Eighteenth Century



So, what of our village by the eighteenth century?  The Old names like Ansell, Arnold, Cherry, Halfpenny, Hammond, Handscombe and Primett still appear in the church registers but in the middle of the century new ones, like Burton, Titmuss and Weeden appear.  No Walkers yet!  Occasionally occupations are mentioned, such as clerk, husbandman or labourer but these are the exception rather than the rule.

During the first half of the century baptisms in Pirton averaged just over ten a year, in a population of 250 – 300.  One entry in 1714 relates to five Primetts aged 13 to 22, all baptised together.  There were 104 marriages between 1700 and 1750.  In some cases both parties lived in Ickleford.  Although the parishes of Ickleford and Pirton were joined at that time one wonders why they did not get married in Ickleford.

In last month’s Magazine we saw how the failure of the local Justices to compel farmers to pay a living wage to their workers had turned the rural labourers into paupers.  Overseers of the poor were appointed by every parish and were legally obliged to levy a ‘poor rate’ for the support of those unable to work.  Some people found ways and means of abusing the system, much as people abuse the DHSS today.

Pirton’s first Overseer’s Book, in 1731, appears to have been used by Mary Hobbs, John Sheperd and William Biggs to practise their handwriting by repeating, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” a number of times, with variations in the spelling of “beginning”.  The first rates were collected by Samuel Howell and William Arnold at 14 pence in the pound.  The list includes


Ralph Radcliffe Esq. for his woods & Manor               16 s       7 ½d

“          “             “     for his farm                         £4          15        8 ½

Edward Williat  ½ year for the Great House                       3      9

and a year for Thos. Wiltshire’s                   6       3 ¼

Joseph ffarmer for High Down                                         18       4

and for Great Green                        2             2       9

Thomas Endersby                                                                  1       2

Matthew Handscombe ½ a year for proffits        1             5       9 ½

Plus small sums from Pettit, Ansell who owned

Court Farm, Turner, Hill, Wiltshire, Hobbs,

Sam, Conquest, Fordham and Israel Mickley.

Some examples of monies disbursed are

Wm. Gravestock                                                                   4 s         0

An apron for Eliz. Bright                                                      1          2

For Charles Halfpenny’s Board                                         5          0

Paid for a fortnight’s pay for Nursing Helder’s

child                                                                                       3          0

Gave the nurse for Capps for the child                                        6

Paid Thos. ffarmer what Edwd. Simkins

kept back which he would not collect                               9          1

and more that Thos. ffarmer would not

collect of Thos. Harding, Mrs Turner’s tenant                 3          1

Pd Wm. Sheperd what he laid

out for the Sparroes                                                        12        9

Pd a Surgeon from Bishop’s Stortford for

letting and curing Croot’s Wife’s Legg                   £  34   18        0

Make of this what you will!  Why did a child’s apron cost as much as Thos. Enderby’s rate?  Why should  such a large sum be paid to a surgeon to come from Bishop’s Stortford for blood-letting?  We may also be left to wonder why Thos. ffarmer refused to collect certain rates.  Did Thos. Harding or Mrs Turner set the dogs on him or was there a local feud?  What a wealth of stories lie between these prosaic entries!

Each year William Rawbon, who owned “ye moate land”, was paid 4 shillings for carrying the rate books to the Sessions, for “coming back the same day” and for his “horses charges”.  The books were signed by the Justices, who appointed the Overseers for the coming year.  Often words in the books were written as they were spoken, eg. Girls are “galls”, daughters are “darters”, clothes are “cloas”, waistcoats were “waskets” and an apron was “a napron”.

Every year a payment of one shilling was made for “mending Chas. Halfpenny’s coat”.  After ten years this coat must have been a feature of Pirton!  Other items of clothing mentioned include

Pr of shews and stoken and a pair                   s          d

of patins for Gravestocks gall                           4          0

For making a petticot for Eliz. Gravestock          1          8

Cloth for a napron for Eliz. Bridgman                  1          2

For making 2 shifts                                              0          9

For Michael Underwood pd. for making a pair of briches and a wasket                                                          3          0

For two shifts for Helder, napron of How,too Caps                                                        3          0

Pd to Thos. Woodson for Nursing Parratt                     12        0         And a fortnight’s pay to other nurses                                     8          0

Was Parratt feathered?  If so, nurses appear less valuable than parrots!

1960s. The workhouse has been turned into a beautiful residence.

I have described how the Overseers provided for the poor of Pirton with sums of money for food, lodging, clothing and nursing.  Occasionally help was given for a wedding.  In fact this only occurs once during the first half of the eighteenth century and it is again for the family of the unfortunate Helder, who was provided with “capps” for her baby in last month’s article.   That child Lydda has now grown up and is marrying.  Poor Helder can no more provide for the wedding than she could for the capps. From the Overseer’s accounts:-

“for a Lycence marriage and ffees

to Parson and Clerk                                                           9          6

For Henry Anger for his ffee                                             2          6

For meat for the Possesing”                                          14          7

It is the items for funerals that give the most fascinating picture of events in this village.  As a law had been passed decreeing that everyone was to be buried in wool, to encourage the wool trade, and as vast quantities of beer were consumed, funerals were an expensive item.  Remembering that a labourer’s wage was a shilling a day and beer cost threepence a quart funerals must have been cheerful as well as expensive occasions, eg.

“for Thomas Raling’s Cofing                                              1          0

for bread and beare                                                            3          0

for Striping (stripping) and Cating wool                           2          2

for parson and clerk                                                            2          6

for women and Siters up”                                                  1          5 ½

“for striping George Hunt and for sitting up                     2          0

for bread and beer when stripped and at funeral         2          7 ½

for small beer for Ann Hunt                                                          7 ½

John Mass for cleaving wood for widow Hunt                           2

Stays for the Widow Hunt’s Girls                                     2          6

Shoes and aprons                                                              1          0

1 fagot”                                                                                             2

The funeral of Nat Worboys  is interesting for the number of faggots bought.  Were they used to keep him warm when ill or for a funeral pyre or were they rissoles?

“Pd. To Ann Abbes laying out Nat Worboys                                6

bread, cheese,beer and wool                                           4          2

Pd. To Peter Goldsmith for 4 coffins                               2          2

Pd. For160 fagots bt. At Wellbury”                      £1        8          0

Why did George Hunt rate only one fagot and Nat Worboys 160?  Shall we ever know?

Finally a sad postscript to the Helder saga:

“for burying Liddy Helder’s child and ye coffin               5          8

for some cloath for Liddy Helder’s child”                        4          8

other items less obvious than those already described appear in the Overseers’ accounts, such as:-

“One day’s work altering the town’s house for

Wd. Rollings                                                                        1          8

For nails                                                                                           2 1/2

A labourer”                                                                                       0

“Pd to John Hill for thatching the almshouses and Broaches”                                                                     4          10 1/2

Another task of the Overseers was to co-operate with the Constables and Justices in the removal of vagrants and the pursuit of criminals.  A sad story must lie behind the repeated charge for “removing Margaret ffield and going to St Ippolyts and for a hole day’s attendance.”  Poor Margaret must have been constantly finding her way back to Pirton.

“Paid to Mr Cooper for Vagrant Tax”                    £3        10s      7d

This was an enormous amount compared with all the other items detailed above.

“Paid for robbery money.  Charges for going after Daniel buck; pd to justice is clark and for 3 journeys one to gosmore and one to preston and one to hitchin.”                                  2s        4d

finally an item in 1745 which must surely refer to Bonnie Prince Charlie and all that: “Carrying soldiers to Bedford”                                            15s      0d

The 18th century was a period when church buildings were much neglected and often fell into decay.  Our church was no exception.  Both transepts which previously supported the tower were gone and huge brick buttresses inside and out supported that decaying edifice.  Holy Communion was celebrated only three times a year, although Morning and Evening prayer were said every Sunday.  The congregation stood or sat along the walls on benches under a leaky roof.

The church without the south transept

In 1549 the church’s inventory recorded silver and gilt plate and silk and satin vestments.  Very different was the inventory of 1749, comprising:- a large folio Bible and Book of Common Prayer:  a book of Homilies (sermons); a pulpit cloth and cushion; a surplice; a napkin; two pewter Flagons; a pewter Plate; a pewter Chalice; a herse Cloth; a Register Book.

In 1552 there were “three greate Bellls and a Saunce (Sanctus bell) in the steple”.  What happened to them is anyone’s guess.  They may have been  destroyed with all the other “relics of popery”.  The Puritans regarded bellringing as a sin.  John Bunyan, himself a ringer, gave it up as an evil practice.  However the present tenor bell was recast in1634 from an earlier bell and the remaining four bells were recast in the eighteenth century, so who knows? Disbursements recorded in 1776 include “Beer for when the Bells was Mended 6 pence” and “To young Richard Odell for doing the Clapper (of the bell) one shilling”.

Throughout the 18th Century Pirton parish was still joined with Ickleford, as it had been since 1215, and known as Pirton-cum-Ickleford.  William Goodwin, who was appointed Vicar soon after the Restoration of the Monarchy, stayed for fifty years and was buried in the churchyard of the ruined church of St. Ethledreda , Stevenage with the following inscription “Between his wives here lies William Goodwin;  Teacher of his County, Father of the villages of Ickleford and Pirton.  Prepare to follow”.  Puzzling?

Over the centuries many unrecorded curates lived in Pirton, apart from the colourful figure of Henry Denne and many such were visiting preachers.  An amusing story is recorded of Revd. Stephen Godley, a curate of Hitchin, 1731 to 1755, who was invited to preach in our church and “being of a very corpulent nature found the pulpit door too narrow for him.  In trying to enter he destroyed it, together with a panel of the pulpit and preached in what was left”.

In the eighteenth, nineteenth and even part of the twentieth centuries, it was possible to rent a pew in the church.  In our church the Vicar’s family occupied the front pew on the south side and the Radcliffes, lords of the manor, that on the north.  Behind them sat the Handscombes and behind them the remainder of the nave was labelled “seats for the men of the village” on one side and “seats for the women” on the other.  In 1763 the front pew was insufficient for the family of Radcliffes and they were provided with another at the back of the church on the north side with an imposing order to enforce it.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century wages seem to have risen.  The Churchwardens in 1870 were paid four shillings for “washin and medin” the Vicar’s surplice (current churchwardens please note).

Life was simple and the furnishing of cottages was primitive by our standards.  For example, in “Wm Nickols house, two chairs: two tables: two coffers: a brasspot: a bedstead and feather bed: an old pair of bellows: three sheets: a blanket: a coverlet: a spade and a pickax” comprised the total contents.  By contrast the workhouse master’s house was rather better appointed, with glass windows and the following contents:-“ 2 pairs Bellows: 3 pairs Tongs: a long Table and 4 small Tables: a large Coffer and 2 smaller: 2 small Stools: eleven Trenchers: a Bowl and 2 ladles: 9 Iron Candlesticks: 7 earthen plates: a few cups and saucers: a Basin: 3 Black Pitchers: a Washing Tray: a few Knives and Forks: 4 pieces of Tinware: a large brass Pottage Pot and Cover: 2 Bell Metal Pottage Pots:  2 Tin Kettles.  All valued at £16.18s.”

Eighteenth century Pirton, like the rest of the country suffered outbreaks of smallpox from time to time.  In 1770 the Overseers paid “£4.4.0d for the smale pokes”.  Presumably fees for doctors and nurses.  Certainly from 1766 to 1771 there were twice as many burials as in the same number of years before and after.

On a lighter note, the village seems to have suffered an infestation of moles in the middle of the century.  Payments were made by the Overseer to Robert Pearce as follows:-  For catching 7 paid 10d: for 9 paid 9d: for 14 paid 1/9d and for 19 paid 2/4d.  Perhaps it depended on the size.  By 1771 the problem was so severe that at the Easter Vestry an agreement was made with John Walker as follows – “For Cillin the Mools for three years Seven Guineys.  And if the said John Walker doth not cill the mools a Cordin to this Agreement the said John Walker is to forfeit the said money.”

Towards the end of the eighteenth century men were called up to serve in the French Wars and in Ireland where “The Revels” (rebels) were giving trouble.  The following certificate was addressed to the Pirton Churchwardens and Overseers.

“This is to certify that James Barber, a Private in the Bedford militia and in Captain Docwra’s Company is now serving as such in Ireland.  Given under my hand at Trim the 30th Nov. 1798. J.C. Docwra, Capt. Bedford militia.”

“Volunteers” were chosen by lot and the village had to contribute half the current rate of pay for a “Volunteer”.

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