Thursday, 2 February 2012

Before the Welfare State

A number of churches we have visited have monuments or plaques that record acts of great generosity. Parishioners who made money, often as merchants in London, seem to have remembered their humble origins and left bequests to the poor. Here are three examples.

The first is a simple plaque to the memory of Mr John Brown, of Barrowden in Rutland, who left rents from a property in Hammersmith, London, for blankets to be given to the poor of Barrowden every New Years Day.

According to Kelly's Directory of Rutland for 1928, the Charity Commissioners in 1908 agreed that the money, then half the rent, or £50, could be applied more generally to the relief of the sick, poor and needy. 'The Leicestershire & Rutland Village Book', compiled by the Leicestershire & Rutland Federation of Women's Institutes, records that the relief was distributed monthly as free groceries to elderly residents, in the 1990's at least, by the village shop and post office.

Barrowden church, St Peter's,  is a listed building, grade II*. Its spire is a "broach", fitting the corners of the tower without a parapet.

In Billingborough, Lincolnshire, Thomas Buckberry left £100 in 1827 to be invested in Government securities. The dividends were to be used to purchase bread, to be distributed to the poorest persons in the parish after divine service on the first sunday of the months of November, December, January, February and March "for ever."
To qualify for the bread, regular attendance at divine service was necessary and the vicar and churchwardens were to use their discretion in deciding who was most proper to receive it. The executors had to fix or erect a shelf for the bread and a stone in a conspicuous place which stated the nature of the bequest.  Conspicuous, yes, but not that easy to read!

Billingborough is on the edge of The Fens and the church's imposing 150ft high spire, with its delicate flying buttresses, is prominent for miles around. St Andrew's is listed grade I.

The most generous bequest we have seen so far is that of Rev William Dodwell to the parishioners of Welby, near Grantham in Lincolnshire (and Stoke Rochford, where he was also rector). He left the income from £1608, 11 shillings and 6 pence, held in 3% annuities - that's £106,000 in today's money. His executors were to ensure that £15 a year was available for the education of 12 poor boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 12; £10 for one or more apprenticeships for a useful trade or service and the residue for money, clothes, bedding, coals or other fuels for the "deserving poor". According to the records of the Charity Commission, the charity was still paying out £360 in 2010. (All historical info courtesy of Google).

The church, St Bartholomew's,  is a gem of a grade I listed building and was open when we visited.