ASPECTS OF CIVIL ADMINISTRATION AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
NINETEENTH CENTURY KNOTTINGLEY
By TERRY SPENCER B.A. (HONS), Ph D.
Preliminary Draft May 2005
KNOTTINGLEY POOR LAW : OUTDOOR RELIEF
Gilbert’s Act of 1782, providing outdoor relief, was quickly and widely
adopted in many districts. From the 1790s widespread food shortages and
high unemployment engendered a permanent change in Poor Law relief as
humanitarianism and evangelicalism were tempered by a more material
philosophy engendered by fear of the effect of the French Revolutionary
principles on the poor. Thereafter parish relief lists grew
substantially as the names of the old and infirm were supplemented by
those of younger, able-bodied paupers and casual donation was replaced
by a more regularised pattern of relief. The general acceptance of
subsidy as a human right meant the reluctant acceptance of a wholesale
increase in cost and therefore in Poor Law rates. (1)
While it is clear that doles of money and materials were made on a
regular basis at Knottingley in the early nineteenth century, such
disbursements were only itemised seriatim from 1840. (2)
Begotten of charity, the outdoor relief given to paupers at
Knottingley varied in nature and extent, comprising donations of money
and/or materials. Even within the weekly doles of money there existed
considerable diversity. The recommendation that
"John Rollinson have 2s per week"
implies an open-ended commitment whereas
"Thomas Foulds have 2s 6d per week for two weeks"
suggests a short-term measure with a case review after a fortnight.
On occasion the period of relief was not clearly defined;
"John Howram [to] have 2s 6d per week for 2 or 3 wks, or 4 wks"
or again that
"Elizabeth Kitson have 2s 6d per week for a season." (5)
At times casual relief was granted to cover an unexpected and
hopefully, short-term crisis such as a death, illness or seasonal
unemployment. Thus when Edwards Ainsley, already in receipt of 2s 6d per
week, fell ill, it was agreed that she
"… have 2s per week additional for a few weeks until she be better"
and although her parish pay reverted to its original amount after ten
weeks, the increase was restored following further incapacity in
November 1841. (7)
The decision that
"John Wood have casual relief to meet present emergency" (8)
provides a further example of short-term subsidy while resolutions
"George Wood have a coffin and dues for his child" (9)
"10s be given towds (sic) Widow Braimes (sic) coffin"
are further examples of contingency payments made on an occasional
On other occasions casual aid took the form of repayable loans for
variable sums with staged repayments where necessary.
"£2 be lent to Widow Whitterton and 1s be stopped until the sum be
"Rose Blackburn have casual relief for a few weeks and that she pay
it back at 6d per week" (12)
"George Nichols have a loan of £2-10-0 to be repaid at 5s per
The decision that "William Hossell have ½ years rent lent him"
is clearly an example of subsidised rent to prevent possible eviction
resulting in possible admission to an already overcrowded workhouse.
Not all appeals for rent subsidy elicited a sympathetic response, however,
as shown by the rejection of the appeal of October 1828
"William Darnforth’s wife applies for relief, or a bed to lie on Mr
Raynor their landlord having siezed their goods for rent." (15)
A more elaborately arranged system of repayment was that made in
conjunction with the loan of £3 to William Shorter in May 1844,
"..to be repaid at £1-0-0 at the end of the month – another £1-0-0
at the end of 6 months another, third, £1-0-0 at nine month’s end."
It is interesting to note that at the beginning of May the Select
Vestry had refused the loan to Shorter and it is regrettable that no
reason is given for the rapid volte face. It is also unique that Shorter
was required to sign the resolution entered in the Minute Book as a
formal acknowledgement of the loan and the terms of repayment. (17)
The sums disbursed weekly as outdoor relief ranged from one to ten
shillings although there are several instances where sixpence was paid
as the minimum amount and any sum over six shillings was quite rare.
Throughout the period 1841-1862 the pattern of disbursement remained
stable. There is, however, a significant increase in the number of
allowances in each decade and overall. Between the 1840s and 1850s an
increase of 25% in alllowances occurred and 53% increase during the
following decade, making an overall increase of 65%. The local
population rose by 5.1% between 1841-1851 and whilst this may have been
an influential factor it is probable that the hardship of the ‘Hungry
Forties’ was the principal reason for the increased poverty for despite
a decrease of 3.5% in the population over the following decade the
number of people seeking relief increased. As the overall population
increase between 1841-1861 was only 1.7% demographic influence appears
to have been minimal and the increase in pauperism based on determinants
such as the impact on local occupations and conditions of national
events and developments. The Tabular data should be treated with
caution, however, as the recorded figures are often increases in amounts
previously sanctioned by the Select Vestry and therefore somewhat
distorted. For instance, the seven instances of 6d recorded in 1861-62
were in fact increases to ongoing donations and therefore distort the
minimum amounts paid in three of the four quarters of that year as well
as the total number of cases of outdoor relief. Likewise, the 115 cases
of outdoor relief recorded in the first quarter of 1861-66 arose from a
crisis situation with 64 of the allowances being passed at a single
vestry meeting in October 1861 and therefore, do not reflect the regular
pattern of Poor Law donation. (18)
Not all outdoor relief was by cash payment, much being in kind. A wide
variety of materials was distributed within and beyond the confines of
the workhouse. Many of the articles donated were given to enable a
potential pauper to work for a living and thus obviate dependence upon
parish rates. At other times items were provided to facilitate a
financial return from able bodied paupers working on the highways or in
the limestone quarries of the township. The decision that
"Wm Sharp have a truss and work in the Stone Quarry"
is an attempt to obtain some return for subsidisation. (19) Provision
of a truss was quite common and even of a double truss when necessary.
(20) Setting able bodied paupers to work in the Town Quarry was
frequently advocated by the Overseers in the first half of the
nineteenth century. (21)
Articles of clothing were regularly provided. The earliest recorded
instance is in June 1823
"Thomas Crosby be furnished with a jacket and shirt"
and in December 1839
"Mr Willson (sic) be requested to buy a piece of cloth for the old
mens’ jackets and trowsers." (sic) (22)
"Wm Wood have a jacket and trousers."
"William Mattison have a pair of stockings"
"Thomas Colley have a pair of shoes"
are but three more of the innumerable entries concerning such items
within the Vestry Minute Books. (23) A rather amusing decree by the
Select Vestry Committee in 1849 states
"That Joseph Walker have a pair of drawers and some rigging"
The term ‘rigging’ was a synonym for clothes even a century later
during the boyhood of the writer when children were commonly ‘rigged
out’ for Whitsuntide, the term derived from the towns’ maritime
connection in the era of sailing ships. (24)
A more precise resolution decrees that
"Jane Chapman have a petticoat given" (25)
while a similar benefaction bestowed on Mary Walker in 1857 orders
that she have
"a petticoat, shift, pair of boots and a Gown."
Similarly, the order that
"Kitty Bromley have a new gown"
conjures up a vision of pauper elegance belied by the awareness that
the gowns to which the decrees refer are not ballgowns but underskirts.
Bestowal of a multitude of items to Mary Butcher in 1856, comprising
nightgown, shift, blanket and sheet, speaks as much of destitution as of
largess (27) whilst the decision in 1855 that
"William Lockwood’s daughter have some clothes to go to service"
refers to the domestic rather than the divine form of the noun and
echoes the case of Maria Oxley quoted earlier. Likewise, the decision to
donate 7 shillings to Sabrina Thompson
"on condition she obtains a situation"
is a further example of the willingness of the Select Vestry to invest
a small sum of money in the hope of getting rid of a parish pauper. (28)
Footwear was naturally one of the items most frequently in demand,
shoes being commonly donated and repaired. (29) January 1846 marks the
date of a new fashion trend, being the first recorded case of clogs
being supplied to a town pauper (30) after which date they gradually
superseded shoes until by the 1850s they had become the most common form
of pauper footwear. (31) So abundant was the purchase of clogs by 1858
that the Surveyor of Highways was instructed to bargain with the clobber
and obtain a discount price on the supply to the roadworkers. (34)
Stockings were also dispensed quite frequently (33) as were shirts. (34)
O occasion the material from which articles were to be fashioned was
sanctioned, hence in March 1843
"Joseph Dyson to have a little calico for shirts and shifts for
[his] family" (35)
"John Tomlinson [to] have cloth for trowsers." (sic) (36)
A supreme example of ‘in house’ economy is seen in April 1859 when
George Radley was informed that he could have a pair of trousers on
condition that they were made by a destitute town tailor seeking parish
relief, Thomas Gowthwaite. (37) Gowthwaite, while in receipt of parish
pay had received other such commissions previously, in 1856 for example
when it was stipulated that
"Thomas Gowthwaite have 3 pairs of trowsers (sic) to make."
At the same time a Mr England of Leeds was engaged to manufacture a
special truss for one John Dixon. (38)
Benjamin Cawthorn was the recipient of a waistcoat and hat in 1844
(39) whilst in 1852 Thomas Masterson received an entire suit of clothes.
In this respect he was rather more fortunate than an earlier applicant
of whom it was decreed that
"William Matterson have a second-hand coat given him." (40)
Blankets were commonly distributed to paupers, sometimes in pairs, as
were sheets and rugs. (41) With regard to the later items is an
interesting entry of 1862 which states that Reynard Shaw have 5s per
"..an old blanket and two rugs"
whilst in the winter of 1855 William Greenwood received two blankets,
a quilt and a coverlet. (42)
Apart from articles of common daily usage were more unusual donations.
In late 1848 for example we find recorded
"Thomas Hunt to have some leeches." (43)
The following year, two able bodied men were allowed a spade each, to
be paid for at one shilling per week. (44) More pathetically, on the
26th December 1861,
"William Greenwood [to] have the Town’s Doctor for his child and to
have a pound of candles. " (45)
Somewhat bizarrely, in May 1851
"Thomas Walker [to] have a hook immediately for his stump."
Perhaps it is too cynical of one to suppose hat the urgency was
motivated less by humanitarian concern than the desire to make the
recipient better equipped for work and ths less liable to be dependent
upon the parish?
In January 1842, it is recorded
"Mary Colley have a bed lent out of the [work]house" (47)
which may have been lebt out at a time of confinement although it was
not unknown for pregnant women to be admitted into the workhouse for
On a more sombre note, an item of 29th December 1859 authorises that
"Ann Appleyard have a coffin for her child"
which compares favourably with a resolution earlier in the year that
"The application for a coffin be not entertained for the late Ann
More compassionately, in February 1850
"William Whiteley have coals provided during his illness." (49)
The dole to Whiteley stands in sharp contrast to the decree of
December 1831 that
"The overseers not to give any coals at present until the severe
weather outs in." (50)
The records furnish abundant evidence of an ‘enterprise culture’ with
subsidies to people aspiring to a degree of financial independence. By
providing materials or money (usually in the form of loans) the Select
Vestry hoped to enable paupers to earn their livelihood and thereby
reduce dependency upon the rates. Thus in 1832
"Widow Austwick lent 20s towards a mangle and stopped 1s per week
out of her pay to repay the same."
Also in December 1841, the Knottingley overseer was instructed to
write to the Overseers and Guardians at Manchester
"to purchase a mangle for Widow Whitterson." (51)
One presumes that the widow sought work as a self employed washer
woman. The fact that the authorities at Manchester were approached
suggests that the widow may have been relieved by Knottingley parish but
chargeable to Manchester Guardians. The situation was repeated to some
extent in 1856 when Ann Barber was given two shillings towards the cost
of a mangle. (52) Financial subsidy also applied to workhouse inmates.
In 1843 it is recorded
"Jno. Calvert quit the house and have 4 dozens (sic) oranges"
which appears to be a subsequent adjustment to the decision taken a
week earlier that
"Calvert have a pack of nuts and 1 dozen oranges." (53)
Was Calvert set up as a greengrocer? The possibility is lent substance
by a Vestry decision of July 1858 that
"John Nichols’s application for money to buy an (sic) hawking
Liscence (sic) cannot be entertained but they [i.e. the Vestrymen]
recommend him to commence a little Green Grocery business…." (54)
Nichols and his family had initially received poor relief at Goole,
being the subject of a removal order for their repatriation to
Knottingley where they received 7s 6d parish pay. (55) The Vestry
recommendation appears to have been ignored by Nichols for in November
1858, he was
"employed on the roads for the present." (56)
Another person in a similar situation to Nichols was Joseph Cawthorn.
In September 1852, the Select Vestry agreed that Cawthorn
"… have a loan of 30s for an ass and cart." (57)
Whatever the nature of Cawthorn’s business it proved to be a failure
for the following February he was employed on the roads. (58) Whether
Cawthorn successfully applied for a second loan is uncertain but a
report of March 1857, states that
"Joseph Cawthorn has sold his ass and brought back the sovereign."
Thereafter, Cawthorn worked on the roads until he was dismissed in
December 1858. (60) Undaunted, however, Cawthorn made a further loan
application for in March 1860, it was agreed that
"Joseph Cawthorn have a loan of a sovereign to purchase a donkey."
A request by the Select Vestry that
"Mrs Hobman bring her horse and cart to the Overseer"
may be a further indication of parish assistance in ensuring a
livelihood. (62) Similarly, an entry of October 1841, that
"the money stopped off Wm Hood’s pay hitherto stopped towards his
boat, be paid over to Mr Cliff" (63)
is perhaps, an indication of a mismanaged maritime subsidy, a theory
lent some credence by the Select Vestry decision in December 1859
"that Saml. (sic) Parker have 3s 6d for his boat repairing."
Doles of meat and flour were a further aspect of pauper subsidy.
Resolutions such as
"Charles Wroe have a stone of meal per week for a fortnight"
"Thomas Shaw [and] family have 1 st[one] of flour" (65)
are typical examples of the routine distribution of these commodities.
The late 1840s were a period of particular hardship when the tax on
bread introduced by the Corn Laws of 1815, combined with crop failures
and industrial recession to raise food prices and create the decade
remembered as the ‘Hungry Forties’. (67) The effect of such adverse
trends on local life is evident from the wholesale doles of meal to the
poor of Knottingley at Christmas 1846, when on the basis of personal
recommendation by the Vestry Committeemen it was donated in quantities
of half or one stone to one hundred individuals between 17th December
1846 and 14th January 1847. (68) A similar example of mass relief of
this kind, albeit on a smaller scale, occurred in late October 1849,
when all married men at work in the Town’s Quarry received a stone of
meal as supplementary relief. (69)
Donations of fuel and clothing were the most common element of relief
in the early nineteenth century. (70) By the mid century a significant
decline had occurred at Knottingley and although doles of meal continued
on an individual basis, together with occasional donations of footwear,
financial relief was the norm by the early years of the following
decade. The last pair of shoes was issued by the Knottingley Overseer in
April 1860 and the last pair of clogs in September of that year, while
Vestry authorisation for payment of Mr Bramham’s shoe bill in November
1860, marks the end of several decades of subsidised footwear. (71) One
reason for the transition may be the ‘trickle down’ effect of greater
prosperity from the mid point of the century which nationally, witnessed
a fall in the percentage of poor relief. In the context of local affairs
the rates crisis of the early 1850s (discussed elsewhere in this study)
marked the turning point. (72)
©2005 Dr. Terry Spencer
| INDEX |
| CHAPTER ONE |
CHAPTER TWO | CHAPTER THREE
| CHAPTER FOUR |
| CHAPTER FIVE |
CHAPTER SIX | CHAPTER SEVEN
| CHAPTER EIGHT |
| CHAPTER TEN |