The Staploe Hundred

The Overseers paid for the poor in other ways than through the workhouse. There was some out door relief and "throughout the period from 1781 to 1834 Soham regularly maintained paupers elsewhere, but never at a higher rate than allowed to home paupers". One of the major problems of poor relief in Soham, and one that led the local officers into difficulties, was that of maintaining illegitimate children whose mothers could not keep them. The first principle practised was that the father, when sworn to by the mother, had to pay 2s. a week towards the child's maintenance. This meant a regular income over years for the parish and officials would go to considerable trouble and expense to obtain it. In 1790 the parishioners of Royston paid R. Flack £4-4s-ld for his expenses in establishing the responsibility of a certain Thomas Fagg for the 'bastard child' of Sarah Gear. £2-1s-6d of this was for 'Two journeys to Soham to get security of Thos. Fagg for the Maintenance of Sarah Gear's Child - Horse-hire and Expenses'. Fagg was a wealthy publican of Holborn and Sarah Gear was Royston's 'light lady'. Why Fagg was in Soham in 1790 is not clear. What is clear is that Royston obtained a regular income of 5s. a week from him. Such payments were a source of temptation to the amateur local officials who handled the money. "The parish accounts of Soham were the subject of a detailed investigation before the Court (of Quarter Sessions) in 1793, an error of £3-9s was detected in a bastardy item amounting to £8-13s-6d".

Compounding for a lump sum was a practice adopted by many putative fathers. "Soham had followed this custom when possible all through the eighteenth century - twenty seven guineas were paid down on one occasion. The parish, however, discovered the ease with which defalcations occurred and - Printed and affixed to the back of the overseer's account book as a caution to future officers: 'Such an agreement places parish officers in a situation which the Legislature did not mean to do, and which public policy forbids - for if the money be received immediately, the benefit is to those persons who are living in the parish, while the burden may be thrown on future generations".

"There were twenty-seven bastard children on the hands of Soham parish in 1829; in 1833 there were thirty-one. Ten of these thirty-one children were living with their mothers, who were allowed weekly sums varying from 1s-6d to 7s. In certain of these cases clearly the father was in comfortable circumstances. The remaining twenty-one children were lodged in the workhouse: these children were probably the fruit of illicit intercourse between parishioners too poor to arouse the exertions of the overseer. Of £277 expended by Soham on bastard children only £62 was refunded by the putative parents". A common practice, aimed at reducing the charges to the parish through illegitimate births, was to spend parish funds on 'encouraging' the pregnant mother to marry. Royston had attempted to solve their constantly recurring expenses due to Sarah Gear's way of life in this fashion. In 1831 the Cambridge magistrates, investigating irregularities in Soham parish accounts, condemned this practice as illegal.


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