The Staploe Hundred

Children who became the parish's responsibility were sometimes apprenticed as they grew up. In this the Feoffees' charity helped and we shall leave discussion of the matter until later. The main responsibility facing the Overseers was, of course, for the adult poor. At Soham the workhouse was used for this purpose. It lay behind the building now occupied by Waddingtons. The work-house was a wood and daub, two storied building with a thatched roof. A square yard led to some long, low sheds in which the paupers were employed, mainly in spinning. The value of the work which they did was small: in seven months accounts examined at random between June 1780 and January 1795 the most earned in a single month was £7-6s-8 1/2d and the least £1-7s-0d. The amount earned was never more than one-seventh of what the Overseers were spending. The monthly expenditure on the work-house was erratic; higher in the winter months than the summer and rising over the period studied. In 1780-81 the monthly bill in June to October was usually between £30 and £40, while in March 1781 it was £50-13s-0d. In 1785 the March bill reached the huge sum of £93-16s-9 1/2d. The January bill for 1795 was £80-12s-4d. This rise was general: in the year 1775-76 the parishes of the Staplehoe Hundred raised £1,496-12s-10d in rates; the annual average of the three years 1782-5 was £1,998-0s-4d; by 1802-3 £5,215-9s-8 1/2d had to be raised. That most of this rateable income was spent in administering the Poor Law can be seen in the only available figure, that for 1802-3, in which year only £978 was spent on all other purposes, County rate, Church rate, Highways and Militia.

In May 1780 £3-14s. was spent on Cheese for the workhouse's inhabitants, £3-12s-7d on flour, £1-2s-9d on beef, and £1-12s. on pork. These items, with different sums spent on them, are repeated in most months; from time to time additional items of food appear: in June 1780 16s. was spent on malt and barley, 9s-7 1/2d on milk, and 12s. on barley; in August 1780 two bushels of onions were bought for 4s-8d. The 'carriage of water' was paid for from time to time. Turf and sedge was bought, presumably for fuel. Clothes were provided; 'shoes', 'making gowns', 'breeches', 'mantle maker sundry jobs' appear as items in the accounts. 'Earthenware' and 'dishes and spoons' were bought; 'shaving the poor' was paid for. 'Medecines for Parker's wife, Lambert's wife, and West's wife after they had been delivered' cost £2-6s-6d in March 1785. Coffins had to be bought. The Workhouse Master seems to have been paid £5 a month and presumably got his keep free. The government return for 1802-3 gives a breakdown of the parish's expenditure. Eighty-eight adults were being given out door relief and fifty-five children and adults were in the workhouse. £753-6s-4d was spent on the Workhouse and £115-6s-10 1/2d earned by the inhabitants who were 'employed in spinning wool, and in labouring in the fields'. That is to say the cost per head per year of keeping a pauper in the workhouse was £15-15s-10 1/2d, or just over 6s. a head a week. Some twenty years earlier 8s-9d a week was being paid inside the workhouse and 9s-9d was paid in out-relief. In 1802-3, £840-19s-9 1/2d was paid 'for the relief and maintenance of the poor' who were not in the workhouse. This was used to give occasional relief to 150 people, and permanent relief to 88 adults and 142 children under fifteen, of whom 47 were under five. It is, therefore, difficult to calculate how much was paid per head to those permanently on relief. 50 of the people being relieved in and out of the house were above 60 years of age or disabled from labour by permanent illness, or other infirmity'. A sample of the sums actually paid to impotent and aged parishioners, widows and children incapable of earning and continuously supported by parish funds, of about this date, shows a wide range of payments. 2s or 2s-6d a week seems normally to have been paid to widows, and 1s-6d to 2s. for children, but two blind widows were paid 4s-3d and 5s. respectively, one widow was paid 10s. and another only 1s. An old man of 89 was paid 6s., a widow with a crippled son 5s-6d, and Freeman's wife 5s.


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