Thomas Burn, (c.1776-1848) Assistant Overseer for the Townships of Greystoke.

Thomas Burn was appointed the Assistant Overseer serving the Townships of Greystoke , Johnby, Little Blencow, Motherby and Gill at a meeting of the Vestry 16 May 1823. His appointment, to start on 4 August 1823, was for three successive years for a yearly stipend of twelve pounds and twelve shillings. Previously in 1820 he had been Overseer along with Joseph Stagg, Joseph Guardhouse, Joseph Todhunter and Thomas Arnott. [1] It might be wondered why he moved from the position of overseer to assistant overseer. Some might see this as a demotion, but by the 1820s the position of assistant overseer had become an official salaried post whereas an overseer continued to be unpaid.

Thomas Burn was a yeoman. He married Elizabeth Hawell on 30 March 1802 and they had one daughter, Jane, baptised at Mungrisedale on 28 April 1803 then again a week later 5 May at Greystoke.[2] Jane later married Joseph Mattinson on 19 November 1825 but died 31 December 1831 aged 28 years.[3]

Mention of Thomas Burn in newspapers is limited. In February 1828 it is reported in several newspapers that a hive of bees belonging to him had swarmed and were thriving. Comment is made of the mild weather for the place and season.[4] The abundance of reports on bees at the time was a reflection of the regard for their productive ways and perfect society. [5] Thomas Burn probably kept them to supplement his income from farming. In 1831 the Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser refers to a presentation to him of a silver teapot by the rate payers of the Parish in recognition of his conduct during his long service as Assistant Overseer. [6]

During his time as Assistant Overseer letters survive that were sent to him in relation to his office. The letters came from a wide range of places some from the adjacent parishes within walking distance, others from further away. [7] One came from Wolsingham, County Durham, concerning William Miller, a besom maker and his family struggling to make a living and coping with family sickness. [8] Another came from a poor widow Alice Lowden in Liverpool. [9]

In 1835 Thomas Burn gave notice of his intention to leave the office of Assistant Overseer giving up all money, books and papers belonging to the parish 15 April 1835.

Wanted Assistant Overseer Greystoke Feb 2 1835 PR5/53 15-1
Wanted Assistant Overseer February 2 1835 PR5/53-15-1 Greystoke Overseers’ Vouchers

Thomas Burn corresponded with his successor John Cockburn 12 August 1835 concerning pay due.

Burn wrote:

Sir , My Stipend being due the fourth of this month. I now expect you to pay me the sum of sixteen pounds before Saturday first, if not an action for the recovery without further notice. Yours etc; Thos Burn. [10]

Mr Cockburn replied:

Sir , In reply to your note of the 12th inst I have respectfully to inform you that your demand of £16 your full years salary cannot be complied with but I can at the same time inform you that the sum due for the time you were in office £11.2s.8d will be paid on demand. Aug 15 1835. Yours John Cockburn. [11]


Thomas Burn remained in the Greystoke area farming and hopefully keeping his industrious bees. He died on 8 January 1848 and his wife on Elizabeth 23 July 1849. [12]

The British Bee Hive George Cruikshank 1840 (1867)
The British Bee Hive George Cruikshank 1840 (1867) The British Museum

Sources
[1] Cumbria Archives, PR5/47, Poor Account Book, 1820-1837
[2] Cumbria Archives, PR 5/5, Greystoke, St Andrews, Baptism and Burial Register, 1757-1809; PR 5/9, Greystoke St Andrews, Marriage Register, 1813-1837.
[3] findmypast.uk [accessed 30 March 2020]
[4] Carlisle Patriot, 2 February 1828, p. 2.
[5] Ellis Hattie, Sweetness & Light, mysterious History of the Honey Bee (2004)

[6] Cumberland Pacquet and Whitehaven Ware’s Advertiser, 15 November 1831, p. 3 col, b
[ 7] Cumbria Archives, PR5/63, 22 letters to out relief, 1800-1837.
[8] Cumbria Archives, PR5/67/H 1, Greystoke Overseers’ Voucher, 5 May 1834.
[9] Cumbria Archives, PR5/67-H 21, Greystoke Overseers’ Voucher, 15 September 1835.
[10] Cumbria Archives, PR5/67-K 57, Greystoke Overseers’ Voucher, 12 August 1835.
[11] Cumbria Archives, PR5/67-K 55, Greystoke Overseers’ Voucher, 15 August 1835.
[12] Carlisle Journal, 27 July 1829 p.3 col. g.

This is a work in progress

A Hastings gentleman takes parish office

In December 1827, the parish of St Clements in Hastings decided that it was ‘absolutely necessary’ to appoint an assistant overseer. This salaried official would be asked to take over all of the day-to-day drudgery associated with relieving the poor, namely to relieve all paupers, pay all bills, superintend the management of the poorhouse under the governor, removal all paupers and do all the other duties of a managing overseer. This freed the annually-elected overseers to do the really important work of collecting the poor rates.

Candidates for the office wrote to the parish in early April asking to be considered, but they had been pipped to the post by the interim ‘internal’ candidate. Mr Solomon Bevill had been provisionally appointed in January 1828. He remained in post subject to annual reappointments until 1833 when (presumably) declining health prompted him to retire. Bevill died in 1834, leaving goods and property to his children and grandchildren.

East Sussex Record Office, PAR 367/37/2/17

Thus far, Bevill’s story fits with the outline for a number of assistant overseers around the country. Men of apparently declining fortunes or towards the end of life secured this sort of post to provide an income in otherwise lean years. What is surprising is the additional detail we can glean from genealogical and other sources about the career that was coming to an end in Bevill’s case.

He had been born in the mid-eighteenth century and was therefore in his late 70s when he took on the parish job. Solomon Bevill was married to Lydia Blackman in 1775. In their early lives, the family members were sufficiently poor to warrant the attention of parish officers: Solomon, Lydia and their daughter Elizabeth were the subject of a settlement certificate issued in 1777. Thereafter their fortunes lifted: Solomon Bevill the elder acquired property in Hastings, and either he or his son, Solomon Bevill the younger, became Comptroller of the Port of Hastings. Most intriguing of all, one of the Solomons (I’m assuming the elder) can be found listed as the commander of a privateer in 1812, during the war against America. A letter of marque was made out to this name as the Commander of the ship Eclips out of Hastings, owned by Thomas Mannington.

The Beach at Hastings, c1812-1815

Elderly though he may have been, Bevill certainly brought something of a swashbuckling approach to parish affairs. At first appointment, and without asking the vestry, he summarily pulled down the wash house attached to the parish poor house and began rebuilding it with contractors of his choice. The tone of the vestry minutes in recording this realisation is, though, quite conciliatory rather than reproachful or outraged. Presumably Bevill’s long history in the town, or his age, conferred a protective veneer.

Sources: The Keep, East Sussex Record Office: PAR 367/12/2/8, Hastings St Clement Minutes of the Vestry concerning the poor 1827-33; PAR 367/12/5 Hastings St Clement vestry minute book 1823-58; PBT 1/1/78/562; National Archives HCA 25/206.