THE POOR OF THE PARISH
The responsibility for looking after the poor was firmly laid on the parish by a Statue passed in 1597 and the parish was given the power to levy a poor rate through its overseers for the poor. Their accounts still survive in the town to-day in the Watton Parish Manuscripts. Further acts were passed at a later date that empowered parishes to purchase, or erect, buildings specifically for occupation by the poor and later still also for their employment. Thus a group of Watton people subscribed towards the erection of a house for the poor of the town when they met on 12th June 1719. They made an agreement with Ann Woodhouse, the Lady of the Manor, and her daughter, Ann Samwell, whereby for the payment of 1/- per year they could have a piece of land of the Manor of Watton Hall to build a dwelling house for the poor.
l was referred to as a "parcel of land and pasture of the common, or waste of the Manor of Wat- ton, with an old house or cottage now built thereupon, near the end of Watton street running fifteen yards north to south and fifteen yards east to west (part of which is now enclosed) the said common pasture of Watton lying around the same cottage and land now enclosed Joseph Pannell dwelleth in — later in occupation of Thomas Fand".
This group also agreed on the same date to pay the Churchwardens of Watton towards building a dwelling house upon the common pasture of Watton aforesaid for the use of the poor of the same parish or such other purposes as the parishioners shall from time to time think fit. Thirty-one people subscribed £ 30 7s. 6d. with Mr. Scott being the biggest contributor with £ 4 and Robert Kiddell the lowest at 2/6.
The building accounts however are not very clear as one page lists a total sum of £ 32 9s. 9d. under the heading "a bill of disbursements about the Town House". Furthermore it appears that operations had already started in May 1719 as the first item was the payment of 4/6 for pulling down the house and clearing the ground. This referring to the cottage already built on the reclaimed land.
The town provided the timber that was to be used and Stebbing and boy were paid 107- for felling it.
£ 2 14s. Od. was paid for three thousand red bricks and £ 1 10s. Od. for one thousand white bricks that were to be used. With a building 30 feet by 21 feet 2,500 bricks would be needed for the floor, so it would appear that the construction was of a timber frame, clay and wattle and daub on a brick plinth and brick floor. It can also be assumed that it had a thatched roof as the accounts show that the sum of £ 1 5s. 4d. was paid to a thatcher.
So by the end of 1719 Watton had, what appears to have been, its first "town house" where at least some of the poor of the parish could be given accommodation. The situation of the "Poor House", later to be called the "Workhouse", was near to what is now Graham Woodyatt's Fabrics Shop,
The parish manuscripts show the day to day issues that occupied the overseer for the poor as recorded in the overseer's books. Space prevents anything like a full detail of same being given, so only s few of the more interesting items will be mentioned.
The overseer had to keep a careful account of the income he received through the poor rate and of the money he spent. Francis Machin who was the overseer in 1769 collected £ 79 2s. Od. for the six months starting 11th September, charging a rate of 2/4 in the pound.
It is possible to compile a list of the inhabitants of Watton wealthy enough to be rated, but not possible to tell where they lived, although the occupants of Neaton and the "Green" are listed separately.
Francis Machin himself was assessed at £ 2 and so had to pay 4/8 poor rate for six months. Mr. Francis Hicks paid the highest sum, nearly £ 13. Rev. Mr. Pigg paid £ 1 15s. Od. for the vicarage (Willow House! The expenditure for the half year of 1769 was £ 89 1s. 6d., thus there was a deficiency of £ 9 19s. 6d., but the income from the town stocks appeared to have balanced the books. One wonders if the income had been as great as the expenditure, if this income from the stocks would have been shown?.
A later entry reads, "playing the engine and mending the pipe EO Is. 9d.". Could this item apply to a town fire engine? Another odd entry is for "five yards of Russia Drab Thread, waxed, to mend the town Bede £ 0 6s. 6d." Would this refer to the repair of the Town Bible?. It is therefore clear that expenditure on the poor and on general matters of town and church administration were not separated in the accounts.
previous / next