THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
It is greatly to be regretted that the earliest manorial records of Snodland , which belonged to the Bishop of Rochester and were kept with the cathedral archives, seems to have been thrown out (with much other material) about 100 years ago. What survives of our series begins in 1702. The books summarise the meetings of the Court Leet and Court Baron, which controlled the affairs of the parishioners as tenants of the Lord of the Manor (the Bishop of Rochester). Twice a year, in the Spring and Autumn a representative of the Bishop came to the Five Bells at Halling (for the Manor covered not only Snodland but also Halling and Cuxton ) and all men aged 16 or over were obliged to attend. A ‘Homage’ of around a dozen householders attending from the three parishes acted as a jury. Some might make excuses for non-attendance; failure to do this resulted in a fine for the defaulters. The business of the Court Baron would concern surrenders and transfers of land, and ‘escheats’ – the disposal of land of those who died without heirs, together with discussion of the general management of the agricultural affairs of the manor. The Court Leet dealt with minor offences against the community – blocked ditches or roads, lack of maintenance of hedges, and so on; it also regulated the quality of ale and bread and considered public disturbances. Each meeting elected a ‘ Borsholder ‘ or constable to oversee the nuisance problems and an ‘ aletaster ‘ to check the bread and ale. One notices that the ‘ borsholder ‘ tended to be elected from those absentfrom the meeting, while the reverse was true of the aletaster !
Such meetings had been held for centuries and by the time these records come into play the routines and serving of penalties had grown somewhat lax. There are few notices of persons being called to account for misdemeanours and no evidence that the fines were insisted upon. Lists of those excusing themselves from the meetings are ominously large as are those of the defaulters. Rich landowners like Lord Romney, John Coney and Thomas Dalison never bothered to attend. The value of these documents for us lies more in the regular lists of names supplied and in the brief notes recording transfer of property and land than in the occasional reprimands:
12 October 1738
The Road leading from John Costen to Wm Best’s leading to Holborough containing 40 Rods to be greatly out of Repair.
Also the s[ ai ]d Jurors further present the Ditch from Cacons Pond to the Lower side of Mr Austin’s Hop-Ground containing 100 Rods lying against the Lands of John Fletcher, John Cawstin , Stephen Manley and Mark Aston and order each of them to cleanse the same against his land in Two Months and do amerce every of them who shall neglect so to do in the sum of Ten shillings.
From 1747 there are records of the Court of Petty Sessions which took place at West Malling . And here we come face to face for the first time with the another strand of life at that time, the struggle of those without permanent homes, who offered themselves as labourers on farms or in households, to be hired on an annual basis. The problem was that if they fell on hard times, they then became a potential burden on the parish and all parishes naturally were anxious to avoid calls on their limited funds. Strangers were allowed to settle in a new parish if they could produce a certificate from their home parish which guaranteed to take them back if they needed to claim poor relief. It fell to the Court to pass judgement on disputed cases:
4 January 1766. Gates Kempton, now residing at Snodland ; about 8 years ago hired himself for one year to Edward Ashdown of Cuxton , farmer, and about 6 years ago for one year to Ed. Gilder of Snodland . Married in the said year between Haying and Harvest time. (Adjudged to remove to Cuxton with his wife Annie and daughters Elizabeth and Ann). [Gates Compton and Ann Figg , both of Snodland , were married at All Saints on 19 July 1760.]
3 February 1759. William Knight, now residing at Snodland , on Oath saith that about 12 years ago he was bound an Apprentice by Indenture to John Elvey of Rainham in the said County, Butcher, for 7 years. That he served the said John Elvey about 3 years when he and his Master parted by consent. That soon after he set up his Trade in the said parish of Snodland . Saith that he hired a House, Barn and Slaughter House in Snodland of Mr George Courthop at the Yearly Rent of £7. 10s. 0d., a peice of marshland in Snodland of Mr Fletcher at the Yearly Rent of 10s., A Slaughter House in Snodland of Robert Austen at the Yearly Rent of £1., and a Peice of Ground in East Malling of Thomas Wray at the Yearly Rent of £1. (Adjudged settled in Rainham with Anne his wife, the hiring being looked upon as fraudulent; order made to remove them from Snodland to Rainham .)
Some fared better. Richard Austen, for instance, became a stalwart of the community:
2 February 1760. Richard Austen, now residing in Trottescliffe , on Oath saith that he was born in the parish of Birling . And that his Father after his birth removed from Birling to Snodland . And that the Parish Officers of Westerham in this County, where this Examinant’s Father belonged, gave a certificate to the Parish of Snodland acknowlegeing this examinant’s Father to be their Parishioner. Saith that his Father hired a tenement in Snodland of Three Pounds a Year of one [Mr] Field; And also a House and Land in Snodland of Mr Thomas Whittaker, of Nine Pounds a Year, all which he used and occupyed for severall Years. And this Examinant lived with this said Father whilst he used and occupyed the said Tenements. And saith that he this Examinant never gained any Settlement for himself other than by liveing with his said Father as aforesaid. (Adjudged settled at Snodland with wife Elizabeth; to remove from Trottescliffe to Snodland .)
A few of the entries are extremely informative, enabling us to recapture elusive images of life at that time:
7 December 1765. James Aldridge, now residing at Snodland ; born at Saxmundham , Suffolk, mariner. About 17 years ago was apprenticed to William Reynolds. Saith that the vessel belonging to his said master was burnt by accident at Shadwell Dock and that his Indentures were burnt on Board the said vessel; and saith that after the said vessel was burnt this Examinant within three or four days came to reside with his brother Francis Aldridge at Snodland , his master giving him leave to quit his service; and continued in his brother’s service on board his vessel about four or five months, when he was pressed into his Majesty’s service and went to sea. Saith that after he was discharged from his Majesty’s service he agreed to serve his said brother Francis Aldridge on board his vessel for a year at 20s. a month. And saith that during the said year he was ill upwards of six weeks and then was ashore at his brother’s house in Snodland . And saith that he lived a whole year with his said brother’.
James remained in Snodland , but in later years became one of the village paupers, forced to rely on poor relief. Petty disturbances sometimes came before the Court:
5 April 1783. Thomas Alchin of the Parish of Birling , on Oath saith that this Day he was attacked by Thomas Jeffery of Snodland , butcher, as he was riding on horseback in the said parish of Birling . That he the said Thomas Jeffery struck at the said Thomas Alchin several times and pushed him and his horse into a ditch.
What the Court ordered concerning this tiff is not recorded. Incidentally, it seems that Thomas Jeffery took over the premises of William Knight (noted above), but in July 1783 these were described as ‘very ruinous and decayed’. Then there were problems with orphaned or illegitimate children:
14 October 1775. Jane Butler, wife of John Butler of Snodland . Upwards of 5 years ago he left her in Snodland and went to sea. She did not see him for upwards of 3½ years; was informed that he was dead. During his absence she was delivered of a female child, baptized ‘Sal’ in Ash next Ridley; the said child was maintained in Meopham by Margaret Ashenden , Jane Butler’s mother. John refuses to maintain the child, delivered about 6 months before he returned.
1 December 1788. Sarah Broad of Snodland , singlewoman , says that she is with child and that Edward Ort, now or late of Gravesend, smuggler, is the father of the said child.
And so to the village itself, and to the half-dozen honest, hard-working, thrifty, un-paid men who had the responsibility of maintaining order and of collecting and distributing the money which kept the poor alive. They were Parish Council, Parochial Church Council, Police and Social Services in one. Two Overseers, Two Churchwardens, Parish Constable and Parish Clerk were generally in charge at Snodland , drawn, as always, from the householders of the place. They were elected at the annual Vestry meeting. Two sets of accounts were drawn up, one for the church fabric and one for the poor, and a rate was set for each to be paid by all who owned property in the parish, whether or not they lived here. Snodland’s accounts, which commence in 1769, were meticulously kept and beautifully written by William Lewis, schoolmaster and parish clerk between 1763 and 1797. The poor rate was
(1) ‘for setting to work the children of all such whose parents shall not be thought able to maintain them’;
(2) ‘for setting to work all such persons, married or unmarried, having no means to maintain them, and who use no ordinary or daily trade of life to get their living by’;
(3) ‘for providing a convenient stock of flax, hemp, wood, thread, iron and other ware and stuff to set the poor on work’;
(4) ‘for the necessary relief of the lame, impotent, old, blind, and such other among them being poor and not able to work’.
John Butler, home from the sea, made peace with his wife. Their son William was baptised at All Saints on 28 July 1776, but the family struggled to make ends meet. During May 1773 and April 1774 they received 5s. a week poor relief from the parish and in August 1776 10s. 6d. was paid ‘To Jno Butler to get his son into the Hospital’. Apparently he recovered and the churchwardens found John a little casual employment, paying him 6s. for three days’ work in the churchyard (January 1777) and 2s. for one day ‘Cleaning a Dyke’ in December 1778. Ten years later, in the summer of 1788, it seems John fell ill and was unable to work, for he received 3s. 6d. in August ‘going to Dr Milner’ (perhaps at Malling ). In October £1. 1s. was spent ‘to Lodging’ for the family and another 14s. the next month. ‘John Butler, aged 40 years’, was buried at All Saints on 1 December ‘by the Parish’ – that is the parish had to pay the £1. 1s. costs of his funeral as the accounts show. It is to be hoped that he was aware in the last week or so of his life that the Overseers had paid out £2. 2s. ‘To Mr Mackpharson taking Wm Butler Apprentice’ and another 10s. for his indentures.
And what of Sarah Broad. She must have been the bane of the Overseers. Perhaps an orphan, there are regular payments to provide her with clothing during the 1770s, until John Heaver took her as his apprentice in October 1778 (which cost the parish £2. 7s.). The affair brought to light at the Petty Sessions meant more expense:
December 1788: To Oath for Sarah Broad: 1s.
&nb p; To a Warrant to take Edwd Ort: 1s.
& bsp; &nb p; To Expenses at the Sitting: 3s. 6d.
December 1788 to March 1789: monthly payments of 2s. a week
April 1789: To Sarah Broad’s Lying in: £2.
April 1790: To Sarah Broad’s Child 35 weeks pay: £3. 10s.
April 1791: To Sarah Broad 55 weeks: £5. 10s. [and so on]
Baptisms at Snodland :
12 April 1789: Henry, son of Sarah Broad, Base Born.
10 June 1792: Wm, son of Sarah Broad, Base Born.
8 June 1794: James, son of Sarah Broad, Base Born.
Maybe she had tried to settle in Northfleet , perhaps with Edward Ort; if so the Overseers there were alert to the fact that they would soon have another illegitimate child claiming some of their precious resources. On 2 February 1792 the Quarter Sessions issued an Order to remove Sarah Broad from Northfleet to Snodland . It was a wise move. Sadly, we note the burials of ‘Wm Broad, son of Sarah Broad, 5 months, by the Parish’ on 28 October 1792′, and of ‘James, son of Sarah Broad’ 3 months, by the Parish’ on 31 August 1794. The parish continued to pick up the bill: ‘Burial fees for Sarah Broad’s child: 3s. 6d.’ (Oct 1792); ‘To a midwife for Sarah Broad, 5s.’ (May 1794) and ‘Expenses Sarah Broad’s Lieing in: £1. 15s.’, and ‘Nursing ditto’, 6s.’ (June 1794); ‘To the Burial of Sarah Broad’s Child, 5s. 6d.’ (August 1794). And later, in March 1796, ‘To Cloaths for Sarah Broad’s Child, 15s.’. Henry Broad (1752-1843), not confirmed as a relation, also depleted parish funds in October and November 1792 when his family received 5s. a week relief. The reason is apparent from other entries: ‘To Hy Broad to pay his Lodging in Gaol , £1. 1s.’; ‘To the Collector of Excise for Broad’s Discharge, 4s. 4d.’; ‘To Gaol Fees &c., 16s. 6d.’.
So often these accounts make sad reading, for of course they are concerned with the poor and needy. The mentally unstable and mentally retarded would sometimes be shared among the parishioners, lodging with different families in turn. They were given casual work whenever possible. Let us follow the stories of just two parishioners who fell upon hard times. When the accounts begin in 1769, we meet Jane Couche , paid ‘for washing &c. for Ann Cole.’ She also received poor relief and doubtless was one of the unfortunates required to wear a ‘P’ (for Pauper) on her clothing as she went about the village. In March 1770 there were 11s. 7d. ‘Expenses going to London to get Jane Couche admitted into Bethlehem Hospital’ and 1s. 6d. ‘For Signing her Certificate’. 3s. more went to Mrs ‘ Keable going after Jane Couche ‘, with 12s. 6d. to ‘Mr Brown’s Expenses going after ditto’. It seems from this that Jane had run away from Snodland , but the next month finds ‘Dame Keable washing and looking after Couch and Cole’ and in May ‘Mr French’ (at the ‘Red Lion’) took his turn. ‘ Expences keeping Jane Couche 27 weeks’ amounted to £5. 8s. in March 1771. Then a whole series of entries shows that she was finally admitted to the Bethlehem Hospital:
May 1771: Expences Carrying Jane Couche to Bedlam: £2. 8s.
nbsp; &nb p; Paid for Signing Jane Couche’s Certificate: 2s.
&nb p; To Mr Manley Carrying Jane Couche to London: 12s.
June 1771: To Keeping Jane Couche 8 Weeks at 6s. per week: £2. 8s.
July 1771: Paid Messrs May what they paid for Jane Couche’s Admittance into
&nb p;&nb p; & bsp; Bethlem &c.: £4. 10s.
December 1771: To Bethlem for Jane Couche : £2. 4s. 6d.
&nb p; &nb p; To Expences Going to London after Jane Couche and Removing her
&nb p; &nb p; & bsp; from Bethlem to Hexton : £2. 16s. 9d.
February 1772: To Ticket, Bond &c for Jane Couches Admittance into Bedlam again: 3s.
May 1772: To Isaac Wenman 4 Weeks Lodging Couche : 4s.
&nb p; Paid Richard Seaton for Jane Couche’s Board &c.: 7s.
October 1772: To Jane Couche at Bedlam: 2s.
August 1773: To removing Jane Couche from Bedlam: £.3. 3s.
July 1773 to July1776: regular payments for board for Jane.
August 1776: To the burial of Jane Couche : £2. 1s. 8d (but it is not entered in the
&nb p; &nb p; & bsp; church registers).
Among the cases heard at Malling Petty Sessions on 7 December 1765 was that of George Nebbs
now residing at Snodland , on Oath saith that about 7-8 years ago he hired himself to Robert Austen of Birling , farmer, for one year, and served one year. Since he left Mr Austen’s service he was bound by indenture to Francis Aldridge of Snodland , hoyman, for three years, for which the said Francis Aldridge was to pay this examinant twenty pounds at three different payments. Saith that he served the said Francis Aldridge three years, sometimes on shore at Snodland , but chiefly on the water. Saith that he believes he was never ashore at Snodland forty days at any one time during his apprenticeship. Saith that his father Thomas Nebbs was a Certificate man from Yalding to Snodland and saith that after he quitted Mr Aldridge’s service he hired himself to John Brown [farmer] of Snodland . (Adjudged to be settled at Snodland ).
He did his bit to rid the parish of unwanted animals, for which the churchwardens offered money: 23 July 1769: ‘Paid George Nebbs a Hedgehog, 4d.’; 16 October 1770: ‘To George Nebbs a Badger, 1s.’. But his first appearance in the Overseers’ accounts is a poignant one: 12 March 1771: ‘Gave George Nebbs to bury his Wife, £1. 1s.’. She was buried the next day. The church registers are silent concerning the names of his children – maybe they were baptised elsewhere – but the parish ‘Paid Mr Hubble for Shoes for George Nebb’s Children, 7s. 3d., and ‘Mr Austin for Cloaths and making for ditto, £1. 5s. 7d.’ and ‘ Nichs Hadlow for George Nebbs Children, 5s.’. Also they ‘Paid Ann Heaver for Nursing George Nebb’s wife, 8s.’
In June he ran away and Nicholas Hadlow was sent after him, without success. The Overseers arranged for the children to be put with William Adams at Bearsted , although they continued to pay their maintenance. In October ‘To Advertising George Nebbs twice, 7s.’ failed to bring results, but a year later £1. 1s. was ‘Paid for taking George Nebbs ‘, and £1. 5s. 6d. ‘ Expences carrying him to Bridewel [prison] &c.’. On 6 December another 8s. 10d. went as ‘ Expences taking George Nebbs out of Bridewel ‘ and 8s. 9½d ‘To Mr Austin for Bed Ticking for George Nebbs ‘. The children returned to Snodland , with Thomas Larking, Robert Austin, Mrs Crispe , Mrs Hadlow , Thomas Hubble and Mr Craft all helping with their upkeep and clothing, for which they were remunerated by the Overseers. George Nebbs had another brief spell in Bridwell in April 1774, but later seems to have pulled himself round. On 27 September 1785 he married again – to Mary Langridge – and raised a new family (his older children having grown up). ‘George Nebbs , labourer ‘ was buried at All Saints on 20 March 1803.