The Staploe Hundred

Of Isleham Dr. Waller Lewis reported: "it is in a most deplorable condition. Great numbers of the people live in large hollows in the ground, from which many years ago building stone was extracted. In one pit there are nearly 500 people in a state of great deprivation, and dirty in the extreme". A boy at school in 1962 said that his great grand-mother, who was over ninety, had told him that her mother lived in one of these Isleham pits. Soham neighbourhood was again flooded in 1937 and 1939 when spring floods breached some of the smaller banks.

There are indications, even before the investigation of the Cholera epidemic of 1853, that there was substantial poverty in our area and that the treatment of the poor was not always sensible never mind kindly. It is, perhaps, significant that Miss E. M. Hampson's Treatment of Poverty in Cambridgeshire comments that "in six of the fourteen hundreds (of Cambridgeshire) not a single workhouse existed in 1776. In the hundred of Staploe, comprising nine parishes, four parishes had a workhouse, but in no other hundred were workhouses to be found in more than two villages".

The Elizabethan Poor Law system provided that each parish should maintain its own poor out of the rates. The Act of Settlement of 1662 enabled the parish officials to remove new inhabitants from 'any tenement under the yearly value of £10'. There was, as a result, a good deal of inhumane compulsion exercised on the poor. Isleham stands out for its determination to keep out potential paupers. "William Rayment of Mildenhall, as early as 1665, was censured by the Court (Quarter Sessions) for visiting his aged parent at Isleham, it being alleged that by this means he was seeking to gain a settlement with his mother". "Isleham turned a deaf ear even to such moving supplications as the following, penned apparently by a kindly landlord, on behalf of 'a poor, lame old man called Adam Raynor, whose wife endeavoureth to support them both. He says he could manage with but an extra shilling a week. He is honest and sober and his wife has regularly worked here many years. I understand you have a workhouse and are by no means compellable to relieve the poor man without him coming to you, but 'twould bring his grey hairs with sorrow to the grave'. The man was nevertheless despatched to the workhouse at Isleham, whilst his old wife was left to live in artificial widowhood".

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