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Adamthwaite Archive

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Maintenance of the Poor of Ravenstonedale

This article is taken from an Assignment completed by Sue Mastel as part of the Pharos Tutors on-line course 'The Poor, the Parish and the Workhouse' during 2013

Poor Relief under the 1601 Poor Law Act

According to one source, the customary traditions of possession of land within the Peculiar Parish of Ravenstonedale and the local management by an elected Jury of Four and Twenty tenants resulted in little real poverty in the parish.  In ‘The History and Antiquities of the counties of Westmorland and Cumberland’, Nicolson and Burn stated:

“And so late as the time of Bishop Nicolson’s parochial visitation in 1703, he was informed at Ravenstondale by the churchwardens, that they had not had a beggar in the parish within the memory of man, and at the same time, they added, that they had never a gentleman among them, except only the curate and schoolmaster.

And this happy equality in a great measure still continues.”


There are no account books for the Ravenstonedale Overseers held at Cumbria Archives covering the 17th/18th centuries, but the Great End Book does include some references to poor relief.  This remarkable document records the activities of the Four and Twenty elected members of the Grand Jury and contains records dating back to 1556.  The original Book has been lost but the Cumbria Archives holds a copy made in 1652 and a further copy made in 1738 – I will be adding further articles from this source in future months.


The first mention of the poor appears in 1729.  The attitude of the Four and Twenty can be gauged from this entry (see Figure 1 below), in which it was recorded that they felt it unfair that certain parish pensioners should dispose of their goods and chattels on or before their death to friends and family.  So they ordered the overseers plus one or two 'substantial' persons to enter

each of the houses of the pensioners/poor to demand

sight of, list and evaluate all their goods and pass the

record to the notary for entry into his records.


It ends with a list of the possessions of two such poor:

Elizabeth Riddin (who subsequent research shows

has three children) with possessions worth 13s 6d,

and Old Roger Barber who had only a Bible.


From records included in the End Book, we can see that in the 12 months ending March 1729/30 there were 13 paupers receiving weekly or discretionary payments, but the number had increased to 23 for the following 12 months,  with the annual expenditure on Poor Relief rising from £30 16s 4d to £51 3s 8d (in modern currency this is the equivalent of a rise from £2,649 to £4,400!)


Ravenstonedale did not have a Poor House, but the mention of ‘board, bed, cloaths’ in some entries seems to indicate that some of these poorest parishioners were already being boarded out within the parish at this time.  Perhaps some were boarded outside the parish too, as William Clough, for whom burial costs are shown in the records, does not appear in Ravenstonedale burials.  What is also interesting is that all the weekly poor lived in either Town Angle (Ravenstonedale village) or Newbiggin Angle (the only other village in the parish) – there were no paupers recorded in either Fell End Angle or Bowderdale Angle which were comprised almost entirely of small groups of smallholdings or isolated farms.


I was unable to find any further information about arrangements for the poor of the parish until fifty  years later, in another document held at Kendal Archives, dated 4 dec 1781 which shows  John Adamthwaite, and his neighbour James Buck being contracted to “take over the maintenance of the poor at their own expense for one year, in consideration of £67 15s” (presumably shared between them).  Subsequently I discovered a further four similar contracts for the years 1793, 1794, 1798 and 1799.  These five contracts can be summarised as follows (current values in brackets):

•1781: John Adamthwaite and James Buck contracted to take over maintenance of the poor at own expense for one year for the consideration  of £67 15s (£4,258)

•1793: William Morriss of Greenside, Ravenstonedale agreed to take over maintenance of poor at own expense for one year for the consideration of £111 10s (£6,191)

•1794: Robert Chamberlain and James Haygarth to maintain the poor of parish at own expense for one year for consideration of £122 (£6,836)

•1798: Thomas Thompson to take over maintenance of poor at own expense for a year for the consideration of £198 (£6,370)

•1799: Thomas Thompson of Ravenstonedale to maintain poor of parish at own expense for one year for consideration of £183 (£5,887)


W E Tate in ‘The Parish Chest’ mentions “the experiment of contracting with a speculative businessman for the entire maintenance of the paupers for a year”, and provides an example contract from a Norfolk parish dated 1787 with a total cost of £100.


Only the first contract awarded carries the following introduction “At a publick Meeting on the 4th day of December 1781 of the Inhabitants of the Parish of Ravenstonedale in the County of Westmorland for that Purpose assembled upon usual notice thereof first given, it is contracted by and with the consent of the major part of the inhabitants so assembled as aforesaid between George Fothergill, George Hastewell and William Shaw, churchwardens and Edward Smith, Thos Fothergill and John Morland, overseers of the Poor of the said Parish of the one part and John Adamthwaite and James Buck of the Parish and County aforesaid, husbandmen of the other part, that they the said John Adamthwaite and James Buck shall and will from the 12th day of May 1782 to the 12th day of May 1783 at their own proper cost and charges in the houses wherein they now dwell or in or near Ravenstonedale Town, find provide and allow unto all such poor people without exception as shall be lawfully intitled to relief and maintenance from the said Parish and shall be brought unto them or either of them by the churchwardens of overseers of the poor aforesaid  and provide for their lodging, washing,  meat,  drink,  cloathing,  employment and other things necessary for their keeping and maintenance.” (WDX 94/1/66)


The fact that a public meeting was called to agree this particular contract makes me wonder if it was the first time that such an agreement had been entered into in this parish.  Some genealogical research into these two individuals (see final section) reveals that  John Adamthwaite and James Buck both lived at isolated farms in Fell End Angle, which perhaps may have suited the rest of the tenants.  By coincidence, John Adamthwaite was a Dissenter and James Buck a Quaker; I should like to think they entered into this agreement with more charitable than speculative intentions.


Specific details of the contracts

Each of the five contracts specifies that


  • maintenance must take place at either the contractor’s home or elsewhere not far from Ravenstonedale

  • the contractor must provide for all poor people brought to him by the Churchwardens or Overseers with sufficient lodging, washing, meat, drink, clothing, employment etc  

  • the contractor must pay all expenses incurred (including any caused by sickness/accident), except any resulting from removals or disputes concerningsettlements  

  • payment will be withheld if the care provided is not to the satisfaction  of the Churchwardens or Overseers

  • at the end of the year the poor people must be returned as well clothed as they arrived 

  • the contractor can benefit from their labour and service, and the use of their goods and chattels during the year

  • the contractor will receive additional payment (specified as one guinea in the final contract) for every unmarried pregnant woman brought to him for the lying in period and the month after delivery (later contracts specified that the money be used towards the maintenance of any bastard child produced)

  • if any of the poor die during the year, the parish would provide a coffin and pay Church dues, but the contractor must pay any additional expenses and ensure the pauper was decently buried  



in addition, each party signed a promisory note for the sum of £20 or £30 to be forfeited by either party neglecting to fulfil the conditions of the agreement.  



The actual fee for the year’s contract rose substantially during the period covered, but it will be necessary to seek out further information about the number of paupers maintained each year, before drawing any conclusions about the financial aspect of the arrangement.


Identification of the first two Contractors of the Poor

John Adamthwaite was my 5xgreat grandfather (OLIVE line).  Although I have never found a birth or baptism record, I suspect he was a son of Thomas Adamthwaite, husbandman  of Murthwaite (a known dissenter).   John was born in about 1725 and when he married Isabel Keasley in Ravenstonedale on 20 May 1753 both were ‘of this parish’.  Their six known children were all born in the parish between 1754 and 1772, with the first two births recorded as ‘dissenter’s children’ – subsequent children were baptised in the parish church. Their eldest son Thomas married Anne Fawcett of Bleaflatt in 1777 and lived at Stennerskeugh – their only known child was christened at the High Chapel.  The next son James was a carpenter of Ravenstonedale when he married Sarah Fothergill (of Kirkby Stephen) in 1789, but their children were all born in Kirkby Stephen.  Elizabeth, one of John’s daughters, had an illegitimate son John born in Ravenstonedale in 1780 who was apprenticed to a R’dale cordwainer as a poor child in 1798.  This John went on to become one of the founders of the Adamthwaite and Lupton Brewery in Salford and became a very wealthy man.  Two other daughters of John and Isabel and a grandson Thomas also moved to Manchester.   John and Isabel Adamthwaite seem to have left Ravenstonedale in their old age and joined their son James in Kirkby Stephen, as both died there in 1804, when John was recorded as a husbandman of Kirkby Stephen.


James Buck was born in about 1742, the son of Thomas Buck of Nathwaite and Mary Adamthwaite, whose birth was recorded in the records of Garsdale Meeting in 1717, daughter of William Adamthwaite of Cowgill and Mary (Dawson).   James married Anne Ion on 16 dec 1776 in Ravenstonedale.  All eight of their children’s births are recorded in the Quaker Registers of Ravenstonedale, between 1777 and 1795.  At the time of the first two births, James was recorded as a husbandman of Narthwaite, (the closest farm to Murthwaite) but by the time of the third child’s birth in May 1781 he was ‘of Street’ and in all the remaining records he was ‘husbandman of Street’.  He died in 1800, aged 57, husbandman of Street.  His wife Ann (by then of Dovengill) died aged 54. Both were buried at Cat Keld Quaker burial place in Street.


It is possible that John Adamthwaite and James Buck were related – a lot more work is required to pull together the clues in all the old documents that are gradually coming to light.




If this subject interests you and you would like a copy of the full report with bibliography, please contact me

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