Fishlake History Society

Recording historical information before it disappears

Fishlake History Society

Recording historical information before it disappears

Support for the Poor of Fishlake Through the Ages.


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Kin support and the English Poor. Thanks to

This article is an attempt to outline Fishlake's charitable provision for the poor, however, I have deliberately not included the educational foundation charity, called Rands, as this is a very large subject in itself and in any case has been covered by another article in this collection. Researching this article turned out to be more complicated than I had first thought. Pulling together all the different elements over a long period in history is confusing due to changes in names, field layout and charitable purposes etc. However I have tried to establish the main points while ensuing as much clarity as possible.

In today's world we have a highly sophisticated benefit system provided by a government agency, the Department of Social Security. The needs of the poor in Britain is or should be met by a range of financial benefit schemes, however, this has not always been the case. Before a universal benefit system was created the needs of the poor were met, as far as it went, on a very local level, the parish or township.

From a broader historical perspective proving for the poor has always been a challenge. This responsibility was originally held by the Manorial courts but in 1531 this shifted to parish officials. In these early years matters were handled ad hoc as the parish saw fit. In time it became necessary to introduce laws to ensure and regulate for the needs of poor citizens, consequently the English poor law was introduced and has its origins in the social and economic upheavals of the 16th century. The acts of 1597/1601 made it compulsorily for each parish to provide for the poor by levying a rate on all occupiers of property within its bounds.

An unpaid parish officer, the Overseer of the Poor, usually two in number were appointed yearly, often drawn from local farmers or craftsman. Chosen by the vestry (a parish meeting, rather like local councils today) and approved by a Justice of the Peace. There duties were to Levy and collect the rates and to see that it was used for the relief of the aged and infirm poor, the apprenticing to a trade of the children of paupers, and setting to work the able-bodied poor. Later the duties of the Overseers were given to the Guardians of the Poor in 1835 when the Overseers became just assessors and collectors. The office was abolished by the Rating and Valuation Act of 1925. This principle of compulsory provision made English poor law system unique.

The first reference to Overseers of the Poor in Fishlake can be found in the Bylaw Book when in 1615 William Colman, Edward Hill and William Sampall were recorded as holding that appointment. For a more comprehensive list of Overseers see appendix at the end.

Prior to 1600 there are very few references to poor provision. However, it was common practice in the later Middle Ages that money for the benefit of the poor was given at the time of someone’s burial as bequeathed in their will.

For instance charity to the value of one penny, known as penny dole, was handed out at a burial, often in the form of bread or ale, here are some Fishlake examples:

Alice Shirwood's will of 25 August 1451 leaves 11 shillings to the paupers of the parish of Fishlake.

Thomas Besacle's will of 1556. “Poor folke to have peny dole of the day of my buriall, to pray for my soull, and for all christen soulles. To the poore of Fishlake vjs viijd to the poor of Sykehowes xs wher neide is”.

Other examples of bequests are included in theRobert Palmer of Fishlake in 1549, William Bradford in 1557 and John Parkin in 1558.

So monies for the poor were generated primarily from poor rates but supplemented from bequests of both individual and regular yearly land rents from wealthier parishioners.

Prosperous individual often gave more substantial amounts. In the will of Thomas Parkin in 1574 and John Parkin in 1609 monies were left to be given to the poor people of Fishlake on the day of there burial in addition to a more permanent charitable bequest, see below.

Taken from a Decree of Commissioners of Charitable Uses, 28 th March 1615.

(The text is given in full to illustrate the way these bequests where formulated, but all spelling have been modernised).

‘A decree for Fishlake. And as concerning Fishlake aforesaid for so much as it appears in the said inquisition that the said John Parkin did surrender one close called Freshold (Threshold) being about three acres to the use of John Hartley and his heirs for ever upon condition that if he do not pay twenty shillings for ever to the poor of the said town that the church wardens there shall stand ceased thereof to the use of the poor forever which is employed accordingly therefore we the said Sir Nicholas Sanderson, Thomas Wentworth, William Rokeby and William West do order and decree that the said place shall be for ever hereafter used and employed to the use of the poor there now it is according to the said gift or surrender afore mentioned’.

‘And for as much as it appears in the said formal inquisition taken concerning Fishlake that the said Thomas Parkin deceased did by the hand of Thomas Jepson and Thomas Bladworth surrender one close called Birkesicke containing about four acres more or less to the use of Henry Parkin his son towards the maintaining of the Almshouse in Fishlake aforesaid and if Henry Parkin do refuse then to William Parkin his son and if the said William Parkin do refuse then to the Churchwardens there which is not employed accordingly yet because the Henry Parkin and William Parkin have not employed and used the same Close to the maintaining of the said Almshouse nor have now or before showed any title to the same Close nor which the same should not be employed according to the same use in the said surrender mentioned the trust in them exposed therefore we do order that the Churchwardens of the said town of Fishlake now being whereafter succeeding shall enter the same Close and dispose thereof by lease or otherwise according to he true intent of the said surrender thereof made by the said Thomas Parkin that the said Henry Parkin and William Parkin and their heirs and assigned and every of them shall quietly permit them so to do’.

In summary. John Parkin, yeoman, left 3 acre called Freshold Close (Threshold Close) providing 20 shilling for the poor. This bequest is laid out in his will dated 16th January 1609, proved on 7th June 1610. In 1786 a Parliamentary Returns of Charities Donation recorded yields of £1. (Later known as the Dole).

Thomas Parkin left 4 acres called Birkesicke Close for the maintenance of the towns Almshouse*. The above Returns in 1786 recorded yields of £4 13s. The same document identified the bequest as dating from 1574. The land became known as Poor Folk’s Close.

*(Note, apart from this reference here and in 1742 is the only mention I have found to an almshouse. Nothing more is known).

Rands Charity. By his will of 30 June 1640 the Rev Richard Rands, founder of the free school at Fishlake, also gave to the poor of Fishlake yearly a rent charge of £5 out of his estates at Hartfield in Sussex. To be paid to the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of Fishlake to be yearly distributed to the poor people of Fishlake. (This was later confirmed in an inquiry to include the poor of Sykehouse as that was formerly part of Fishlake parish). The money received was by 1827 distributed with the rent of three Poor Estate and the doles. Variations occurred after this date which including after 1885 giving funds to the Doncaster Infirmary and Dispensary. (Since 1906 I have no information about what happened to this charity).

Rev Richard Rands a generous benefactor.

After the above three charities were established two more major charity bequests were established for supporting the poor.

The Charity of Thomas Allyn the Elder. Born in Fishlake, son of Thomas Allyn and Thomason Parkin was baptised on 15 January 1633. He moved to London becoming a master draper at the time of his bequest living in Warwick Lane, London. An Indenture dated 5 th September 1685 starts as follows, “Between Thomas Allyn the Elder Citizen and Draper of London and Thomas Bourne minister of the parish of Fishlake, Thomas Perkins, Chandler and Robert Hill, yeoman”. A very long and detailed document which essentially bequeaths land for the relief of poor of Fishlake and apprenticing poor children to trades in London comprising of about 20 acres of land in West Field and Town Ings let for £43 a year. As confirmed in 1838 (Whites Trade Directory).

The Charity of Thomas Allyn the Younger. Thomas the younger was the son of the above who left a will dated 27 th August 1733. This will augmented his father's bequest by leaving land to generate a yearly rent for the benefit of the poor of Fishlake. The following details of the land and the yearly rents are from White's trade directory of 1838. £110 laid out in the purchase of 10 1/2 acres of land at Wormely Hill let for £16, making a total yearly income £59 of which 10s 6d paid for a sermon, 10s 6d to the Trustees the remaining distributed in money and clothing. There had been no applications for apprenticeships. As confirmed in 1838 (Whites Trade Directory).

In summary by 1733 there were 5 principal bequest to the poor.1574 Thomas Parkin, 1609 John Parkin, 1640 Rev Richard Rands, 1685 Thomas Allyn senior and 1733 Thomas Allyn younger.

There is one other bequest that needs to be mention which originally was left got the repair of the highway but later reallocated for the use of the poor. A close of land at Thorninghurst with a rent charge of £1. This was by the will of Thomas Wayt of Fishlake, tanner. Probate dated Nov 13 1669 and will dated 10 July 1666. This was originally for the repair of the roads as evidenced by a notice board hanging the church initialed JF dated 1825, stating the following: Mr Robert Wayte of Selby did surrender on the 22nd day of November 1710 unto three trustees Thorninghurst Croft being four acres for securing the payment of 20s on the 10th day of July in every year for making and repairing a paved causeway and the highways. It would seem that this payment was somehow amended to the use of the poor as it eventually became part of the the Parish Dole.

Fears for the future of these charities. According to the Parochial Returns and Order Books of 1721-1731 it was reported that "benefactions to the poor are in danger of being lost for want of recording".

As things stood in 1743. Fishlake’s local resources available to the poor appears in Archbishops Herring's visitation returns of 1743 as follows……

‘We have a workhouse and 4 almshouses, Mr Allyns Charity giving cloths to the poor a little before Christmas yearly, the minister and trustees are managers by the said Gentleman's will. One close for the poor, Mr Rands, Hartfield money for the benefit of the poor. Vicar John Lysle’.

The Fishlake Workhouse.

In 1722 Parliament accordingly passed an Act that give parishes the power to buy or hire workhouse premises and to refuse all relief to paupers who would not enter them.

At a Fishlake Bylaw court held in 1741 it is now agreed that whoever goes about to break this order above mentioned shall forfeit to the use of the workhouse or poor of Fishlake 40 shillings.

Here is a list of workhouse occupants at different dates from local documents as follows.

At first known it was called the Charity house occupied by Sara Briggs and Ann Briggs in 1742, John Fox in 1746. Later became known as the Workhouse, occupied by Elizabeth Ellis in 1747, John Stamp in 1750, Mary Wass in 1750, Thomas Bradley in 1754 and John Padley in 1783.

John Wright (shoemaker) was master of the workhouse at least between 1818 and 1827 as evidenced by several agreements between him and the Overseers of the Poor.

The 1834 New Poor Law Act and Guardians of the Poor. A Board of Guardians of the Poor ( Poor Law Commissioners) were established by the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act which compulsorily amalgamated parishes into 'unions' to provide for the poor. The Guardians were the local instrument for Poor Law administration. They were required to have a property qualification and were elected by voters who also needed a local property qualification. The Guardians were abolished in 1929. From the Local Historian's Encyclopedia by John Richardson.

Fishlake Workhouse inspection of 12August 1835.

‘William Briggs and his wife were master and mistress of the workhouse who no children. Originally a farmer and publican and been in this situation three years. Has 3a 3 r 15p land at £4 rent per annum under the parish, who find him a cow, and four wagon loads of coal in the year. Contract 2 s per head. Six men and three women. Women do housework. Men are mostly too old to work, such as can are employed on the roads. Clothing belongs to the parish and is renewed as wanted. No other place joins this workhouse. House white washed three times a year.

Diet breakfast and supper, boiled milk and bread. 

Dinner Sunday beef and Bacon and Broth. Monday pudding and broth. Tuesday cold meat or dumplings. Wednesday potato and meat pie. Thursday butter milk and sweetened milk and bread. Friday potato and meat pie. Saturday beer or milk porridge. No small beer or tobacco or tea unless found by paupers. The medical man makes out a bill for attendance on the paupers, without any contract. Each overseer employs his own family attendant.’

There were two types of poor indoor and outdoor. By the mid 29 th century only 10-20 per cent of paupers inhabited workhouses. The rest received outdoor relief relying on merge poor doles from the charitable.

Although the Fishlake workhouse/poor house closed in about 1838, the enumerator (Henry Brooks) collating the census in 1881 chose to record that Charles Sutton and family as living at “Old Poor House”.

Evidence on the ground.

Below Fishlake workhouse marked as being situated in Wood Lane on the Enclosure Map of 1825. Workhouse Road running West off Wood Lane. Thanks to Carole Smith and Doncaster City Archives for this portion of the map.

The Old Fishlake Workhouse as it looked in 1974.

Google Earth contemporary view of the former Workhouse in Wood Lane, still standing today.

Fishlake, Hatfield and Thorne workhouses were united and became the Thorne Union Workhouse was established on 24 July 1837 and the Thorne workhouse was erected in 1838 effectively replacing the Fishlake workhouse, which reverted back to a private house.

Picture of Thorne workhouse after closure. Thanks to dundee on Flickr.

In 1929 the poor law guardians were abolished and Local Councils took over responsibility for the poor in their area.

By 1911 changes were needed.

To overcome the somewhat complicated management of these various different bequests, which had evolved over many years, rationalisation was necessary. To that end, Under a Scheme of the Charity Commissioners in 28th April 1911, the various Fishlake charities were regulated into one entitled called United Charities. The 5 main charities gathered together were as follows including the position based on a review in 1976.

The Charity of Thomas Allyn the Elder. In 1976 the land contained 12.89 acres and know as the Twelve Apostles being allotments let to various tenants and yielding £59 in rent. Land containing 1.98 acres know as Town Ings Close let to Frederick Illman for £9 yearly rent. land containing 2.29 acres known as Town Ings let to George Holling for a yearly rent of £35.

The Charity of Thomas Allyn the Younger. In 1976 Land containing 10.5 acres known as Wormley Hill let to Raymond Beevers at a yearly rent of £50.

The Charity known as the Poor's Estate. This being several pieces of land given to the town for the use of the poor. The whole consisting in 1911 of 10a 1r 9p, divided into three portions as follows. A close called "Poor Folks Close" 4a 3r 9p. A close called "Town Ings Close 3a 3r 15p. A close called "Low Ings Close" 2a 3r 4p. The latter two have been allotted in the enclosed parts of Fishlake during the enclosure of 1812-1825, but originally they were situated in the open fields. Information based on a Commission Reports of 1827 and 1895.

The position in 1976 was land containing 4.94 acres know as Poor Folks Close let to the executors of Alma Waite at a yearly rent of £7.50. Land containing 2.68 acres known as Low Ings let to the executors of Alma Waite at a yearly rent of £3.

The Charities known as the Dole Charities. Privately owned land with a charge made out of the land for the use of the poor of the parish by the yearly payments made possible by the will of previous owners, as follows: A close of land called "Stock Ings" with a charge of 10s a year (Stock Ings maybe the derived from Thomas Parkin bequest). A close of land called "Thresholds" with a charge of £1 a year. A farm at Sykehouse (Far Marsh Close near Warren Hall) with a charge of 3s 4p. This now appears to be an extinct bequest made by John Briggs of Sykehouse part of the Sykehouse Poor lands, originally made for the benefit of both Fishlake and Sykehouse poor. By 1827 it had not been paid for 10 years and by 1895 we learn that it had had been paid for many years. Consequently it can be safely said it has become extinct. A close of land at Thorninghirst with a rent charge of £1. Thomas Wayt bequest see above below. Information based on a Commission Reports of 1827 and 1895.

This was the position in 1976. A perpetual yearly rent charge of 50p out of land know as Stock Ings owned by Lawson brothers. A perpetual yearly rent charge of 83p out of land know as Threshold Close owned by William Harrison.

Troubles in the management of these charities, a couple of examples.

The incumbent, Rev Flecker on 11 April 1896, at an Allyns charity committees meeting we learn "this morning the vicar received a communication from the charity commissioners informing him "that he has no right to keep anything except the books and deeds", in consequence of this he resigned as a trustee of the above charity"
This left questions for the committee and the commissioners. Can the vicar legally resign his post as a trustee (the original deed anticipated the incumbent would be a trustee and preach a yearly charity sermon, at that time for 6s 8 p. Can they appoint a replacement? (the answer was no). He was sent a form to sign but he refused, so technically remained a trustee. He also delayed handing over remaining charity monies.

Another matter facing the Trustees occurred at a meeting held on 25 March 1920 when a letter came from the vicar Rev Hamilton Henderson asking for an increase of one guinea in the fee he received for preaching the charity sermon. It was agreed that the Trustees were not willing to pay anymore than 6/8p as specified in the benefactors will.

More detailed information can be gathered from the archived Charity Account Books.

A good number of Charity accounts survive which help to illustrate changing demographics and social changes through time as evidenced in the distribution of charity income to the poor. For example, the Allyn's Charity account cash book survive for the years 1778-1886.

There is a Parish Charity Dole Book running between 1895 and 1926. This income was derived from a number of sources including Poor Folks Close and Rands Charity. These accounts record yearly expenditure but also provide some insight into how these charities functioned on a practical level. Additionally, the consequences of social change that impacted the lives of the poor are very well illustrated. Apart from the customary New Year's Day Dole and the Good Friday Dole, as a result of social changes, there was a Coal Dole which started in 1896. Then after 1910 a Clothing Dole and between 1914 to 1915 this was replaced by the Grocery Dole, no doubt as a consequence of the Great War, this dole contained until 1926.

A more recent Charitable bequest.

The Wench Charity. This was donated by James Alfred Wench 1856-1925, for the relief of orphans at Fishlake. From the census returns of 1871 James was a 13 year old farm servant, born in Goole, living with John Appleyard 3 Church Lane Fishlake. 

The bequest is recorded in the Hull Daily Mail Friday 23 rd March 1928. "Mr James Wench, who, at the age of 18 left his native village of Fishlake, near Doncaster, to join three sisters in Troy, America, has died leaving a fortune from a carpentry business. His will contains a bequest of £1,100, to be invested for the benefit of the orphans of Fishlake. There are only two orphans eligible, and the suggestion in the will was that the interest on the money should be expended in Christmas treats. The church council, who are the trustees, have so far been unable to decide how best to lay out the money".

Now known as The Elizabeth A Wench, James A Wench and Eliza J Wench Boughton Trust Charity. Managed by the vicar and 2 church wardens. Scheme 23 th March 1928, varied 17th June 1966. Used for general educational purposes and young people.

For the benefit of poor orphan children of the village of Fishlake in such a manner as the Trustees shall determine (there are presently two trustees). Failing such application for the benefit of the poor children of Fishlake. Information from Mr L Sylvester. 05/04/75, and Charity Commissioners.

Finally, The United Charities today. From the Charities Register, "Relief in need of either generally or individually persons resident in the Parish of Fishlake, Doncaster who are in conditions of need, hardship or distress by making grants of money or providing or paying for items, services or facilitates calculated to reduce the need, hardship or distress of such persons". The Trustees are seven in number.


A List of Fishlake Overseer of the Poor.

1615 William Colman, Edward Hill and William Sampall. As recorded in the Fishlake Bylaw Book.

The following are taken from the Fishlake Account Book (1757-1795). (Alternate bold letters for easier reading).

1758 Richard Wilson and John Ayre. 1759 John Brocksworth and Thomas Middleton. 1760 John Duckitt and Thomas Shillito. 1761 Joseph Hatfield. 1762 William Hall and Richard Pearson. 1763 Joseph Bamforth and Thomas Gray. 1764 Richard Wharam jun. 1765 Mr Turner. 1766 Richard Amery. 1767 Henry Streemson. 1768 Richard Watkinson and Joseph Foster. 1769 Thomas Ellis and Chris Heigham. 1770 Mr Stork. 1771 John Bladworth and John Bromley. 1772 James Pearson and John Batly. 1773 Thomas France and Henry Steemson. 1774 Edward Shepard and John Brear. 1775 John Steemson and Samuel Staniland. 1776 Thomas Trimingham and John Spofforth. 1777 Luke Wharam and Chris Steemson. 1778 William Hunt and Mr Turner. 1779 Nathan Cook and Robert Howard. 1780 Mathew Amery. 1781 Quinton Acomb. 1782 Richard Marsdin. 1783 William Hunt. 1784 Samuel Cook. 1785 John Thorpe jun and William Hodson. 1786 William Hunt. 1787 Thomas Gray. 1788 John Bladworth and John Briggs. 1789 Richard Amery and Quinton Acomb. 1790 Mathew Amery and Richard Dale. 1791 Richard Wharam and Thomas Leach. 1792 Josh Birks and Nicholas Teal. 1793 Thomas Wickham and Thomas Maw. 1794 Thomas Trimingham.



White's 1838 Trade Directory.

Various Charity Commission Reports, 29 May 1895 (which incorporated the 17 January 1827 report), 28 April 1911, 1976.

Endowed Charities West Riding of Yorkshire, Return and Digest…Parish of Fishlake 1895.

The English Poor Law 1780-1930. Michael E Rose.To see more information about the history of Fishlake.

Rob Downing February 2023.