In 1834, the new Poor Law Amendment Act ensured that the poor were housed in workhouses, clothed and fed. Children who entered the workhouse would receive some schooling. In return for this care, all workhouse paupers would have to work for several hours each day. Also, Overseers were appointed annually, in April, to carry our various duties in relation to the care of the poor of their village. The appointments were made in the County Petty Session and reported in the newspapers.
There were usually two people appointed in each village and their responsibilities included recording payments for doctors to attend the sick, nursing or midwives’ expenses, maintenance of single mothers if the fathers were not around, the upkeep of orphans (usually up to the age of seven), the provision of coals and clothes to the old and infirm and the purchase of materials to enable the poor to work. They had to keep account books to record payments and list the names of those receiving poor relief payments. They also had to collect the Poor Rate from the villagers to fund these expenses. It was their responsibility to set the Poor Rate according to the local need. No Wickhamford account books are known to still exist. Part of the Poor Rate was used to pay for the running of the Union Workhouse in Evesham and, in 1873, Wickhamford’s annual contribution was £35 (Badsey paid £58).
The names of the Overseers for Wickhamford were reported in the Worcester Chronicle and other local newspapers each year in early April, and those listed below have been found so far. Each appointment was for twelve months. None seem to have been reported before 1859 and none after 1894. As to be expected for this time, the Overseers are all are men, with the single exception of Amelia Pethard. Nearly all of them are the tenants of the four Wickhamford farms or the Sandys Arms inn and blacksmith shop.
The years of appointment and names of the Wickhamford Overseers were as follows:
- 1859 to 1863 - William Henry Smith (of Pitchers Hill Farm) & Robert Taylor (of Field Farm)
- 1865 and 1866 William Henry Smith & Robert Taylor
- 1868 to 1870 William Henry Smith & George Burrows (of Field Farm)
- 1872 - Amelia Pethard of the Sandys Arms & Samuel Smith of Wickhamford Mill
- 1873 – William Henry Smith & George Burrows
- 1874 - George Burrows & John Phillips (of Wickhamford Manor)
- 1875 and 1876 - Edward Bullock (of Field Farm) & R. Taylor (probably Robert Taylor, later of Elm Farm)
- 1877 and 1878 – Robert Taylor & John Phillips
- 1882 – Charles Byrd (a voter in Wickhamford, but not a resident) & George Pethard of the Sandys Arms
- 1883 – Charles Byrd & Joseph Pope (of Wickhamford Manor and Farm)
- 1884 - Frederick William Bullock (of Longdon Villa) & Joseph Pope
- 1885 – George Pethard & Richard Smith (of Pitchers Hill Farm)
- 1886 - Benjamin Carter (of Field Farm) & John Pope (of Wickhamford Manor and Farm)
- 1888 – Frederick Hooper (of Knowle Hill, but a Wickhamford voter) & Frederick William Bullock
- 1889 – Frederick William Bullock & Charles Byrd
- 1890 - George Pethard & Charles Byrd
- 1891 - George Pethard & Benjamin Carter (of Field Farm)
- 1892 – Benjamin Carter & George Pethard
- 1894 – Benjamin Carter & George Pethard (in newspaper incorrectly as ‘J’ Pethard)
(For a few years no newspaper reports of parish Overseers have been found.)
Later Poor Rate reports
Information on the Poor Rate itself it sparse, but it was still being collected in 1903, as a case of non-payment in Wickhamford was reported in The Mercury of 25th September. Arthur Edwin Thorne, a market gardener in the village, was summoned to appear before Evesham County Police Court for non-payment of 9s 2d Poor Rate. He admitted that the rate was legally made and he did tender part payment, but this had been refused. He had wished to make a protest but the Bench would not allow it and he was ordered to pay the full amount plus 5s costs, which he did. The following year he again refused payment to the overseer. This time he continued to refuse pay and the Court ordered an ‘execution warrant’. Thorne was a well-known local Quaker, who was objecting on religious grounds. Another protester was Lionel Edward Horne of Aldington who objected to paying the education part of the rate.
In 1923, Dennis E. Grove, of 11 Council Cottages, Wickhamford, was summoned by Mr J. Billings, assistant Overseer for Wickhamford, for non-payment of Poor Rate, amounting to £3 1s 2d. (Billings was also Overseer for Aldington.)
The separate Poor Rate was amalgamated with the local district or borough general rate by the Rating and Valuation Act 1925. The role of parishes and guardians in the setting and collection of rates was abolished by 1930.
Tom Locke – April 2021