The Staploe Hundred

Apart from the cost of the workhouse and cash payments in outdoor relief, the Overseers were involved in other expenditure. A frequent item before the Napoleonic War and during the war was 'support of Militia men's families'. Then there were medical expenses: the regular item, 'Oct. 1780 Mr. Mayer surgeon quarter's salary £2-12s-6d; and the emergency in smallpox 'April 1783 Surgeons fees for inoculating 64 paupers at 3d each and other things £10', 'April 1786 McPherson for delivering Wood's wife and medecines, £5-13s.' The Soham authorities, encouraged by similar action by the Feoffees, began early in the nineteenth century the bad practice of making up the wages of those inadequately paid by their employers out of the poor rates and used the Highway rate for this purpose as though it were a poor rate, instead of paying a 'fair remuneration of actual labour properly superintended'. For example in March 1807 £62-4s-2 1/2d of the poor rate was paid to 'Mr. Smith for men on the road' and 15s-3d more to 'Mr. Cropley, beer for men on the road'. Local ratepayers objected to these practises. "The first appeal to Quarter Sessions against the Soham rates in 1829 was unsuccessful, but the following year three rates were squashed. In 1831 two further appeals were made, as a result of which sundry payments to unemployed men at Soham were declared illegal".

The tragedy was that the rise in population and in the price of food at the end of the eighteenth century was followed by some twelve years of war, in which wages and employment failed to keep pace with the rise in the cost of living and the burden of finding a solution was placed on the backs of untrained, ill-informed, sometimes well-meaning, but often incompetent local people. It is startling to realize that in 1802-3 10% of the population of Staploe Hundred were receiving permanent relief from the Rates and a further 4.5% were in receipt of occasional relief. In the worst period of the twentieth century between the world wars, between l0% and 20% of the adult working force was unemployed. The situation in 1802-3 varied from parish to parish: only 5.7% of Isleham people received relief, but 21.7% of Soham's and 17.2% of Burwell's population did. Eight of Landwades twenty-five inhabitants (32%) but only 8.1% of Kennett's 111 people were on relief. The figures in the other parishes were: Fordham: 7.2%, Wicken: 11.1%, Chippenham: 12.6%, and Snailwell: 17.5%. One eighth of those receiving relief were either over 60 or disabled. In Fordham, Isleham, Kennett and Snailwell the proportion was higher, about one quarter. Over half the paupers in Soham were children, but in most parishes the proportion was nearer one quarter. The burden which all this meant on the rates was substantial; there was no contribution from national taxation towards the maintenance of the poor or disabled. The average rate for Staploe Hundred was 4s-3 3/4d, Burwell paid 7s-2d in the £, while Chippenham paid only 2s-3 3/4d. Soham's rate was nearer the average, 4s-l 1/2d.

Extracted from 'Village History in the Staploe Hundred' published in 1967. The study was the work of a group of local people from several villages who came together at Soham Village College in the Winter of 1965-6, to study their village history in a Class organised by the University of Cambridge Board of Extramural Studies.'


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