sign Hempstead

Village History

Overseers of the Poor

In England, Overseers of the Poor administered poor relief such as money, food and clothing as part of the Poor Law system. The position was created by the Act for the Relief of the Poor 1597, under Queen Elizabeth I.

Overseers of the poor were often reluctant appointees who were unpaid, working under the supervision of a justice of the peace. The law required two overseers to be elected every Easter, and churchwardens or landowners were often selected.

Overseers had various duties, including:
Estimating how much poor relief money was needed in order to set the poor rate accordingly
Collecting the poor rate
Distributig poor relief
Assisting in the resettlement of persons decreed to have unlawfully settled in the wrong parish

The overseers were legally responsible for keeping the accounts of all the money collected in the poor rate from each household (except the poorest who were exempt) and the outgoings in the form of relief (weekly allowances, clothing, fuel, short term sick cover, etc.) The rate was usually collected twice a year and the books were checked by the JPs and supposed to balance before handing them over to the next overseers. They frequently had ‘uncollected’ entries often were properties were empty. The rate was set every year and the properties were occasionally re-valued. The ratepayers could appeal and occasionally (certainly in the towns) the disputes were dealt with at Quarter Sessions.
Maggie Vaughan Lewis

The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 known widely as the New Poor Law, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed by the Whig government of Earl Grey. It completely replaced earlier legislation based on the Poor Law of 1601 and attempted to fundamentally change the poverty relief system in England and Wales. 

It was believed the new law would -
a) reduce the cost of looking after the poor
b) take beggars off the streets
c) encourage poor people to work hard to support themselves

Administration of poor relief was transferred from the parish to the Poor Law Union but collection of the parish Poor Rate continued to be carried out by the Overseers. Their administrative duties also included assisting with poor relief, education and health, jury service lists, maintenance of the graveyard etc.

The new Poor Law ensured that the poor were housed in workhouses, clothed and fed. Children who entered the workhouse would receive some schooling. In return for this care, all workhouse paupers would have to work for several hours each day.
Erpingham Union workhouse (aka Beckham Palace) was erected in 1848-51 at a cost of £7,386 to hold 539 inmates.

Hempstead Overseers

John Edwards

1821: John Edwards
1822: John Edwards
1824: John Edwards
Benjamin Ling

Mr Ellis
Thomas Rump

1826: Henry Green
Benjamin Ling
1827: George Garwood
Charles Miller
1830: George Garwood
Charles Miller
1831: John Edwards
Charles Miller
1832: G Gotts
1833: Mr Rump ?
1836: Benjamin Ling, assistant overseer
1840: William Bird
Jeremiah Bond
1841: William Bird
Jeremiah Bond
1849: Jeremiah Bond
William Rump
George Garwood - after Easter
c.1861: George Garwood
William Rump
1864: John Neal
1883: Robert Bond
John Neal
1896: Robert Scarf, assistant overseer & rate collector

Below are images of a selection of relevant documents.

Appointment Hempstead Overseers - 7th April 1827
Appointment Hempstead Overseers - 7th April 1827

7th October 1779
A note to Hempstead Overseers from the staff of Lord Walpole asking for more time to provide
the certificate for the removal of Robert Spencer back to Hempstead - 7th October 1779

2nd May 1817
Certificate for the removal of Elizabeth Claxton from Camberwell, Surrey back to Hempstead - 2nd May 1817

2nd May 1817
Reverse of above Certificate recording that Elizabeth Claxton is unable to travel back to Hempstead due to Sickness, Infirmity and her great Age - 2nd May 1817

29th November 1819
Notice of temporary suspension of removal of John Ward, his wife Susan and their eight children
from Gt Bromley due to Susan's illness - 13th October 1819
Followed by a notice for the order for their removal to be enacted due to Susan's recovery - 29th November 1819

12th May 1822
Elizabeth Claxton, former resident of Hempstead died at the remarkable age of 103
and was buried in Camberwell, Surrey on 12th May 1822

17th February 1821
Certificate for the removal of Mary Riseborough from Morston back to Hempstead - 17th February 1821

8th June 1822
Certificate for the removal of Philip Riches from Matlaske back to Hempstead - 8th June 1822

7th October 1823
Certificate for the removal of Robert Fowle, his wife Karenhappuch and son William
from Itteringham back to Hempstead - 7th October 1823

Bastardy bond of 8 Oct 1768
This is a Bastardy bond of 8 Oct 1768 - the parish officials were very keen to ensure women and children did not become the responsibility of the parish so the fathers were examined and  bound over to support the mother and child. Here John Buck of Swanton Novers cabinet maker is agreeing to pay up for the child(ren) of Lydia Mussett. He has a surety (a fellow guarantor) signing with him,  Robert Cutting of Wells. If they fail to maintain Lydia (and Hempstead becomes liable to look after her) the sum of £40 pounds would be due from John and Robert. The examination before a magistrate, the legal document which they have to sign and seal and the massive sum should he default would leave Buck in no doubt of his duty!
Maggie Vaughan Lewis - 3rd April 2022

7th August 1819
Order for Edmund Yaxley to pay maintenace to Elizabeth Laxon as father of her illigitimate child
- 7th August 1819

13th February 1821
Order for James Bircham of Norwich to pay maintenace to Sarah Lynes of Hempstead
as father of her illigitimate child - 13th February 1821

Letter from Sarah Lynes
Letter from Sarah Lynes to Hempstead Overseers requesting relief while she learns weaving
- undated and outcome unknown

2nd August 1824
Certificate of permission for Miles Blomfield of Flordon to marry Jemima Girling of Hempstead
2nd August 1824

October 1824 October 1824
Bill to Hempstead Overseers for providing clothing, cloth and interment - October 1824

1831 October 1824
Bill from Dr John Banks to Hempstead Overseers
for treatment to various persons - 1831
Bill from Dr James Robinson to Hempstead Overseers
for treatment to Rebecca Brown - October 1824

3rd April 1824
Order to apprehend Samuel Lee for 35 weeks of defaulting on bastardy payment for Mary Burton's daughter
3rd April 1824

18th December 1824
Bastardy payment order against Philip Allen for fathering Mary Burton's 2nd child out of wedlock
18th December 1824

September 1825
Full and final bastardy payment of £20 (£1,360 in 2022) to Hempstead oveseers by Stephen Everettt
for fathering Ann Flowerdew's son on 26th April 1825
dated September 1825


Hempstead Parish

To John Banks Dr [meaning debitor i.e. the person owed the money, not that he is a Doctor although he obviously is!]



Nov 2 Journey and making an examination of an injury of the Penis of a Lad 7s 6d



4 Lohins applications and dressings etc 5s 6d

ditto 3s


Jan-Feb To attend & medicine for the Woman Scott and also for her son of Letheringsett £1 4s 6d




To Embrocations & medicine for man Butters of Bodham 6s 6d



To atttendance & med'ce and making surgical examinations of a disease of the Rectum Frank Bayfield £2 16s 6d





To Journeys attendance & Medicine upon the Woman White of Baconsthorpe
£1 14s 0d



April 6 To Half Years salary £3 3s

£10 6d

1 14s 0d

£8 5s 6d

1831 April 7 th

By cash £8 5s 6d for J Banks


Bill from Dr John Banks to Hempstead Overseers
for treatment to various persons - 1831
Transcription of Bill from John Banks
by Maggie Vaughan Lewis

John Banks appears as ‘surgeon’ in Church Street, Holt in the 1830 & 1845 Directories (one of three surgeons). He married an Elizabeth and they had two children in Holt in the 1840s. In the 1841 census they lived in Church Street, Holt (1851 apparently in Lion Street). John was born about 1801. His father, Henry Banks surgeon who was practising in Holt around 1807-1819 (see On the Parish, Jane Hales ed Susan Yaxley).  Hales gives the story of Joseph Butters being apprenticed between the age of 5 and 12 to Henry Banks.
Maggie Vaughan Lewis - 2nd April 2022

March 1834
Drapers Bill from Benjamin Elsden of Hempstead to Hempstead Overseers
for supplying clothing and cloth to the poor of the parish - March 1834

Funeral Bill 1835
Bill for funeral of a Lines child that included the coffin, a shroud, bearers,
tolling of the church bell and burial - 1835

Poor Relief Rate - 27th January 1841
Poor Relief Rate - 27th January 1841

September 1867
Statement of Account and List of Hempstead Paupers from Erpingham Union Workhouse at West Beckham
(aka Beckham Palace) - September 1867

2nd August 1824
Certificate of permission for Miles Blomfield of Flordon to marry Jemima Girling of Hempstead
2nd August 1824

26th March 1833
Request for the attendance of Dr Banks of Holt
The poor man Hardingham is extremely ill and will be glad of your assistance
Yours truly E. Morse for Mr Banks
26th March 1833

If you have any memories, anecdotes or photos please let us know and we may be able to use them to update the site. Please or telephone 07836 675369

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