John West(s) at the Crown

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In 1740 John West got a fine for serving short measure and ‘breaking the assize of ale’ so he was already selling alcohol from the premises we now know as The Crown. But at the time he was also working as a shoemaker and he’d divided the house to make two cottages, with another shoemaker as a tenant next door. The building would have looked very different at that time.

Twenty years or so after the unfortunate episode of the short measure, John had become a pillar of the community and in 1763 he took his turn to serve as an Overseer of the Poor for the year. There were always two of them and his partner was John Underwood, ledgerthe leader of the opposition to Enclosure in the village. They had a busy year.

Smallpox struck the village and through the summer he had to stretch the Poor Rate to cover medical and nursing costs and pay for funerals for those families who were unable to meet the expense themselves. Widow Hall’s house was set up as an isolation unit for patients and John kept them supplied with beer. (It was safer to drink than well water and perhaps it offered them all a bit of cheer).

The following year was free of smallpox, but he still had a funeral to attend. His new daughter Frances was buried at barely a week old. He survived her by only six months.

His son John succeeded him as an energetic 25-year-old anCrownd it was his energy which turned that little pair of cottages into a thriving hub of the village, where as well as selling food and drink, he hosted auctions, hiring fairs, public meetings and even, in 1795, a performance of The Messiah.

Poor apprentices

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The Free School was not the only institution set up to serve families in West Haddon. During the 17th century the Apprenticeship Fund was set up by Edward Burnham, a gentleman, Jacob Lucas, a shoemaker and Joan Elmes, the unmarried and independent daughter of a woolman, Thomas Elmes, whose table-tomb can still be seen in the churchyard.

The tomb of Thomas Elmes, woolman, 1657.
The tomb of Thomas Elmes, woolman, 1657.

It was the responsibility of the Overseers of the Poor to provide premiums for poor boys (mostly boys, anyway) to be bound as apprentices to learn a trade, thus increasing their chances of earning a living in adulthood. But some cheaper parish apprenticeships were barely distinguishable from slave labour. The hope was that, by providing resources for higher premiums, they could secure higher quality training.

In March 1751 Thomas Hewitt died. Three of his sons had already died before him, as babies. He left a wife, two more sons and two daughters. The family were not well off.

The younger son, Thomas jun. was only a baby, but John was 8 years old. Less than a week after his father’s funeral, John found himself bound as an apprentice to William Cooke in Lilbourne. A premium of £6.10s [£6.50] would keep him bound to his master until he was 24 years old.

John Hewitt's apprenticeship indenture, 1751.
John Hewitt’s apprenticeship indenture, 1751.

In return for training him as a weaver, William was required to provide ‘meat, drink and apparel, lodging, washing and other things necessary and fit for an apprentice’ and, at the end of the term ‘a good new suit for the Holy-Days and another for the Working-Days’.

Hardly had his mother had time to come to terms with widowhood and her son’s absence when, a month later, her 12-year old daughter Elinor also died. Elinor’s funeral expenses were paid by the parish and recorded in the Overseers Account book:

A cap and jersey for Hewett’s girl                       1s 4d [6p]

Paid Old Adams for a coffin                                  6s  [30p]

Laying her out                                                          2s  [10p]

4 girls carrying her to church                               2s  [10p]

Sitting up                                                                   1s6d [7p]

Master Newton his fees                                          2s  [10p]

Life continued to be hard for the family. Elizabeth was paid a weekly allowance to support herself and the two youngest children, Mary and Thomas. What became of Thomas as he grew up, or John, after his apprenticeship, has yet to be discovered, but at the age of 20 Mary found herself an unmarried mother.

ribbonsAnd when her son John was 7 years old, Thomas Spokes and John Clarke, the Overseers for that year (1775) arranged an apprenticeship for him with a Warwickshire ribbon weaver. John Haycock, the saddler, witnessed the indenture.

The Apprenticeship Fund still survives, as part of West Haddon Charities, but now, instead of paying premiums for apprentices, it gives small grants to students.

…a hundred pounds of his own money…

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John Underwood was a grazier. In 1749 he married Hannah Kirtland, the daughter of another grazier and they had four children.

There was a tradition of public service in the family. John’s father (yes, another ledgerJohn – no imagination) twice took on the duty of Overseer of the Poor, in 1732 and 1742, along with William Robins (the shepherd, remember him?) and after his death, John jun. also served two terms in the same office – in 1754 with John Kilsby and in 1763 (the smallpox year) with John West as his partner.

In 1748 he owned sufficient land to entitle him to a vote in the general election. There was no secret ballot at that time and the way people voted was published in a poll book, from which we can see that John voted Whig (or liberal).

Dr Heygate didn’t vote at that election, because at that time he didn’t meet the property qualification. In the same year the proceeds of the village poor levy were recorded in the accounts of the Overseers of the Poor. These show that while John Underwood’s property value was rated at a guinea  [£1.05], Dr Heygate’s was only 1/2d [about 6p].

Their situations were reversed in the run-up to Enclosure as Dr Heygate bought up land while John Underwood continued to rent most of his. In the Pro and Con document, where the Heygate name was absent, John Underwood headed the list of objectors.

John Underwood who is the principal person that supports the opposition says he’ll spend a hundred pounds of his own money to stop it but owns that they are very beneficial fields to inclose and would improve as much by inclosing as any fields he knows. Note. he rents above 4 yardlands at a low price and has of his own land only 2 quarterns. His reason for not consenting was that he does very well now and that he does not know whether it would be any better for him in case they were inclosed therefore he would oppose it.

Since there was a general belief that rents would soar for enclosed land, he was probably worried about a big rent rise for his 4 yardlands, which would not be offset by the rising value of his two quarterns which he would have the expense of fencing etc.

So was he involved in the organisation of the riot? Did he spend his own money on that newspaper advertisement and free beer? His name was never mentioned as a suspect, but will we ever know for sure? (He was more likely to have been the man who paid the legal bills for the drawing up of the counter-petition, presented to Parliament on 31st January 1764 ‘by John Underwood and 32 others against the Bill.’)

He and Dr Heygate seemed to be on opposite sides of the enclosure fence – were the families on good terms otherwise?

Gravestone of John Underwood and his wife Hannah
Gravestone of John Underwood and his wife Hannah

Two years after Enclosure, John was dead, but in 1773 his daughter Elizabeth married Dr Heygate’s son, Robert, with her brother and sister apparently happy to sign as witnesses to the marriage.



at Widow Hall’s house…

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William and Elizabeth Hall came to West Haddon around 1750. Their daughter Priscilla was baptised in 1751 and her brother Richard five years later. The following year, William died.

The family were not well off and he was buried by the parish. The account book of the Overseers of the Poor recorded the expenses:

Paid for a coffin for William Hall, 8 shillings [40p]All Saints railings people tinted_edited-1
Paid two women to watch with him and laying him out, 4 shillings [20p]

Paid four men to bear him to church, 2 shillings [10p]
Paid the clerk for ringing the bell and digging the grave, 2 shillings [10p]

Paid Mr Walker for crepe and jersey to bury him in, 1 shilling and 6d [7.5p]

(John Walker was a draper. He lived at what is now Crystal House.)

The summer of 1763 saw an outbreak of smallpox in the village and there are records in the same account book of what was spent on those who were unable to pay for their own treatment. Several seem to have been isolated at the house of Widow Hall. (Sadly we don’t know which house that was.)

pestle mortar and candleholderWilliam Masters was paid £1.1.6 [£1.7.5p] for ‘atending of the smallpox 43 days’and a further 30p for ‘sitting up 3 days and 3 nights’, while Kitty Line was paid £1.16.0 [£1.80] ‘for nursing of the people at Wido Hall of the smallpox for 6 weeks pay at 6 shillings per week’, while John West, of the Crown, was paid about 75p ‘for beer for all the people who had the smallpox’.

(The last expense may seem like an indulgence on the rates, but at that time well water was rarely safe to drink. The brewing process had a sterilising effect, so it was healthier to drink beer!)

Elizabeth survived the epidemic, but it may have taken its toll on her. She was buried in July 1765, just a month before the riot, leaving her children to be cared for by the parish. An entry a fortnight after her burial recorded money ‘spent at Burbidge’s [the Red Lion] when we set Hall’s children to Goodman’ (presumably a fostering arrangement). The following month Thomas Patch (father of the founder of the village brickyard), was paid about 16p to make a pair of shoes ‘for Betty Hall’s son’, which he mended in 1766 and later that year Richard was apprenticed to a Coventry ribbon-weaver.

An apprentice’s tale

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In November 1747 Thomas Garnett had apprenticed his son Thomas to Thomas Haile of Ravensthorpe. (There was a distinct lack of imagination in the firWoolcomber_edited-1st name department at 18th century christenings). Mr Haile was a woolcomber who processed wool fibres ready for spinning.


The apprenticeship was intended to run for seven years, but months before his time was up, young Thomas ran off to Northampton with his cousin Ann and was married by special licence. They were married on the Tuesday after Easter in 1753 (hence the licence – banns couldn’t be called during Lent). Their baby daughter, Avis, was born at the beginning of June – an over-riding reason for cutting his training short – apprentices were not allowed to marry.

But what an apprentice could do was claim settlement in his master’s parish. Before the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, each parish was responsible for looking after its own poor, providing financial assistance, lodgings, clothing etc, funded by a Poor Levy – a kind of community charge administered by the Overseers of the Poor. There were various circumstances that could qualify you for a ‘settlement’ in a particular parish – that was the right to be supported by that parish if you fell on hard times.

And Thomas did fall.

In December 1769 a settlement certificate was issued in respect of Thomas Garnett, woolcomber, Thomas and William his sons, Avis, Mary and Sarah his daughters, of Ravensthorpe. His wife Ann had died in October that year and his 4-day-old son John a few months before, in April. Of his nine children, five had survived infancy and ranged in age from Avis at 16 to Sarah, 4.

All his children were baptised in West Haddon and Ann was buried here, so it’s quite possible that the family had been living in West Haddon for years. But the date of the certificate suggests he may have approached the Overseers here for some assistance (Ann would almost certainly have been spinning to supplement the family income, and the older girls too – if one of them was now doing her best to take care of the younger children, household earnings would have dropped significantly.)

The issuing of the certificate is an indication that West Haddon Overseers were unwilling to offer assistance, or at least worried that assistance might be requested and so made sure that settlement rights were clarified and Ravensthorpe would pick up the tab if necessary.

Militia list 71 reducedThe certificate includes his five children, but the following year he lost his son William too, and in 1771 he appeared on the Militia List for West Haddon as  woolcomber, poor, with four children.