The preface explains that 'This study is the work of a group of local people from several villages who came together in Soham Village College in the winter of 1965-6, to study their village history in a Class organised by the University of Cambridge Board of Extramural Studies.'
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Currency value varied greatly in the late 18th century.
For approximate 1998 value, multiply the figure given in the text as follows:
1750 96 1760 88 1770 79 1780 77 1790 64 1800 36 1810 34 1820 42 1830 49 1840 44 1850 58For example £5 in 1810 would be worth 5*34 = £170 in 1998.
We said, at the beginning of this section, that two events changed the lives of local people during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The first was the Reformation; the second was the Draining of the Fens. William Cole, writing in 1746, noted that 'to the West of the town (of Soham) lies the famous large mere which plentifully supplies the county with fish; it belongs to Lord Viscount Townshend, who caused it to be drained about 4 or 5 years ago at a very great expense, but which yet would very well have answered had not last year's rains overflown the banks and drowned it all again'. This was not the first time that man and nature had been at war in the local fens.
The fish from Soham Mere had been an important part of the livelihood of local people since before the Norman conquest; the Domesday Book account of fish and eels in the neighbourhood has been given. There were, however, always attempts to win more arable or grazing land by piecemeal enclosure from the flooded fenland by banking and ditching. Between 1594 and 1600 some part of Soham Mere was reclaimed in this way and there were quarrels over the reclaimed land. Before the drainage, Soham Mere covered 1,136 acres; there was a dangerous water passage to Ely through the mere. The first Bishop of Ely, Hervey who died in 1131, is said to have built a causeway from Soham to Ely through the flooded fenland. The first real change in local fenland conditions came with Vermuyden's great drainage scheme of the mid-seventeenth century. As part of this a twenty-four foot drain was cut from Soham mere to link it with the South Level drainage, and Downham Eau was drained by tunnels under the rivers. This took place about the mid-1660s. The drainage works which had begun in the 1630s met with local opposition from the beginning, for they meant a change in the way of life of fenland people. It was in about the year 1637 that two emissaries of the Secretary of State, sent to apprehend the persons found disturbing the drainage works, ran into trouble locally. "Near Wicken, they met Peter Jarvis, constable. He persuaded them not to adventure into Wicken, the people being prepared to resist, and those of Soame (Soham), Burrack(?), and Sopham (?) having agreed to help them. Ultimately, the messengers with the constable and the minister of the parish, entered the town, the messengers being on horseback. The people came out with pitchforks and poles, and gathered round a place where great heaps of stones were laid. Amongst them John Moreclark, a principle rioter, was charged to obey the Council's warrant. When the messengers approached him, he pushed at them with his pike. The people prepared to assist him and the women got together to the heaps of stones to throw at the messengers, who were scoffed at and abused by the whole multitude".
But the drainage went ahead. By 1664 Soham Fen was drained and the land was divided among the local proprietors. "For about fifty years after this Division the Fens continued in a flourishing state, many parts of them were arable producing Wheat, Oats, Coleseed, etc. in as plentiful a manner as they have at any time since done (or) are ever like to do". Fen drainage evidently led to enclosure of some of the open-field arable and pasture land. Lysons records that "on the division of the commons in 1685, Sir Thomas Chicheley, then lord of the manor, and the other landholders, allotted one hundred and sixteen acres of moorland for the benefit of the poor, the profits of which were to be appropriated to the purposes of setting them to work, providing a salary for a schoolmaster, and apprenticing children". This was part of the Feoffees' Funds, of which more anon. Although we have not been able to study any records of the way the local drainage and enclosure were carried out in the seventeenth century, we cannot escape from the conclusion that it was this process on top of the manorial sub-division in the middle ages that gave Soham a different character from many of the neighbouring smaller villages. As Cole described it, in 1746; 'the town is very populous and contains a great many freeholders'. These ranged from the well-off, whom Cole described, to the very poor, for whom the Feoffees catered.
The drainage did not last. In 1712 Denver Sluice blew up and the drainage system of the South Level collapsed. 'The Tides so choaked up the River with silt that the natural discharge of the Water being lost, the Fennes thereabouts grew so bad that they were of very little Value'. Then came Viscount Townshend's attempt at re-draining the Mere and the frustration of his achievement in the wet season of 1745. The adventures, which John Holder of Soham Mere (born 1697) recorded in his diary, give us a picture of what the Fens had become by the mid-eighteenth century. In Dec. 1747 there was a great flood and Holder sent his son and neighbours to fetch the horses from Beach Fen. They went by boat and sheets of ice were driven against the boat. Holder's son and three horses went overboard; the son was saved. In 1758 Holder was made Commissioner of Ely and Soham Level in the Middle Fen; on one occasion he was overtaken by a storm in Soham Mere and nearly drowned himself. Holder was a character. He was married in May 1724 and in the same year recording that he had given up 'carding and dancing, dicing and reading ungodly ballads and plays, unchaste songs, etc.'. He joined the Independent Congregation.
In 1758 a special Act of Parliament was obtained 'for better draining them (the Fens) by Engines'. But the picture of the local Fens given by Vancouver in 1794 does not suggest a very happy position. Vancouver's report revealed that there were still 12,000 acres of fenland of one kind or another in our area in the 1790's - 9,400 acres of fen in Soham parish, 1,500 in Isleham, and 700 acres in Fordham, with small pieces in Chippenham and Snailwell. On much of this fen sheep were kept and they suffered from disease as a consequence; in Fordham there were "18,000 of the Norfolk breed of sheep, amongst which, great losses are often sustained, in consequence of their feeding upon the rotten, boggy sheep-walks, which, however, might be much improved, if not totally avoided, by a better drainage of the low lands". In Isleham and Snailwell special measures were taken to limit the effects of fen grazing: in the latter village, 1,200 sheep were "kept healthy by preventing them from feeding on the wet, moory, fen common; this would be drained, and improved to a very great advantage, were not the water penned back upon it, by a staunch, forming a fish pond, at Fordham Abbey". At Isleham 800 Norfolk sheep "as they are carefully prevented from depasturing upon the fens and low ground, are preserved in good health, sound and free from rot, and subject only in a small degree, to the diseases of the neighbouring villages".
But such husbandry meant that the fenland was not being used. The other use made of the fens was regarded by Vancouver as equally uneconomic. Isleham fen "amounting to 1,500 acres, has been greatly injured by the practice of cutting turf, and from the deplorable state of its drainage, but a small part of it is under cultivation". Chippenham's 200 acres produced "little else than sedge which is cut for thatch, litter or fuel". Badlingham contained "about 100 acres of meadow and pasture land, of a moory nature, affording some turf for fuel, but owing to the present want of draining - - these lands are no better than the fen".
The failure to drain the fenland was not usually the fault of the parish itself, for drainage was only possible by collaboration over a large area. Thus Snailwell's fen was drained through Fordham Abbey fish-pool and 300 acres of Fordham "drains through Isleham, but is at present in a very bad state, owing to the neglect of the outward leading, and inward partition drains". This was local neglect. And Chippenham, too, was affected by Fordham: "there are c.200 acres of fenland, which ought to be drained through Fordham, but from the obstructions, by mill dams, etc. in those watercourses, are at present drowned and in a very deplorable state". The drainage of Isleham was hampered by "the unevenness of the beds of the rivers Lark and Cam (which) are much complained of, in resisting the descent of the water". Soham's undrained 8,000 acres was not Soham's fault: "the bad state of this fen is not attributed to any want of internal works or powers for lifting the water, but to the constant pressure and soakage of the Highland waters, through the loose and neglected banks of the rivers Cam and Lark". If fen drainage was better organized "the most inferior fens, and low grounds, in this parish, would on a certainty be improved to the annual value of 20s. or 21s. an acre", from their existing 4s. "Soham-mere, which was formerly a lake, is now drained and brought into a profitable state of cultivation. The soil is a mixture of vegetable matter and brown clay; it contains c.1400 acres and is rented on an average at 14s. per acre".
The Rev. W. Gooch in his General View of the Agriculture of the County of Cambridge of 1813 "found great doubts entertained in the county of the accuracy of Mr Vancouver's report" as to the extent of the surviving fens. He summarized, at considerable length, past and present views about fen drainage, but gave little detailed information about the local fens. " In the fens, clashing interests" were the obstacles to improvement. But Gooch does say something of interest about the value of undrained fen-land, which qualifies Vancouver's views: "So great is the value of the turf, that land growing it has been sold at £50 and £80 per acre; - - Turf is cut of various sizes - - At Isleham, two inches and a half square, and eighteen to twenty inches long, - - There are persons living at Isleham, who remember the same ground having been dug for turf three times; - - Prices, at Cambridge, best Isleham turf 8s. per thousand - - Turf lands often produce sedge after they have been dug for turf - - At Chippenham, £4 per acre have been made of sedge. - - The value of sedge is so increasing, owing to the rise in the price of straw and seed, and the improving state of the fens, (which decreases this crop), that it is the general opinion that the land producing it, will not yield so great profit from any other application, after improvement". Reeds, white seed, and oziers were all highly profitable crops. In fact the case for fen drainage and reclamation for arable cultivation was not quite as strong as Vancouver suggested.
One parish, Chippenham, could show a remarkable story of reclamation since Vancouver had written. Arthur Young noted the improvements in his Annals. An Enclosure Act for Chippenham had been passed in 1791 and the owner Mr. Tharp had enclosed 2,240 acres of open-field arable and drained the fen.
"This before Mr. Tharp's improvement was constantly flooded; when fed, it was with cows and young stock to little profit: formerly there was a mill for draining, but it decayed, and the whole residence of snipes, wild ducks, and herons; cows and horses mired and lost, and their skeletons found when the drains were cut. By Mr. Tharp's effective draining the mill proved to be unnecessary, for a fall of five feet was gained; the copy-holders fed it and made nothing, their allotments now let at 20s. per acre. I viewed this drainage and cultivation with much pleasure; the cuts are numerous and deep. Powerful springs cut into, and the water conveyed away, and running now (August, 1800) after a long drought, a good stream. Plantations formed. Paring and burning, and cropping, and everything looking well and thriving. -A farmer had part of this fen, that was not common, which he offered at 2s. per acre, for which he would now give 20s. Sheep - before enclosing there were 2000 kept or rather starved, dying almost every winter by scores, todding fourteen to eighteen to a tod; now there are 2160 that tod tens, 400 are now fattened annually; before none, except a few crones for harvest; on the whole, not one fourth of the produce from sheep which there is at present. The breed Norfolks, except Mr. Tharp's whose flock is South-Downs, and he has some very good ones. Some half- breds with Leicester are mixed; which he intends weeding out, as they do not answer. Cows - certainly fewer kept now; there used to be sixty or eighty, now thirty; it is, however, a question whether there is any real defalcation in this article; as before they produced little. One respectable occupier assured me that he kept eighteen, and was forced sometimes to buy butter for his family's use, which he never does at present, keeping only four. - Bullocks before the enclosure none, now forty are fattened annually. Poor. - The only benefit the poor derive from the common-fen was to cut turf on it, for which use forty acres are allowed them. The cattle were the farmer's. Rates doubled, but this, as everyone knows, depends on other circumstances; militia men's wives, and increase of population - increased very much. The number to whom a charitable donation is given, is doubled in ten years; and there are twenty new houses built in the last seven. This astonishing increase in population must not, however, be attributed to the enclosure; the residence of a man of very large fortune must have had in this respect a much greater effect, but from this a conclusion of no slight importance is to be drawn, that there is a vast difference to the population of the kingdom between an income spent in London, or in the country". Gooch added to Young's account "The present state of this parish (1806) I found such as might be expected from this account of Mr. Young's; in short it is not possible perhaps to find an instance of such improvement in the value of property, or a farm, the management of which does so much credit to the director of it (Mr. Shepherd), as Mr. Tharp's Crops large. Sheep (South- Downs) - unrivalled in the county. Layers - capital. Land - improving; the whole arrangement masterly".
It is no accident that Mr. Shepherd's name appears again and again in Gooch's pages: "Mr. Shepherd of Chippenham has invented many implements ........". He supplies information on many aspects of local farming.
The draining at Chippenham was not immediately successful, however: "Necessary as drainage is to fen-lands, there are instances of its having been absolutely ruined by it; a remarkable one is at Chippenham, at Mr. Tharp's mill, where a very deep cut was made to carry off the tail water; the effect on the land each side (a fen moor) is, it cracks in summer to that degree that it produces nothing, and no cattle can go upon it in safety; when, therfore, fen is drained, it is necessary to have a command of water to be kept within a foot of the surface. Mr. Tharp has done this with great judgement by sluices".
Gooch does not give any other examples of the advance of drainage in our area. By the 1830's the installation of steam-pumps was keeping flooding under better control. In 1832 a sixty horse power engine began to drain 7,000 acres of "Middle Fenn near Soham, about five miles from Ely" and in 1838 a forty horse power engine was being installed at Soham Mere, then described as of 1600 acres. Gooch had described Soham as containing "superior pastures" on the fen edge. But that the area was still unpleasantly flooded was brought home by articles in the Lancet in November 1853, explaining the Cholera outbreak. The picture they give of life in Soham and Isleham is unpleasant in the extreme.
"On an inspection of the town (of Soham) which contains a population of about 4,700 souls, Dr. Lewis, states, that the crying evil - the prime cause of the virulent form of the epidemic now raging - is the quantity of stagnant water met with at every step. The whole town is an assemblage of open ditches.
"The water in many of these is perfectly saturated at the present time with decomposing animal and vegetable matter. - - Nothing short of a thorough system of drainage - - - can put this place into a satisfactory and sanitary condition". 35 people died of Cholera. Gooch, incidentally, had said that the water at Soham was 'very bad'.
Of Isleham Dr. Waller Lewis reported: "it is in a most deplorable condition. Great numbers of the people live in large hollows in the ground, from which many years ago building stone was extracted. In one pit there are nearly 500 people in a state of great deprivation, and dirty in the extreme". A boy at school in 1962 said that his great grand-mother, who was over ninety, had told him that her mother lived in one of these Isleham pits. Soham neighbourhood was again flooded in 1937 and 1939 when spring floods breached some of the smaller banks.
There are indications, even before the investigation of the Cholera epidemic of 1853, that there was substantial poverty in our area and that the treatment of the poor was not always sensible never mind kindly. It is, perhaps, significant that Miss E. M. Hampson's Treatment of Poverty in Cambridgeshire comments that "in six of the fourteen hundreds (of Cambridgeshire) not a single workhouse existed in 1776. In the hundred of Staploe, comprising nine parishes, four parishes had a workhouse, but in no other hundred were workhouses to be found in more than two villages".
The Elizabethan Poor Law system provided that each parish should maintain its own poor out of the rates. The Act of Settlement of 1662 enabled the parish officials to remove new inhabitants from 'any tenement under the yearly value of £10'. There was, as a result, a good deal of inhumane compulsion exercised on the poor. Isleham stands out for its determination to keep out potential paupers. "William Rayment of Mildenhall, as early as 1665, was censured by the Court (Quarter Sessions) for visiting his aged parent at Isleham, it being alleged that by this means he was seeking to gain a settlement with his mother". "Isleham turned a deaf ear even to such moving supplications as the following, penned apparently by a kindly landlord, on behalf of 'a poor, lame old man called Adam Raynor, whose wife endeavoureth to support them both. He says he could manage with but an extra shilling a week. He is honest and sober and his wife has regularly worked here many years. I understand you have a workhouse and are by no means compellable to relieve the poor man without him coming to you, but 'twould bring his grey hairs with sorrow to the grave'. The man was nevertheless despatched to the workhouse at Isleham, whilst his old wife was left to live in artificial widowhood".
Soham appears in the early records, as practising a different kind of compulsion. "Five young women of Soham, for instance, were ordered, in 1667, to choose between going to service or to prison" - possibly a 'great ryott' at Soham the same year, was connected with the attempt to enforce economic regulations like these, which made it legally compulsory to accept work at wages fixed by the magistrate. As an example of how each parish looked after its poor in the seventeenth, eighteenth aid nineteenth centuries, we have chosen Soham, the largest parish and one with plentiful records. It is impossible to give details of how the poor were looked after in all the parishes.
In 1687 we find that the Churchwardens were from time to time paying out money to the needy: 'gave to a man with 4 children by doctor's orders, 2s.' and 'gave to a man, 2 women and a child with a letter of request, ls-6d'. These entries were in Henry Ridley's accounts. The other Churchwarden, John Chambers, also paid out 2s-6d 'to 2 men and 2 women with a letter of request', 2s-6d to '2 gentlewomen who had a letter' and 2s-6d to '2 men, wives and 5 children', in the same year, 1687. Most of this was organized Christian Charity to passing strangers whose genuine need was respectably certified. A similar entry in the Vestry records is in 1696 - 'allowed a Gent who lost £4,000 by a ship being taken by the French, 2s-6d'.
Responsibility for the local poor rested on the Overseers of the Poor and their accounts only survive for a later period, the end of the eighteenth century. Twelve almshouses existed in Soham, as a result of the Charitable bequests of Richard Bond (1502) and Thomas Peachey (1581). The vestry paid a bill to Gill Long for claying the almshouses in 1703 and in the same year the Church-wardens' accounts contain the entry, 'paid to J. Bosham work done at almshouses, 4s-8d.' Miss Hampson claims that 'at Soham the largest workhouse in the county was fully organized in the (seventeen) sixties. In 1776 there were sixty residents there. The Master was paid a quarterly salary of £5, the expenses of maintaining the house being met directly by the overseer. Paupers entirely incapable of work were not sent to the house, where spinning was the chief industry. The sums received for work varied from £4 to £7 per month and were paid in full to the overseer. The income from this source at its highest amounted to but one-quarter the cost of the workhouse upkeep, despite the rigorous discipline under which labour was exacted.
James Chambers, 'the poor poetaster', born at Soham in 1748, describes his personal recollections of life in the local 'mansions of industry' :
By day I must dwell where there's many a wheel, And a female employed to sit down and reel; A post with two ringles is fixed in the wall, Where orphans, when lashed, loud for mercy do call, Deprived of fresh air, I must there commence spinner, If I fail of my task I lose a hot dinner; Perhaps at the whipping post then shall be flogged, And lest I escape my leg must be clogged. While tyrants oppress I must still be their slave, And cruelly used, tho' well I behave: Midst swearing and brawling my days I must spend, In sorrow and anguish my days I must end.
The Overseers paid for the poor in other ways than through the workhouse. There was some out door relief and "throughout the period from 1781 to 1834 Soham regularly maintained paupers elsewhere, but never at a higher rate than allowed to home paupers". One of the major problems of poor relief in Soham, and one that led the local officers into difficulties, was that of maintaining illegitimate children whose mothers could not keep them. The first principle practised was that the father, when sworn to by the mother, had to pay 2s. a week towards the child's maintenance. This meant a regular income over years for the parish and officials would go to considerable trouble and expense to obtain it. In 1790 the parishioners of Royston paid R. Flack £4-4s-ld for his expenses in establishing the responsibility of a certain Thomas Fagg for the 'bastard child' of Sarah Gear. £2-1s-6d of this was for 'Two journeys to Soham to get security of Thos. Fagg for the Maintenance of Sarah Gear's Child - Horse-hire and Expenses'. Fagg was a wealthy publican of Holborn and Sarah Gear was Royston's 'light lady'. Why Fagg was in Soham in 1790 is not clear. What is clear is that Royston obtained a regular income of 5s. a week from him. Such payments were a source of temptation to the amateur local officials who handled the money. "The parish accounts of Soham were the subject of a detailed investigation before the Court (of Quarter Sessions) in 1793, an error of £3-9s was detected in a bastardy item amounting to £8-13s-6d".
Compounding for a lump sum was a practice adopted by many putative fathers. "Soham had followed this custom when possible all through the eighteenth century - twenty seven guineas were paid down on one occasion. The parish, however, discovered the ease with which defalcations occurred and - Printed and affixed to the back of the overseer's account book as a caution to future officers: 'Such an agreement places parish officers in a situation which the Legislature did not mean to do, and which public policy forbids - for if the money be received immediately, the benefit is to those persons who are living in the parish, while the burden may be thrown on future generations".
"There were twenty-seven bastard children on the hands of Soham parish in 1829; in 1833 there were thirty-one. Ten of these thirty-one children were living with their mothers, who were allowed weekly sums varying from 1s-6d to 7s. In certain of these cases clearly the father was in comfortable circumstances. The remaining twenty-one children were lodged in the workhouse: these children were probably the fruit of illicit intercourse between parishioners too poor to arouse the exertions of the overseer. Of £277 expended by Soham on bastard children only £62 was refunded by the putative parents". A common practice, aimed at reducing the charges to the parish through illegitimate births, was to spend parish funds on 'encouraging' the pregnant mother to marry. Royston had attempted to solve their constantly recurring expenses due to Sarah Gear's way of life in this fashion. In 1831 the Cambridge magistrates, investigating irregularities in Soham parish accounts, condemned this practice as illegal.
Children who became the parish's responsibility were sometimes apprenticed as they grew up. In this the Feoffees' charity helped and we shall leave discussion of the matter until later. The main responsibility facing the Overseers was, of course, for the adult poor. At Soham the workhouse was used for this purpose. It lay behind the building now occupied by Waddingtons. The work-house was a wood and daub, two storied building with a thatched roof. A square yard led to some long, low sheds in which the paupers were employed, mainly in spinning. The value of the work which they did was small: in seven months accounts examined at random between June 1780 and January 1795 the most earned in a single month was £7-6s-8 1/2d and the least £1-7s-0d. The amount earned was never more than one-seventh of what the Overseers were spending. The monthly expenditure on the work-house was erratic; higher in the winter months than the summer and rising over the period studied. In 1780-81 the monthly bill in June to October was usually between £30 and £40, while in March 1781 it was £50-13s-0d. In 1785 the March bill reached the huge sum of £93-16s-9 1/2d. The January bill for 1795 was £80-12s-4d. This rise was general: in the year 1775-76 the parishes of the Staplehoe Hundred raised £1,496-12s-10d in rates; the annual average of the three years 1782-5 was £1,998-0s-4d; by 1802-3 £5,215-9s-8 1/2d had to be raised. That most of this rateable income was spent in administering the Poor Law can be seen in the only available figure, that for 1802-3, in which year only £978 was spent on all other purposes, County rate, Church rate, Highways and Militia.
In May 1780 £3-14s. was spent on Cheese for the workhouse's inhabitants, £3-12s-7d on flour, £1-2s-9d on beef, and £1-12s. on pork. These items, with different sums spent on them, are repeated in most months; from time to time additional items of food appear: in June 1780 16s. was spent on malt and barley, 9s-7 1/2d on milk, and 12s. on barley; in August 1780 two bushels of onions were bought for 4s-8d. The 'carriage of water' was paid for from time to time. Turf and sedge was bought, presumably for fuel. Clothes were provided; 'shoes', 'making gowns', 'breeches', 'mantle maker sundry jobs' appear as items in the accounts. 'Earthenware' and 'dishes and spoons' were bought; 'shaving the poor' was paid for. 'Medecines for Parker's wife, Lambert's wife, and West's wife after they had been delivered' cost £2-6s-6d in March 1785. Coffins had to be bought. The Workhouse Master seems to have been paid £5 a month and presumably got his keep free. The government return for 1802-3 gives a breakdown of the parish's expenditure. Eighty-eight adults were being given out door relief and fifty-five children and adults were in the workhouse. £753-6s-4d was spent on the Workhouse and £115-6s-10 1/2d earned by the inhabitants who were 'employed in spinning wool, and in labouring in the fields'. That is to say the cost per head per year of keeping a pauper in the workhouse was £15-15s-10 1/2d, or just over 6s. a head a week. Some twenty years earlier 8s-9d a week was being paid inside the workhouse and 9s-9d was paid in out-relief. In 1802-3, £840-19s-9 1/2d was paid 'for the relief and maintenance of the poor' who were not in the workhouse. This was used to give occasional relief to 150 people, and permanent relief to 88 adults and 142 children under fifteen, of whom 47 were under five. It is, therefore, difficult to calculate how much was paid per head to those permanently on relief. 50 of the people being relieved in and out of the house were above 60 years of age or disabled from labour by permanent illness, or other infirmity'. A sample of the sums actually paid to impotent and aged parishioners, widows and children incapable of earning and continuously supported by parish funds, of about this date, shows a wide range of payments. 2s or 2s-6d a week seems normally to have been paid to widows, and 1s-6d to 2s. for children, but two blind widows were paid 4s-3d and 5s. respectively, one widow was paid 10s. and another only ls. An old man of 89 was paid 6s., a widow with a crippled son 5s-6d, and Freeman's wife 5s.
Apart from the cost of the workhouse and cash payments in outdoor relief, the Overseers were involved in other expenditure. A frequent item before the Napoleonic War and during the war was 'support of Militia men's families'. Then there were medical expenses: the regular item, 'Oct. 1780 Mr. Mayer surgeon quarter's salary £2-12s-6d; and the emergency in smallpox 'April 1783 Surgeons fees for inoculating 64 paupers at 3d each and other things £10', 'April 1786 McPherson for delivering Wood's wife and medecines, £5-13s.' The Soham authorities, encouraged by similar action by the Feoffees, began early in the nineteenth century the bad practice of making up the wages of those inadequately paid by their employers out of the poor rates and used the Highway rate for this purpose as though it were a poor rate, instead of paying a 'fair remuneration of actual labour properly superintended'. For example in March 1807 £62-4s-2 1/2d of the poor rate was paid to 'Mr. Smith for men on the road' and 15s-3d more to 'Mr. Cropley, beer for men on the road'. Local ratepayers objected to these practises. "The first appeal to Quarter Sessions against the Soham rates in 1829 was unsuccessful, but the following year three rates were squashed. In 1831 two further appeals were made, as a result of which sundry payments to unemployed men at Soham were declared illegal".
The tragedy was that the rise in population and in the price of food at the end of the eighteenth century was followed by some twelve years of war, in which wages and employment failed to keep pace with the rise in the cost of living and the burden of finding a solution was placed on the backs of untrained, illinformed, sometimes well-meaning, but often incompetent local people. It is startling to realize that in 1802-3 10% of the population of Staploe Hundred were receiving permanent relief from the Rates and a further 4.5% were in receipt of occasional relief. In the worst period of the twentieth century between the world wars, between l0% and 20% of the adult working force was unemployed. The situation in 1802-3 varied from parish to parish: only 5.7% of Isleham people received relief, but 21.7% of Soham's and 17.2% of Burwell's population did. Eight of Landwades twenty-five inhabitants (32%) but only 8.1% of Kennett's 111 people were on relief. The figures in the other parishes were: Fordham: 7.2%, Wicken: 11.1%, Chippenham: 12.6%, and Snailwell: 17.5%. One eighth of those receiving relief were either over 60 or disabled. In Fordham, Isleham, Kennett and Snailwell the proportion was higher, about one quarter. Over half the paupers in Soham were children, but in most parishes the proportion was nearer one quarter. The burden which all this meant on the rates was substantial; there was no contribution from national taxation towards the maintenance of the poor or disabled. The average rate for Staploe Hundred was 4s-3 3/4d, Burwell paid 7s-2d in the £, while Chippenham paid only 2s-3 3/4d. Soham's rate was nearer the average, 4s-l 1/2d.
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