and an Act ‘for the preservation of grain’ passed in 1566.44,45 Under these Acts churchwardens had to pay a bounty for vermin killed within the parish, the money coming from the church rate; the vermin covered by the acts included sparrows, rooks, magpies, foxes, weasels, and hedgehogs, hedgehogs at the time being believed to suck milk from the teats of cows at night as they lay in the fields. In 1706 the Churchwardens of St John’s paid Thomas Bing 5d for 3½ dozen sparrow’s heads, Edward Flagg 1s for three hedgehog heads and Matthew Constable 4d for one hedgehog.46 Most payments seem to have gone to young boys: in 1705 ‘Dawson’s boy’ received 1d for six sparrows heads, ‘Edward Bing’s boy’ received 3d for 1½ dozen of sparrows heads, ‘Mr Tomlins boy’ received 1s 8d for 5 hedgehogs and ‘John Parnell’s boy’ received 4d for 1 hedgehog. However, some adults also received payments; in 1713 ‘Mr Cowells Servant’ received 11d ‘for 5½ dozen of heads’, a ‘Mr Grant’ received 3d ‘for 1½ dozen of heads’ and Capt. Omer’s shepherd received 4d for a hedgehog and ‘Roger Tombe the Shepard’ also received 4d for a hedgehog, this probably being Capt. Omer’s shepherd again. Payments for heads of rooks, sparrows and hedgehogs continued at least until 1715, in which year £1 9s was paid ‘for various sparrow heads and other vermin for whole year’.

Many of the poor, rather than long term help, needed help for just a short period of time, due to illness, lack of work, or some other disaster. Such help was provided either in the form of cash payments or as relief in kind, which could include clothes, shoes, fuel, rent, food or medical care. Examples of cash payments include ‘a poor woman in want with two children having lost all they had by fire’ who was given 2s in 1679, the 1s given in 1712 ‘to a poor man that had a great Loss’, and the 1s given in 1680 to George Brown ‘being a poor man’; the overseers then ensured that George Brown needed no further help from the parish by paying 1s 6d to move him to Canterbury. In 1685 about 60 people received cash relief in the parish, sums varying from 6d to 2s 6d, at a total cost of £14. In 1689 Widow Williams was given 2d ‘for a Chamber pott’. In 1716 Widow Jarman received 1s ‘in sickness’ and Widows Wellen and Grainger each received 2s, also ‘in sickness’; Thomas Hewes and Widow Horton received 1s and 2s respectively ‘in want’ and Widow May received 3s ‘in need at several times.’ In 1717, Thomas Whithead, a labourer, received 5s ‘at five several times in need’ and Vincent Watson received 2s 6d ‘in his need’. Small one-off payments were also made by the Churchwardens: in 1693, 6d was given ‘to a poor man for relief’ and, on several occasions, poor men and women received sums of 6d or 1s.26,46 Money was also given by the churchwardens to men passing through the town, possibly to encourage them not to stay; in 1693 1s was given ‘to a poor traveller’, 2s was given ‘to two soldiers from Deal’ and 1s was given ‘to a soldier come from Sandwich’.46 Payments to soldiers and sailors passing though the parish in times of war could be quite large (Chapter 6).

Occasional support was more commonly provided in kind than in cash; payment in kind helped, of course to bolster the local economy, as the overseers bought goods and services from the local shopkeepers and tradesmen. The wide range of goods and services provided suggests that the overseers had a good knowledge of the needs of the poor in the parish. Considerable amounts were spent on replacing and repairing shoes and clothing; large numbers of badly clothed paupers would have been a very public sign of poverty in the parish, suggesting that the parish did not care for its poor.9 Sometimes individual items of clothing were identified in the accounts and sometimes payments were made to cover quarterly bills submitted by tradesmen. In 1666 Matthew Toarth was paid 2s 6d for three pairs of shoes and 2s 6d ‘for one paire [of shoes] for the Girle that Widd Bell keeps, and one paire for the boy that Peter Mosse keeps’ and Thomas Emptage was paid 6s ‘for shooes for Tho. Tadds Girle, and Jeremy Culmers Girle, and for mending shoes’. Also in 1666 John Laming was paid 8s ‘towards cloathes for the boy he keeps’, Stephen Cock was paid 2s ‘for making a Wastcoate for ye Girle at Adrian Moyses and for Claspes etc.’ and 1s ‘for making a Wastcoate and pair of breaches for Thomas Tadd’.26 In 1707 there was a particularly large expenditure on clothes:

For a Shift and Westcoate for Mary Anderson — 6s 8d

For a Shift for Mary Phillips — 2s 10d

For 2 Shirts for George Grant — 6s

For 2 Shirts for Edw. Norwood — 6s 6d

For a payer of Briches for old Norwood — 6s 6d

For a Shift, Apron, Bodys, and other things for Mary Askew — 8s 10d

For a Gowne and Coate for her, and another shift — 15s 4d

For a Gowne for Widd Anderson — 11s 6d

For a shift for Widd Smith — 2s 10d

For a shift for Widd Russell — 3s

For a Wastcoate for Widd Horton — 2s 6d

For a payer of Leatheren Briches for Edw. Peach — 3s 6d

For a Wastcoate, 2 Handchiefts, tape, a shirt, and a sock [= a shroud] — 9s 11d

For 2 Handkerchiffs for Jarmans Girle — 8d

For a shift for Widd Smith — 2s 10d

For a Blew Apron for Mary Phillips — 1s 3d

For a payer of Spactacles and a Case for her — 6d

For a shroud for Widd Smith — 3s 6d

For a Rugg for Geo. Grant — 5s 6d

For a Blew Shirt for old Norwood — 3s 6d

In 1717 Robert Gore was paid for 7s 11d for shoes and Franklin Goldsmith, a tailor and draper, was paid 4s 4d for a ‘waistcoat and britches for [the] Wallace boy’. In 1718 Widow Castle was given 1s to allow her to buy ‘two capps.’ In 1727 three shirts were bought for Thornden’s ‘young child’ for 1s 6d and Richard Dixon’s wife was paid 1s 3d for making gowns for Thorden’s ‘girls’, and two pairs of leather britches were bought ‘for poor boys’ for 6s. In 1728 John Brooman was paid 12s 8d ‘for a gown and a pair of bodies [stays]’ and Matthias Mummery was paid 8d for mending a pair of shoes. In 1735 3s was paid ‘to the Wid Emtage a shift in need’. In 1735 many of the poor received clothing; Thomas Smith’s daughter received a shift costing 1s 6d and two caps costing 1s 1d, John Sanders received a shirt costing 3s 2d, his wife a shift costing 3s, an apron costing 1s 10d, and 5d ‘for thread and tape’, and his daughter a shift costing 1s 6d, a coat costing 1s 10½d, ‘coverings for her stays’ costing 1s 5d, and a frock costing 2s 11d, and Franklin Goldsmith was paid 1s 9d for a pair of stays for the daughter of Elizabeth How. In 1728 the overseers spent 6s 6d ‘to redeem Widd Reynolds clothes’ from a pawnbroker.

The overseers had accounts with a number of the shopkeepers in the town. In 1717 the overseers paid John Brooman, a draper, £3 8s 9d ‘as per bill’. Similarly, in 1728, the overseers paid a bill for £1 17s 7d from Solomon Holbourn, a tailor and draper, and also bills for 19s from Thomas Cramp, and for 10s 8½d from Robert Gore, both ‘for shoes for the poor’. In 1729 William Cobb, a shoemaker, shop keeper, maltster and father of Francis Cobb I, was paid £13 5d ‘for shoes for the poor’, and Beale, a tailor and draper, was paid 1s 4d ‘for gloves and other things’. Again, in 1731 Beale was paid 7d ‘for a pair of gloves for Peirce Lawrence’. In 1733 John Commett was paid £3 12s ½d ‘as per bill for clothes for the poor’. In 1738 Stephen Bennett, a draper or shopkeeper, was paid £1 7s 6½d for ‘shirts and other clothing for the poor’.

There are only a few examples of purchases of food for individual paupers. In 1719 Wid Bubb, probably an inn keeper, was paid 1s ‘for victuals and drink for a poor woman’ and in 1733 8d was spent to pay for bread ‘for Catherine Pattison in her illness’. As we have seen the overseers started to spend significant sums of money spent on food for the poor after 1727 when the poorhouse began to operate more like a workhouse. Presumably paupers living in their own homes were expected to pay for their food out of the money given to them by the overseers, if they could not grow it themselves. A number of purchases of coal are also recorded in the accounts. For example, Peter Wootton, a coal merchant was paid £3 13s 6d for coal in 1717 and £2 6s in 1719 for 2 chaldren of coal. In 1718 William Richardson was paid £4 16s 6d for 4 chalder and 5 bushels of coal ‘and for carriage to the poor’s cellar’. Other payments for coals were made to John Lister, a coal merchant and sexton, to Stephen Baker, a coal merchant and mariner, and to Nicholas Wellen, another coal merchant. It is likely that much of this coal was destined for the cellars of the Poorhouse but some of it could have been given to help the poor living in their own homes. By 1739 the overseers had decided that coal, except in special cases, would only be provided to the poor house:47

Whereas there has been for several years last past a large quantity of coals have been delivered by the Officers to the Poor of the parish. It is agreed in this present order of Vestry, there shall be no coals laid in or disposed of, for the use of the Poor, but only, for the Poor house. Except to such people as shall be agreed upon, by an order at Vestry for that purpose.

14 May 1739

The separation of the poor into those receiving regular disbursements and those receiving occasional relief was not immutable; someone starting with occasional relief would often end up relying totally on the parish. An example is provided by the wife of Paul Hart. Paul Hart was an inn keeper and one of Margate’s early postmasters but by 1716 the family had fallen on hard times, receiving £3 15s in relief from the parish. By 1726 Paul Hart was dead and ‘Widow Hart’ was given a payment of 2s and four payments of 1s 6d, being ‘in need’, but later that year she was paid a pension for 29 weeks of 1s 6d per week. Interestingly, in the overseers’ accounts she is sometimes referred to as Mrs Hart, the title ‘Mrs’ showing that she was of some standing in the parish despite her poverty. In 1727 she received payments of 2s 6d, again being ‘in want’, followed by periods of 14 weeks and 10 weeks at 1s 6d per week; she was also given 1s 8d for ‘a pair of irons’, 3s for ‘a blanket and rug’, and 10s 6d ‘at several times in sickness’. Her health had got worse by the end of the year as the wives of Peirse and Richard Blackbourne were paid 1s 4d and 2s 8d respectively for nursing her,  after which she was nursed for 15 weeks by ‘Blackbourne’s girl’, who was paid 1s a week for doing so. During this time Widow Hart received a pension of 2s a week for 12 weeks, and 1s 6d a week for the remaining three. She died later in 1727 and the overseers accounts record that 2s 6d was paid for ‘burying Widd Hart’ with 9s 6d for ‘laying her forth, carrying her to church, beer, and other charges’.

The example of Widow Hart shows that the overseers were prepared to pay quite large sums of money to ensure that the poor received a decent burial. Many records in the overseers’ accounts show the importance they attached  to providing hospitality, particularly beer, after a funeral; this was common in many parishes, the overseers trying to ensure that a pauper funeral did not symbolize ‘worthlessness, failure, and anonymity, but the social recognition and personal respectability of the deceased’.3 In 1716, 2s was paid ‘to laying out Widow Foreman when dead’, Widow Idley was paid 4d for making her shift, the minister and clerk were paid 2s for her burial, the sexton was paid 2s, and 3s was spent on beer ‘at her burying’. Again in 1716, Widow Granger and Widow Hews received 2s for ‘laying forth Aythorne’s girl’ and the minister, clerk and sexton received 3s 6d for burying her, although this time only 1s 6d was spent on beer following the funeral. In 1720 2s 6d was given to Gibbins ‘for drink at his fathers’ funeral’. Thomas Heros died in 1721 after having received parish relief for a year, and 1s was spent ‘to lay Thomas Heros forth when dead’, 3s 6d was given to the minister, clerk and sexton ‘for his burying’ and 2s 6d was spent ‘for beer drunk at his burying’. In 1721 there were a series of charges for beer at funerals; 5s 4d for ‘eight gallons of strong beer at Fasham’s Burying’, 4s for ‘six gallons strong beer at Widd Blackabee’s Funeral’, and 4s for ‘six gallons strong beer at Widd Castle’s funeral’. In 1723 3s was paid ‘to the men for laying forth William Goodbourne’, 8s was paid for a coffin, 3s 6d for funeral charges and 5s 7d ‘for beer at his funeral’. In 1731 Henry Petken, a local brewer and maltster, was paid 14s 8d ‘for beer for four funerals’ and in 1734 he got 4s ‘for 6 gallons of beer for the funeral of Smith daughter’.

In fact, the overseers spent rather a lot on beer. Payments to Widow Dixon, an Inn keeper, often appear in the overseers’ records. In 1716 she was paid 5s for beer drunk when the overseers determined the poor rate [‘at making my sess’]. She was also paid 1s 3d for beer ‘at the baptizing of Heros boy’ and, sadly, 1s 3d in 1719 ‘for beer at burial of Heros boy’. In 1717 she was paid 5s 6d ‘at making my sess’ and 4s 6d at ‘choosing officers.’ The biggest expenditure though seems to be by the overseers and parish clerk when travelling on parish business, although such payments usually appear as ‘charges’ or ‘expenses’. For example, in 1722 we have 6s 6d ‘for charges at Dover about Parish Business’ and 1s ‘for charges at St Peters’. In the travels of Michael Trapp to Dover and London in 1733 described later, we have 6s 9d spent on ‘victuals and drink for 4 of us on a passage to London’, and 6s spent on ‘expenses for 5 of us’.  

One odd feature of funerals at this time was payment for burying in linen. This came about due to an Act of Parliament of 1666, revised in 1678, for ‘burying in woollen only’.48 The aim of the Act was to help the woollen manufacturers of the country and prevent the export of money to buy linen; the Act was not repealed until 1814. A certificate had to be obtained to prove that a body had been buried in a woollen shroud, and, to prevent collusion, the certificate had to be obtained from the vicar of a neighbouring parish; for St John’s this was usually the vicar of St Peter’s. If a family was determined that their loved one should be buried in linen they would have to pay a fine of £5, but, as long as they reported the fact of a burial in linen to the overseers, £2 10s was returned to them, the remaining £2 10s being distributed to the poor; the result was that burial in linen was a luxury just for the better off.26 In 1685 4s 6d was paid by the overseers to ‘Goodwife Pound and the Widd Ellmor for laying Ann Stokes forth, and for goeing to St Peters to make Oathe that she was buried in Woolen.’ Similarly the accounts for 1687 record the death of Katherine Messenger, a Traveller, and that the overseers paid 6s 8d ‘for carrying her to her Grave, and for the use of the Pier, and for Drink to one that made Oathe that she was buried in Woolen, and for the Certificate’. In 1686 the Overseers record that they had received £2 10s ‘of Widd Small for burying her husband in Lynnen’ and ‘of Widd Wright being buried in Lynnen’. In 1687 they again received sums of £2 10s from ‘Widd Price for burying her Husband in Lynnen’, from ‘Mrs Glover for her Mother being buried in Lynnen’, and from ‘Tho. Grant for burying his child in Lynnen.’ The overseers then record that £7 10s was ‘distributed to the poore of the parish’. However in 1688 the overseers record that they ‘Received of Tho. Thornden for burying his child in Lynnen [£2 10s] the which sume was given to him againe, he being a poore man.’

A further tax on burials was introduced in 1695 with the passage of an Act ‘for granting his Majesty certain rates and duties upon marriages, births, and buriels and upon bachelors and widowers, for the term of five years, for carrying on the war against France with vigour’.49 The Act introduced a tax of 4s per burial which, for the poor, had to be paid by the Overseers. In 1696 the Overseers paid 4s as part of the funeral expenses of Widow Pike and in 1698 they record the payment of 14s ‘for the Kings Dutyes on Buriall of Peter Marsh, John Fashams wife, Widd Foreman, and birth of Alice Poynters Child’. In 1702 the King’s duty had become the Queen’s duty, and the Overseers record the payment of 12s for ‘the Queens dutyes on the Burialls of Ovenden, Fashen, and Jarvis boy.’

Sometimes the Overseers would sell off the household goods of a parishioner who had died and who they had been supporting. In 1688, the Overseer’s accounts record a payment of 4d ‘for crying of Edw. Sandwells Goods’, in other words, for the Town Crier to announce that Sandwell’s goods were for sale; they also spent 1s 6d ‘for Bread and Beere at the selling of Edw. Sandwells Goods.’ At first sight this might appear to be rather harsh, but the Overseers had spent a significant amount of money at his funeral, in paying off his debts, and in supporting his children:

Paid Sarah Meakings for a Cask and Beere that Edw. Sandwell had of her — 1s 6d

Paid John Lister for ½ Chall. Of Coales Edw. Sandwell had of him — 8s

Paid things at Edw. Sandwells funeral and for Cloath [i.e. for burial suite] — £1 17s

Paid for Cloath for 2 Shifts for Edw. Sandwell daughter — 4s 3d

Paid for 12 oz. of Yarne to make Ed. Sandwells Childrens stockings — 2s

In 1702 we have a similar entry, with a payment of 4d ‘to Thomas Bishop for Crying the Widd. Baylyes Goods’, a widow whose burial was again paid for by the parish.26

Medical care for the poor was provided by both professional and amateur healers, the amateurs including bone-setters dealing with broken arms and legs and ‘wise women’ who cured leg ulcers and fungal infections such as scalled head or favus, a disease of the scalp that used to be common but is now easily treated.26 In 1680, William Laming’s wife was paid 2s 6d ‘for the cure of Widdow Roberts Legg’, Goody Ford in 1696 was paid 2s 6d ‘for cureing Widd Pikes Legg’ and in 1697 was again paid 2s 6d ‘for cureing Goody Hubbards Arme’; in 1701 and 1702 Goddy Dadds, the wife of Edward Dadds, was paid 1s 6d ‘for cureing Jarvis’ and £1 ‘for cureing Punnits head’. In 1702 Thomas Huffam’s wife received £1 ‘for cureing Haselton’s Legg’ and in 1703 she received 10s ‘for cureing Edw. Norwoods fingers’; in 1706 Goody Yeomans received £1 2s 6d ‘for cureing Pummett’s boys heads’. Widow Avery, apparently an unauthorised practitioner, was given 3s on two occasions in 1718 for ‘physick for Rys boy’ and in 1722 the parish paid 6d for ‘Rys’s boy letting blood’, hopefully by one of the local doctors.27 The accounts include very few references to payments for a midwife. In 1706 2s was paid ‘to the midwife for the Waygoing woman’ and in 1718 Goody Peney was paid 2s 6d ‘for delivering or laying of Jane Boys’.26,27 In 1722 ‘Mrs Wilds midwife’ was also paid 2s 6d; in 1735 she was paid 3s 6d for looking after Ester Mockett, and by 1737, when she was midwife for Pearse Lawrence’s wife, her payment had increased to 3s.

The local doctors operating in the parish have been described in Chapter 3. They would submit their bills at regular intervals to the overseers for their work with the poor; in 1717 Nicholas Chewney was paid £4 7s ‘as per bill’, Edward Jarvis was paid 15s in 1718 ‘for looking after sick and lame poor people’, £2 12s 6d in 1719 ‘as per bill’, and £3 5s 6d in 1724, and George Hammond was paid £3 14s in 1722 ‘as per bill’, and £2 2s in 1724. Thomas Watts appears to have been the first doctor with specific responsibility for the poor; in 1732 he was paid £6 6s ‘for medicine for the Poor by Agreement of the Parish’.  However, the other doctors also continued to treat the poor; in 1732 Henry Wallis was paid £2 8s 8d ‘for physic and looking after the poor’, in 1734 Thomas Wheatley was paid £1 3s 11d ‘for doctoring and looking after the poor’, and in 1736 George Slater was paid £9 4s 10d, also ‘for doctoring and looking after the poor’. Simple blood letting cost 6d a time; in 1730 Henry Wallis was paid 6d ‘for letting one of the children’s blood’, which was what had been paid in 1722 for ‘Rys’s boy letting blood’. The parish even provided spectacles; in 1728 6d was paid for a pair of spectacles for Widd Inward and in 1733 2s 6d was paid to Gabrial Foard ‘in need and spactickles [spectacles]’.

With infectious diseases such as small pox special precautions were taken, including cleaning the house where the patient died, putting a lock and staple (for locking with a padlock) on the house door, and being particularly careful during the burial. An example occurred in 1708 when Widow Pegden died; unusually she was both socked, ‘to sock’ being Kentish Dialect meaning to shroud or wrap a corpse in grave clothes, and put in a coffin:26

For laying out Widd Pegden — 4s

For Socking for her — 3s

For a Coffin for her — 8s

For Grave and all Charges for Minister and Clark — 3s 6d

Paid in her Sickness — 3s 6d

For Carrying her to Church — 3s

Paid cleaning out the house — 1s

For a Lock and Staple — 8d 186

Complex and costly medical treatments warranted itemised bills in the overseers’ account books. In 1725 Edward Jarvis was paid £1 1s ‘for setting and curing Bird’s arm’ and in 1731 Henry Wallis was paid £3 ‘as per bill for curing Widd Everit’s son’. In 1733 George Slater was paid £4 15s for ‘curing Margaret Blackbourn’s leg’ and in 1736 he was paid £5 3s 6d ‘for doctoring and looking after Sarah Maynard’. In 1735 Thomas Wheatley was paid 1s ‘for doctoring Easter Mockett at the Poor-house’ and Walter Plummer was paid £3 10s 6d ‘for curing Wid Blackbourn’s boy’s head and other charges’. One case, that of a young boy, John Barton [Burton], was more complex. In 1728 the overseers spent 4s 6d for a consultation about ‘cutting the boy’s leg off’. The accounts for 1729 then contain a list of expenses for John Barton:

To a warrant to carry John Barton to Mrs Starks — 7s

To Counsellor Turner for advice on John Barton — 10s 6d

To Mr Turner and my journey to Canterbury at the sessions about John Barton — 11s

To the witnesses journey and expenses — 16s 6d

To Counsellor Turner’s pleading fee   — 10s 6d

Counsellor Turner was a local lawyer to whom the overseers turned on several occasions for legal advice, but there is no clue as to why this particular case had to go to law. Nevertheless, it was decided to go ahead with the amputation and in 1729 Dr Watts received £5 5s ‘for cutting Barton’s leg’. The amputation must have been a success since a subsequent entry in the accounts is for 4s 6d ‘to a wooden leg for Barton’s boy’. Finally, in 1730 the parish agreed to spend £16 to apprentice John Barton to Francis Cobb; it is not known whether or not this Francis Cobb was related to the Cobb family who later became so important in the town.

Some medical cases were thought to be sufficiently serious to warrant treatment in a hospital. In 1732 Widow Grigg was paid 10s ‘to get her son in the hospital’. Three payments to hoymen make it clear that patients were being sent for treatment to hospitals in London; in 1734 Henry Petken was paid 4s 6d ‘for expenses in getting Smith’s daughter into the hospital’, in 1735 Stephen Baker was paid £1 6s ‘as per bill paid at St Thomas Hospital [London]’ and in 1737 John Simmons was paid £1 11s 6d ‘as per bill for the use of Robert Bubb and Thomas Dawson at the hospital’. In 1719 James Stone suffered from a stone in the bladder. The minute of a vestry meeting records that a collection had been made in the town ‘so that he [James Stone] can be cut for stone’. The meeting decided that if the collection did not reach the required sum, the parish officers could take the balance from the poor’s rate. In fact the costs involved were considerable. Stone travelled to and from London in Stephen Pamflett’s hoy, for which Pamflett was paid 9s; Pamflett was also given £11 7s 6d ‘for the use of James Stone’, presumably whilst in London, and a further 4s 6d ‘to pay the Apothecary, for the use of James Stone’. 

Treatment of the long term mentally ill was particularly harsh. In the period covered by the overseers’ accounts there is only one clear case of mental illness - that of John Norwood, a cordwainer or shoemaker. An entry in 1719 records a payment of 1s 4d ‘for John Norwood’s windows’, perhaps mending them or putting bars over them. This was followed in 1720 by payments totalling £1 15s to his wife ‘at several times in need’. In 1721 there is a payment of 6d to a barber ‘to shave John Norwood,’ and in 1722 a payment of 2s to John Norwood himself and a further six payments of 6d a time to Francis Dixon, a barber, ‘for John Norwood’s shaving’. By 1723 the situation had got worse, both for John Norwood and his wife. In that year his wife was again ‘in need’ and received 2s 6d, and John Norwood was again shaved by Francis Dixon. However, the accounts now include 5s ‘for a new chain for John Norwood’, 4s paid to Thomas Sprackling, a carpenter, ‘for work about John Norwood’s house’, and 5s for ‘charges for confining John Norwood’. Later in the year 1723 his wife was given a further 7s 6d and a further 1s 3d was spent ‘when John Norwood was chained.’ In 1724 his wife was given 10s and Francis Dixon was paid 1s 2d ‘for shaving John Norwood’s head’. The situation had become even more serious by 1725 when 5s 9d was spent for ‘four men to help about John Norwood’ with 6s being spent ‘about Parish Business, confining John Norwood’, with a further 6s ‘for straw for John Norwood’s house’; he also had his head shaved once again by Francis Dixon for 6d. Later in 1725 it was finally decided that he had to be moved to London, presumably to an asylum. The accounts record a payment of 2s 6d to John Norwood himself and a payment of 9s 6d to get him on board a hoy and ‘for several things, as shoes, britches, hat, cap for him’ so that he would be properly clothed. There seem to have been two minders looking after him on the journey; Thomas Walton was paid £2 10s ‘to carry John Norwood to London’ and Mark Browne was paid £1 1s ‘for [going] up to London with John Norwood’. Finally Stephen Baker, a mariner, was paid £1 10s ‘for charges about John Norwood’, and Richard Laming, a hoyman, was paid £6 8s 6d for carrying John Norwood to London, the high charge probably meaning that Norwood and his minders were the only passengers on the hoy. Meanwhile, in Margate, William Cook, a mason, was paid 6s ‘for work about John Norwood’s house’ and Thomas Barber, a carpenter, was also paid £5 0s 3d ‘for work done at John Norwood’s house’. There is no record of what finally happened to him.

 The overseers effectively adopted destitute orphan children and supported children whose parents could not themselves afford to support them. This could take the form of weekly payments, referred to as a pension, made to someone in the parish to look after the children, or payments for clothing and shoes. For example, in 1666 Thomas Foster was paid 6s ‘for shooes and mending of shooes for severall children that are Pensioners’.26 The overseers would pay generous premiums so that children could be apprenticed, or ‘bound-out’, to work as servants or apprentices to masters or mistresses willing to maintain and train them; they would also contribute towards the costs of the children’s clothing during their apprenticeship. In 1666 Edward Hurt was paid £2 10s for taking Rendall as an apprentice, and John Freeman was paid £5 for taking Thomas Tadd as an apprentice with a further 10d ‘spent at the ensealing of his indenture’; that year the overseers also paid 12s 6d to ‘Widd Grant a yeares rent for Rob. Tadd’s widow’, the death of Robert Tadd presumably driving his wife and son into poverty. In 1721 Daniel Allen was given £3 for taking on a female apprentice, and the parish also paid 10s ‘to clothe her more’, 4s for making her Indentures and 3s 6d for ‘money spent when the Indentures were signed’,  probably beer to ensure that the event was properly celebrated. In 1719 Nicholas Wellen, a coal merchant, was paid 7s 6d for taking a boy, and 1½d was ‘spent at binding the boy’; in 1719 John Kennett, a tailor, was paid 2s 10d ‘for a pair of britches for Wellen’s boy’, in 1721 1s was paid to provide him with a pair of stockings, and in 1723 William Laming was paid 2s 6d ‘for a shirt and worsted’ for him. In 1728 the overseers paid Mr Wells, a farmer, £5 to take the son of John Thornden, a carter, as an apprentice. John Thornden was ill and in financial difficulty at the time, as in 1728 the overseers gave him 3d for a knife, 6d for a comb, 2s 6d for a hat and 8d for ‘a pair of half-legs’; in 1729 the overseers paid 3s 6d ‘to bring John Thornden from Brooksend’, 3s 6d ‘to Widd Sackett for nursing him’ and then 6s ‘for his funeral charges’. In 1728 the overseers paid Mrs Quince £5 to take Elizabeth Laming as an apprentice; they also paid 8s for a ‘hood and petticoat’ for her.  In 1731 the overseers paid John Kerby, a shoemaker, £1 6s 8d ‘for taking W. Pierces girl apprentice’, and 3s 6d was spent ‘for necessaries for Thomas Huse to sea.’ In 1733 the overseers paid £4 5s ‘for clothing and putting out Brooks boy to [Francis Dixon] the barber’ and 12s to Daniel Butler, an attorney ‘for indentures and bond for ditto’.

Of course not all apprenticeships worked out well, and the local papers contained frequent advertisements for the return of run-away apprentices. A typical example appeared in the Kentish Post in November 1732 and is particularly interesting in providing details about how a young farm labourer of the time would have been dressed:50

Run away from Edward Bings near Margate in the Isle of Thanet, on Sunday the 12th instant, George Simpson, a boy; about 15 years of age, pretty much pitted with the small-pox, and thin brown hair; he had on when he went off, a new light-coloured coat and waistcoat, trimm’d with the same colour, and sheep-skin breeches, with black buttons, and had also with him an old coarse cloth coat, the sleeves turn’d up with blue, and a yellow waistcoat; whoever brings him to the said Edw. Bings, or secures him and sends word so that he may fetch him, shall have satisfaction for the same.

The overseers were less keen to support the children of unmarried mothers, thinking that parents should be made to pay; when they didn’t it was necessary to apply to Dover for a warrant to enforce payment. In 1682 the overseers paid 3s 6d ‘for fetching the warrants for the bastard children’.26 In 1739 an entry was made at the front of the overseers’ account book:47

Whereas complaint has been made to the Justices of the Poor concerning bastard children. And no redress or account has been taken to bring the offenders in that kind to correction. It is mutually agreed by the Church Wardens, Overseers, and the Parishioners whose names are underwritten – being met at a Vestry lawfully called that the Fathers and Mothers of such child or children, who do not provide for them as the law directs in such case and the Justices will not take any account of them as heretofore to bring them to correction or punishment. We do oblige ourselves to look and enquire further into such affairs that the offenders in this kind shall be brought to moderate  correction to be whipped or otherwise and to put them to hard labour in order for the maintenance of such Bastard Children. And further it is mutually agreed by us whoes names are underwritten that the charge and expense that shall arise in prosecuting all such offenders above mentioned shall be paid out of the Poor Sess.

The overseers spent much money moving people out of the parish who had no right of settlement and were thought might become a charge on the parish. In 1716 the overseers gave Robert Sackett 2s 9d for ‘carrying a woman and three children to Canterbury’ and in 1719 John Thornden was paid 3s ‘for carrying a poor woman to Sandwich’. In 1720 10s 9d was spent for ‘carrying a big bellied woman out of the parish.’ In 1728 the overseers gave Widd Jolley £1 ‘to bear her charges’ and gave a hoyman 6s ‘for her and her children’s passage to London’. In 1730 the overseers paid Daniel Pamflett, a hoyman, 8s ‘for the passage of Atkins wife and children to London’. Things could, however, get expensive if the law became involved. In 1723 the overseers spent a total of £1 10s 6d on removing John Hemmings from Margate to Rochester:

For a warrant and summons to remove John Hemmings — 6s 8d

To carry John Hemmings to Rochester, expences and journey — 8s

For a warrant and charges as the Roade, for Hemmings — 6s 8d

To a journey to Dover for a Warrant for Hemmings  — 6s 8d

To John Hemmings for his charges home — 2s 6d

In another case, in 1731, the overseer’s moved Ann Poole out of the parish. They first paid 4s ‘for a horse and man to carry Ann Poole to Chislett’. It is unclear why this was done, as the overseers then paid 8s to the Parish Clerk, Michael Trapp, for his ‘journey to Ash and Canterbury with Ann Poole’ and 2s ‘for a warrant and examination’, presumably at Canterbury. The overseers had also to pay 4s ‘for horse and man to carry Ann Poole to Ash’ and 5s 9d ‘for expenses, 2 days, for Ann Poole’. Then in 1732 they paid 10s 6d ‘to the Counsel retaining fee’, £1 1s ‘for myself [Michael Trapp] and both Churchwardens for our journey to Canterbury at the trial of Ann Poole and Isaac Parrau at the Sessions’ and £1 11s 6d ‘to the Councellers fee for the two causes’. Finally the parish had to pay £1 3s ‘to Ash parish by order of court for Ann Poole’ and a further 10s 9d for ‘our expenses and Court Charges’, a total cost for moving Ann Poole from St John’s to Ash of  £6 0s 6d. And that was not the end of it. In 1738 3s was spent ‘on parish business on account of Ann Pool’ and 3s 8d on examining Ann Pool at the White Hart in Margate before a Mr Wellard, possibly from Dover, it seeming that Ann Pool was protesting about her transfer to Ash. In 1732 Mary Norwood was also sent to Ash, this time it seeming that the case was settled at Dover. The overseers spent 6s 8d ‘for horse-hire and my [Michael Trapp] journey to Dover with Mary Norwood’, and they paid 7s 6d to Mr Swinford, a farmer, ‘for horse-hire and servant to Dover with her.’ A further 2s 6d was spent on unspecified expenses and 7s ‘for a warrant and examination to remove her to Ash’. Finally the overseers paid 4s ‘for expenses with Mary Norwood’, probably incurred at wayside pubs on the route.

An even more extraordinary case dates to 1733 and concerns the transfer of a woman, a traveller or ‘stranger’, and her child from the Poorhouse to a Poorhouse in London; the cost was £7 13s 10d and occupied Michael Trapp for 9 days:

To a journey to Canterbury and Councils fee about a stranger and child — 7s 6d

To a journey to Dover, a warrant, examination, and oath — 8s 6d

To money paid for a cart to carry the woman and child to Dover — 15s

To money paid at Dover for a horse and man to go to Sr Bassalls [probably a reference to Sir Basil Dixwell, Governor of Dover Castle] for the mayor and other justices there, 4s, and expenses for 5 of us 6s — 10s

To money paid for ferry for the horse and cart — 2s 4d

To money paid for necessaries the same time — 1s 6d

To money paid for a cart to carry the woman and child aboard of the hoy, and other help — 1s 3d

To money paid for victuals and drink for 4 of us on a passage to London — 6s 9d

To money paid for charges in getting her ashore, with boats and porters — 3s

To money for charges for getting her to Islington, victuals and my [Michael Trapp] expenses with the Officers [of the Poor house there] — 9s 6d

To my charges and expenses the next day to go to Hanvel [possibly Hanwell] with the child — 15s 6d

To my expenses for my self and Feby [Phoebe] and Lodging that night — 5s 6d

To money spent with the Officers of Hanvel — 2s

To money paid for our expenses in getting back to London — 6s 6d

To money paid for lodging, for victuals, for myself and Feby at London — 10s

To money paid for provisions and our passage down [hoy] — 8s

To my expenses to London, 9 days from Home — £1 1s

In 1733 the overseers embarked on a series of forced evictions from the parish. The process started with payment of 5s 2d ‘for a warrant from Dover by the News-man’, the newsman being one of the men who distributed the local Canterbury paper, the Kentish Post, throughout the region. Paying a newsman was a cheaper way of getting a warrant from Dover to Margate than sending a man especially to Dover to collect it. Having obtained their warrant the overseers then paid two men 3s ‘for taking charge of Wm. Fisher’ and three men 3s ‘for  taking charge of several men’. It is noticeable that there is no mention of the use of constables on this occasion, and, indeed, the parish records of the period contain no mention of parish constables. 

Having ‘taken charge’ of the men the real expenses started:

To money paid for a journey to Dover and horse-hire — 6s 8d

To money paid for the Counsellers Fee concerning Elgar — 10s 6d

To money for expenses — 1s

To money paid for examination, warrant and copy for Tho. Smith — 7s

To money paid for removing of Goodman Goatum (Goatham) — 1s

To money paid for examination, warrant, and copy for Hen. Bassett and Jn. Mason, each  — 7s

To a warrant to remove Wm. Elgar, Jn. Hubbard, Wm. Pegden, Ed. Coleman each — 4s

To money paid for a Counsel retaining fee and pleading — £2 2s

To money paid for charge at the same time (not allowed) — 1s 6d

To money spent on the Mayor and Jurats of Dover — 1s

To money paid for Wm. Fisher, wife, and children for lodging, drink, and victuals at London — 2s 3d

To Stephen Baker [hoyman] for their passage to London — 6s

To Mr. Jewell [Valentine Jewell, White Hart] for 2 horse heirs [hiring of two horses] to  Dover — 10s

Also a worry to the overseers were the ‘waygoers’ or travellers who would, ‘if necessitous’, be a charge on the parish. Rather than put them in the poorhouse the overseers boarded them out in the parish and then encourage them to move on. Here is an example from 1732:

To Isaac Reynalls for lodging and nursing a traveller — 4d

To money paid for charges in removing her — 1s

To money for wine for the traveller — 1s

To money for wine for the travelling woman — 1s

Despite the best efforts of the Overseers, the parish rates increased inexorably over this period.  Lewis estimated that, based on the Overseers Accounts, the total expenditure on the poor in the years 1663 and 1664 was:17

In the Year 1663 — £84 3s 6d

In the Year 1664 — £72 16s 8d

By the years 1701 and 1702 the bill had increased dramatically:

In the Year 1701 — £303 10s 9d

In the Year 1702 — £279 1s 2d

Lewis attributed this largely to the ‘decay of the Fishing here, with the falling off of the foreign trade, and the removal of so many of the substantial Inhabitants on that Account, from this place to London’.17