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     Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 73 - 1959 page 193

Chiddingstone Early Poor Law Accounts. By June Gibbons

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 poor laws.
   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 that year.
   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 ambitious scale.

Page 193 

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