contribution to funds for the poor as a
proportion of that value, most frequently 6d. in the
pound.5 Such lists, usually presented twice a year,
were signed by the officers and other leading members of the
vestry. In the assessment list of May 1664, 168 householders
were named, of whom 18 did not have to pay any contribution. Of
the known 192 households, therefore, 150 (nearly 80 per cent)
contributed to the welfare fund according to their means. Some
had to contribute in this way even though they were sufficiently
poor to be exempt from paying the hearth tax.
The disbursement lists provide details of
the monthly payments made to the poorest parishioners who formed
a small subsection of those exempt from the hearth tax. The
overseers of the poor and the churchwardens met every month to
plan these payments, and exercised a fine balance between income
and anticipated expenditure. In the 1660s, the Biddenden sesses
were designed to yield between £110 and £130 per annum,
and the end of year accounts regularly achieved an approximate
balance.6 Any overspend came out of the overseers’
pockets and was recouped in the following assessment. An entry
in the Cranbrook accounts under the year 1666 provides a nice
example of the provision of extra funds and their instant use.
Seven named parishioners were each fined 5s. or 10s.
for attending a nonconformist conventicle, and an eighth man was
fined for profane swearing. The churchwardens, in possession of
fines totalling £3 13s., distributed the money, in gifts
of a few pence or shillings each, to a considerable number of
their poor, and included a large donation of £1 ‘towards the
relief of the poor visited at Heselden Wood’, and 5s.
to Edward Beale and his family who were suffering from smallpox.
The justices of the peace, who regularly countersigned overseers’
and churchwardens’ accounts, approved this expenditure.
Monthly payments to the Poor
Table 1 lists the monthly payments of cash to the
Biddenden poor for April 1664. Such lists varied only marginally
from one month to the next, as some regular recipients died and
other names were added because of personal circumstances.
As can be seen, the sums were hardly large, ranging
from 1s. to 6s. per month at a time when the
standard rate of pay for a bricklayer in Biddenden was 1s.
9d. per day.7 On the other hand, the
bricklayer was probably earning for his whole family, whereas
the pauper was usually receiving support for herself or himself
alone. The contemporary Gregory King gives £6 10s. as
the average income for a cottager or pauper per year, and 3¼ as
the average size of such a household, which implies £2 per
person per year.8 £2 per person per year is 3s.
4d. per month. So the sums given to the Biddenden poor
would certainly have gone a long way to help them to make ends
meet. Many of them were also partial