Wellow History Society - 2017 meetings

November 2017 meeting

The Enclosures of Common Land of East and West Wellow and adjacent villages


After our AGM, our retiring chairman, Michael Sleigh’s presentation topic was: ‘A comparison of the Enclosures of Common Land of East and West Wellow and adjacent villages’.


In the early 1700s, land comprising East Wellow, West Wellow, Bramshaw and Plaitford Commons and areas around Shelley, Woodington, Wellow Wood, Shootash, Sherfield and Awbridge were communal pastures.


The East Wellow Enclosure Act (1730) saw the Duke of Chandos petition the House of Lords. Comments were considered by both houses but the Act received Royal Assent from George II, 29 days later. It was supposed to benefit the poor forever, vesting a certain annual rent charge. However Trustees were never appointed and so there were no benefits to the poor, just a restriction of their rights to graze cattle; it became a hunting ground instead.


Two commissioners were appointed (from neighboroughing counties) to hear the Sherfield Warren Enclosure Act (1808). John Osborne of Melchet Park was concerned that the inhabitants of Sherfield English had indiscriminate right of road or way: enclosure of 167 acres would be an improvement and benefit. This was passed, with some amendments.


The West Wellow Enclosure Act (1809) was brought by several landowners who thought that the ‘Common pasture land was capable of improvement’.  West Wellow was then in Wiltshire and two commissioners met in the Shoe Inn at Plaitford. The petitioners included amongst others: Nicholas Goddard; Michael Maury; Duchess Dowager of Chandos; Earl of Ilchester; James Atkins of Kings Farm; William Hinton of Hatches Farm; George Russell who leased Spouts Farm from Corpus Christi College and the Reverend Matthew Robinson.


The Act was approved but with a series of rules laid down:

  • part to be kept open for common grazing

  • where new roads would go eg Plantation Rd, Canada

  • the boundary between Plaitford and West Wellow Common.

Costs were covered by selling four small plots of land by the A36 and by selling timber.


The award (2 years later) saw the land subdivided and allocated in proportion to the area of land ownership or leasehold tenancy.  48 areas were divided between 22 people, from ½ - 120 acres, with an average of 16 acres. 14 purchased less than ¼ acre for gardens or smallholdings in the centre of West Wellow.  228 acres were retained as common land, as we know it today.


The Earl of Ilchester petitioned for a Plaitford Common Enclosure in 1877. 460 acres would be fenced to limit access only to approved Plaitford residents; this was prevented. The land was sold to Briscoe Eyre in 1928 and given to the National Trust: part in 1928, the rest in 1930.


Enclosures gained a bad name: they absorbed common land and restricted its use by villagers. The West Wellow Enclosure benefited more people, large and small, and retained a substantial area of common land, unlike the other neighboroughing areas. Later, it was possible to block a petition if there were sufficient objectors. There were several questions on such a local topic before we thanked Michael for such an informative talk.

October 2017 meeting

Montgomery's Map


Alec Morley came to talk to us about Montgomery’s Map. Inherited by a friend’s father (who knew nothing about it) Alec offered to research its history, firstly identifying that another copy is held in the Imperial War Museum and one in South Africa.


The map is an historical record of the North African Campaign 1942-43, made by the 46 Survey Company South African Engineering Corps. It shows the route taken by Montgomery and the Eighth army in their advance against Rommel and his Deutsches Afrika Korps, from 23 October 1942 to the cease fire on surrender at 8am on 13 May 1943.


The Surveyors SAEC HQ was at Maadi, a southern suburb of Cairo. They were responsible for Map production, including platemaking (lithoplates), printing and distributing the Field maps used by Montgomery, and were therefore in close support, either in front of or following the troops.


Only 24” x 18” this map contains finely detailed colour drawings, with 38 cartouches and was “Drawn and printed by us in the desert just for fun”. A list of members on the reverse (all South African) also includes a roll of honour for colleagues killed. The map is numbered 857, with the surmise that one was possibly given to each corp. member. It is signed on the front by Major Gen F.H.Thevon (UDF) and Field Marshal B.L.Montgomery.


The map, drawn ‘upside down’ with North at the bottom, shows their route along the North African coast from Suez and Cairo, through Egypt, then Libya to Tunisia. Alec’s presentation included many close-ups highlighting the detail - and humour - that its creators drew. The Title is very well illustrated, with several surveying instruments and the Key shows their various camps, with dates and mileage: they travelled a total of 1,875 miles. Roads, railways, rivers and street scenes are depicted alongside POW camps, military camps, vehicles, tanks and guns; minefields are mapped and the Pyramids are shown. The Map production group is pictured under attack by German bombers and it is noted where 88mm German guns are prominent, but they also manage to have a Soccer match at Burg-El-Arab near Alexandria.


After the second battle of El Alamein, they follow Rommel’s retreat west through Sidi Barrani and Sollum, setting up their 4th base camp at Gambut in Libya on 19 November 1942. At Tobruk barges are shown landing and from there to Tmimi the map shows gun emplacements, barbed wire, dunes, oasis and jeeps.  The YMCA and TocH services canteen are there. They continue on through Derna and Barca to Benghazi where a camera van has overturned. From Agedabia to El Agheila there are minefields, and crosses mark the graves of several surveyors. They show the ‘Marble Arch’ (Arch of Philaeni) on the coast road before arriving in Sirte. At Buerat the pictures show blown bridges, detours and wadis in great detail. Capt W.G. Alexander was captured, escaped and flown to Malta, before returning to his unit. At Misurata a garden is depicted, growing produce and being irrigated. Onwards to Zliten, Roman Leptus Magna, Homs and Tauorga (Tajoura), they enter Tripoli on 23 January 1943. Churchill was present at the victory parade here on 4 February 1943, with Scottish pipers shown. They continue through Zuara into Medenine, Tunisia and on through Gabes to Sfax where it shows a searchlight scene. Passing the El Djem amphitheatre they travel onwards to Monasli (Monastir) and Sousse before finally arriving in Tunis. At the Cease fire on 13 May 1943 there are 242,000 prisoners ‘in the bag’. The map finishes at Bizerte where the railway stops.


We then looked at the cartouches around the outside of the map which show memorable events of this campaign, including:

*A sailing dhow; convoy of 31 ships, 2 sunk carried SEAC replacements.

*Motor transport section service vehicles.

*The native military corp. (blacks) digging tent bases and erecting tents.

*Peeling potatoes; washing dishes.

*Medical tent: inoculations and vaccinations.

*Water scarce; having a Crew cut; the Postal tent; QM stores truck; a Field kitchen.

*Flooded out as they camped in a wadi.

*Survey point made from an oil drum and cement; mine clearing; surveying into no-man’s land.

*Photographic section; analysing photos.

We applauded the skill and craftsmanship of the SAEC and thanked Alec very much for this most interesting and fascinating presentation.

September 2017 meeting

A Tale of Two Cities - Medieval Salisbury and Southampton


The links between Salisbury and Southampton in Medieval times was the topic of our talk this month, given by Nick Griffiths.

Old Sarum had been abandoned in the Iron Age; it was William the Conqueror who built the Castle, from where he could keep an eye on the new Cathedral. The town expanded into the fields outside - where there was no rent. Problems with the military and water supplies, led to the Cathedral being moved to New Sarum in 1220, although people had drifted into the valley near Milford before then. New Sarum was well-sited for both east/west and north/south routes and there was a market held in the centre every day from 1219. The town was well-planned with plots available for 1d/month ground rent, although you had to build your own property, with a population of 5,000. Originally Saresburie in Domesday, the town became Salisbury around 1320.

The main trade was that of wool, which came in from the surrounding area, before being carted down to Southampton port; in 1306, Wilton wool merchants complained that Salisbury was stealing trade. In 1330, a shipment of 2,500 sheepskins was worth £540. Realising that woollen cloth was more profitable than raw wool, a weaving industry was built up locally: 158 weavers could produce 19,000 x 50ft lengths/year.

By 1420, imports through Southampton such as fruit, tiles, dyes and wine were being brought back to Salisbury.  John Halle who was a wealthy merchant, mayor four times from 1451 and an MP three times, is also known for being rude to Edward IV and imprisoned in the Tower; his ships would have been kept at Southampton. He built his house and shop, of which the hall is now the Odeon cinema on New Canal, retaining many of the original features. There were no cellars because of the high water table.

The market place is now only 2/3 the size of medieval times and would have formerly included the Poultry Cross plus the Cheese, Yarn and Barnwell crosses, which no longer exist.

Southampton has many links with the past: Romans in Bitterne; Saxons in Hamwic / Hamtun; raided by Vikings and fortified by Alfred. By 975 it was identified as South Hampton, then later extended by the Normans. It was an important port in medieval times, merchants importing on the west side. In 1338 a major French raid caused death and destruction and stocks of wool and (King’s) wine were stolen or destroyed. Edward III ordered the town to be enclosed: gates were linked and ramparts built, with the enclosed merchants’ arches still prominent today. Salisbury, meanwhile, had very little in the way of defences.

The best Southampton merchants had stone houses and vaults with 3ft walls; 8’ wide steps took wine barrels to the vaults or 3’ wide for smaller goods. Many were specialised – the Wool House is now a micro-brewery and pub! Import and export records still exist, some in great detail, giving the names of ships, cargo, duty and destination. In 1448-9 William Soper was a prominent merchant, collector of royal taxes and a ship builder. Wool and tin were exported and luxuries brought back on the return journey: almonds, spices, cotton, lambskins for vellum, oil, wine, soap and sugar. No doubt some ships would have unloaded cargo on the Hamble to evade customs. If French pirates threatened, merchant ships could be escorted by warships.

French and Spanish ships brought quicksilver (mercury) and alum but it was mainly Italian ships trading, both Genoese and Venetian; large carracks would be offloaded onto lighters to bring cargo ashore. A wine cargo could be 1,000 tuns (a tun was 250 gallons). A list of Venetian goods included: spices, sugar, eastern drugs, carpets, cloths, books, armour, weapons, novelties and fruit. They used Croatian rowers who would have had other trades, setting up stalls in Southampton when not at sea, much to the displeasure of the locals. All traffic passed through the Bargate; imports would be distributed throughout England and 80 places are named, including Winchester and Gloucester, with 1,300 wagons going as far as Leicester and Northampton. Romsey is recorded as having a shipment of 147 wagons, maybe because of the presence of a religious house.

Nick finished with a display of slides from both Salisbury and Southampton, taken over the last ten years, showing medieval buildings and artefacts. The final slide was of a Grimaldi Lines RORO transporter that today carries cars from Southampton to Rotterdam and minis to Italy and Sicily - so not that much has changed then!

July 2017 meeting

Salisbury Museum


We were given a thorough tour of parts of the collections, especially the extensive archaeological exhibits in the new section. This is very well laid out in a purpose-designed extension which was funded by a Lottery Grant.                                                 MS

June 2017 meeting

Hampshire Connections


For our June talk, Gill Daniels returned to speak to us about famous people, reminding us of their importance in the history of our county.

Charles Dickens, born 7/2/1812, lived in Portsmouth for 18 months before moving to London; his birthplace is now a museum. After Dickens Snr was put in a debtor’s prison, Charles aged 12, worked in a blacking warehouse pasting labels on pots of boot blacking. Memories of the poverty and people of this time became entwined in his writings, with characters from real life. In 1836-7 Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist were serialised; David Copperfield (1849-50) is thought to be the most autobiographical, with Micawber resembling his father, and was his favourite novel. Married to Catherine Hogarth who bore them 10 children, they separated in 1858 after he met Ellen Ternan. One of England’s greatest writers, he died on 8/6/1870.

Lady Edwina Mountbatten nee Ashley, born 28/11/1901, had Edward VII as a godfather. She was an English heiress and socialite who married Dickie Battenburg in 1922. She inherited the Broadlands estate and had two daughters, Patricia and Pamela. When Lord Mountbatten became Viceroy of India before partition, she was the hostess. Her correspondence and relationship with Nehru was much speculated, but it was known that she was promiscuous and had an ‘open’ marriage. She worked with many charities including the British Red Cross, St John Ambulance Brigade and Save the Children. In Borneo on 21/2/1960, she died overnight in her sleep, aged 58. Following her wish, after lying in state in Romsey Abbey, she was buried at sea off the coast of Portsmouth.

Reginald J Mitchell, born 20/5/1895 in Kidsgrove, was apprenticed in 1911 to a locomotive factory and studied engineering. In 1917 he joined Supermarine in Southampton and by 1919 was their Chief Designer. He was married in Highfield Church in 1918, living in Portswood in a house that he designed himself. His racing seaplanes, tested at Calshot, were renowned for their success in the Schneider Trophy and he was awarded a CBE in 1931. A design for a fighter aircraft was started but he was diagnosed with cancer in 1933. He achieved his pilot’s licence and continued to work on the Spitfire, seeing the 1936 inaugural flight out of Eastleigh. The cancer returned and he died on 11/6/1937, never seeing the real results of his achievements.

Jane Austen, born 16/12/1775 in Steventon, near Basingstoke is known for her novels that critique and comment upon the British landed gentry of the time. She was writing there until in 1800, her father retired from the ministry and she and her parents moved to Bath with her sister, Cassandra, where little was written. Her father died suddenly in 1805 and in 1806 the three ladies moved to Castle Square, Southampton where one of her six brothers, Frank, rented a house - did she sail to Netley and picnic at Netley Abbey? In 1809, her brother Edward offered them the use of a large cottage in Chawton where Jane wrote and published more novels. After a year of illness, in 1817 her brother Henry, and Cassandra, brought her for treatment to 41 College St, Winchester where they rented the upper floor. Six weeks later, on 18/7/1817 she died and was buried in the nave of Winchester Cathedral. Further novels were published posthumously and her novels have been in print ever since; her image will be on the new £10 note.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, born 1/5/1769 in Dublin, was of aristocratic Anglo-Irish descent. As the 3rd son, he joined the army and became a leading military and political figure of the C19th. After the victorious Peninsular campaign and the Napoleonic Wars, in 1817 a grateful British nation bought the estate at Stratfield Saye, near Basingstoke for Wellington; his horse ‘Copenhagen’, ridden at Waterloo, is buried there. After his military career, he was three times an MP and twice British Prime Minister. Whilst Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, at Walmour Castle, he was found dead in his chair on 14/9/1852 and after a state funeral he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1885, the statue of Wellington riding Copenhagen, originally from the Wellington Arch in London, was moved to Aldershot.

Florence Nightingale, born 12/5/1820 lived at Embley Park, East Wellow and from 1837 had a strong desire to devote her life to the service of others. In 1844 she took up nursing and is most famous for her treatment of soldiers in the Crimean War, becoming ‘The Lady with the Lamp’. Known as the founder of modern nursing she also contributed greatly to social reform and the role of women; living in London for her last 50 years, she dyed in her sleep on 13/8/1910. She is buried in our own churchyard of St Margaret’s, East Wellow.

Lord Carnarvon, born 26/6/1866, at Highclere Castle was an extremely wealthy amateur Egyptologist, who in 1914 received the concession for the Valley of the Kings. Howard Carter supervised the dig and in 1922, the last year to be financed, found steps which led to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb; Carter, Carnarvon and his daughter were both present at its opening in 1923. Later in Cairo, Carnarvon had a mosquito bite that became infected; he died of pneumonia on 5/4/1923. He was buried at the top of Beacon Hill, Burghclere.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was born on 9/4/1806 in Portsmouth, within what is now the Gunwharf Quays area, before the family moved to London in 1808. His father Marc Brunel, who was French, insisted on a good education for him, including studying engineering. In 1822, he helped his chief engineer father on the first Thames tunnel before going on himself to design and build bridges, railways and transatlantic ships. He died from a kidney infection on 15/9/1859, aged 53.

May 2017meeting

Social Life of a Soldier in the English Civil War


Alan Turton, a former curator of Basing House, a civil war site, has a long-standing interest in this period of history. He supported his talk with reconstructed articles of clothing and weapons.

In 1642, there was no standing army, only a navy. The King had a few hundred soldiers for personal protection; Portsmouth had two hundred and fifty to protect the naval base. When the Civil War began, both sides had to put an army together. Overseas the religious war had become the ‘30 years war’ where men had to ‘train’ to be a soldier. With conflict in England, they returned: the King had English officers; Parliament had Scottish officers, but there were not many volunteers. An officer with experience (commissioned gentry), a sergeant and drummer would go to town on market day offering 10s entertainment money, plus constant pay (though this didn’t happen). 4s 6d to 6s/week was the same pay as for a farm worker, therefore men joined thinking it ‘would be a lark’: 20,000 in London, 10,000 in Bristol, 10,000 in Norwich. They were not called roundheads or cavaliers, both sides looked the same. The cavalry received 2s 6d every day but paid for their own clothes and horse upkeep, and were always paid in arrears. Country areas like Wellow were wool producers and would be Parliamentarian.

The armies ‘campaigned’ – it was a mini-ice age, wet and cold, therefore they didn’t fight in winter. Only officers had tents; a QM allocated the soldiers’ billets. Each evening after the beat of a drum, the soldiers would be fed and given 6d, or issued a promissory note, for their bed. Disease was the biggest killer and could spread to the lodgings. Their clothes became wet, dirty and infected with lice; typhus stopped the Earl of Essex’s army at Reading in its tracks; tuberculosis, pneumonia, smallpox and even plague were prevalent.

Soldiers wore a shirt made from stinging nettle fabric for 2 weeks. There were no underclothes, the shirt was tucked into breeches which came up to the breastbone, with a slit at the side for a garter to tie off. Later on, a deep leather pocket was added, for food/ammo, with a button front with eyelets. The coat was made of rectangular panels (no waste of fabric) with a standing collar and long sleeves that could be rolled up; red/white there was nothing to distinguish which side you were on but captains wore a ribbon on top of the sleeve. A falling band was worn over the coat collar to protect it. A cravat stopped armour from chafing and was made from good quality broadcloth and originally lined.

Hats were doffed to your superior: felted woollen Monmouth caps could be worn under a helmet, becoming greasier therefore waterproof; Montero caps were made from coat offcuts; the Scots also had soft blue bonnets they could fold down over their ears. The term ‘keeping a secret’ comes from keeping items under the hat to keep them safe.

Stockings or hose were woollen or linen, worn above the knee with a garter to tie round the thigh. Latchet shoes were open-sided, tied at the front and could often fit either foot until worn in.

The army had 1/3 pikemen. The English pike was made from ash, tapering to a metal ferrule with the spearhead; it was a mass weapon, used six deep. The pikemen wore hinged armour, with tassets below to protect the upper thighs. They were a mobile screen to keep cavalry (with pistols) away from the musketeers and would only serve for I year. Their short sword or tuck, was kept in a baldric, a scabbard worn over the shoulder.

The other 2/3s were musketeers, operating with 3-6ft between them, and at 60-70 paces to be accurate. Training took over a month, firing 3 shots/1 minute at first, then slowing down. They would be paid 6d/day. The matchlock musket had a flashpan, lock, stock and barrel and had to be loaded carefully. The matchcord was a hemp cord soaked in saltpetre. 12-18 bottles of gunpowder, and lead musket balls kept in a pouch were carried over the shoulder in a bandoleer. If the barrel was not cleaned properly, the charge would not light, causing a ‘flash in the pan’. A scouring stick was used to prevent the build-up of soot. The fishtail butt end was used for close quarters fighting.

Each soldier had a snapsack for personal possessions: bowl, pewter spoon, knife and food (bread and cheese, double baked biscuit) as the boys were looked after whilst fighting. Usable items were taken from the wounded or dead.

The Cavalry wore a buffcoat made from buffalo/bull hide with hook and eye fastening. An officer wore a breast plate over the top. Bucket top boots came up to the thigh, offering good protection, stiffened by rain, with spurs either side. A cavalry helmet with a triple-bar face guard was pistol proof, and a pair of pistols was carried in the saddle holster; the sword was longer and basket hilted. There were few ‘war horses’.

Generals would choose the ‘colours’ for their unit, which was usually a sash worn around the body. Made from good quality silk it showed which side you were on. However, madder, a cheap red dye, was often used and could be worn by both sides in the same battle!

For wounded soldiers, there was a surgeon plus 2 assistants for 300 soldiers. After the battle ended, the winner had the honour of looking after all the wounded. The Parliamentary hospitals were better and more soldiers survived; some were sent to Bath to recuperate and given a pension. Many widows also applied for a pension or the return of land.

Many thanks to Alan for enacting the life of a soldier, who would have soon found out that it was definitely not ‘a lark’!

April 2017 meeting

Historic Hampshire Gardens

Elizabeth Proudman entertained us with an illustrated talk, showing how gardens have developed socially, botanically and architecturally over the centuries. She began with Wilton House, given to the 1st Earl of Pembroke in 1554 by Henry VIII. The renaissance garden was completely symmetrical, with the famous Palladian bridge added in 1737.

Few of us knew that in 1986 the best recreation of an early medieval garden was planted behind the Great Hall in Winchester Castle; it is named Queen Eleanor’s Garden, after Queen Eleanor of Castile (wife of Edward I), and Queen Eleanor of Provence (wife of Henry III) who both lived there. A pool, fountain, bower and shady arbour combine with plants from the C13th.  In Southampton, the Tudor House 1550’s knot garden has been recreated with scented indigenous plants. Elvetham, near Fleet was created by the Earl of Leicester for Elizabeth I, whom he hoped to impress. In 1591 she was entertained for four days, as an artificial crescent lake, three islands, a ‘castle’ and mounds with guns were used to enact a pageant that destroyed ‘Spain’.

Lord Zouch laid out the garden at Bramshill where early C17th formal walled gardens surrounded a contemporary Jacobean house; a lake with islands and avenues were added. The C14th deer park was formally landscaped into the early C18th with complex avenues and tree planting.

In 1988, Major John Bowen gifted one of the original C12th ‘burgage’ plots to Hampshire Gardens Trust for the Petersfield Physic Garden.  A C17th walled garden, open to the public, was also created to play a part in the conservation of wild and endangered plant species. Its emblem is an orchid named after John Goodyer, a botanist, who then lived and worked in the town.  The Master’s Garden, St Cross incorporates plants from the New World, similar to those the plant hunter Bishop Compton would have grown in the C17th.

At Warbrook near Eversley, John James’ garden was built in recognition of Versailles in1724. He also translated from French, the ‘Theory and Practice of Gardening’ making continental formal garden planning available here.  The parkland and trees of Avington House are unchanged from the C18th, and in the woods, a bathhouse and pool is reputed to have been used by Charles II and Nell Gwynn.  There is little left of Paulton’s Park designed by Capability Brown in 1772, but Broadlands still encompasses his wild, English landscape.  Petworth (W Sussex!), Highclere and Stoneham also had vistas designed by him. At Cadland near Lepe, a view through the woods would be to the river or the Solent, always with movement from the boats. Around this time William Gilpin applied the word ‘picturesque’ to the landscapes he saw.  At Gilbert White’s house, The Wakes in Selborne, a rotating barrel with a seat inside, placed on top of a mound made with leftover soil, enabled him to see his garden through 360o. Houghton Lodge near Stockbridge is an C18th Grade II listed Gothic Cottage Orné, where a more informal garden is set above the tranquil waters of the River Test.

The Alverstoke Crescent Garden in Gosport, a Regency ornamental garden from 1828, is now a restored Community garden. At Leigh Park in Havant, Sir George Staunton who had been to China as a child, recreated a lake, island and Chinese follies in 1836. He was a passionate plant collector, and the veined leaf of his largest water lily ‘victoria regina’ was the inspiration for Crystal Palace. The gardens of Rhinefield House were built in a High Victorian style in the late C19th / early C20th and the current hotel now benefits from the old photograph albums, aerial and archaeological surveys used in its reconstruction.

Into the C20th, Sir Edward Lutyens designed the hard landscaping at Marsh Court, Stockbridge with planting by Gertrude Jekyll; similarly Amport House near Andover (recently sold for development). The most authentic Jekyll restoration is at The Manor House, Upton Grey near Basingstoke; a full set of plans found at Berkeley University library in California meant that by 2008 it won the contest “I Own Britain’s Best House And Garden”. At Mottisfont, Geoffrey Jellicoe designed the pleached lime walk for Maud Russell in 1934; it is now famous for Graham Stuart Thomas’s old rose garden from 1972-3. In 1996 at Bury Court, Bentley (Surrey!) a modern garden was influenced by Piet Oudolf’s naturalistic planting, with ornamental grasses and late perennials cascading into one another, whilst Christopher Bradley-Hole updated another area in 2004.

We will enjoy visiting the gardens even more now that we know their fascinating history.

March 2017 meeting

Paupers and Vagrants


For our March talk, we welcomed back Jan Smith to talk about one of her favourite subjects: Paupers and Vagrants - from the Middle Ages to the Welfare State. This subject of ‘How do you support the needy?’ is always topical. From Medieval times there was strong church support and a belief that everyone had a duty to help the poor e.g. through almsgiving, and this tradition of charitable giving continues to this day.

In 1388 a Statute restricted the movements of vagrants and beggars, who could be sent back to their original parish. By 1494, the ‘wandering poor’ who were capable of work - but didn’t - could be punished e.g. by whipping. As the population increased there became more ‘settled poor’, unable to work through illness, old age, lack of jobs or famine. The Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries also contributed to the loss of alms and care of the needy.

By the late C16th Justices of the Peace were allowed to raise local poor-taxes, administered by Parish overseers who could also set the poor to work.  The JPs also ensured that the ‘bastards of paupers’ were supported by both parents, either by a Bastardy bond where an agreement was made between the father and the Parish, or a Bastardy order where the JP enforced the law.

The Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601 refined earlier Acts and began the Old Poor Laws, with four main principles:

  • the Parish was responsible for poor relief; unpaid overseers collected poor-rates and allocated relief

  • work was provided for the able-bodied poor; refusal led to a ‘House of Correction’ or prison

  • relief for the ‘deserving’ poor could be through almshouses or poorhouses; relatives also had a legal responsibility to support where they could

  • the setting to work and apprenticeship of children.


Jan showed us how overseers’ accounts recorded every event in detail. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, children with this background could be sent to work far away from home and become child labour for the mills, with few returning home.

The Act of Settlement in 1662 expected every parish to look after its own. A new settlement could be gained through marriage, if hired for ‘a year and a day’ or had property worth £10/year; otherwise a stranger could be removed from the Parish by an overseer. A Settlement Certificate had to be carried whilst looking for work elsewhere. Quarter Sessions’ records show how either the Parish or the pauper could appeal against removal and we saw how these gave a much more detailed record of work. If a removal order was issued, the pauper would be escorted through and out of every parish.


In the C18th Militia and Workhouse Acts were passed and Parishes could join together. By the early C19th pressures increased again with the Napoleonic Wars, economic distress, poor harvests, increasing cost of living, the price of bread, increasing numbers of poor therefore poor-rates increasing, and fear of riots. In 1795 the Speenhamland ‘system’ introduced a sliding scale for relief based on the price of bread and number of children in the family; many poor were on the verge of starvation.

The Swing Riots in 1830 showed the antagonism towards the poor, and a Commission to investigate the state of the Poor Laws perceived that the lax morality of the poor and the abuse of the system outside the workhouse was at fault. The resultant 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act became known as the New Poor Laws. Parishes formed Unions run by Boards of Guardians who increased poor-rates to build and maintain workhouses. The workhouses ran a severe work regime where families were divided by age and sex. Relief was no longer given outside the workhouse.

We heard of the 1836 scandal at Andover Workhouse where the Master and Mistress appropriated money to themselves instead of to the upkeep of the paupers, who scraped marrow out of bones to survive. There were too many poor to keep in the workhouses but by 1900, workhouse conditions did improve; children were sent to local Board Schools or fostered. Research such as that by Rowntree showed that one third of the population was poor, through economic factors rather than moral decay. The1834 Poor Law was gradually dismantled, as in 1908 Old Age Pension, and in 1911 National Insurance was introduced. By 1930 poor law institutions were controlled by Local Authorities and the 1948 National Assistance Act began our Welfare State. Workhouses were demolished or turned into hospitals, old people’s homes, mental homes or even private houses.


But the question remains: how do you provide a safety net for those who need it, without encouraging those who don’t want to work?  An extra-long discussion followed before we showed our appreciation again to Jan for a most interesting talk.

February 2017 meeting

Crime and Punishment in the 19th Century


This may sound like a forbidding subject but at our February meeting, Colin Moretti gave us a well-researched talk, full of interesting facts which instigated many comments and questions.


We heard how John Howard devoted his life to prison reform after inspecting English prisons in 1777. (The Howard League for Penal Reform was named in his honour in 1867.) Crimes were punished in the 18th century either through humiliation such as stocks, public whipping or branding, or by capital punishment, for which there were 220 offences punishable by death including: malice in a 7-14 year old, being in the company of gypsies, shoplifting, and stealing horses or livestock. However, hanging was mainly carried out for murder, burglary or robbery and out of 35,000 sentenced, only 7,000 were executed. Other sentences were commuted to transportation - to America, Australia or Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) - or respited through benefit of clergy (reading from the 51st psalm), if pregnant, or to serve naval or military duty.


Prisons were then only used for those awaiting trial or for debtors. Conditions were extreme with no sanitation, windows or ventilation. The prisoner relied on alms or begging for food, with fees paid to the gaoler. Local lockups were used in the short term before a trial. A crime surge in the late 18th century saw new County gaols built.


The Napoleonic wars at the beginning of the 19th century saw many French prisoners held in prison hulks and temporary camps. In 1805, Dartmoor was one of the new prisons built, with the aim to have 270 prisons in England and Wales by 1830.  Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker, known as the ‘angel of prisons’, pressed for reformation rather than degradation after noting the conditions in Newgate prison, especially for women.


The Gaols Act 1823, supported by Sir Robert Peel, oversaw reform in how prisons were run and sentencing changed. Prisoners were classified and men, women and children were now held separately; warders, including women, were paid; there was remission for good behaviour and 100 of the capital offences were abolished. Some instruction was given in reading and writing.


Prisons now held serious offenders, and were perceived as ‘Objects of Terror’ so as to prevent crime. Transportation was abolished in 1857 and the punishment of prison was meant to deter re-offending. In 1869 imprisonment for debt was mainly abolished and by 1877, the government became responsible for the national prison department.


There were two systems of imprisonment to prevent communication between prisoners. The Silent System had the prisoners sleeping separately but labouring together, under strict guard. Convict labour was used to erect many ‘Public Works’ including Chatham Dockyard, Dover, Portland and Portsmouth harbours, Borstal youth prison and Broadmoor asylum. Other prison ‘tasks’ involved 10,000 turns on a crank, operating a treadmill and mat making.


The Separate System, which became compulsory after 1865, meant prisoners only left their solitary cell for worship or exercise. During exercise, with the men hooded and the women veiled, the prisoners were roped together. Death or insanity was not uncommon.


Portland was the first Public Works Prison. Hard labour quarrying stone from the ‘Verne ditch’ removed 1 million tons of rock, which was then used to build the 3 mile long breakwater that now makes Portland Harbour, protecting ships from the SE gales; it took 25 years. An improved diet was an incentive for well-behaved convicts however there was no sign of fresh fruit or vegetables in the records. A photograph of prisoners being searched at the end of the day showed the broad arrows on their clothing, denoting it as government property.


The Governor’s daily journal records the severe conditions of the day: accidents, deaths and rebellion are all recorded. Even warders were dismissed for dereliction of duty. Trafficking of paper, soap, candles and flannels was punished. Sightseers even came by rail to view the prisoners and on 25th July 1859, Prince Albert visited with sons Albert (14) and Arthur (9).


A century of reform saw older prisons closed, fees abolished, the end of unproductive labour and the length and sentencing rate reduced, but the question of prison reform continues to this day. A poignant end slide made us all smile as we thanked Colin for his informative talk – it was dedicated to his great-grandfather who served time building the breakwater on Portland!

January 2017 meeting

The Voyages of Captain Cook

Dr John McAleer introduced this topic with a picture of the RRS James Cook, the British Royal Research Ship based at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. It is one of the most advanced research vessels currently in service, used to scientifically explore the world’s oceans.

Such voyages were very important in the 18th Century, during the Enlightenment, when scientific reason was used to introduce Britain (and Europe) to new data, increasing human knowledge. Britain was finding a place for itself in the world and new cultures, societies and people were brought to the UK.

James Cook (b.1728) became a merchant navy apprentice, and studied navigation and astronomy whilst sailing the East Coast between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and London. In 1755 he joined the Royal Navy and took part in the 7 years’ war. His talent for surveying was recognised as he produced the first large-scale, accurate maps of Newfoundland.

First Voyage (1768-1771)

Cook was promoted to Lieutenant in 1766 and engaged to command a scientific voyage to the Pacific Ocean, sailing to Tahiti, where they were to ‘observe and record the transit of Venus across the Sun for the benefit of the Royal Society inquiry into a means of determining longitude’.  

The bark Earl of Pembroke was a collier that had taken coal from Newcastle to London and, bought by the navy for £2,000, re-fitted for another £2,000 and renamed HM Bark Endeavour, departed with this small expedition of 100 men in 1768. On board were Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, botanists and collectors, with Sydney Parkinson, the natural history artist they employed.

The transit of Venus did not work well but Cook continued the second part of the voyage: to find an unknown southern continent in the south Pacific.  Cook sailed round New Zealand, mapping it completely and discovering there were two islands, before heading west, then north up the coast of Australia. He recorded sighting his first indigenous Australians, and named Botany Bay after the numerous new plant specimens found on the voyage. Endeavour ran into the Great Barrier Reef and after several weeks under repair, finally began the journey home; all the coastline mapped was claimed as British Territory. People queued to look at the objects and buy editions of the voyage (edited by Rev. John Hawkesworth), although the public regarded Banks as the greater hero.

Second Voyage (1772-1775)

Two vessels took part in the second expedition to look again for the ‘new’ continent, with Cook in charge, commanding HMS Resolution, accompanied by HMS Adventure. (It was thought that the same amount of land had to be below the equator as there was above, to balance it – or the world would tip over!) They circumnavigated the globe, crossing the Antarctic Circle before becoming separated. Cook sailed to Tahiti to resupply his ship before continuing to explore, survey and map the Southern Ocean, proving there was no other continent in the Pacific.

This expedition was much better prepared and using a Kendall 1 chronometer for longitude, Cook knew where he was, visiting Easter Island, and South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands amongst others. Johann Forster and his son Georg replaced Joseph Banks, keeping detailed diaries; William Hodges was the artist, recording the places they visited and the people they saw. Omai, a young Tahitian was brought back to the UK.

On his return Cook was made a Captain and recognised as a great explorer; he was posted as Keeper of Greenwich Hospital, with a pension. His portrait was painted, made a Fellow of the Royal Society, and awarded the Copley Gold Medal for completing this second voyage without losing a man to scurvy.

Third Voyage (1776-1779)

The third voyage was to look for the North West passage, after taking Omai back to Tahiti. Cook discovered the Sandwich Islands, now known as Hawaii, before sailing north to chart the majority of the north-west coast of America, Canada and Alaska. Returning to Hawaii in 1779, they left to continue their exploration of the north Pacific when the foremast on Resolution broke. Returning to Hawaii for repairs, a quarrel broke out with the natives, and ultimately on 14 February 1779, James Cook was bludgeoned and hacked to death on a beach.

A British hero who died a ‘romantic’ death, he is our ablest and most renowned navigator. Many nations also commemorate his life and work, from statues and place names to the naming of spacecraft. He was truly a great explorer of his day.