Fragments of Two Centuries - Glimpses of Country Life when George III. was King
by Alfred Kingston
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That the education of that day was very exact is afforded by the announcement of Mr. Jeremiah Slade, the keeper of a boarding school at Fowlmere in 1766, which reads:—"Young gentlemen genteely boarded and instructed in the art of true and correct spelling, and of right pronunciation; reading English with a true emphasis, writing all the most useful hands with accuracy and freedom and elegance; arithmetic in all its branches in the most concise manner with its application to trade and commerce," &c., &c.



In these days, when so much is heard in favour of coming back to the Parochial area as the unit of local government, it may be of interest just to glance back at the condition of things when, in the last century, the parish vestry was almost omnipotent, and controlled all sorts of things, from a pauper's outfit, or from marrying a pauper, to the maintenance of the fire engine, the repair of the Church, and the wine used at the Communion! The oldest materials I have found available for obtaining a glimpse of the Parochial Parliament at work, both in Royston and neighbouring parishes, have been the Royston parish books, and sundry papers and accounts which have come under my notice belonging to neighbouring parishes.

It was customary for everyone attending a vestry to sign his name or make his mark, a good old custom worth continuing in every parish vestry—and it was no uncommon thing to find from a dozen to fifteen names entered. Parish business was not in those days the dry affair it often is in these days of "getting together a quorum." If the truth must be told, our forefathers in the good old times had a way of preventing its being "dry," and the parish accounts I have no doubt in every village in the district as well as in Royston, still record the unvarnished tale! The custom was for the clergyman to announce in Church on Sunday the day and hour of meeting of the vestry—generally on a Monday—and also the subject which was to engage the attention {33} of the vestry. Monday morning came and with it the tolling of the bell to summon the vestry, but this was only the letter and not the spirit of the Local Parliament, which was forthwith adjourned from the Church to a more convenient and also more congenial time and place, viz., at six o'clock in the evening "at the house of William Cobb, at the sign of the Black Swan," or some other name and house as the case might lie.

The general practice of holding meetings by adjournment from Church seems to have been framed on the principle of giving all the publicans a turn, for in the seven years, 1776-82, the vestry meetings for Royston, Herts., were held at twenty-two different inns or public-houses. Here is a typical entry which explains the whole system prevailing during last century:—

"Ordered that this meeting be adjourned to this Day Month at 4 o'clock at Church, and from thence to be adjourned to some public-house to finish the business for the month, during the Cold Weather."

In this way the tradesmen of the town, or the farmer, the blacksmith and tailor in the village, relieved from the cares of the day, assembled in the evening on the sanded floor of the old inn, and, studiously furnished by Boniface with long Churchwarden "clays," puffed away, until, through the curling fumes which arose from the reflecting group of statesmen, parochial projects loomed large and a little business was sometimes made to go a long way! The "licker" and the fumes inspired sage talk on mild politics, and of enhanced prices to come, some war that was talked of "in Roosia or som'er out that country," mixed up with reminiscences of wars that had been, and the rare prices that had ruled in Royston Market!

There was a blunt honesty and an entire absence of squeamishness in these public servants of the good old days, and what was considered necessary and proper on such occasions, both for their own proper dignity and "the good of the house," they did not hesitate to order, and for the benefit of posterity down went the candid acknowledgment in the parish accounts——

L s. d. Paid at a vestry at Rogersis for licker . . . . . . . . . . 0 3 0 Paid Danl. Docwra what was spent at Easter Monday . . . . . 0 5 0

Danl. Docwra not only kept a public-house in Royston, but also at this time (1771) was rated for a bowling green as well, and it is possible that the Parochial Hampdens and their officers, like Drake and the Spanish Armada, prepared for work by a little play. As to the amount of "licker" necessary for the efficient control of parochial affairs I find that the villages had sometimes a different standard, for an entry in the Therfield parish papers gives ten shillings as the amount spent at a town's meeting, and a similar amount was entered for Barkway. Strange as it may appear in these days of Government auditors, {34} the parish officer then debited something to the parish account at every turn of his official duty.

Here is one way in which they managed a Parochial Assessment—

"Ordered that six of the principal inhabitants of Royston look over all the estates in the town, and each send in his own estimated list of their ratable value to a special meeting, and from those different lists form a revised list of assessment to be afterwards stuck on the Church door, allowing objections to be made, and if necessary amending assessments accordingly, first calling in the assistance of Mr. Jackson, of Barkway, the land surveyor."

The assessment was evidently a low one, for the highest amount paid for a shilling rate was 18s., and the lowest 1s. 6d. As to the property assessed, wool-staplers and maltsters were the principal items. A shilling rate for Royston, Cambs., produced about one-fourth of what it does now.

The year 1781 marked a new era in the local Parliament for Royston, both for the improved local authority then instituted and for the unity of the town. This was brought about by what, for want of a better name, I will call the Act of Union, by which the divided parish of Royston in Herts. and Cambs. was made one for local government purposes, with one vestry, one clerk, and one beadle, but with separate overseers and churchwardens. The management of the business under this Act of Union was placed in the hands of a Committee, consisting of the churchwardens and overseers, and of eight gentlemen for the Hertfordshire side, and three for Cambs. The new local parliament was made up of the following:—For Hertfordshire, George North, churchwarden, Henry Andrews (the astronomer), and Wm. Cockett, the two overseers; Tuttle Sherwood, churchwarden, and Thomas Moule and Thomas Watson, overseers for the Cambs. side; and the following elected members, viz., for Herts., John Phillips, Michael Phillips, Edward Day, Wm. Nash, Samuel Coxall, Thomas Wortham, William Stamford, junr., and Thomas Watson; for Cambs., Joseph Beldam, William Butler and John James.

The above Act of Union was passed as an experiment, and the Parliament was to be a triennial one, at the end of which period either party was at liberty to withdraw, but as a matter of fact it was formally renewed every three years and continued at least until 1809. The first act of the new local authority was to appoint Henry Watson as vestry clerk at a salary of five guineas a year, to decide that no poor should be allowed out of the Workhouse, only the casual poor, and also that

"All meetings to be at the Church at toll of Bell, and adjourn as they think proper * * their expenses from the Overseer at each meeting not to exceed a shilling."

If this meant a shilling each member it looked like "Rogersis'" bill for "licker" going up, but if for all the members together it {35} was decided retrenchment as well as reform. Among others who were parties to the agreement, but not in the first committee, were:—John Cross, John Warren, John Hankin, John Trudgett—what a lot of Johns they had in those old days!—Peter Beldam, Robt. Leete and Danl. Lewer. The new Local Parliament had not been in existence long before it began to set its house in order for business and framed other rules for its conduct. Instead of being a mere vestry with a chairman waiting for a quorum, it became an active local body, and, thanks to its methodical five-guinea clerk, actually had its meetings convened by sending out printed cards, as appears by the following entry:—

"Ordered that 500 Printed Cards be got from the Printing Office at Cambridge for the purpose of calling the Committee."

There was no printing office in Royston till the beginning of the present century. Another innovation was more sweeping, and that was that the custom of meeting at the inns of an evening was, at least for a time, abandoned. The meetings were held at Whitehall, at the top of the High Street, and to make things smart and business-like, a dozen strong chairs were bought for the use of the Committee room. There was also a rule about attendances, and any member failing to put in an appearance was fined sixpence, and if he happened to be the overseer, the enormity of his offence was marked by a fine of a shilling—"unless a note be sent to the meeting" [explaining cause of absence]. Here was a model authority, the like of which the town of Royston has never had since, considered as a working body, and having a due regard to the light in which things were then regarded as compared with the present time.

In glancing at some of the things for which the Parochial Parliament was responsible, I must ask those readers who, though not resident in Royston, may take an interest in these pages, to bear with me while I refer to a matter which exclusively affects some of the townspeople of Royston. As it was, whether rightly or wrongly, brought into the parish accounts for Royston, Cambs., for many years during the last and the present century, it may be convenient here to make some reference to the property in Melbourn Street, Royston, Cambs., now generally known as the Cave House and Estate, and its management during the period of which I am writing. In the first place then, it has really nothing whatever to do with the Cave, as a property, excepting for the accidental circumstance that nearly at the end of last century the then occupier of the Town House, as it was called, Thomas Watson by name, and a bricklayer, set his men to work during the hard winter of 1790, at cutting the present passage down through the solid chalk into the Cave from the house by which it is now entered. An interesting advertisement of this event which I have {36} found in the Cambridge University Library is given below. It bears the date 1794.


"T. Watson respectfully informs the public in general and the antiquarians in particular, that he has opened (for their inspection) a very commodious entrance into that ancient Subterraneous cavern in Royston, Herts., which has ever been esteemed by all lovers of antiquity as the greatest curiosity of the kind in Europe. T. Watson hopes that all those who may think proper to visit the above Cave will have their curiosity gratified to the full extent. The passage leading to it is of itself extremely curious, being hewn out of the solid rock.

"N.B.—It may be seen any hour of the day."

Since that time this old charity estate has become so closely associated with the Old Cave—which, by the way, is really nearer to the houses on the opposite side of the street—that the shop now occupied by Mr. G. Pool, on the east side of the gate entrance is {37} generally described as the Cave House, and the tenant for the time being has become invested with the office of curator of this old antiquity, while the shop on the other side of the gateway (Messrs. Whitaker's tailoring department), though equally a part of the estate, is not often spoken of in connection with the Cave.

Any account of the Cave itself would be quite foreign to the purpose of these Sketches, but it may be of interest to those readers who are not aware of the variety of curious and ancient carvings which adorn its walls, to give a glimpse of the interior, showing a portion of the figures. The part selected for the following illustration is that showing the High Altar, the Saviour extended on the Cross, with the Virgin Mary on the one side and the beloved disciple on the other, the bold figure to the left being St. Catherine and her wheel; the group of figures below this are supposed to refer to Richard Coeur de Lion and Queen Berengaria, but a further description would be out of place here, {38} suffice it to say that for this, and the foregoing illustration of the staircase cut by Watson in 1790, I am indebted to an excellent series of photographs of the interior of the Cave and its carvings, recently taken by Mr. F. R. Hinkins. For a full account of this interesting antiquity the reader is referred to the book by the late Mr. Joseph Beldam, a shilling edition of which is now published with numerous illustrations.

The so-called "Cave" property, left for the benefit of the inhabitants of Royston in Cambridgeshire, dates back about ten years before the dissolution of the Monastery. It was originally the Old Ram's Head Inn. William Lee, of Radwell, Herts., was the owner of the house in the time of Henry VIII., and by his will bearing date 8th day of October, 1527, he, among other bequests and directions of a local character made the special bequest which follows:—

"And as to the disposicon of all my Lands and Tenements which I have within the counties of Hertford and Cambridge, ffirst I will that such persons as be ffeoffees to my use imediately after my Decease shall deliver estate in fee of and in my Tenement in Royston called the Ramm's head, to certain honest persons as shall be named and appointed by mine executors to the performance of this my last Will and Testament. I will that the yearly profitts of the said Tenement, the Lord Rent, reparcons, and other charges deducted and allowed, then the Rent thereof comeing nere every year to be taken and retained by two of the Antient of the said ffeoffees and putt in a Box Locked, and so to remaine in the safe custody of the said ffeoffees unto such time as any manner of Tax, Subsidie, and whatsoever any manner of other charges shall be granted unto the King or his heirs, Kings of England by Act of Parliament, and then the Money so coming of the Rent of the said Tenement to discharge and acquit all such Persons as then shall dwell in the said Towne of Royston, that is to mean within the side of Cambridge, every man and person after their porcon, and I will the said two ffeoffees, or their heirs, shall at the end of every three years make a true and faithful accompt of the revenues of the said Tenement to the Prior of the said Monastery, or to his successors Priors, and when it shall happen any great sume to remaine in the said Box then I will that part of the said sume, that is to witt, all that is more than four Pounds, shall be disposed in deeds of charity amongst the poor Inhabitants within the said Towne of Royston by the good Discretion of the said Prior and successors."

Little thought William Lee that within less than a dozen years Monastery and Prior would be no more, and still less that the time would come when no tax or subsidy to the King should be levied directly upon the inhabitants of the town. The beneficial interest of the townspeople in the trust, however, remained, and the question arose how, in the absence of any such levies and charges upon the {39} towns-people by King and Parliament, as were common enough in his day, the provisions of the benefactor's will were to be interpreted.

During nearly the whole of the reign of George III., and also during a part of that of George II., the Parochial Parliament for Royston, Cambs., made short work of that knotty point, by simply treating the Estate as parish property; the houses were let and rents collected by the Overseers, and the revenue is duly entered in the year's parochial balance sheet, with the names of the tenants, while the feoffees seem to have stood by and tacitly approved of so simple an arrangement.

The Charity is still in the hands of feoffees, and at the time of writing this a new scheme for its administration is under the consideration of the Charity Commissioners.

Naturally an important part of the functions of the Parochial Parliament was that of providing for those who could not, and often for those who would not, provide for themselves. In many villages this had to be done by the Churchwardens and Overseers meeting after service in the Church on Sunday afternoons. In Royston, however, and probably in the larger villages, the business was transacted in pretty much the same way as the Vestry business already referred to.

Whether in the villages or the town the "indoor" relief of the poor was at best like a system of farming on short leases; indeed, "farming the paupers" was the usual description of it, and the Vestry advertised, not for a master of the Workhouse, but "a Workhouse to let," was the very common form of announcement when the Overseers were in want of someone to "farm" the paupers.

What a village Workhouse was like may be gathered, by making due allowance for the difference in population, from the following particulars of the palatial establishment which did duty at Royston during the last, and for a third of the present century. It stood on the west side of the Warren next the London Road (now Godfrey's terrace). It was a thatched building, occasionally mended with clay from the clay pit in the Green Walk valley. It had no water supply of its own, for the parish paid Daniell Ebbutt 5s. a year for the use of his well in 1774, raised to 7s. 6d. in 1777; while in 1805, water cost L4 a year; probably purchased of the water carrier at the door. It had a garden, for the parish paid, in 1772, for "Beans and Tatos" to plant in it. There was also a pig-sty attached, and the whole place was insured against fire for only 10s. a year premium, for L250 on the building and L50 on the contents.

The Workhouse children were taught to spin, and had the decided advantage of being taught to read and write, apparently, for their "schooling" cost the parish 2d. a head, paid to Henry Watson. The {40} Workhouse was regularly visited by two members of the Committee appointed in rotation to that office. In villages the Workhouse administration was open to the inspection of any ratepayer. Before the union of the two parishes in Royston there was a separate Workhouse for Royston, Cambs., situate in the Back Street. For a time after the union, two houses were used in Royston, Herts.—the "Old House" and "Whitehall." A Workhouse master or contractor, for feeding, clothing, employing, and taking care of the poor, generally did this for a fixed lump sum up to a given number, with about 2s. per head above that number, or a price per head all round, he taking their labour. The lowest figure I have found was that paid at Royston, Herts., in 1781, and at Barkway in 1792, when in each case the contract was for only 1s. 4d. per head! There was not much to be made out of that, and in bad times there was sure to be an application to be released from the contract or for compensation. In fact the parish had more difficulty about that one subject of contracts for "farming" the paupers than any other thing. If they got a good man he soon found that it was not worth his while to stay; if they got one satisfied with the price he did not improve the paupers or give them much for the money. Here is an offer by the Royston Joint Committee in 1784, and a kind of dilemma not uncommon under the old poor-law:—

"Order'd to offer Mr. Kennedy at rate of 2s. a head for fifty persons certain, and if more, to pay at same rate, he to provide three hot meat dinners every week."

Mr. Kennedy, like a sensible man, declined the offer. It was then ordered to advertise for a successor to Mr. Kennedy, but Mr. Kennedy did not feel disposed to be succeeded, and declined to quit the House without notice! A candidate came all the way from Grantham, but on arrival declined, and Mr. Searle, another candidate from Wisbech, accepted it, and something like an Irish eviction scene ensued. Mr. Kennedy, installed at Whitehall, was obdurate, and with two rival masters even the paupers were in a dilemma and inclined to "take sides." Some evidently stood by the old master, and the Committee gave these notice that "if they did not get out of the place and provide themselves with homes within a month they would be turned out." Failing to get Mr. Kennedy out of Whitehall, the Committee turned their attention to the Old House on the Warren again, and a deputation waited upon Mr. Kennedy and asked him "if he would be so obliging as to let the parish officers remove the oven, coppers, and the rest of the goods [parish property!] from Whitehall to the Old Workhouse" at or before Lady Day when the lease of Whitehall expired. But Mr. Kennedy was master of the situation and his appointment included the hire of the house, and the dead-lock continued. The parish so far {41} humbled themselves as to offer Mr. Kennedy, if he would leave, to pay him anything he desired for his trouble, and "to provide him with lodging at any Inn in the town he might think proper." Mr. Kennedy was given till "next Sunday" to reply, and he then sent a message, apparently by one of the paupers, obstinately stating that he "had thought of all the inconvenience he could that would attend him in complying with what the gentlemen requested him to do" and that "Mr. Kennedy could think of nothing but his agreement." Another attempt with a substantial bonus was held out, but Mr. Kennedy was not to be conciliated. Two days afterwards another ruse was tried by a notice to Mr. K. that there was a complaint about the clothing of the paupers as being "unfit for publick appearance at Church," and that they "appointed Mr. Bunyan to appraise the clothes and fixtures." The redoubtable Mr. K. was again equal to the occasion, and refused Mr. Bunyan admission! Eventually he vacated the premises upon the time of his appointment expiring, when Mr. Bunyan's valuation went against Mr. K. to the tune of about L50, for the recovery of which Mr. K. was threatened with Mr. Day, the attorney, but somehow covered his retreat and disappears from our view!

As to the treatment of paupers, this was so far considerate that a set of new rules framed in 1785 were actually submitted to the paupers for "hearing their objections to the rules," which were then "settled between the Committee and the paupers"!

Where, in some of the surrounding parishes, the parish officers catered for the paupers in the "House," entries for "bacca" and "snuff" (bought by the parish) are as frequent as tea and sugar in the accounts. In some cases, as in the parish of Barkway, the Workhouse and care of the poor were let to a labouring man. Thus in 1771—

"Thomas Climmons, labourer, agreed to farm the Workhouse and maintain the poor of the parish of Barkway, undertaking to provide good wholesome eatables and drinkables and decent wearing apparel for L143 for one year. All persons paying rates being entitled to inspect the place. Signed, Thomas Climmons, his mark." Thomas Jordan, blacksmith, signed a similar agreement with "his mark" in 1776, as did William Clearing, labourer, with "his mark" in 1777.

Of the kind of characters the old Workhouse contractors had to deal with, and of the state of things to which the laxity of oversight sometimes reduced the establishment, the following is interesting. It is a minute of the Royston Joint Committee in the year 1794—

"At this meeting Mary May, Eliz. Flindall and Mary Lucas, spinsters, appeared before the Committee and promised to do the work now set them by Mr. Searle, and promised to behave well, and in future not to swear, or sing any improper songs, which if they do, Mr. Searle is desired to have them put in the Cage and kept with Bread and Water {42} until the Visitors or Committee release them, which is not to be done until the paupers are convinced that they are not to be wholly Mrs. of the Workhouse"!

The manner of giving out-relief was pretty much of a piece with that in the Workhouse, though had it been administered by efficient and independent officers it would have been both humane and sensible, as based upon the principle of helping those who helped themselves. But, unfortunately, the weaker side of human nature was too strong, and the system pauperised scores of people in order to prevent their becoming paupers, if I may be excused a couple of paradoxes. The object of out-relief seems to have been to help all sorts of people in all sorts of ways to tide over a temporary difficulty, but unfortunately these temporary difficulties multiplied so fast on the hands of the parish Overseer as to become chronic, and that officer became the father of the parish, and the dispenser of all sorts of things from out of the parish cupboard.

The claims upon the Parish Overseer were constant and of the most varied character. Were Joe Thompson's children ailing? Then the Overseer sent in the parish doctor to bleed the poor little mites, though they might ill spare the vital fluid, and the cost of the process to the parish, when a quantity were operated upon, was 6d. apiece, as appears by the Therfield parish accounts, though individual cases of "letting blood" were usually charged a shilling each.—Was "Nat Simmons' gal" short of a petticoat? Then, the Overseer provided the needed article.—Had widow Jones broken her spinning wheel or her patten ring? Then the cooper and the blacksmith were called in by the Overseer to repair the mischief.—Was "Old Nib"—they had a curious habit of calling nicknames in the parish books of last century!—was "Old Nib" short of capital for carrying on his business of buying doctors' bottles? If so, a small instalment was forthcoming from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Had even the respectable journeyman carpenter cut his finger? Then he too got a grant upon signing a promissory note. In this way the casual disbursements of the Overseer amounted to a considerable sum, and covered the greatest variety of claims for help—from paying a person's rent, or taking clothes out of pawn, to mending leather breeches or supplying cabbage plants for the paupers' gardens!

The comparative isolation of the rural folk was aggravated by the old laws of settlement. To nine men and women out of ten, and to ninety-nine children out of a hundred, the world was bounded almost by the parish, and the parish a man belonged to was an important consideration in those days. Indeed, Sir Mordaunt Martin, a kind of Canon Blackley of the last century, proposed a scheme for fining a farmer a half-penny a day for every man he employed not belonging to {43} the parish! also that all males above 18 in default of paying 2d., and females 3/4d. or 1d. a week for a rainy day, should be committed to prison. Then, a man could not leave his parish and go to live, or even lodge while at work, in another parish without a licence; that is to say a certificate setting forth the parish to which he legally belonged. If he did he was liable to be taken before a magistrate by the Overseers and Churchwardens, and if a man "intruded" (that is the word used in the old informations) in this way into a parish not his own, he was liable to be taken back again, not because he was a pauper, but simply on the ground that he was "likely to become chargeable." Not half a bad way of keeping out objectionable characters!

Cases are entered in the Royston Parish books of young men working at Cambridge having to come to the parish officers at Royston for their certificates before they could remain and lodge in Cambridge! A common resolution by parish vestries was one directing the Overseers to inquire if there were any persons in the parish not belonging to such parish and without certificates. In many parishes, as at Barkway, old lists are still preserved of persons licensed, so to speak, to come into or go out of the parish to live. In this way the old parish authorities always had a hold upon a man or woman instead of waiting, as in the present day, until it becomes necessary to hunt up their settlement, and with no machinery for getting at them when once they get away. It may seem strange that a Royston man or woman could not cross over the road, say in Melbourn or Baldock Street, and change houses without a parish licence, and yet this was the legal effect of this old restraint.

Here is a specimen of such a removal over the road:—

"These are therefore in His Majesty's name, to require you, the said Churchwardens and Overseers of the poor of the said parish of Royston, in the county of Hertford, to remove and convey the said E—— H—— from out of your said parish of Royston, in the county of Hertford, to the said parish of Royston, in the county of Cambridge, and her deliver to the Churchwardens and Overseers there, &c."

We have seen that the poor of Royston, Herts. and Cambs., were treated as of one parish at the end of last century, but in the beginning of the present century there was a hitch in the arrangement, and the machinery for conveying the paupers "over the road" came into force again, with this difference, that instead of the removal of an individual pauper there was a whole exodus to be provided for, which is thus recorded:—

"Ordered that the paupers in the Workhouse belonging to Royston, Cambridgeshire, should be taken to-morrow (Nov. 4) to their own parish and presented to the Overseers of the Poor, and if they refuse to receive them to take the sense of the parish upon it on Monday at Church."


One cannot help lingering in imagination over that comical exodus, with the head man of the parish of Royston, in Hertfordshire, leading in procession the whole band of paupers belonging to Royston, Cambridgeshire, back out of Egypt, or the old Workhouse on the Warren, down the High Street, over the Cross, to be handed over to the head man of Royston, Cambs., to whom they belonged! There was old Widow B—— in pattens and a part of a red cloak; "Old Nib" in his greasy smock-frock, little Gamaliel in mended leather breeches, and he of the one arm who gave no end of trouble by stealing down to the "Red Lion" to beg of the passengers on the coaches—a limping, shambling, half-serious, half-comic, procession, worthy of a Frith! But what were the Cambs. officials to do? They had no promised land, no house in which to accommodate the immigrants! I think it is doubtful whether they accepted them, and whether that momentous event of "taking the sense of the parish" really came off I am unable to say.

The Royston Parochial Parliament had control of the Fire Brigade. The Fire Engine, or rather the engines—for there were two engines in those days as well as now—were kept in the Church-yard, and in 1781 we find this note on record as to their use and management:—

"Ordered that the person who has the care of the Engine be allowed five shillings for himself, if on any alarm of fire he gets the Engine out of the Church-yard in good time, and one shilling each for the assistants, not exceeding six; and that if he plays the Engine at a Fire he be allowed 10s. 6d. and his assistants 2s. 6d. each."

They had a blunt but sagacious method of dealing with incompetence as appears by this further order:—

"And in case the Engines, or either of them, shall be unfit for working at any time when called for, that a new person be appointed."

Vagrancy was dealt with by a system of "passes," by which they were able to pass through and obtain lodgings in places in the county, at a county charge, worked through the parish Overseer.

Naturally one of the things that perplexed the minds of parish vestrymen during the last century was not how disease might be prevented, but what were the most favourable circumstances under which the usual run of accepted diseases could be passed through!

Small-pox was considered as one of the fates, and, like cutting your teeth, the sooner over the better! On this principle it was no uncommon thing for persons when advertising for servants, &c., to add this precaution—"One who has had small-pox preferred." Here is a specimen advertisement:—

"A lady's Woman, a very creditable person of about 63, and has had Small Pox."


Among sanitary matters, the propagation of modified small-pox by inoculation was the foremost question in the practical politics of the parish vestry. For this form of small-pox, introduced to forestall the natural visitation of the disease, persons would come distances from the rural districts to the towns—about as the moderns go abroad to take the baths—to pass through the process, and their presence in the town was sometimes objected to. On one occasion we find the Royston Vestry assembled for the purpose of "considering the improper way practised by several people (not parishioners of Royston) having their families inoculated for the small-pox, and remaining in the town during their illness, and the impropriety of the surgeons encouraging such proceedings. Agreed that the surgeons be waited upon with a request that they will not in future inoculate any person in their own houses unless such person so inoculated be removed in a proper time."

In 1788 this old question of inoculation brought together the largest attendance at any Vestry in Royston for a century, excepting perhaps that upon Church rates in later years. This Vestry was held in the Parish Church "for the purpose of taking into consideration and finally settling the business respecting the small-pox and the inoculating the poor of the town at the parish expense." Whereupon, says the old record, "The parish divided upon the question and there appeared twenty-five for inoculating the parish at the parish expense, and seventeen against it. It is therefore ordered," &c.

In fifteen years the inoculating majority had disappeared, for in 1803 upon the question of small-pox versus cow-pox, a meeting was held to consider "whether a general inoculation with the cow-pox should immediately take place in this town, which was agreed nem. con."

At the end of the century we thus see that the question of a small-pox prophylactic was wavering between the monstrous assumption that everybody must necessarily have small-pox, and had better set about it, and the milder notion of vaccine as an antidote, if the real thing should come. The old custom of variolation had not been discarded, and the experience of the Gloucestershire milkmaids had not crystalized into the form of vaccination to be handed down by Jenner. At the beginning of the century we find this item:—

"Order'd that there is no necessity for a General Inoculation, there being no small-pox in the town (except in the Pest House), and that the Overseers are hereby order'd to suspend the Business of a General Inoculation either with the Cow or Small-Pox."

In general sanitary matters the local Parliament meant very well, but the remedy for a grievance was a long way off. The constable was the Inspector of Nuisances, and he must have sometimes come across heaps of dung in the street. If he did find such a nuisance he had {46} instructions "to make presentment to the Quarter Sessions if need be?" A very dignified, but still a slow rate of getting the town clean, Mr. Dogberry!

There was one respect in which the pauper of the last century was made equal with the prince—whatever his vicissitudes in life he was bound to be buried in wool when he died. They might "rattle his bones over the stones," but he was certain to get his pound of wool to be buried in, not as an act of consideration to the pauper, but as an important piece of that extensive legislation for the encouragement of the woollen industry which figures more often in the Statute book of this realm than any other subject. With every funeral was required an affidavit that the deceased when buried was it "not wrapped up in any suit, sheet, or shroud, but what was made of sheep's wool only." A carpenter's bill for a pauper's funeral generally read "for a coffin and a pound of Woole for A.B.," with frequent items for beer, as "for beer for laying out old Grig, and putting him in the coffin," "laying out, one pot of beer," "putting in coffin, one pot of beer," and "carrying to church, two pots of beer," &c., &c.

The casual disbursements of a parish afford, both for their subject matter and style, a variety of curious entries.

The years 1769 to 1773 afforded abundant evidence of the terrible prevalence of what are now considered preventible diseases. Over and over again as a reason for temporary relief being granted, the phrase is added "Bad with feaver," or "A Bad Feaver," and many are the entries which refer to Small-pox.

Of relief in kind perhaps the following item is one of the most original in the history of the Poor-law:—

L s. d. Gave James D—— for an Ass . . . . . . . . 0 8 0

to which is added that the Overseer paid to Mr. Beldam this J. D.'s rent.

A system which afforded a man a house rent free and provided him with a donkey for his business was, to say the least, rather different from Guardians in the leading-strings of the Local Government Board!

Nick names in the old parish accounts are abundant and also many Christian names not often used now. Thus:—Peg Woods, Nel J——, Old Nib, Royston Molley, Old Grig, and Hercules Powell. The last named was the Parish Constable in 1780, and he had a name at least calculated to warn off offenders!

One common characteristic of these entries of the Overseers, but more especially in the Parish Constable's accounts, was the extraordinary liberty taken in the spelling of words! In a general way Dogberry, especially, was a spelling reformer, in so far as he went in for a phonetic spelling, but many entries occur in old constable's accounts which are governed by no principle ever yet laid down by scholars, with the {47} result very often that it would be impossible to settle what the word intended could be but for the comparative study of it, as it turns up in a variety of literary dress in different documents always with the same context. Here is the result of a little investigation into the handling of one of the commonest of the long words which found their way into the old Parish Constable's bills:—Diblegrates, dibcatkets, dibelgrates, dibhegrats, dipplatakets, dibicits, diblicits, dibblegats, dublicits, duplicates.

It took the Parish Constables of Therfield 37 years to solve the problem of spelling that word of three syllables! and the honour of spelling "duplicates" correctly belongs to one, John Groom, who was Parish Constable for Therfield in 1801.

One of the most frequent items in the Churchwardens' accounts for parishes in this district, during the last half of the eighteenth century, was that of vermin killing, and entries for polecats and hedge-hogs were jumbled up with items for bread and wine for the communion, &c.! Why the farmers should have had such an antipathy to hedge-hogs I am not aware, considering the amount of good the modern naturalist finds them doing. About the middle of the last century any person killing a hedge-hog in Therfield and taking it to the Churchwarden received 4d. for his trouble, and 21 hedge-hogs were paid for in 1788. The price after this went down to 2d. for a hedge-hog and 4d. for a polecat, but at Barkway the price of a hedge-hog was still 4d., while at Nuthampstead the price for sparrows, as appears by "the sparrow bill," was 3d. a dozen.



There were two other officials besides the Overseer and Church-warden, the dignity of whose office entitles them to a place of honour in these sketches—viz., the old Parish Constable, and the Parish Beadle.

To understand what the old Parish Constable was in relation to the public peace we have to consider him as embodying most of the functions of the present county policeman, and a variety of other matters, some of which now fall upon the Relieving Officer, the Recruiting Sergeant, and Overseer. All this helped to place him in a position of some dignity and importance, which he conceived entitled him to advise even magistrates and parsons on their duty! Over the Parish Constable was a Chief Constable for each hundred, through whom he was in touch with the Quarter Sessions. Unlike the Parish Constable, {48} however, the Chief Constableship of the hundred was a life appointment. When the police force came into existence the gentlemen holding the office of Chief Constable of the hundreds were pensioned off, and, in support of the popular notion of the longevity of pensioners, it may be of interest to add that some of these old superannuated Chief Constables' pensions were still running in Cambridgeshire until recent years; indeed, I am not sure that the payments have all ended even yet. In this county, too, the old Parish Constables are still appointed annually; but their glory has long since departed.

The Parish Constable was essentially an emergency man, and the manner in which he "rose to the occasion," forms a curious and interesting chapter of parochial history. If occasionally, like his prototype in "Much ado about Nothing," he, on the clerical side of his office, made a slip, and committed an offender to "everlasting redemption," and put down "flat burglary" for perjury, still he did manage to acquit himself of his task in a practical sort of way, though always with a tender regard for his own comfort when on duty.

The office of the old Parish Constable was not quite adapted to the modern idea of police work. Until a crime was committed the old constable had no reason to bestir himself, and when a crime was committed he was hampered in many ways. With a drunkard and a brawler he had the stocks ready to hand, but when a great crime was committed such as sheep-stealing—fearfully common, notwithstanding the dread penalty of the law, in the last and also the present century—the constable had no convenient telegraph office from which to warn his brother officers round the whole country side. He had therefore to resort to the homely process of carrying the intelligence himself, and such items as

L s. d. for carrying a hue and cry to Anstey . . . . 0 0 4

represented the highest point of Dogberry's intelligence department. From one Parish Constable to another the news was carried, like the fiery cross over the Border, until the whole country round was aware of what had occurred, and, as one might expect, the criminal himself had often got fairly away.

Those parishes lying near the coach roads sometimes had a good share of this carrying the hue and cry, and searching for criminals. Thus in Therfield parish in 1757, we find the constable making this charge:—

for Sarchin the Parish upon Account of the mail L s. d. being robedd . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 1 0

This was the Caxton mail bag, and the "sarchin the parish" appears to have created a profound impression upon the inhabitants, possibly from the awful penalty for such an offence which young Gatward of the Red Lion, at Royston, had suffered only a few years before. {49} The story of the searching of the houses of Therfield for the missing mail bag has been handed down even within the memory of persons still living.

The search appears to have been fruitless, but the truth could wait even a hundred years; for, about thirty years ago some workmen, who were digging at a spot at the entrance to the village by the Royston road, actually dug up the brass label of the "Caxton letter-bag," and thus confirmed the suspicions of those who had fixed upon the village on the hill as the neighbourhood towards which the stolen mail-bag had been carried by the robbers of that far-off time.

But though the Parish Constables were not an organised force of permanent officials, there was something like a system, and on special occasions of a heavy calendar at the Assizes or Quarter Sessions, we find the Parish Constables drafted to be on duty at Hertford or Cambridge, even though they had no business from their own parish. Thus as late as 1823, when the celebrated trial of Thurtle and Hunt took place at the Hertford Assizes, the Therfield Parish Constable's accounts for the year contain this entry:—

Thomas Lacey, constable to the parish of Therfield, for attending the Assizes at the trial of Probet hunt and turtle—

L s. d. expense heating and Drinkin Lodgin . . . . . . . . 1 5 0 allowance for 6 days . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 10 6

There also appears to have been a sort of gathering of the clans and a dinner once a year, and in every parish account I have seen Dogberry credits himself with having—

L s. d. Paid at the constables' fiest . . . . . . . . . . 0 2 6

But, however useful and dignified an official the old constable was in emergencies affecting the public peace, it was on the civil side of his work that his duties often became the most interesting, when, as was the case in most villages where no beadle was kept, he combined the duties of that office with those of the policeman; and in no respect does he figure in so interesting a light as in the pleasing function of arranging paupers' marriages and seeing that they were carried out. The motive for all Dogberry's finesse in match-making diplomacy was connected with the old parochial settlement. If one of the fair sex was likely to become troublesome to a parish our friend Dogberry made it his business to get hold of the responsible swain, and by persuasion, bribes, and threats, managed to bring the parties together, get them through the marriage ceremony, and himself (the constable) earned the lasting gratitude of the parish for having got rid of a pauper, settlement and all! The pecuniary consideration involved was so important that when the bride was of one parish and the bridegroom of another, a good dealing of manoeuvring between the rival constables—the one to force on and the other to prevent the match—took place, and when the successful constable did manage to bring the parties together, the {50} parish benefitting by the process could afford to be liberal, and Dogberry, and his "aid," and the wedding pair, had a merry time of it while the credit of the parish lasted. So much of a bargain-making was this marrying a pauper that it is not unusual to find such entries as these in the parish books of last century—

L s. d. Gave W—— a wife, cost . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 19 6 By expenses attending, Marrying, Mary D——, and sending her away . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 17 6

When a pauper had brought about trouble under the Bastardy Laws Dogberry first used the arm of the law by apprehending him, and then the subtle methods of diplomacy by marrying him.

Interesting are the detailed accounts of the old weddings carried out under the superintendence of the Parish Constable. Here is one from the parish of Therfield—

Therfield Parish dr. to H. Hodge. Etin and drinkin at John Hollensworth's weddin. Aug. 8 3 folks suppor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 2 0 " 9 3 folks brakfarst . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 1 6 " " 3 deners . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 3 0 " " 3 suppors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 2 0 " 10 3 brakfast . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 1 6 To Beer for the Hol Time . . . . . . . . . . 0 13 4 2 Cunstablers' time, 2 days . . . . . . . . . 0 8 9 2 nits (nights) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 6 0 Pad at Sam Green's Cheppine . . . . . . . . . 0 2 8 ———- 2 0 9 In another hand is added . . . . . . . . . 0 19 3 ———- L3 0 0

Here is a picture of a very interesting state of things! The little party that persuaded John Hollensworth to marry the fair one, who was expected otherwise to be a trouble to the parish, evidently went off to Buntingford on August 8th to get there in time for the great event on the morning of August 9th, and, after spending the day in the manner indicated by this hotel bill, remained till the 10th and left after brakfarst. But even the responsible pair of "Cunstablers" failed to get by Sam Green's, at Chipping, without spending that 2s. 8d., and arrived home late at night on the 3rd day, in what condition the record says not, but so much to the satisfaction of the parish that their diplomacy was apparently rewarded by a substantial bonus of 19s. 3d. being added to their bill!

There are many other journeys to Buntingford on a similar errand recorded in the parish accounts of Therfield. In one case in 1774 the bounty of L3 3s. 3d. was given to the man for taking the woman, and the total of the "Cunstabler's" expenses in this little expedition was L8 19s. 2d. The details of this account contain a remarkable run of {51} items for Quarts of Beer, "beer for parish ofesers," &c., and of the whole account of 40 items 19 of them are beer!

In one case the expense of marrying a Barkway woman to a man at Clavering cost L6 0s. 11d., and of this amount L3 4s. 11d., was spent in eating and drinking; L1 18s. 2d. at ye Bull, at Barkway, before the party started, and the remainder at the Fox and Hounds at Clavering. The carriers made a good thing out of these little transactions, for there is one case from the parish of Barkway where the carrier charged a bill of L1 3s. 6d. for conveying the bride and bridegroom and Dogberry to the altar! But in this case the bill was for taking Sam Smith and his future wife to London, and they did the thing in style! First, the constables of Barkway and Therfield and their "aids" had to apprehend the bridegroom; in the next place the marriage had for some reason to come off in London, and before the ceremony was completed the bill paid by the parish ran up to L6 11s. 8d. Some interesting details of this wedding are given below:—

The parish of Barkway to John Beale (constable). For the Expenses for haveing Saml. Smith and L s. d. is wife to London . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 12 6 Paide at home before whe whent out with him, for the gold Ring . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 6 0 Paid at the Angel for Drink . . . . . . . . . . . 0 1 0 Paide for two Letters from W. Bullen . . . . . . . 0 1 0 Paide for a heade [Probably "aid"] coming from Buntingford . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 1 0 Paide Thos. Climmons three Days Jorney for going to London . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 4 6 and three Days Jorney for my Self . . . . . . . . 0 7 6 Eatin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 5 0 Drink . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 9 0

The degree of fervour with which the constable and his "aid" drank the healths of the bride and bridegroom may be inferred from the large proportion for drink. Something must of course be allowed for a festive occasion such as this, when Dogberry could afford to waive a little dignity and be sociable! But he did not always need this incentive, and could even discharge the responsible office of having a prisoner "in hold," and at the same time carry off a respectable quantity of malt liquor. Take the following illustration—

The parish of Barkway, dr. to James Brown while R. R. was in hold.

1793. Jan. 17 To Dinner for Consbl. and 2 Aids and L s. d. prisoner . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 2 8 Do. Supper for do. . . . . . . . . . 0 2 0 " 18 Do. breakfast for do. . . . . . . . . 0 2 0 Do. for Dinner for do. . . . . . . . . 0 2 8 To Beer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 14 10 ———- 1 4 2

{52} This little transaction covered 24 hours, from dinner time one day to dinner time the next, inclusive, and while the four meals only cost the moderate sum of 9s. 4d., the Beer came to 14s. 10d., or 3s. 8 1/2d. each man, and, as the price was about as now, each man drank 22 pints of beer!

That this little weakness was not peculiar to the parish of Barkway is clear from the accounts in other parishes. Yet the account was allowed and passed without any Government auditor!

The duty of keeping watch and ward in most places during the last century, and a part of the present, was almost as important a civil function as were the police functions of the old constable, if only for the reason that fires were extremely common, and the buildings of materials which led to fires of a destructive character when they did occur.

In the village constable were merged some of the functions both of policeman and beadle. The function of "watch and ward" had, however, no official representative in the villages, where in times of special risk, when incendiary fires were too common, the principal inhabitants took their turn in keeping watch. To find the Parish Beadle in the full-blown dignity of his office we must therefore go to the towns, to Royston for instance, where we shall find Mr. Bumble in all the stately pomp of cocked hat, great coat with a red cape, and gold lace, breeches and hose, and a staff with the royal authority of Georgius {53} Rex emblazoned thereon! A full figure, and an interesting character, worthy in every way of the old Georgian era; in a corporation, as important in his own estimation as Mayor and Corporation combined; elsewhere, as we shall see, he was sometimes reduced to the humiliating condition of having to be "generally useful."

To our modern notions it must, I think, seem strange that it was necessary for him to unburden his official conscience every hour of the night by the ringing of his bell and calling out the hour and state of the weather! We have no right, however, to laugh at our forefathers about a matter of this kind, who might, I daresay, very well laugh at some of our modern customs. We must bear in mind that there was no policeman on beat at that time, and, considering how much one may get reconciled to by the force of habit, it is quite possible that the people of the Georgian era slept the more soundly for these nocturnal interruptions—rested more peacefully upon the assurance which was thus conveyed, however indistinctly, to their minds, that while they slept their town and property were safe from the marauder, and safe from fire so far as a dignified, not over-paid, and I daresay sometimes not very wide-a-wake individual could make them so!

Royston was probably the only place in this district which employed a beadle, bellman or watchman, as a permanent official. The first account of such an appointment, that I can find from existing documents, is for the year 1783. This year there was a special arrangement made of a temporary kind to meet an emergency, or to relieve the old Bellman. At any rate, in August of that year, it was agreed in public Vestry to appoint an assistant watchman for six months at eight shillings a week (no mention in his case of coat and hat, &c.), to attend at the same hours as the old Bellman (Spicer), who was then receiving nine shillings a week, besides outfit. The wages were then paid partly out of "subscriptions of the gentry and partly from the Church rate." Spicer, the "Old Bellman," as he was called, in contradistinction to his assistant, continued to hold office after this for about fourteen years, and then, after an evidently long period of service, resigned the office through some little delinquency, and we find the Vestry engaged in the important business of appointing a new Beadle, Bellman or Watchman, the record of which will afford us a good opportunity of learning something of what the duties of the office were. The Beadle combined in his office a number of duties, including one which he must have felt a little infra dig—I mean the office of scavenger! The following is the record referred to:—

"At a Publick Vestry held at the Parish Church of Royston, the 24th day of April, 1787, pursuant to public notice given in Church yesterday, for the purpose of choosing a proper man to serve the office of Bellman and Scavenger for this Town in place of William Spicer, who {54} resigned his place at Church on Easter Monday." [The Easter Vestry had had under their consideration complaints of Spicer's conduct, and there was a full meeting now assembled.]

"It is Agreed upon nem. con. that the Place and Business of a Bellman and Scavenger is to go about the Town in the Night as Bellman, from Lady Day to Michaelmas Day from the Hours of Eleven o'clock at Night until four o'clock in the Morning, and from Michaelmas Day to Lady Day from the Hours of Eleven o'clock at Night until five o'clock in the Morning, and to ring his Bell every time he calls the Hour, and to do his Utmost endeavour to prevent any Robery to be done in the Town.

"And as Scavenger to Devout his whole time in the Day to Keep all the Streets, Lanes, and Drains in the Town Clear; and not to Suffer any Dirt to be in Heaps in any part of the Town, and to his utmost Endeavour to prevent any Paupers to Beg about the Town, but forthwith to apprehend them and send them out of the Town.

"And to assist the Constables in any business that shall be required to be done in the Town, and any other Business the Parish Officers and Committee shall think proper.

"And for such Service he, the Bellman, shall receive from the Churchwardens, weekly and every week, the sum of ten shillings.

"And the Bellman now appointed shall receive from the Town a New Bell, Real, and Staff, One New Great Coat with a red Cape, and a New Hatt, and likewise a New Cart fit for the purpose of taking up Dirt from the Streets; all to be returned to the Churchwardens in good repair in case of vacating his office."

This agreement, subject to a month's notice in writing, was to remain in force until the next Easter "except the Bellman shall be found Drunk when on Duty, then the Bellman to be immediately discharged from his office."

The candidates for the office at this time were John Hagger and Joseph Clarke, and Hagger was appointed.

The duties set forth above were those belonging to Mr. Bumble, as Bellman, to call out the hour and state of the weather at night, and as Scavenger to keep the streets clean by day. The other side of his office is slightly hinted at by the reference to assisting the Constable, and in fact it was the day duty which embraced the peculiar dignity of beadledom. He was the man who had to look after the behaviour of the paupers, could in quiet times occasionally "thrash a boy or two to keep up appearances" without much questioning, and though not possessing the penal authority of the Constable, had a great deal of the detective tact to exercise in preventing unseemly brawls, &c. At the Royston Fair the Beadle's was a notable figure, and of this kind of duty the {55} following instruction to Spicer, the old Bellman and Beadle in 1791, may be quoted—

"Ordered that the Bellman be desired to go round the Fairs every Fair Day and if he finds any person or persons using or attempting to make Use of any kind of Gaming in the Fair that he immediately prevent if he possibly can, otherwise to apply forthwith to a Constable for that purpose."

In 1803 the old Bellman and ex-Beadle Spicer, who had been called upon to resign in 1797, was appointed the town Scavenger at a salary of 2s. a week! How are the mighty fallen! Spicer had probably become a pauper, and, to add to the degradation and humiliation, the quondam wearer of the scarlet cape, cocked hat, and royal staff, had, at a later meeting, his 2s. a week for scavenging taken off because he had neglected his duty, and he was dismissed from this humble office! Whatever was his failing the official decline of Spicer was as pathetic as that of Mr. Bumble's surrender of all his "porochial" dignity to the charms of Mrs. Corney in Oliver Twist!

On the subject of the powers of the Beadle as Scavenger a curious and significant resolution was found necessary in 1788, when it was—

"Order'd that the Scavenger Do keep the Streets clean and not suffer any heaps of Dirt to lye, and that any person who thinks proper shall be at liberty to take Dirt or Dung from the Streets at any time after it has laine one Day."

In other words, if a person allowed dung to be in the street for more than a day he might lose it altogether and find it carried away on to somebody else's garden. A very effective way of enlisting the co-operation of the public in keeping the streets clear of all offensive matters. The condition of things made some such drastic measures necessary at a time when the effect of unsanitary conditions was not very much thought of by individuals. Upon this point the state of the Pest House on the Warren, set apart for the reception of persons suffering from infectious diseases, was reported upon in the following terms; "One of the rooms had been used as an henhouse, but in other respects clean." For the credit of those receiving the report, however, it should be added that it was "Ordered that the room should be cleaned and not be used for that purpose any more."

The last of the race of Beadles for the town of Royston was John Ward, who will probably be remembered by some readers of these pages. He had the honour of receiving the highest wage I have found paid to that office, viz., 12s. a week, besides the outward panoply which gave to the office its pompous gravity. For years there is no more familiar item in the parish accounts than that of "John Ward, Beadle, 12s." In 1832, however, when the air was so full of reforms {56} of all kinds, John Ward, Beadle, lost part of his emoluments. His weekly stipend became reduced to 9s., apparently because the office of Scavenger was again made a distinct office, to which James Shepherd was appointed at 6s. a week. Shortly after this the office became a thing of the past, and John Ward, Beadle, disappears from our view, to join the company of the last minstrel, the last fly wagon, the last stage coach, and the last tinder-box!

For well-a-day! their date was fled, His pompous brethren all were dead, And he, neglected and oppress'd, Wished to be with them and at rest. * * * * Old times were changed, old manners gone, A "Peeler" filled the Beadle's throne!



The gloom which shrouded the night and morning, the death and birth, of the two centuries, and its terrible consequences to the people of this country, together form an event which has no parallel in our modern history, nor, with the possible exception of the famine years in the fourteenth century, in any known period of our history. The whole of the last quarter of the eighteenth century has been very well described as a period of high prices, low wages, and of unparalleled suffering. The war dragged on, and to make matters worse, the century closed with a most disastrous run of bad seasons. Prices continued to rise to an alarming height, and with it popular discontent increased so much that George III. was mobbed, hooted, and pelted on his way to the House of Lords! The Bank of England stopped payment in 1797, and among country banks which did the same was Wisher's Bank at Cambridge. Consols went down to 47 7/8. With each succeeding bad season prices continued to rise. Those who could keep corn for the rising market reaped their reward, not alone of extraordinary prices, but of a storm of popular indignation, against both farmers and corn dealers, and the farmers were threatened, and in some cases actually had the precious ricks of grain burned, because it was alleged they had created an "artificial scarcity."


The century closed with one of the most severe winters (1799-1800) known for many years, and the suffering was intense. In 1800, the harvest was spoilt by incessant rains, and during the next year wheat reached 184s. per quarter in Mark Lane, the 4 lb. loaf went up to 1s. 10 1/2d., or about 2s. 6d. of the present money value, and other articles, including meat, almost in proportion. After the disastrous harvest of 1800 the year of 1801 became the "memorable year of scarcity," in which some wheat was sold as high as 25s. a bushel, and the average official price is given at 119s. 6d. per quarter. The average in Royston was a little below this, but both here and at other Hertfordshire markets the price occasionally went up to 24s. a bushel. In November, 1800, Parliament, by means of bounties, practically guaranteed to every person importing foreign wheat that he should be paid 100s. per quarter for it, and proportionate rates for barley, rye, oats, flour, rice, &c. That the foreigners did not send much, even on these terms, is shown by the straits to make the wheaten flour hold out. Not only did the poor suffer and have to put up with such bread as they could get—and a large part of it was made of barley-meal, rice, &c.—but all classes suffered. Those who "farmed the paupers" pleaded to be released from their contracts or for special compensation; proprietors of Boarding Schools, or "Academies," as they were generally called, had to modify their terms and to plead for compensation, while the King on his throne found the Civil List insufficient even with that Spartan order adopted by His Majesty, George III., that the bread in his household was to be made of meal and rye mixed, and that the Royal family were to eat the same bread as their servants.

The first traces of the hard times which closed the century occur in Royston as early as 1795, but the worst part had not come yet. In the following year (1796) we find the principal inhabitants in public meeting assembled, at the Red Lion, passing sumptuary laws binding themselves to economy in the use of wheaten flour, with a view to reduce the consumption of wheat. The meeting set forth its opinion in the following statement, or pledge:—

"We, the undersigned, impressed with a sense of the evils which may be experienced by His Majesty's subjects in consequence of the deficient supply of wheat unless timely and effectual measures are taken to reduce the consumption thereof; Do hereby jointly and severally pledge ourselves in the most solemn manner to Execute and maintain to the utmost of our Power, the following Resolutions, and also most earnestly recommend the same to be adopted in our respective Neighbourhoods.

"To reduce the usual quantity of wheat consumed in our families by at least one-third, either by limiting to that extent the quantity of {58} fine wheaten Bread used by each, or consume only mixed Bread of which not more than two-thirds shall be made of wheat; also if necessary prohibit in our families the use of wheaten flour in pastry; also resolved that all Bread given away by public charity or used in the Workhouse shall not contain more than two-thirds parts of Wheat; also recommended to Bakers to use same proportion in supplying the Public; also that Overseers do not allow any Families Collection from the parish who do not commonly use the aforesaid kind of Bread.

"Agreement to remain in force until fourteen days after opening of next session of Parliament, unless before then price of wheat falls to 8s. per Winchester Bushel.

"Signed by Thomas Shield (vicar), J. Wortham, John Cross, Wm. Sparke, Saml. Maling, George Careless, John Trudgett, Thomas Cockett, Wm. Cockett and Thos. Watson."

In November, 1799, a Vestry was called "to consider the best means of relieving the poor during this very hard time."

"It was agreed that farmers and others employing labourers of this town will provide for and take care of such Men, so that such Men or their Familys be any ways Chargeable to the parish, and that a subscription be raised for the relief of poor widows, and such as have no Masters, and any Deficiency wanting for the latter description of people be supplied out of the rates."

The farmers and other employers, however, did not respond sufficiently, and in the following month (December, 1799) another vestry meeting was held, at which it was—

"Unanimously resolved that as the present unusually high price of nearly all the necessary provisions of Life are manifestly beyond the power of the labouring poor to purchase by their ordinary Wages in sufficient Quantities for the support of their Lives and the maintenance of their Families, some effectual Assistance and Relief must necessarily be given to them."

In January, 1800, the winter being especially severe, we find a soup kitchen was fitted up, and in February another difficulty arose with the Workhouse master "being unable to provide for paupers according to contract on account of extraordinary high prices of provisions."

By April the demands upon the Overseers and Committee had become so incessant that Robt. Hankin was appointed assistant to the Overseer at a salary of six guineas a year. Some of the ratepayers stood out for meeting the emergency without falling so much upon the rates, and at the above meeting when a rate was produced to be signed for the purpose of defraying the expense of the soup kitchen "A division arose, the majority being in favour of the rate being signed."


With the approach of winter, things became critical, and in November we learn that—

"A Quantity of Rice having been provided by several gentlemen of this town who have generously offered to give up the same to the Parish at Prime cost; Resolved that the offer be accepted and that the same be paid for by the Overseers for the benefit of the Poor." A Committee was formed for dispensing the same.

At this time nearly the whole of the labouring population must have been upon the parish or next door to it, and the suffering rate-payers made one more appeal to the farmers, for in November, at a meeting on the subject—

"It was resolved that it be recommended to the Farmers of this Town to allow their Labourers such wages as may prevent them from becoming chargeable to the Parish, and it is also recommended that such Men as belong to the Parish be employed in Preference to others."

This feeling was apparently prompted by the knowledge of the fact that the farmers were reaping a harvest out of the famine, while other ratepayers, such as the small tradesmen, were suffering as well as the poor. It was not, however, every farmer who had any wheat to sell at the famine prices then ruling, and hence any uniform plan of raising wages became hopeless. The course taken by the farmers and others to whom these appeals were made, was, to say the least, unfortunate, and led to no end of trouble in after years. The parish was obliged to step in, and to save the people from starvation, fixed a kind of minimum scale of income upon which each family could subsist, according to the number in family and the price of bread, and simply made up the difference between the wages and the standard. The effect of this was to pauperise for the time the whole labouring population, and that the ratepayers, employing no labourers themselves, had to help to pay for those who did!

In the evidence collected by Sir Frederick Eden in 1795 as to the earnings and cost of maintenance of labourers' families, six families were taken from the parish of Hinxworth, representing Hertfordshire, and the earnings of each family averaged 12s. 6 1/2d., and their necessary expenditure exceeded their receipts by L22 3s. 6 1/2d., or about 9s. a week, which would have to be made up out of the rates.

Of the peculiar hardship which thus grew up a correspondent in the Farmers' Magazine, for 1800, says:—"The present period to this class (small shopkeeper, &c.) who has a cow, and while he has it cannot have relief, is truly distressing, but as for the labouring people, they are all on the parish funds." It was stated in Parliament that farmers were making 200 per cent. profit! The probability is, however, that the great majority of farmers had little or no corn left to sell. {60} Here is a communication apparently from a farmer, to the same magazine, from a provincial market:—

"I am truly concerned to inform you that the price of grain advances every succeeding market day and that there is no prospect whatever of a fall. Wheat 23s. to 25s. per bushel. A number of principal fanners convened by the Mayor had agreed to sell their wheat at 21s. per bushel. Not long adhered to, for while I and others were selling at that price others were getting 28s., and so the matter dropped. Price of bread now almost out of reach of the poor; we have subscribed sums of money to purchase butcher's meat and potatoes for distribution, leaving them to buy bread with money received from the parish. As for rice as substitute, it, like everything else, has advanced to double the price. Herrings are strongly recommended by the Government."

Even barley bread was not easy to obtain, and we further learn that (by April, 1801) "the state of the poor cottager is now truly deplorable, for though barley may still be had it is at an enormous price, and it is impossible for labourers to provide for their families at such prices. It is to corn merchants and dealers in grain whose very existence they have been taught to curse and deprecate that the good people of this country must now look for near five months to come for subsistence." "If we have not an early harvest, God knows what will be the consequences," is another remark of a correspondent!

The old tales of "barley bread as black as your hat," which many persons living have heard their grandfathers speak of, were no mere tradition, but a stern hard fact, and whenever, in that terribly anxious spring time of 1801, the poor could get a scrap of bacon, a dish of tops of slinging nettles was by no means an uncommon resort to eke out the means of a precarious existence. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the harvest of 1801 was looked forward to with as great a degree of anxiety as ever the children of Israel looked for a sight of the Promised Land!

What the memorable year of scarcity really was in a locality like this is best understood by means of the poor rate.

The poor rate in Royston was very heavy during the previous twenty years, averaging about six or seven shilling rates in a year. In the old Parish Books are preserved all the rates made, and the months in which they were made, for Royston, Herts., and from these entries it is possible to trace the effect of the scarcity for each year. In 1796 there were ten shilling rates made, in 1797 nine, in 1798 (a more favourable year than the others) eight, after which it went up with bounds. In 1799 the rates rose to eleven, and in 1800 to eleven 1s. rates and three of 2s. each, or 16s. in the pound. In 1801 the demands became so pressing that to have collected the requisite amount in shilling rates {61} would have necessitated the making of a fresh rate almost every fortnight all through the year! The Overseers therefore made out the rates in 2s. at a time, and for that memorable year of scarcity eleven 2s. rates were necessary for the relief of the poor, or a rate of 22s. in the pound! A shilling rate produced about L42 for Royston, Herts., at that time (now it is about L200), and the total amount of rate required for that single year was L944 15s. 2d., or more than three times the average of even the scarce years of the two previous decades! The Overseers for these memorable years were Thomas Wortham and E. K. Fordham for 1800, and Joseph Beldam and John Phillips for 1801.

In some places in Essex the rate was as high as 48s. in the pound for the year 1801, or more than twice the amount of the rent of the property rated!

The highway rates, levied upon the land to make up the tolls sufficient to repair the turnpike road from Royston to Caxton, were in arrear for 1801 and the whole of the next year!

To understand the effect of the misery upon the whole of the people, War had brought Napoleon to the front in a manner which caused many in England to take a gloomy view of the future, and to express the opinion that "the sun of England's glory is set"! While British ships were upholding British heroism in the Mediterranean, the hungry mass of the people at home were paying more attention to the sun in the heavens and the promise of harvest. Happily the season promised well, and in Royston the religious bodies held special meetings in July and August for prayer and thanksgiving for the encouraging signs of a bountiful harvest, which was shortly afterwards gathered. Then to add to the sense of relief their came the joyful tidings "Peace with France," on printed bills pasted on the sides of stage coaches passing through our old town, by which means the glad tidings passed through the country like a gleam of sunlight into many a home, and brought about a sudden and extraordinary reaction from despair to hope! In a very short time corn went down to a comparatively low rate, and the poor rate for Royston, Herts., went down to L355 18s. 3d., or little more than one-third of the previous year!

Though, as we shall see, the shadow of Napoleon was shortly to settle again over even the local life of England with a new terror, yet that short-lived burst of joy, if it did not quite close, gave a brighter turn to a bitter crisis in which the people of this country were pressed down by want and war, and may be said to have subsisted upon barley bread and glory!

The memorable re-action from the scarcity and suffering already described, in the peace rejoicing of 1802, had scarcely died away in our streets before, in 1803, the action of Napoleon aroused suspicion, and {62} our old Volunteers (to be referred to presently) found themselves called upon in earnest, for "the magnanimous First Consul," suddenly changed into the "Corsican Ogre" with a vengeance!

The firmament breaks up. In black eclipse Light after light goes out. One evil star Luridly glaring through the smoke of War, As in the dream of the Apocalypse, Drags others down!

War broke out and Napoleon formed a great camp at Boulogne for invading England. This aroused a remarkable outburst of patriotism, and led to the enrolment of an army of three hundred thousand Volunteers. We, who sometimes discuss, merely as a theory, the possibility of an invasion of England, can form a very inadequate idea of how terribly real was the Napoleonic bogie to our great-grandfathers! They knew that "Boney" was a character who would stop at nothing in carrying out his designs, and so it came about that the shadow of that collossal stride of the Corsican adventurer, darkened the homes in every town, village, and hamlet in this land, and you cannot even to this day turn over the pages of old parish records, or stir the placid waters of old men's memories, without finding traces of this old ghost which Wellington wrestled with so terribly on the fields of Waterloo!

There was, in Napoleon's work, an over-mastering will to accomplish, at whatever cost, the purpose he set himself, and our great-grand-fathers, with all their contempt for the French, had the sense to recognise something of what Wellington afterwards so well expressed of the man, Napoleon Buonaparte,—"I used to say of him that his presence on the field made a difference of forty thousand men."

Of more interest even than the enrolment of the Volunteers were the measurers taken for local defence and for the protection of the civil population and property—the women and children and livestock. This was taken up as a complete organization, county by county, hundred by hundred, town by town, and village by village. In the month of July, 1803, we find the Deputy-Lieutenants of Cambridgeshire, thirty-four in number, meeting at Cambridge, and adopting an address to the King, expressing determination to support him in the war with France. Sir Edward Nightingale, Bart., of Kneesworth House, presided. It was resolved to adopt the measures indicated for establishing a system of communications throughout each county, and also for rendering the body of the people instrumental for the general defence in case of an invasion. Also that the several hundreds in the county be formed into divisions with a lieutenant over each, to report to, and act in concert with the County Lieutenancy, that the lieutenant for each division {64} appoint an inspector for each hundred, and that the inspector for each hundred appoint a superintendent for each parish. For the division of the county formed by the union of the hundreds of Armingford (Royston district), Longstowe, Wetherby and Thriplow, Hale Wortham, Esq., was the responsible lieutenant.

A similar meeting was held at Hertford, and men were called to arms between the ages of 15 and 60, and in all towns and villages there was nothing but swearing in and drilling of soldiers, to resist the impending invasion, by which it was said that England was to be divided among the French—"the men all to be killed and the women saved."

In accordance with the above mentioned county scheme each parish had its Council of War, so to speak, at which men more accustomed to "speed the plough" found themselves in solemn conclave discussing such strategical proposals as the local circumstances of each neighbourhood seemed to suggest for arresting the onward march of the invader when he had landed, as it was feared he would. Necessity was the mother of invention, and what the farmer class wanted in military knowledge, they made up for in practical sagacity directed to the intensely personal ends of protecting their own homes and families, their herds and stacks from the ruthless hands of the coming hosts! It was naturally expected that Napoleon would land and enter England from the South or East, and that in the latter case the inhabitants of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire would, in the event of a flank movement through the Eastern Counties for London, be among the first to bear the brunt of the devastating march! The horror of the expected invasion was intensified a thousandfold by the Englishman's attachment to his home and family, and deliberations of the village councils often showed less regard for the national scheme of defence than the protection of their homes and property in the time of trial coming upon them. They set to work devising means of local defence as real and as earnest as if every village was already threatened with a state of siege!

This is clear from an intelligible means of local defence which was taken in this neighbourhood. The expectation that "Boney" and his "Mounseers" were coming from the South or East, naturally suggested the expedient of arranging for the transport of non-combatants, and live stock away farther Northward. The expedient was arranged for by the villages around Royston along the Old North Road; and a plan had been devised that as soon as tidings arrived that Buonaparte had landed, each village was to assemble their live stock at a common centre in the village, and then unite with those from other villages. Thus the route for the removal of stock was settled, until it was expected that quotas from each village would make one united common herd wending {65} its way Northward to a safer distance from the ravaging hordes! One seems to see that terrified exodus——

Now crowding in the narrow road, In thick and struggling masses. * * * * Anon, with toss of horn and tail, And paw of hoof and bellow, They leap some farmer's broken pale, O'er meadow-close or fallow!

From chronicles in the British Museum I am able to supplement the foregoing arrangement in force in Cambridgeshire by more definite particulars of the organized precautions to be taken in counties lying nearest the coast as soon as the presence of the Invader became known. As a preliminary, returns had to be made as to the driving of live-stock farther inland away from the coast "in order that indemnification might be estimated for such as could not be removed." The removal of stock and unarmed inhabitants was to be effected after the following fashion:—

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