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John Martin and the Evershot Poor Records

Poor Law records for Evershot.

John Martin served only one year as Overseer of the Poor [as judged by the surviving Poor Law records] in 1821. His year in office is detailed below but the subject is of sufficient interest however that I will be expanding the following section with entries from the Poor Law records for Evershot. As published on Ancestry this encompasses a seventeen year period between 1819 and 1836, the period covering the last days of the old Poor Law and the first two years after the Poor Law amendment act.

John Martin was appointed an Overseer of the Poor in 1821 and served for a year. He appears not to have served again although there is an enigmatic entry from 1832 which suggests he was involved in distributing the poor rate,

11th January 1832

Head ach [sic] and done but little – gave away the Second Poor money in the afternoon

The Poor Law Commission noted that a year was the usual term to serve as Overseer but it could be as short as three months in some parishes. There occasional entries in the diaries referring to his work as an Overseer but the main evidence comes from the records he kept during his year and which are held at Dorset History Centre and on Ancestry.

The duties of the Overseer were described thus in 1795, “The office of an Overseer of the Poor seems to be understood to be this, to keep an extraordinary look-out to prevent persons coming to inhabit without certificates, and to fly to the Justices to remove them: and if a man brings a certificate, then to caution the inhabitants not to let him a farm of £10 a year, and to take care to keep him out of all parish offices.”1 One of the principal duties of the Overseer was to prevent any more people claiming poor relief from the local rate payers even to resorting to subterfuge and Burns went on:“the parish officers will assist a poor man in taking a farm in a neighbouring parish, and give him £10 for the rent.”

Dr Burns saw the Overseers role as simply trying to avoid anyone arriving in the parish and claiming settlement. This is a theme that recurs in all discussions of the operation of the poor law and it may be questioned whether the payments recorded below were solely altruistic or were they made in exchange for the individuals concerned undertaking to move on.

5th April 1821

A poor man travelling in distress 3d

3rd May 1821

A poor man woman and child travelling in distress 6d

11th July 1821

Poor persons travelling in distress in two last months 3s

3rd January 1822

A poor person travelling in distress 1s

Do 6d

23rd January 1822

A poor person travelling in distress 6d

There is only one entry which relates to a settlement case; no further details are available about the case but as there are several payments to Widow White during the year she must have gained her settlement in Evershot.

J Chubb’s horse hire & expenses resptg the Whites settlement

18s 6d

The role of the Overseer was not an enviable or necessarily desirable one. The Poor Law commission noted that “The persons appointed are in general farmers in country places, and shopkeepers or manufacturers in towns. If they refuse or neglect to serve, they may be indicted or fined but they receive no remuneration for serving.” They could claim expenses however as these entries show, including the 19th century equivalent of a hire car,

31st March 1821

Fees allowing last years accounts appointing new overseers etc 9s

horse hire & expenses attending with same 7s 6d

3rd November 1821

Horse hire & expenses to Dorchester to answer Thos Allens Summons

Being appointees and only serving for one year at a time was less than ideal “neither diligence nor zeal are to be expected from persons on whom a disagreeable and unpaid office has been forced and whose functions cease by the time that they have begun to acquire a knowledge of them; and even when zealous and diligent, they must often fail from want of experience and skill.” 2

It is probably true that most Overseers did not want to be Overseers and it was not without its risks. Applicants for relief had a right of appeal against the award made them and, “if the overseers refuse relief, or grant less than the applicant thinks himself entitled to, they may be summoned before the justices to defend themselves against the charge of inhumanity and oppression and if they do not comply with the magistrates’ order they are punishable by indictment or fine”

Living in close proximity to the people they had to make decisions about they were also subject to the court of public opinion “the applicant who has been refused relief has frequently recourse to a much more summary remedy than the interference of the magistrates. The tribunal which enforces it sits, not at the petty sessions, but at the beer-shop”.

The Commission found many examples of violence being used against Overseers a few of which are quoted here, “At Great Gransden, the overseer’s wife told me that, two days before my visit there, two paupers came to her husband demanding an increase of allowance ; he refused them, showing at the same time that they had the full allowance sanctioned by the magistrates’ scale; they swore, and threatened he should repent of it; and such was their violence that she called them back, and prevailed on her husband to make them further allowance.” And again “Mr. Faircloth, by a stricter system of relief, and affording more employment, reduced the rates at Croydon; he became unpopular among the labourers, and, after the harvest, they gathered in a riotous body about his thrashing machine, and broke it to pieces. At Guilden Morden, in the same neighbourhood, a burning took place of Mr. Butterfield’s stacks, to the amount of £1,500/.”

The principal duty of the Overseers under the old Poor Law was “to make, assess, collect, and distribute the fund for the relief of the poor. They are to decide, in the first instance, what amount of money is wanted ,what persons are to pay it, and in what proportions; they are to enforce payment of it from those persons, and they are to dole it out to those whom they think proper objects of relief, so as to satisfy what they think the necessities of those objects.”

As described in an earlier section3 until the passage of the Law on Parochial Assessments, parishes were free to raise money according to local custom. In many cases this was by assessment to what were known as the Poor’s rate and we find Martin valuing at East Stoke and Chetnole years before the PAA,

13th March 1821

Went to Stoke respg Poor’s Rate Slept at Woodstreet

19th March 1821

Making Stoke Poors Rate

27th April 1821

Postage upon Stoke Poors Rate 2s 4d

8th November 1832

Valuing Chetnole for the Overseer 5 5 0

Prior to this act it is not clear how the money was raised in Evershot. If we examine the poor law records for Evershot we find that between1820 and 1835 there was set, each year, “A rate for the relief of the poor”. Unfortunately it does not say how the rate was set [6d in the pound for example]. What is recorded are the names of proprietors of land, the land which is being assessed and the value of each piece. John Martin’s entries for 1820 and 1835 are as follows,


Part of late Mabers ½ d

Part of Late Reads ½ d } 2 ½ d

Rowlands Courtlands 1 ½ d


Part late Mabers & Part Late Reads 1d

Rowlands Courtlands 1 ½ d

Late Denisthorpe Marsh Mead 1d } 6 ¼ d

Pipers Hay 1 ¾ d

Part of Beals 1d

What is curious is that the total, of all the rates for all the proprietors in each of these fifteen years is exactly the same £1 6s 7 ¾ d. It will be seen from the above example and indeed for all the other proprietors that during this time the value of the same plot did not vary although Martin had acquired two more plots of land in between times. The minimum value for a plot of land or house was 1d but as can be seen above this value the plot could be valued in farthings or halfpennies.

The number of proprietors in each year contributing to the rate varies from forty in 1820 and forty three in 1829 with the average being forty one. Martin was not alone in adding or losing lands from his estate so it appears in order to keep the total at £1 6s 7 ¾ d new proprietors were added or subtracted to get the figures to work. How they were chosen is not known. Even then however the figures don’t make much sense. Monthly expenditures on Poor relief varied between a low of £18 0s 4d in June 1821 and a high of £55 12s 11d in March 1822 with the total for the year being £425 1s 2½d. A weekly rate of £1 6s 7 ¾ d would clearly be insufficient and a daily rate of this amount would have given a surplus of some £50.

In 1821 Martin paid his rates bill on 31st December, “Pd 300 rates for 1821 for Poor £3 2s 6d”. Conversion of this amount to pence equates to 750 d which when divided by 2 ½ comes to 300. Coincidence, or was the 2 ½ d paid for just 300 days of the year and if it was, why? In 1827 there are three entries where the number 300 recurs,

20th February 1827

Paid Mr Norman 100 Poor Rates £1 0s 10d

1st August 1827

Paid Mr Norman 100 Poor Rates £1 0s 10s

31st December 1827

Paid 100 Poor rates £1 0s 10d

A similar type of entry occurs in 1832,

30th March 1832

Pd 60 Poors Rates to make up the Yr £1 6s 3d

7th August 1832

Paid 100 Poors Rates £2 3s 9d

3rd December 1832

Pd Poors Rates 100 £2 3s 9d

From 1838 there are no more entries where 100 or 300’s are mentioned presumably because by now Evershot was being assessed under the Parochial Assessments Act

2nd July 1838

Paid Mr Warden Poor Rates } £1 13s 6d

The poor rate assessment for Rampisham for 1837 survives, and shows how the rate was worked out under the PAA,

No on Map




State of Cultivation



Price per acre

Gross Rental

Net annual value

Rate at 6d in the pound


John Martin


Poiters Land


1a 1 r 15 p


£2 12s 9d

£2 0s 0d


The Poor Law Commission report noted that in theory the system under the old Poor Law was potentially open to abuse. A farmer by increasing the poor rate could in theory lower his own wage bill as many people paid the rate and “The only checks, then, on their profusion or partiality, or fraud, are the share which they bear as ratepayers in the burthen, and the necessity of annually submitting their accounts to the vestry, and having them allowed by the magistrates.”

In practice the custom of the parish and the long duration of the act meant that few Overseers would be able to commit a fraud without it being noticed and at the end of the year they had to present the local Justices of the Peace with the accounts to have them signed off.

The old Poor Law specified that each Sunday, after Divine service, the churchwardens and Overseers were to meet in the vestry of the church to decide who was to receive relief and then dole it out. In Overseer accounts it appears this was not what was done as many payments were made on other days. The range of relief that was given out can be seen from the accounts. The records for each month cover two facing pages, on the left hand side are what were perceived as the exceptional or variable expenses whilst on the right were entries which varied but little throughout his year as Overseer. Occasionally people would drop out of the list and others would drop in but these appear to be the long term poor, of whom it was not expected that they should work. I have not traced these individuals or their circumstances, which would be in any case be very difficult as it was in the days before the censuses named individuals. These entries are dated 14th March1821 which was a Wednesday.

Erasmus Cox, Son wife

£1 7s 6d

John Miller

17s 6d

Will Frampton

12s 6d

Thomas Frampton

12s 6d

John Hopkins Lodg[ings]


Mary Roberts ### to her dece[ase]

13s 6d

Ann Roberts

12s 6d

Margaret Shitler


Ann Daliber


Ann Chamberlain


Hester Groves


Susan Hoskins


Miles Swattridge


Miles Swattridge



13s 6d

Late Baggs girl


Late Baggs girl


Late Baggs boy


John Whites son [Geo[rge]]



4s 6d

Daniel English & family




John Mills & family


Mary Roberts daug[hter]



4s 6d

Mary Swattridges girl




Ann Chamberlains girl

7s 6d

Mary Perratts boy


Ruth Baggs do

7s 6d

Rhoda Colmer do

7s 6d

At the end of the year, with the exception of Erasmus Cox [Snr] and Mary Roberts and one or two others the list is virtually unchanged. These were the long term poor and we do not learn much from the entries; the exceptional entries however are of some interest and some are very poignant. It is difficult to imagine the grinding poverty that led to Elizabeth Thompson4 not to be able to afford a few yards of cloth to bury her child in as this entry from December records,

Shroud Elizabeth Thompson’s child

Mr Conway coffin for do

Thos Brett bill grave & beer for do




It was not uncommon to give grants of money to purchase clothing as these entries, from various dates through the year show. They also remind us that most clothes were hand made usually by the people who were to wear them [or more probably their wives or mothers] but in the case of Jos Hobby and Miles Swattridge it is likely that Mrs Gilbert was a seamstress.

Edward Miller/Betty Tomkins 5 yards calico for 2 shirts

Widow White a pair of shoes for her son Samuel

Joseph Jessop a pair of shoes Edw Miller Jn Swattridge at Alfred Barrett

Alfred Barret his brother family ### to this day to buy him 2 shirts

Mrs Gilbert a shirt for Jos Hobby Retained from his wages in part

Mrs Gilbert 3 yds duck & thread for a shirt for Miles Swattridge

Also 5 yards sheeting N Burbridge

3s 9d


17s 6d


5s 2d

4s 2d

4s 2d

Occasionally other purchases were sanctioned,

Josias Childs in Distress

Also to buy spade


4s 6d

It was not only poor children who had to be buried and there are two entries about men who had died in the year and whose burial, presumably in a paupers grave, were paid for by the parish. The modern monetary equivalent of £1 7s 10d is about £80 which does not sound a large sum compared with today’s costs but this was nearly three years salary for the average agricultural labourer,

William Cox Tailor [sic] for burying his father

Edward Chubb three weeks allowance to his death

Also to his son in law Jos Graves his funeral expenses

£1 7s 10d

7s 6d

£1 7s 10d

One of the principle duties under the act was “for setting to work all such Persons, married or unmarried, having no Means to maintain them, and use no ordinary and daily Trade of Life to get their Living by.” The 1601 act did not specify what work was to be done but it allowed them to purchase “a convenient Stock of Flax, Hemp, Wool, Thread, Iron, and other necessary Ware and Stuff,” which the poor were to be given in order to work.

Finding work for the poor was no easy matter and fraught with problems. The Speenhamland system operated a sliding scale of relief based on the size of the family and the price of bread. In some parishes paupers worked at a particular rate until they had earned the sum that had been allotted to them by the poor rate. For example in one Cambridge parish they had to collect stones at 2d a bushel. If he was paid 3s a week he would quit work after collecting 18 bushels of stones. In other parishes they might be kept at work all day even though there was insufficient work to be done with the result that “they sleep more than they work, and if any but the surveyor found them sleeping, they would laugh at them”. Frequently the poor would sabotage the efforts of the Overseers by breaking their tools or idling and yet employing a man to watch over them was expensive and the Poor Law commission could not resist a gibe, “whatever may be the difficulty of finding profitable work, it is difficult to suppose the existence of a parish in which it would not be possible to provide some work, were it merely to dig holes and fill them again”. In some parishes the hours the poor could work were limited by the magistrates so they could look for work. It did not always work out , “in the parish of Mancetter, in the county of Warwick, the overseer stated that young able men received 2s. 6d. a week, and the magistrates would not allow the parish to employ them more than three days in the week, in order that they might get work for themselves. Upon inquiry, it appeared that their characters soon became so infamous, that no person would employ them, having devoted their spare time to thieving and poaching.”

Evershot like many other parishes chose to employ the poor on the roads. The problems associated with this were described by an Overseer in Northampton but we may assume the same applied in other counties; “The plan generally in use in the agricultural villages is, upon the man’s applying to the overseer for work, to send him upon some part of the parish roads, where he is expected to work – not the farmer’s hours, or anything like them, but to begin at eight, to leave at twelve for dinner, an hour, and to leave the roads finally at four. It is the business of the overseer or the surveyor of the roads, a farmer or a tradesmen, who, paid or not has his own business to attend to, to see that the men are actually working. While he is present, and the farmers take credit to themselves for riding up once or twice a day to the roads, the men bestir themselves a little; but the moment his back is turned, a man who gives himself any trouble is laughed at by his companions. As the overseer at Kettering told me, their remark is,-‘ You must have your 12s. a week, or your 10s. a week, whether you work or not; I would not be such a fool as to work – blast work – damn me if I work,’ &c.; and, of course, under these circumstances, they do anything but work’

We cannot know what the state of Evershot’s roads were like in 1821 but it was to work on the roads that the poor were sent and each month much the same names appear although some others dropped in and out of the list as is seen in April and May. One hopes the work was not too hard, for John Minchinton [no Minchenton can be found to fit the bill] was aged 71 in 1821 and he died in 1829 aged 79.

J Minchenton 24 days on the roads

£1 4s 0d

Burbridge 24 do


Rob Hoskins 24 do


Jos Hobby 16 ½ do


Jn Hopkins 22 do

14s 8d

John Minchenton 24 days on the roads

£1 4s 0d

Nicholas Burbridge 24 do


John Hopkins 14 do

9s 4d

Rob Hoskins 23 do

13s 5d

Jos Hobby 11 do

7s 4d

Edward Chubb 7 do

4s 1d

Rob Hawkins 1 do


It has not been possible to trace Miles Swattridge so we do not know precisely how old he was but reference is made to Swattridges sons in the regular payments section of the accounts. As the Overseers had a responsibility “for setting to work the Children of all such whose Parents shall not by the said Churchwardens and Overseers, or the greater Part of them be thought able to keep and maintain their Children” it is likely that the following entry from October relates to this.

William Tomkins Benville 30 weeks keeping Miles Swattridge to 27th inst

£3 0s 6d

As well as providing help for the long term poor there are a number of payments to men who fell acutely ill,

Reuben Groves incapable of labour 2/6, 5/-, 2/-

9s 6d

Edward Chubb Senr 3 weeks incapable of labour

7s 6d

John Vine in consequence of an accident disabling him to work

John Vine 4 weeks relief to Sep 29 inclusive


£1 2s 0d

There seems to have been an informal loan system at work in the village as well as in October there is credit entry for money received,

Do of William Newton what he’d advanced John Vine

£2 17s

Joseph Hobby was working on the roads at the beginning of the year [see above] when he became incapable of work for a while in November 1821 . He had already been given a shirt in September and at the beginning of October was being paid for work that was not related to the roads. He fell ill in November but was back at work in December.

Mrs Gilbert a shirt for Jos Hobby

Retained from his wages in part

Joseph Hobby 4 do to Oct 6 inclusive

Also balance of his shirt account not carried out last month

Joseph Hobby 3 weeks incapable of labour [November]

Joseph Hobby 6 ½ do [December]

5s 2d


4s 2d

10s 6d

4s 4d

One area of great concern for the Overseers was bastardy. At some time prior to the Beggars act of 1576 the parish had assumed financial responsibility for illegitimate children. The purpose of the act was to enable Justices of the Peace to examine the mother and the putative father and having determined paternity force the father to pay for the child. The rationale for passing the act has a remarkably modern feel to it5, “bastards begotten and born out of lawful matrimony (an offence against God’s law and man’s law) the said bastards being now left to be kept at the charges of the parish where they be born, to the great burden of the same parish, and in defrauding of the relief of the impotent and aged, true poor of the same parish.

The Poor Law act makes no comment about bastardy but included a section which ordered “the Father and Grandfather, and the Mother and Grandmother, and the Children of every poor, old, blind, lame, and impotent Person or other poor Person not able to work, being of a sufficient Ability, shall, at their own Charges, relieve and maintain every such poor Person”.

It was probably not a very effective clause as several other acts concerning the issue were passed subsequently, the last of which was an act of George III in 1808, “if any single woman declare herself to be pregnant, and charge any person with being the father, it shall be lawful for any justice of the division, on the application of the overseers, or of any substantial householder, to issue his warrant for the immediate apprehending such person”.

Magistrate: Oh It’s a clear Case..

Overseer: Caught in the act your worship …

Pregnant Woman: I positively swear the Child to Squire Doodle of Doodle Hall

Squire: Indeed your Worship – I never set eyes on her but once – and that was when she came a clear starching [sic] to Mrs Doodle Oh she is a wicked Woman pray your Worship don’t believe her- for what will poor dear Mrs Doodle say.

Once apprehended the man was to be committed to gaol immediately unless he could put up sufficient financial sureties that he would attend the court in due course. Something that the poor were usually not able to do. There are several entries about bastardy in the Overseers accounts, the first appearing on the 21st April 1821 where an example of precisely this action is to be found; it was in any event a busy time for the Overseers with two separate cases on the go,

21st April


Fees examining Elizabeth Frampton on bastardy

horse hire & expenses attendg with her

Erasmus Cox Jnrs wife & family a fortnight since his commitment in bastardy


7s 6d


The two cases are unrelated but further investigation reveals how confusing things can get. Frampton is a very common name at this time and rather confusingly Erasmus Cox had been committed to gaol by one of the local Justices of the Peace, James Frampton Esq, in January 1821. James was we may assume no relation to Elizabeth Frampton.

According to the Dorchester prison records Erasmus Cox, aged 32 was committed on the 27th January 1821 on a charge of bastardy. He was detained for nearly three months being discharged on March 10th 1821. The records note that he was “Discharged by order of John Herbert Browne Esq & James Frampton Esq an order of filiation having been made on him. Order to discharge written on the back of Warrant of Commitment.” In one of those peculiar anomalies of genealogy, there is no record of Erasmus Cox Jnr apart from the prison record. His father, Erasmus Cox Snr, on the other hand can be traced. Likewise the original filiation order and details of the mother and child are not available but were made by the Justices and would have taken the form,

“Filiation order by John Herbert Browne and James Frampton Esq 10 March 1821

Mothers Name male/female bastard child

Erasmus Cox of Evershot ordered to pay

£X for the months lying in

Y pence weekly for upkeep

Mother ordered to pay Z pence if she does not keep the child.”

The Poor Law commission considered the process to be open to considerable abuse for once accused the man was automatically consigned to gaol until a hearing before the magistrates. During this time he was not able to earn of course and the family were thrown back onto the parish. The value of making filiation orders must also be doubted where the individual was in any case poor. Cox Jnr was in receipt of parish relief after his discharge, as indeed were his extended family, for in April we find him living with his parents;

Erasmus Cox Jnr in distress [5th April]


Erasmus Cox, Senr, wife [14th April]

£1 7s 6d

Erasmus Cox Senr wife family 4 weeks

£1 8s 0d

On 6th May 1821 Erasmus Cox Snr was buried in St Osmunds church; he was 87 years old and had previously been a ‘turner’. With age and frailty he was thrown back on the parish for support, just as one of his old apprentices[from 1868], John Minheaton [Minchenton] was. Cox’s son William as we have seen was paid £1 7s 10d in order to bury him.

May 18th

Erasmus Cox Senr & wife to his dece[ase]


Meanwhile Erasmus Cox Jnr was still struggling.

Erasmus Cox in distress [21st September]

Erasmus Cox in distress [30th September]

Erasmus Cox 4 weeks relief [3rd November]

Erasmus Cox 4 weeks allowance [3rd December]





It seems that Cox was still expected to find gainful employment as up until December 1821 all the payments are entered on the ‘exceptional’ side of the accounts but from January 1822 he is found on the long term poor side of the accounts.

Erasmus Cox and family [2nd February 1821]


Elizabeth [Betty] Framptons pregnancy led her to be examined by Martin and Chubb in April with a view to establishing paternity.

21st April


Fees examining Elizabeth Frampton on bastardy

horse hire & expenses attendg with her


7s 6d

They appear to have been successful as a week later the Constable at one of the Toller’s had apprehended one Henry Cornick the putative father,

28th April 1821

Henry Cornick having been apprehended in Framptons bastardy, horse hire to Dorchester

Constable at Toller’s expenses &c as pd magistrates allowance

Stamps for note

7s 6d


1s ½ d

In July Betty Frampton gave birth, and she received relief for the two weeks she spent in lying in. It was the custom after giving birth for a woman to be confined to her bed for a varying period so she could recover from child birth. In Evershot this period appears to have been a fortnight.

11th July 1821

17th July 1821

Betty Frampton 1 week lying in.

Betty Frampton 2nd week lying in



There was more to and fro’ing between Evershot and Dorchester,

4th August 1821

Horse hire Jepps to Dorchester to get order in Betty Framptons bastardy but Cornick craving time Magistrates gave him ###

7s 6d

The last entry being the only one that comes from the diaries and not the Overseers account.

18th August 1821

Went to Dorchester upon Framptons Bastardy J Petty’s Acct

Paid for Warrant on Framptons Bastardy 3s

Betty Frampton’s daughter is almost certainly Maria Frampton who was still living in Evershot in 1841 but of her parents nothing more can be found.

Very occasionally all the efforts put into tracing the father worked and at the end of the years accounts there is a list of credits made to the parish accounts. Joseph Dodge cannot be found but Mary Perratt was still living in Evershot in 1841 together with her her son John who was the “bastard child” mentioned in the accounts.

12th June 1821

Cash of Joseph Dodge on acct of his bastard child per Mary Perratt

£7 16s

There are several entries where payments are made to Alfred Barrett, another person who does not appear in any of the records. He appears usually as the recipient of payments in respect of the boarding of some of the poor. Once again it is impossible to trace the people reliably but Molly Groves could be Mary Groves who was born in 1818 [there is no record of Sam] in which case Barrett might have been boarding children.

18th June 1821

16th July 1821

13th August 1821

14th September 1821

8th October 1821

15th October 1821

3rd December 1821

2nd February 1821

Sam Groves 1 month in Alfred Barretts

Joseph Jessop a pair of shoes

Edw Miller Jn Swattridge at Alfred Barrett

Sam Groves months allowance Alfred Barrett

Molly Groves months allowance to Alfred Barrett

Also for a shirt for do

Molly Groves last months allowance to A Barrett

Molly Groves 1 months allowance to Alfred Barrett

William Cox jacket for Alfred Barrett

Molly Groves last mo with A Barrett

Molly Groves month with A Barrett


17s 6d



1s 10d



8s 6d



The Poor Law act allowed “parish officers, with the consent of local landlords and at the charge of the ratepayers,” to “build ‘convenient houses of dwelling’ on manorial wastes and commons, and place inmates and more than one family in cottages”. Although nominally the Lord of the Manor owned the waste of the parish there were usually so many others with rights of common over the land that it was never regarded as belonging to him exclusively and was the obvious place to build poor houses. Since the common was usually some distance from the main part of the village it also got the poor safely out of view. In Evershot as well as so many parishes this is precisely where the poor houses were built. These were not workhouses, they were never used to incarcerate the indigent poor but always to look after those who had fallen on hard times. As with all house owners the Overseers incurred maintenance costs. These were not cheap,

Samuel Groves thatchers work on the poor house

J Pulman blacksmiths repairs to the Poor house

John Munday sweeping 8 chimnies [sic] at the Poor House

Years insurance of the Poor house in Salamander fire office to Michas 1821

Mr Burnwell a bill for Glazing at the Poor house by order of last Lady Day Vestry

J May glazing at the Poor House

Also a years insurance of poor house to Michas 1822 and prevs [sic]

£5 18 9




6s 6d

3s 7d


One cost which recurs the next year was the problem of moles,

Henry Cox half a years salary destroying moles to Michas

£3 3s 0d

There are a number of miscellaneous expenses and income in the accounts that at this juncture defy explanation; on the debit side are,

Thomas Allen a loan to be repaid by weekly instalments of 1s

Mr Jennings’s bill for lawyers &c up to Lady day 1820

Horse hire & expenses to Dorchester to answer Thos Allens Summons


£13 15s 0d

7s 6d

On the income side are the following. Some of these are probably maintenance payments,

Do of W Davey on fur acct

Do of W Belben on fur acct by W Frampton

Do of William Newton what he’d advanced John Vine

Do of J Lake a years rent to Michas Gravel Ground

Do of J Genars every one [sic] 52 weeks maintenance of Ruth Baggs child

Do by 300 bales £96 5s 4 ¾ d

Deduct Geo Perratt a quarter unoccupied 6s 3d

Cash being David Child second Poor Money towards arrear of House Rent [he lived in poor house]


£2 17s

£2 18s

£3 18s

£399 13s 9d

£399 7s 6d


Finally in this section of John Martin’s work there is an expense that was not covered by the Old Poor Law Act although it would become a feature of the new Poor Law – the provision of health care to the poor. There are four entries about health, although two are concerned with the same thing,

Dr Saint Quinton years salary to Lady Day last

Surgeons Salary to lady day


£20 0s 0d

The second entry from May 1821 relates to Widow White, whose settlement was questioned above.

Widow White fortnight due to her when she left Forston

Also to buy fuel

Also fortnight since her coming home




Forston is a small village on the road from Dorchester to Sherborne via Cerne Abbas. It lies in a valley above which to the east is high downland. Forston House was built around 1720 it must have been extremely isolated, in the 1820’s it was occupied by George Peach, an ex-army surgeon who was later to move to Child Okeford. He probably did not own it however. The fact that she is referred to as Widow White and there are references to her and her ‘family’. I wonder if her husband had worked on the estate and she had become a pauper after his death.

John Martin was to be involved with Forston more directly when he was given a commission to make a plan of the old house. In 1808 an act was passed requiring that ‘Lunatic Asylums’ should be established in the counties. It appears that little was done in Dorset until on the 15th December 1821 an ‘adjourned quarter sessions of the peace’ was held to consider the offer of Francis John Browne of Frampton, one of the Justices, to donate the Mansion House of Forston with its extensive premises and gardens together with a large field for the purposes of building a lunatic asylum.

Martin knew Mr Brown [without the ‘e’ in the diaries, both professionally and socially,

27th February 1827

Went to Frampton Cerne &c for a Summons for the Gundrys at Ransom for cutting down a Young ash Tree but Mr Brown was from Home

19th May 1827

Do Rook Shooting at Woolcombe dined at Mr Wm Jennings with Mr Jesty & Brown

20th May 1827

At Home Mr Jesty & Brown dined with us

It may not come as a great surprise then when in November 1827 Martin went to Frampton and received the commission to make a plan of the existing premises,

17th November 1827

Waited on Mr Brown at Frampton where he gave me orders to Plan Forston House

31st December 1827

Went to Forston to take Plan of Forston House for Mr Brown but the Rain came on so much could not proceed returned Home.

December 1827 Accounts

Paid Ch Man at Forston 2s 6d

Receipts for Mr Browns Forston Plan £12

Unfortunately we don’t have the diary for 1828 but in October 1828 the “Report of the Visiting Justices of the PAUPER LUNATIC ASYLUM” was received by the General Quarter Sessions where it was estimated that some £7000 was needed to “render it suitable and commodious for the reception, safe custody, and cure of those unfortunate persons who labour under that most severe of human calamities, mental derangement, and are also in a state of the most deplorable indigence and destitution.”

Forston continued to be the principal mental hospital in Dorset until 1858 when a new one was built at Herrison a few miles to the South East. Forston remained as an annexe to Herrison for several years until 1895 when a new wing at Herrison rendered it unnecessary; the additional wards at Forston were demolished but the original house survived as it does today.

Perhaps the most interesting of all the entries in the Poor Law records is the following one from March 1821.

Dr Hodges attendg Jos Groves at Maiden Newton

Inoculating his 5 children with the small pox

£1 19 9d


A discussion of this may be found under the Colleagues section earlier.

1One Dr Burn quoted in The Village Labourer by the Hammonds.

2Poor Law Commissioners Report published 1834

3Three acts of the 19th century.

4Neither mother or child can be traced.

5Think of the now defunct Child Support Agency.