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The Parochial Assessment Act

Martin’s work under the Parochial Assessment Act.

In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act radically overhauled the old Poor Law. Except in parishes which decided not to join a ‘Union’, 1the role of Overseer of the Poor was abolished. Instead the newly formed Union was run by an elected Board of Governors. Martin was elected in 1855 as a Governor of the Beaminster Union, a post previously held by William Jennings Jnr. The Governors of the Union were answerable to the Poor Law Commissioner in London and had to obey the rules laid down by the Commission, although they had some discretion. It is commonly thought for example that the poor had to be incarcerated in workhouses but this was not the case. Outdoor relief was still an option if the Governor’s had agreed that it could continue. We do not know of Martin’s duties within the Union.

As has been mentioned in an earlier section the most important change to the Poor Laws to affect land surveyors was the Parochial Assessment act of 1837. Across the country parishes used a hotch potch of different methods to assess the Poor Rate and the act led to a standardised system based on “the rent at which the same might reasonably be expected to let from year to year, free from all usual tenants’ rates and taxes, and tithe commutation rent-charge, if any, and deducting therefrom the probable average annual cost of the repairs, insurance, and other expenses, if any, necessary to maintain them in a state to command such rent.” 2

The obvious time to assess for the rates was at the same time as tithe commutation and this was the case at Allington in 1838.

9th November 1838 “Allington Rate and Tithes

Attending Tithe meeting for Mr Fox agreed at £190

Attending Parish officers on Poor Rate charged 2-2-0”

The most complete set of records where the tithe commutation and Poors’ rate were linked was at Fordington in 1845,

26th June 1845

Received of Mr John Henning the lt Mr Geo Hennings Fordington Commn Rate £20 4s 6d

August 1845

Received of Mr Sparks his Fordington Commn Rate £4 17 0d

4th July 1845

Went to Fordington by desire of the Overseers & attended a Vestry meeting But all there was done at this meeting was the appointment of a committee to examine the Rate Therefore I shall charge £2 2 0 and Expenses

24th July 1845

Attending the Committee at Fordington on the Poor Rate

25th July 1845

Do and returned Home

26th July 1845

Completing the Fordington Rate

28th July 1845

Ruling New Book for the Fordington Rate and working on Child Okeford Award all day

30th July 1845

Examining Fordington Rate and Okeford Award

As well as at Fordington he probably assessed the tithe and poor’s rate together at Batcombe and Maiden Newton. Rent charges being associated with the tithe commutation,

6th September 1838

Attending at Batcombe the whole of the day respecting Poors Rate

7th September 1838

Altering the Batcombe Rate [Poor Rate] and working on Downfrome Rent charges

8th September 1838

Working on Downfrome and Batcombe Rent Charges

10th October 1838

Maiden Newton Poor’s Rate

Went to Maiden Newton and Divided Cottages on the Rate

Assessment to the Poor’s rate did not necessarily coincide with tithe commutation. In March 1838 he was at Corfe on the Poor’s rate where as commutation did not take place until 1843.

5th March 1838

Corfe Castle Poor’s Rate

Went to Corfe Castle arrived there about Five o’clock

6th March 1838

Copying the Town Map of Corfe

7th March 1838

Attending Mr Taylor making Particulars of Town

Robert Taylor was a man of independent means, described as a magistrate and fundholder in the 1851 census.

8th – 10th March 1838

Valuing at Corfe

11th March 1838

Dined at Mr Taylors

23rd March 1838

Corfe Castle Poor’s Rate

Went again to Corfe arrived there about Five o’clock

24th March 1838

Went to Ailwood and Viewing Afflington and Corfe Common

25th March 1838

At Corfe

Valuations did not always go well. In August 1838 he had to return to Corfe,

10th August 1838

Corfe Castle Rate

Journey to Wareham to consult with Parishioners respg appeal

Messrs W & J Pike owned the china clay pits at Norden and they had lodged an appeal against the rate that had been levied on them. Martin had seemingly rated them as mines when he should not have done. The result was that the appeal was lost and the mines had to be re-rated.

11th August 1838

Corfe Rate charge 4 Guineas

Appeared before the Magistrates at Wareham when the Magistrates gave orders for a Revision of the Rate [Returned Home]

It was perhaps inevitable that errors such as these should occur when the Parochial Assessment Act was so new. It was not the only example of an appeal against the Poor rate. Earlier in the same year he had been involved in the Sherborne Poor Rate.

13th June 1838

Arrived at Sherborne about 1 o’clock

14th June 1838

Sherborne Rate

Attending Special Sessions till 8 o/k in the Evening and returned Home

Expenses at Sherborne 10s 6d

He returned four days later,

18th June 1838

Sherborne Rate

Attending Appeal at Sherborne when the appeal was dismissed

Expenses at Sherborne 5s 6d

It is not clear what Martin’s role was in this assessment since the rate had been set by a colleague of his [with whom he worked on other occasions], Mr Edward Percy. This was not the end of the affair however although there are no more diary entries. Over the next month there were further public meetings of the Overseers and rate payers at Sherborne and it appeared the problem revolved around the allowances made to the owners of dwelling and business premises who fared better than the large landowners. A very public spat developed between Percy and another local surveyor Mr Poole which was fought out in the newspapers.

The Poor Rate assessments varied in their timings in relation to the tithe commutation. We have seen this with Corfe [above] but it also occurred at Rampisham where the Poor Rate was set by Martin in January 1838 a year before the commutation.

Occasionally he worked on the Poor rate without ever being involved with the tithes as at Broad Maine- where no commutation appears to have taken place- and at Chilthorne and Winterbourne Monkton where the tithes were commuted but not by him.

5th July 1838

Received for making Poor Rate for Broad Maine £18

24th January 1845

Packing Bottles &c and working on the Chilthorne Poor Rate

December 1845

Reced of Mr Phelps for making the Monkton Poor Rate £5 5s 0d

Sometimes he returned to revalue a parish as at Batcombe and at Child Okeford,

17th February 1845

Went to Batcombe respg Poor Rate Expenses and with Beagles in the afternoon

There are no diary entries for Child Okeford’s Poor’s rate before 1852 but as he did the tithe commutation in 1838 and inclosed it in 1845 it is likely that he had valued it for the Poor’s rate before. The Child Okeford assessment is recorded in their church warden accounts. “At a Vestry of the Rate Payers and owners of Property of the Parish of Child Okeford hold on the second day of April 1852 in pursuance of Notice given it was resolved that John Martin Esq of Evershot Dorset should make a Rate and Book of Particulars of the Parish of Child Okeford provided his charge for so doing did not exceed the sum of twenty pounds.”

Martin duly attended in June 1852,

3rd June 1852

Went to Child Okeford on the Poor Rate

4th – 7th June 1852

At Child Okeford

8th June 1852

Returned Home

His report was received in January 1853 and clearly caused consternation amongst the rate payers, so much so that to give full vent to their feelings and perhaps take a suitable sedative they had to adjourn from the church to the pub,

“At a Vestry meeting held by adjournment from the parish church to the Baker Arms Inn this 27th day of Janry 1853 to take into consideration the equality of a new Poor’s Rate made by John Martin Esq it is decided by a large majority that it was not equal and that it required revision and that Mr Martin be written thereon.”

It is not known what the outcome of this appeal was but the next entry comes in 1854, “At a Vestry held this 24th day of March of the Rate Payers and Owners of Property…..And that Mr Martins Bill thirty three pounds is considered three pounds more than agreed and that thirty pounds be paid by the Overseers to Mr Martin.”

Martin was old fashioned – his bills were often in guineas.

1A group of parishes joined together for the purposes of Poor Relief.

2Parochial Assessment Act 1837