ONE group of Kentish parishes to the south east of
Sevenoaks are singular in having preserved their early poor law
accounts. Westerham, Leigh, Hever, Cowden and Chiddingstone all possess
accounts of overseers of the poor from the late sixteenth or early
seventeenth centuries. It may be pure coincidence that the records have
escaped destruction in this district or possibly the justices of the
peace were more zealous here than elsewhere in enforcing the Elizabethan
Of the five parishes, the Chiddingstone accounts are of the
greatest interest. They contain a very good example of the quite rare
accounts of collectors for the poor. Though by the Act of 1551-2 for the
provision of the relief of the poor, collectors were to be appointed in
every parish, Chiddingstone is among the few parishes possessing any
records of collectors.
The accounts form a series of entries in a volume of
churchwardens’ accounts and under the heading "Accounts of
collectors for the poor" they run continuously from 1565 to 1584.
For every year there is a list of those contributing to the poor with
the total amount received and a list of the poor who received relief.
The number of contributors varies between 37 and 47, except in 1575 when
the number drops to 26.
In 1565 when the accounts begin, the amount collected was £3 18s. 11d.,
but this was apparently an over estimate of the needs of the poor. There
was a comfortable balance over in most years and in 1575 the collection
was only £1 4s. 4d. 1570 was a quite exceptional year when £20 0s. 6d.
was raised, but evidently this was for some special purpose not
mentioned in the accounts as only £1 l6s. 8d. was given to the poor in
The collectors appear to have limited their duties to
doling out small sums to the sick and needy and distributing gifts and
bequests. There were no pensioners receiving regular weekly sums, though
about five names appeared regularly in the lists of the poor for several
years running. Nor are there any entries of children being apprenticed
or boarded out. There appear to have been from seven to twenty poor, and
the payments they received varied considerably. In 1575 a total of only
4s 4d. was distributed, while in 1584 it was £6 1s. 11d, among
five poor. From 1584-1598, no poor accounts exist.
When the accounts of the overseers of the poor start in
1598, it is clear that poor relief was carried out on a much more