Like many parishes in the second half of the eighteenth century, Ringmer had a small workhouse to accommodate the poor. Unlike many such houses, it has an interesting array of surviving sources, even before we start to unfold the overseers’ vouchers.
The overseers’ accounts for Ringmer contain sporadic (if not consistent) evidence about the occupancy of the house and its layout/contents. The number of peepill/peapell in the workhouse in 1766, for example ranged from 17 to 34 inhabitants at any one time, always including a count of two for the master and mistress. An series of inventories surviving for 1790-1806 indicate the structure of the building, which was described as a poorhouse in 1790: at that date it had a governor’s room, Kitchen, back kitchen, brewhouse, bakehouse, pantry and storeroom, plus beds in a ‘chamber’ and in the ‘garret’. There were thirty occupants at the time suggesting there was little attempt to separate the inmates (men from women, adults from children) at this date.
There is also evidence of the way in which the house was managed. In 1758 John Pring was a salaried master, paid thirty shillings per month for his custodianship in looking after the workhouse. This means that Pring did not have a personal interest in recruiting more workhouse poor, since he was paid a flat rate rather than per head of the pauper residents. By 1773, though, the parish had changed its approach to workhouse management. In that year the vestry made an agreement with Jos Peckham, a cordwainer, to keep the poor in the workhouse at the rate of two shillings six pence per head per week. From this sum Peckham was charged with feeding the poor, and washing or mending their clothes, but not with the purchase of new clothing. In additional recompense, Peckham could keep whatever earnings or benefit from the labour of the poor he could extract. This second sort of contract encouraged workhouse masters to fill their house to capacity, and find a form of productive work for the paupers to perform. We have no record yet of what the paupers thought of the masterships of either Pring or Peckham.
Sources: The Keep, PAR 461/31/1-3, Ringmer overseers’ accounts 1754-1821; M. Diggle, ‘Ringmer Workhouse 1787-1806), Sussex History 1:8 (1979), 15-18.