How the Parish provided for the Sick

After the National Insurance Act was passed in 1948, benefits offices paid out sick benefits every two weeks. If you ever wondered why it was set up this way (and you probably didn’t) it was because the Government was latching onto a much older tradition.From 1948 those who claimed sick benefit had to produce a doctor’s certificate every two weeks and benefits were paid accordingly. I don’t know what system prevails today.

In the Churchwarden Accounts for Holy Trinity payments to the sick are made every two weeks. Judging by the names that are repeated  most of these cases are for old people or those with long term illnesses. I doubt if a cold or a sniffle would have got much sympathy from the overseers. In any case, with payments of only 2 shillings a week, nobody would willingly wish to see their income cut by two-thirds.

Here is a sample of entries for 1808:

Paid Wm Clark 2 weeks at 2/-                4s 0d.
Paid Wm Caves 2 weeks at 2/6              5s 0d
Paid Thos Cook 2 weeks at 1/-              2s 0d
Paid Wm Cross 2 weeks at 2/-               4s 0d
Paid F Arnold   2 weeks at 1/3               2s 6d
Paid Widow Wills extra 2 weeks at 2/-  4s 0d

and these amounts repeat every two weeks.

It is not clear why some were paid different amounts, although this would suggest that other factors were taken into account, such as age and household income. Most of these people I would judge to be seriously ill as the payments go on for some months. There are few, if any, examples that I have seen where someone appears on the books for a week or two and then restored to health, so as I remarked earlier, nobody took time off for minor complaints. The money was provided only to alleviate extreme hardship.

Tucker’s Girl

On December 11th 1808 the following entry appears in the Churchwarden’s Account Books:

Received of John Tucker on account of Mary Edmunds Child £20 0s 0d.

This was the usual practice when a man responsible for getting an unmarried  girl pregnant was assessed a fine to defray the cost to the Parish – in this case £20. Some months before this entries for payments to “Tucker’s Girl” begin to appear, starting with a payment of 2/6d for one week on July 20th 1808. Thereafter, there are regular payments of 2/- a week, paid every fortnight, to Tucker’s Girl.


The subsequent account references tell a story.

In September there is a payment of 4/- to the magistrates for a removal certificate and a few days later a payment of 6/6d to “a man to Convey Tucker’s Girl to Marsh Gibbon out 2 days.” The payments of 2/- a week continue and then on November 5th there is a payment to Bet Williams “for Tucker Girl Towards her Months” – 10s. And again on November 19th another payment of 10s. “Paid Bet Williams on account of Tuckers Girls Month.” She gets a similar payment on November 25th and December 3rd and on December 10th is give a further 2/6d for extra trouble. Weekly payments to Tucker’s Girl continue to january 7th 1809. Thereafter, Mary Edmunds is entered under her own name and is paid £1 every 10 weeks (still at the 2s a week rate) for a year after this. I assume until the £20 is used up.

My reading of this is that the pregnancy of Mary Edmunds is first recognized and acknowledged in July. She is thereafter paid at a rate of 2s a week. The initial reaction must have been for her to move to Marsh Gibbon, presumably where she had relatives, but that she may have chosen to return. The removal certificate was required for movement from one parish to another at this time. Bet Williams is the midwife who is paid 10s. a week during Tucker’s Girl’s last month of confinement. Bet Williams appears in other unrelated entries, so she must be local to Wolverton. It is interesting that she is only described as Tucker’s Girl until the child is actually born and John Tucker has made his payment of £20. I assume that if the pregnancy had not gone to term or the child had not survived then John Tucker would not have been liable for the whole amount. I assume that Mary Edmunds is not named because of some arcane notion that if no child survived birth then the stain of illegitimate birth would not attach itself to Mary Edmunds.

John Tucker was probably already married when he got Mary Edmunds pregnant, so she was effectively on her own. 2s a week amounted to bare subsistence and was the rate paid to the sick, so out of the £20 put up by John Tucker, she received about 20 months support after the other expenses were deducted. Options for girls in this situation were extremely limited. Support could either come from her immediate family or she could get married. One of my own ancestors got herself into this predicament as a sixteen year old in 1822 when she gave birth to my great great grandfather. Paternity was acknowledged by the already-married farmer, and recorded in the Leighton Buzzard register with a £50 bond. Two years later she married an older man who was able to provide for her and her son. She had no more children and her son took over his adoptive father’s business and did fairly well for himself. I hope the Mary Edmunds story had a satisfactory outcome.

Church Warden’s Account Books

Until we developed a more complicated society local government was localised to the Parish. Justice was dispensed by the Justice of the Peace (often the Lord of the Manor) and social welfare was administered by the Church, usually in the person of the Churchwardens.

The Holy Trinity Account Books for the 18th and 19th centuries survive and are kept in the Buckinghamshire Archive. They record payments made to the sick, the widowed and the poor and managed the costs of out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Two of their number were appointed overseers for the year beginning in April It appears that they divided the parish, which extended from Bradwell Brook in the east to Watling Street in the west. I am not sure how it was divided. The overseers appear to come from the ranks of the larger farm tenants. The new overseers for 1809-10 are Robert Battams from Stacey Bushes Fram and William Wilkinson from Brick Kiln Farm. The rate, at 1/6d in the Pound, was assessed only against land and property, so the farmers had a vested interest in the management of this money , which they appear to have managed very carefully, because there was usually a surplus of income over expenditure. The Poor Law Act of 1834 replaced this system, which had become inadequate to the purpose by the 1820s and moved the administration to a larger administrative district, the Poor Law Union, which was subsequently based at Potterspury.

Here is the minute of the annual meeting of April 3rd 1809

Balance recorded of late overseers £86 17s 9 1/2d

do of John Tucker                          £20   0s 0d

by 1/6 Rate                                     £271 11s  0d.

Total                                              £370   8s   9 1/2d

Disbursements brought down        £290   0s  7d

Balance due to Parish                    £ 80    8s  2 1/2 d 

April 3rd 1809. At our annual meeting this day held we have perused the preceeding accounts of Thos. Ratcliffe and John Brill and approve of the same and find due to the Parish Eighty Pounds eight shillings and two pence halfpenny which we Direct to be Paid to Robert Battams and Wm Wilkinson who were appointed to be overseers for the ensuing year.

A H Cathcart Curate

William Oliver

Thos. Ratcliffe

John Brill 

Tomorrow I will explain why John Tucker contributed £20.