The poor in Lelant

Maxwell Adams 2004, 2005

Version 3

From the middle ages there were strict laws about help for the poor. The wandering poor were seen as a threat and a financial burden: Hark, hark, the dogs do bark. There were repeated acts which tried to control them and ensure that they were sent back to their home parish if they became financially dependent through age or infirmity or unemployment in another. Settlement and removal entries in the quarter session papers at county record offices/archives have details of these. I have put some references to Lelant at the end of this article. The following sequence is about one family from 1832-1834 as Lelant and St Erth argue about who should be responsible for them: CRO QS 1/12/215, 234, 276, 302, 346, 395, and 419.

Some examples of help for the poor have survived but many small acts of kindness have gone unrecorded. Ann Pool points to the example of Lelant churchwardens paying the rent for two parishioners in 1759 (Pool 1938). There appear to be references to families of poor Lelanters written in the front of the vestry minute book 1828-1876 (CRO AD 867/1).

Poorhouses for the indigenous poor unable to live at home were built and maintained by parishes. The Lelant poor book (CRO P/120/12/1) records in 1770-1771 Henry Hosking being paid 2 "for one year's rent for the Poor House" which shows that there there was indeed a poorhouse in the village. I put below some entries from this book in relation to the poor of the village. In 1777 a report stated that Lelant had places for fourteen paupers in the poorhouse (Report 1777). What we call the poorhouse was often then called the poors' house.

In 1789 Lelant and eight other parishes set up a joint poorhouse at Marazion, taking "a house at Marazion from Mr Thomas Provis for twenty one years" (CRO DDP 133/1/16B/5). Presumably this was as a consequence of Gilbert's Act of 1782 which allowed parishes to so combine and was meant to be a rationalisation driven by the wish to reduce costs for the ratepayers in Lelant. Each parish was to send ten paupers to the house and pay a proportionate share of the costs. The general arrangement apparently ceased in 1832. However, I do not know how long it lasted for Lelant.

There are references in Lelant poor book to the workhouse, which seems to be the place at Marazion, from 1789-1790. In 1795 the book records payments to "the workhouse at Marazion." At the same time references to the "poorhouse" continue to appear in the book: for example, in the 1796-1797 accounts the mason is paid for "building a chimney in the poor house" and the 1801-1802 accounts show a payment for the workhouse and also show a payment of eight shillings for "mending the poorhouse door." It appears that Lelant used the Marazion workhouse and the poorhouse in Lelant village at the same time. SOme parishioners sent to Marazion workhouse are named: Roger RICHARDS in the 1791-1782 accounts; Joseph CHAMPION in 1797-1798; and "Charles ARTHUR and his little boy" in 1798-1799, for whom the overseers paid five shillings for a horse to pull them to the workhouse.

There are references to paupers in the parish register of the 1820s and these might mean there was still a poorhouse in Lelant or that some of the poor of the parish were in their homes still and helped; what was known as outrelief. The 1838 manor map of the village (RIC HJ 5/4,1) clearly identifies a poorhouse in Fore Street; the reference book (RIC HJ 5/4,2 page ) says that it is leased by the Overseers of the Poor. The street and houses have changed since then and the map is not at a large enough scale for deadly accurate placing in changed circumstances. However, it appears that the poorhouse was near where the two semi-detached houses Lamorna and Malvern are now, next to the present village hall. Of course, there might have been previous poorhouses elsewhere in the village.

I have put below a brief record of items provided for Lelant poor house in the 1830s.

Around this time the Lelant poorhouse probably closed. In 1834 a new poor law was enacted which, theoretically, ended help at home for the poor (outrelief) and put all paupers into a central workhouse in a district called a union (inrelief). For Lelant this was the Penzance Union. The workhouse was managed by a board of guardians broadly representing the various parts of the district. The new workhouses were meant to have an unattractive regime to deter the poor from poverty and spur them to self-reliance outside. They were certainly unattractive. Not all poor Lelanters went to the workhouse, many struggled at home.

In 1837 the new workhouse board of guardians for the Penzance Union decided to use six poorhouses temporarily until a central workhouse was built at Madron but the six did not include Lelant. The last clear references to named paupers surely living in Lelant poorhouse seem to be for October 1837 (CRO PU/Penzance). The union workhouse at Madron opened in 1839 and all paupers in the area were sent there from that date. The records that I have so far seen do not say what happened to the poorhouse building in Lelant. The move to a central poorhouse was not everywhere welcomed and two years earlier at St Ives there were two days of robust demonstrations when the town's paupers were told to go to the workhouse at Penzance to be interviewed prior to removal to the union workhouse. The West Briton reported that "a mob assembled and assailed the Guardians with missiles of various descriptions, obliging them to retreat to their homes for shelter. Tar barrels were also lighted in the streets, and an effigy carried through the town to the cliff, where it was burnt" (21 July 1837, page 2, column 7). A Whig newspaper which supported the new poor law, it called the incidents a "poor law riot" and blamed "Tory misrepresentations." The Tory Royal Cornwall Gazette reported in interestingly contrastive language that "a great concourse of people assembled in the street in the evening, and burnt the effigy of a man before the house of Mr William Kempthorne, one of the Churchwardens, who was grossly insulted by some of the assembled multitude" (21 July 1837, page 2, column 5).

When the National School was revived in 1874 the trustees' lease said that the school was for only Anglicans and "only of the labouring manufacturing and poorer classes" (CRO DDP 120/2/49).

Various individuals also helped the poor of Lelant who were not in the workhouse. William Tyringham Praed in his will left 100 to be distributed to the poor in Lelant by the vicar (Penzance Gazette 2 September 1846).

The reverend Thomas James gave 1 for buying coals to be distributed among seven poor widows of Lelant parish (Cornishman 20 February 1890).

In 1898 John Polglase in his will left 200, the annual income from which was to be distributed by the parish council to the most needy poor of Lelant (CRO B/St Ives 12). A letter of 24 October 1899 stuck into the parish council minute book reveals that Polglase "had been for some time in the habit of giving a present at Christmas and at Lelant Feast to the poor" of Lelant village. A letter in the Cornish Telegraph said that Polglase "for many years of his lifetime gave liberally to the widows and aged poor" of Lelant (16 December 1903, page 5, column 4). 4-17-6 was distributed by Lelant parish council Christmas 1933 among thirteen villagers, the last distribution before the parish council was abolished and Lelant subsumed into St Ives borough (Lelant parish council minute book, CRO B/St Ives 13). The Polglase charity was closed, after many years of inoperation, in 2001. See John Polglase Charity on this website.

In 1903 the parish council sought land for the building of houses at a rent of 6 a year. The debate was initiated by parish councillor WW Chapple who said that the lack of such houses in Lelant "inflicted a great hardship on the poor, who have in some cases to reside at a great distance from their work. With a lack of houses there was sure to be a scarcity of labourers and domestic servants." Councillor WN Martin said that "useful men had to leave the parish and others were kept away," and councillor JN Millett said that "owing to the lack of suitable houses, there were several cases of overcrowding. Habitable cottages were being continually pulled down and villas erected in their place." It is unclear whether the words quoted are the ipsissima verba of the councillors or the newspaper's report of what they said (St Ives Weekly Summary 14 March 1903).

The Cornishman reported on 2 January 1909 that over Christmas in Lelant "the poor have been remembered with gifts of coal, money, and so forth, and the Polglase bequest was distributed amongst thirty two persons. Two old ladies again received the king's dole." John Hosking of Townshend, Montana, a Methodist minister, entrusted for the third year H Gall and Captain Pentreath with "a liberal sum each to be distributed to the poor of higher and lower Lelant." He also sent money for other places in the area (Cornishman 23 December 1909). Jenkin includes an account from a man from Carbis Bay who attended Sunday school and church in Lelant during the 1832-1869 vicariate of Uriah Tonkin and who says his toes often stuck through the holes in his boots (1988, 197).

There seem to have been attempts at self-reliance. A savings club, organised by St Uny's church through the National School, enabled the poor to save for some necessities: Mrs Harris, a St Ives draper, was asked to send "between 30 and 40 of warm clothing and bedding for the subscribers to the 'Lelant Church National School Provident Club.' The parcels were distributed at the vicarage in the course of a few days..." (Cornish Telegraph 22 October 1873). The Provident Club, and a Coal and Blankets Fund are mention in 1917 ( St Ives Weekly Summary 1 March 1917). I do not know whether Lelant Methodists or others were part of this or had their own arrangements and I suppose the desperately poor had no spare money to save. Nowadays we have statutory social security which is intended to help people in poverty. We do not use the word pauper and do not have workhouses. The one at Madron was demolished.

Some entries from the Lelant poor book
(CRO P/120/12/1)

Entries for:

Mending Eliner MEAN'S shoes and gound [gown]
Funeral expenses for Margaret HAWIS
Allowance for Mary UREN'S child
A chest "for the use of the poor"

"Jane STEVENS at her marige [sic] to William JONAS"
Funeral charge for Jane PENBERTHY
"Baptizing Mary VEAL'S child."

References to Lelant poorhouse in the vestry minutes
(CRO AD 867/1 Lelant parish vestry book; the book starts from 4 October 1828)

Disbursements for:

30 December 1831-27 January 1832
"Coals and soap for Poor House"

27 January 1832-24 February 1832
"Coals and soap for Poor House"
"Robert GALE for work Poor House"

23 March-20 April 1832
"Coals and soap"

20 April-18 May 1832
"Tea kettle for Poor House"

13 July-10 August 1832
"To mason for lime washing poor house"

22 February-22 March 1833
"Jane Weber for minding the Poor 6d"

1 April 1833 Vestry meeting
William MITCHELL given "4s 6d a week and 1s 9d per head for every pauper received into the Poor House of which he is to be appointed Governor"

July 1833
"Oven grate furnace for Poor House"

March-April 1834
William MITCHELL paid two weeks
William BRYANT paid 4s 6d a week (two weeks at 4s, two weeks at 4s 6d)

May 1834
"Brush for Poor House"

June-July 1834
"Hoops for Water Barrel and Towels for Poor House"
William BRYANT "Governor"; presumably he replaced William Mitchell. But an entry for November-December 1835 refers to "William MICHELL [sic] (governor)"

July-August 1835
"Lime brush " for Poor House

July-August 1843
"Two years High Rent for Poor House"

October-November 1834
"Pot for fish for Poor house" Limewashing 3s

Fbruary- March 1835
"Bed clothes and flesh pot for Poor House"

July-August 1835
"Tea kettle for Poor house"

September-October 1835
William BRYANT paid two weeks at 4s 6d William MICHELL [sic] two weeks at 1s 6d

October-November 1835
"Two sheets and window blind for Poor House 3s 6d"

December 1835
"Grates for Poor House"
"Pot kettle and baker...bed cord towels teapot cups and saucers"

March-April 1836
"Lock for Poor House"

May-June 1836
"One years Highrent for Poorhouse" 5s 8d

August-September 1836
"Eight weeks shaving 2s"
"Calico for Poor House 7s"
"Ladle and bolster for Poor House 2 s 2d"

September-October 1836
"Candles for Poor House"
"Cups and saucers for Poor House"

November-December 1836
"Calico and biscuit for Poor House"

February-March 1837
"To the Parish Officers of Castle Thorp [Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire] for Phebe DARBY Maintenance from March 1832 to 5 July 1836 27-17-6"

March-April 1837
"Knife and candles for Poor House"
"Crooks and eys for windofor Poor House"

May-June 1837
"William MICHELL governor 7s 6d"

June-September 1837
"William MICHELL nine weeks due August 26 at 1s 6d"

These vestry minutes also record disbursements for the following items provided for the poor house and not mentioned above: "snuff for the poor," "table and form," "Half day repairing the Poor House, reed and straw."

Lelant pauper references in quarter session papers at Cornwall Record Office, Truro: CRO QS 1/2/237 (in the year 1757), 1/7/283 (1804), 1/7/589 and 1/7/619 (1809), 1/10/15 and 1/10/43 (1820), 1/11/123 (1826), 1/11/381 and 1/11/418 (1828), 1/11/647 (1830), 1/12/204 (1832).

JENKIN AKH (1970) Cornwall and its people Dent. This is a composite book of three works published 1932, 1933, and 1934. A paperback edition was published by David and Charles, Newton Abbot in 1988.

Lelant poor book 1770-1802 CRO 120/P/12/1. This is the overseers' accounts and records payments by and to Lelant parish.

Polglase: there are letters stuck in the parish council minute book about the Polgalse Bequest, CRO B/St Ives 12.

POOL Ann 'St Uny Lelant churchwardens' accounts' in Old Cornwall, summer 1938. See also POOL Ann (1942) 'The relief of the poor in the eighteenth century' in Old Cornwall published by the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies, autumn/winter 1942, volume 3, pages 487-491.

Praed's 100 gift is also mentioned in BOASE GC and COURTNEY WP (1878) Bibliotheca Conubiensis volume 2, page 758.

Report 1777: Report from the committee appointed to inspect and consider the returns made by the overseers of the poor...15 May 1777

RIC Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro

Vestry minute book for Lelant, CRO AD 867/1