An interesting letter has come to light among the Poor Law records and receipts being examined by the East Sussex project, Small Bills and Petty Finance 1700-1834; it is dated 12 October 1834 and is directed to the members of the East Hoathly Parish Council. The letter is from one Richard Gardiner, who will be absent from the autumnal Vestry Meeting, but who wishes to communicate to the Council strong feelings about the market price of wheat and the consequent price of flour, which he can prove is unfairly set in favour of the producers and to the detriment of the consumers; consumers in this rural village being mainly agricultural labourers and the Gentlemen addressed, mainly their employers, the farmers.
These Gentlemen may be his friends and colleagues, but
nevertheless, Mr Gardiner states his arguments very firmly, beginning by
demanding that at the very least in these difficult circumstances, the workers should suffer no pay cut:
I appeal to such of you – Gentlemen as are Growers, whether, under the depressed and as may be apprehended – the declining State of the Corn Markets, the present general Rate of two Shillings daily Wages, can, without Disadvantage to yourselves be continued to the agricultural Labourer, . . .
This against a back story when for decades the English
countryside had known only poor harvests, bad winters and foreign wars. The
lawmakers had unashamedly drafted the laws and passed the Acts that ensured the
comforts of their own class, while the poor became poorer they suffered under
the Enclosures (measures to facilitate new farming methods by consolidating
holdings, but cruelly implemented, eradicating the old peasant class), the Corn
Laws (measures that protected the farmers from bad harvests and cheap imports
but caused a rise in the price of bread), and the Game Act (vicious
anti-poaching law: no feeding the family with a rabbit for the pot; 7 years
transportation for owning a trapping net, while Man Traps were lawful until
1831). In this way the labouring classes were impoverished, stripped of hope
However, the main impact of the letter concerns the Millers’ excessive prices for flour, a problem which is presented in tabulated detail. And even more seriously, Mr Gardiner writes,
Iam credibly informed – that at Lewes, Hailsham, and the other Corn Markets, it is normal with the Millers who meet there to fix by their own Law of Assize, the Price of Flour for the ensuing Week. This, in itself illegal, is in Reality a Conspiracy against the Consumers, which they are unquestionably warranted to counterattack by such Measures as they may think most conducible sic to a Supply of Flour proportioned to the actual Average Price of Wheat . .
Having clearly stated the case, the letter concludes:
In common Candor sic and Justice to Mr John Marten, to the Sons of the late Mr Holman and many others of the Trade who may be in the Habit of supplying Flour to the Inhabitants of East Hothly sic you will, I feel confident, coincide with me in the Propriety of communicating to them whatever may be the Result of your Consultations on this Subject and you will I am equally confident, allow them a reasonable Time to consult with each other – with their Friends, and maturely to determine on their Answer – whether to reject – or satisfactorily, by Explanation, or otherwise – to meet – the Inquiry, which you may think proper to make and continue making – with a View to establishing a more equal…sic than the present Charge for Flour, when compared with the Market Price of Wheat –
Your obedient Servant
P.S. The penny – to the £1 – I consider a most unfavorable sic Scale to the Consumer –. .
It is good to know that East Hoathly had one voice in support of the disadvantaged classes; that it is a calm, measured and reasonable voice ensures that it is particularly persuasive.
When parishes agreed to meet the costs of medicines for the parish poor, they might require medical practitioners to submit an itemised bill for the raw materials, procedures and travel involved in delivering treatment. Many of the items were commonly known to contemporaries, but are less familiar to us: therefore when writers abbreviated entries for repeated supplies, they stored up a problem for twenty-first century readers. It is notoriously difficult (and perhaps unwise) to try to decipher the abbreviated Latin prescriptions of physicians. It is a little easier to understand the medical interventions involved when the original language was English, and/or the substances remain part of formal or informal treatments.
Dame Trill from East Hoathly had a problem we can recognise – she was constipated. We do not know the background to her story; she may have suffered a dietary deficiency of roughage or, if struggling with piles, she might have found relief in additional stool softener. Whatever the cause, the problem was stubborn. The parish bought senna and prunes for Dame Trill repeatedly 1770-4, usually at a cost of six and a half pence per treatment. Raisins were sometimes offered as an alternative to prunes.
Other treatments issued to the sick poor were more general. The purpose of diuretic balsam is made clear in the name, in that it was designed to remedy the retention of urine, but the specific diagnosis is less easy to divine. Medicines for the poor at this date still relied on humoural understandings of the body for their rationale. Humoural medicine construed ill health as the imbalance of humours or fluids within the body. The four humours of blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile had a unique blend or balance for each individual, and the restoration of health demanded the removal of any humour that was overly prevalent. For this reason vomits, purges, diuretics and bleeding were among the most frequently used medicines throughout the eighteenth century.
In addition to generic remedies there was a willingness by parishes to pay for the equivalent of brand-name medicines, known at the time as patent medicines. Widow Cane of East Hoathly was given Hooper’s Pills in 1773. The patent for this medicine was first issued in 1743 and was one of the most successful and long-lasting products of its type, being sold well into the twentieth century in England and elsewhere. It pledged to tackle female ‘irregularities’ and so was assumed by some customers to be a viable solution to an unwanted pregnancy. It is important to say, though, that we don’t automatically suppose that this was the purpose of the parish in buying the pills for Widow Cane! This medicine also offered to treat stomach problems, hysteria, and menstrual concerns: perhaps Widow Cane was menopausal?
Lists of medicines and treatments for the parish poor have presented a problem to historians thus far: how are we to use them, if we cannot work out the ingredients of items listed simply as pills, powders or mixtures, and if the recipients are not always obvious? This is one of the problems this project is hoping to address. Do get in touch with the project team if you have any ideas about how we might use these intriguing vouchers to ask historical questions.
East Hoathly is a small village located in central East Sussex. It lies just over four miles south east of Uckfield, off what is now the major route running south eastwards towards Eastbourne. To the north and east the landscape is dominated by the rolling hills of the High Weald and to the south the South Downs. In the eighteenth century the parish encompassed some 2,000 acres of woodland and mixed agricultural land together with numerous ponds. Most of the parish was divided into small farms occupied by tenants renting from local landowners including the wealthy and politically influential Pelham-Holles family.
During the eighteenth century East Hoathly contained only a handful of houses, largely clustered around the conjunction of roads at the centre of the parish. The church lay just to the south-west of this centre. However, the parish also incorporated a number of small hamlets with a scattering of houses including: Grays, Blackboys, Whitesmiths, the Nursery and Halland. By 1801 the whole of the parish contained only 56 domestic houses, occupied by 76 families. Over the next forty years the number of houses doubled, so by 1841, 119 houses were recorded in the parish. During the same period, 1801-1841, the population of the parish rose from 395 to 607. In 1841 only 31 out of the 607 inhabitants were recorded as having been born outside of the county, suggesting a reasonably stable population with relatively few in-comers.
The church and the rector were central to village life, but the clerical living was not particularly generous. By 1872 it was worth only £261 per annum. In addition, the church was in increasingly poor repair and in 1856 it was demolished in favour of a new building. From 1752 to 1794 the rector was Thomas Porter. Porter had followed his brother, Richard, into the living and remained there until his death at the age of 74. He also held the nearby living of Ripe. According to the diarist Thomas Turner, Porter was an outgoing-man, and was often the centre drinking parties that went on into the small hours of the night. At the same time, Porter was also apparently assiduous in performing his clerical duties, although these were admittedly light. There were no more than a dozen baptisms a year during the eighteenth century and sometimes as few as four. But by the nineteenth century, this had risen to between ten and twenty per year. Marriages remained fairly constant at two to four a year, while burials amounted to less than a dozen per year. Porter was also quite diligent in pursuing his extra-clerical business, acquiring significant parcels of land and property in the area.
While in many ways East Hoathly was an unremarkable rural parish in southern England, it is notable as the home of Thomas Turner, shopkeeper and prolific diarist of the mid-eighteenth century. Turner was twenty-one when he first came to the parish in 1750. He married Peggy Slater in 1753 and the first of his surviving diaries date from 1754. Turner initially came to the parish in order to run a small general shop. At first he rented premises in the centre of the village, purchasing the property shortly after 1765. But Turner was much more than just a shopkeeper. He threw himself into parish life and administration. His meticulous accounting was put to good use in service of the village. He briefly kept the local school and later became both a churchwarden and overseer of the poor. He also acted as occasional surveyor, assisted the local tax collector, wrote wills, gave advice and acted in law on behalf of many of his neighbours. All of this was carefully noted in his diaries, together with vivid accounts of the everyday life of the parish. The last surviving volume ends in July 1765.
Other than the church, the parish supported the general shop run by the Turner, a small school and at least two public house, one of which was the King’s Head. However, the overseers’ vouchers make it clear that several other craftsmen and women were operating in the parish, including shoemakers and cobblers, a butcher, a miller, carpenters, builders and blacksmiths, together with tailors and seamstresses. These were augmented by local petty officials: for instance the excise officer, postmaster and schoolmaster, most of whom had dealings with Thomas Turner in his capacity as churchwarden or overseer of the poor. In the early nineteenth century there was a slight drift away from the agricultural occupations that dominated the parish workforce, with a growing number concerned with ‘trade, manufacture or handicrafts’. The numbers recorded in this census category grew from 15 families in 1801, to 35 families out of 97 in 1831.
Halland House and the Duke of Newcastle
The largest house in the parish belonged to the Duke of Newcastle. The family seat, Halland House, was located in the hamlet of Halland, and straddled the parish boundary with the adjacent parish of Laughton. By the later 1760s the Elizabethan house was dilapidated and was substantially demolished. What remained, continued to be used as a generously proportioned farm house.
Through most of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries there were regular public open days or celebrations at the house, where both the local gentry and parishioners of all classes enjoyed the hospitality of the Duke of Newcastle and other members of the Pelham-Holles family. Thomas Turner recounted in his diary,
About four p.m., I walked down to Halland with several more of my neighbours, in order for a rejoicing for the taking of Cape Breton, etc., where there was a bonfire of six hundred of faggots, the cannon fired, and two barrels of beer given to the populace, and a very good supper provided for the principal tradesmen of this and the neighbouring parishes,
Despite the attendance of notable members of the aristocracy, judiciary and political allies of the Duke at such events, Turner commented in his diary that the celebrations ‘might be more properly done by distributing something to the poor.’ Charitable donations by the aristocracy were commonplace in the eighteenth century and often distributed through the local overseers of the poor including gifts of food and fuel. Thomas Turner was assiduous in noting their distribution in East Hoathly.
The ‘Old Poor Law’
In common with many small rural parishes East Hoathly did not maintain a workhouse and cared for its poor in the community. Pensions were paid to a small group of regular, often elderly or otherwise infirm paupers. Food stuffs, clothing, footwear and fuel formed regular components of parochial support.
The parish also provided medical care and medicines for the needy poor. A local apothecary or surgeon provided treatment and dispensed medicines when called on to do so by the overseer of the poor. Occasional ad hoc payments were made for specific items and small sums given to the itinerant poor. At least one parishioner was supported in Bethlem Hospital, an institution for the insane poor in the City of London. A number of illegitimate children and babies were maintained by East Hoathly parish. These infants were boarded out locally and subsequently apprenticed, usually in an adjacent parish. In addition, the parish ensured that repairs were made to cottages and other dwellings that housed their impoverished men and women. Labouring work was given to the able poor particularly when these cottages or the church required maintenance.
In the year ending Easter 1776 East Hoathly raised £199 through the Poor rate. By Easter 1803 this had more than doubled to just over £418. Of this, £358 was spent on relieving the poor and a further £13 on the removal of paupers, overseers’ expenses and legal costs. In 1803 the parish was permanently caring for 22 adults, 3 children under 5 and a further 13 children between the ages of 5 and 14.
 For a fuller biography see David Vaisey. 2004 “Turner, Thomas (1729–1793), diarist and shopkeeper.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 14 Aug. 2018. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-48266.
 Thomas Turner, The Diary of Thomas Turner, 1754-1765, ed. David Vaisey, New edition (East Hoathly: CTR Publishing, 1994), 161.