Weekly Pay Book

Since the Old Poor law was enacted in 1601,  an act which became basis of all local poor-law administration for the next two centuries,  it established the centre of administration of poor relief as the parish, overseen by the Overseers of the Poor. This system of Poor Relief was found in Pembridge from the 17th century.

One aim of the system was providing money to those in need, the so called ‘deserving poor’. The system was based on a locally raised rate called the Poor Rate which was then distributed as decided by the Overseers of the Poor.  A key part of the Old Poor Law was that it gave everyone the right to help from their parish.

However by the early 19th century the existing poor laws were beginning to be questioned.  There is evidence from the time suggesting that the general perception was, from the side of those that paid for the poor law, that these were not working. John Meadows White, writing in 1829, stated that, “the poor laws are generally, and it is feared with much truth, considered an evil, almost beyond remedy” The reforms in 1834 which lead to the New Poor Law act saw a change in emphasis in how the poor were treated, rather than supporting people in their home, there was a drive for the poor to receive relief in a prison-like workhouse.

In Pembridge there is evidence to show that there were regular payments made to the poor as part of the system of parish relief.  The Weekly Pay book contains records of payments made to the poor during the 1820s, and having transcribed some of the figures from October 1828 to April 1829, it provides a great deal of information about Pembridge in this period.

When analysing the information from the Weekly Pay book, which lists those in regular receipt of relief from the parish, the first thing to note is that there were not that many of them in comparison to the population of the village. Those in receipt of weekly relief were only a small proportion of the village population. In village with a population of 1293, in 1831, only 56 households were recorded as receiving poor relief during the period October 1828 – April 1829 which would be a small percentage of the total population.

One distinguishing feature of the poor of Pembridge is that they did not always reside in Pembridge, which shows that the settlement acts and poor law were not insurmountable barriers in the movement of poor people. Although the parish did provide support for a number of people who lived in Pembridge, the weekly pay book showed that a number of the people supported lived outside the parish boundaries.

The weekly pay book gave a location of all of the people in receipt of relief, and 28 out of the 56 names listed in the 1828 records were for locations outside of Pembridge. This suggests that the poor were mobile and not tied to their parish or even county. Indeed, judging by this small sample of records it was better to live outside the parish as, on average, those living outside the parish of Pembridge received more in weekly relief than those in Pembridge, 11p a week rather than 9p.  This shows that people were able to access poor relief, even when they were not living in the parish. However living outside the parish led to other issues, such as the timeliness of  payments.

Those living outside Pembridge were more likely to receive occasionally lump sums, rather than a weekly payment and when these did not arrive when expected could cause some distress as shown in a number of letters surviving from James Edwards, one of the names recorded as receiving poor relief from  Pembridge. One of the surviving letters suggests that the overseers did not always pay as regularly as the poor would like,  It was address to Mr Howell, the Overseer of the Poor at this time:

January 16 1827, Worcester

mr howell you forgot me acordin to your promis the time is past last sunday of this month i am in great distress att present the last letter you sent me cost one shilling you must send me something down to pay the christmas rent

i am your humble servant

James Edwards

Overall £153.15 was paid out to the poor over the period between 4th October 1828 and 4th April 1829, recorded in the weekly pay book, with an average payment made of 10p a week. The minimum payment made was 0, suggesting that the record was written at the start of the period and included people that were likely to receive payments as well as those who actually received payment. Inclusion in the book wasn’t a guarantee of payment. The majority of names are written in rough alphabetical order of surname, apart from the last six, suggests that these were later additions.

This shows that the list of the poor was planned in advance, based on the local knowledge of who was likely to need help, but was flexible and added to throughout. Names could also be removed; two records have annotations to show that payments were stopped due to the death of the recipient. The weekly poor relief also shows that household received differing amounts, suggesting that it was tailored to the requirements of each households.

The amounts also occasionally varied, for example one payment to Susan Noakes, was increase from 1 shilling to 1 shilling 6p, with the annotation that she has fallen ill. The variation in the amounts recorded show that there wasn’t a one size fits all approach to provision of support for the poor. Instead it was tailored to what the overseers felt was necessary in the individual’s circumstances, although it doesn’t show if it was sufficient to what the poor thought they needed. As the letter from James Edwards indicated the poor were not always in agreement with what they were given.

The Pembridge Wassail?

The Gloucestershire Wassail is a famous wassail song, but few people know that it was actually collected by Ralph Vaughn Williams at the Swan Inn, Pembridge.

The composer made a number of trips to the villages of Herefordshire, usually accompanied by the folklorist, Ella Mary Leather, who had introduced him to some of the local tunes; in return he had arranged for a phonograph to be sent to her so that the traditional songs could be recorded.

It was not the only folk tune that was collected at Pembridge – the Vaughan Williams Memorial Society website shows manuscripts of different songs with a number of references to Pembridge, including some which gives a more information about the circumstances of the recording. For example on 31st July 1909 Mrs Smith performed ‘Apprentice Boy’ at the Swan Inn, Pembridge and on an undated occasion Mrs Bridges, aged 80, sung ‘As I was a-walkin all in the garden’

The undated photograph at the top of this page shows the Swan Inn in the background of the picture, the location of these songs being recorded. Although it is a private house these days, the building is still easily recognisable.

Thanks to the reader who sent me the link to the Gloucester Wassail.

150 Years of Pembridge school

January 2016 marks the 150th year of Pembridge Primary school. The free school which had been in the village since the 17th century had probably grown too small for the village needs and a new, more modern building was needed.

In 1865 a new site was given for the school by Rev Francis Evans and new school houses were built.

They were opened on 29th January 1866 with separate school for boys and girls. Each had their own head teacher and when they opened there was 53 girls and 50 boys in attendance.

In January 1878 the two schools were merged, and the headmaster of the boys school became head of both. In the twelve years it ran as a separate school the girls school had only one head, Miss Alice Tudor. It was her departure which triggered the combining of the schools. A report from an inspection at the time shows that she was effective in her work.

Miss Tudor has taken very great pains with her children, and deserves much praise for what she has achieved during the comparatively short time she has been in charge.

Committee of Council on Education 29th of April 1867

The school log books give an insight into some of the events of the school, particularly with regard to matters of attendance. Attendance at the girls school was generally better than that of the boys who were frequently kept at home to assist with work on farm as demonstrated by logbook comments such has:

“I see a few of the old faces in school this morning – viz. some of the boys who have been kept at home throughout the summer to work.” (26th Nov 1866)

In a district like Pembridge, many agricultural workers had a plot of some quarter-acre land provided with a tied cottages which would provide much of the family’s food. The children were frequently required to work on this land at various times the year. In addition, a small wages available for children’s casual labour also provided an essential supplement to family income. Such work included hop, apple and acorn harvesting, singling and pulling turnips; corn harvesting, binding and thrashing; carrying bark for use in tanning leather; picking stones; assisting with cider-making and crows scaring. This latter job, in the 1860s, boys were paid three shillings a week.

Other recorded instances for absence included poultry dressing, chilblains, playing marbles, helping with the washing, picking primroses and violets which Pembridge children were able to sell to a local dealer twopence per dozen small bunches.

Kedgwin Hill

Reverend Walter Henry Hill came to Pembridge as a curate, however in 1843, 1845 and 1847 he was acting as the rector as the then rector, Reverend Maurice James, was unable to keep up his duties due to ill heath. Rev. Hill was appointed to deputise for him and the licence for this states that he was given a yearly stipend of £150 and lived at the Glebe House. In 1874 Rev Hill was replace by Reginald Pyndar Hill, who was granted a licence for the curacy in Pembridge, despite the similar names the two men do not appear to be related.

We have a photograph of him which hangs in the vestry of the church. This has his family tree drawn out on the back.


In the family tree shows that he had a son, Kedgwin Leigh Hill, who was born 19th June 1839 and died of the croup on the 15th Feb, 1844, aged 4 years and 8 months, while the family were living in Pembridge. Kedgwin’s memorial stone is in the chancel of Pembridge Church, near the door to the vestry. We also have a picture of him, which is by E.E Smith, who painted several water colours of the village durning the nineteenth century.

In the parish registers for that week it shows that Rev Hill buried two other infants that week, but not his son, as the service was carried out by the John Randall, the vicar of Lyonshall.


Seating in the church

The church has been in the centre of Pembridge for almost 700 years, and it is easy to imagine that it has not changed in this time. But the seating and layout in the church have changed many times throughout the years. Originally there wouldn’t have been any seats at all in the centre of the church. There aren’t many records of what the church looked like in the early modern period but later records show that even in the last 200 years the layout has changed at least three times.

From 1841 two drawings exist (copies in Lambeth Palace archive), the first showing Pembridge church as it was prior to this date and the second, a new layout.

The first shows the church had box pews, with seating for 429 people. The pulpit was by the second pillar on the south side of the nave, the stone tombs (which were under the south window of the chancel) had been moved to the north transept and a gallery at the rear had seating for 46. The were two windows in the south wall of the chancel and two in the north wall with a door between them. Two steps led up to the high altar. The south door was in use although the drawing seems to suggest that the west door was not.

The second drawing indicates considerable change. The south door is sealed, a new vestry is indicated on the south of the chancel although this was actually built on the north side. The pulpit is moved to the south side of the chancel arch and the stone tombs novel to the north of the chancel where they still remain. The gallery has also gone along with the layout of the pews. The new pew design provides seating for 751 including “free sittings” for children and adults.

A print in the vestry is a proof of an engraving done to mark the completion if this work. As can be seen on this print, the ceilings were plastered. The photo above was probably taken not long after this.

In the early 1900’s the box pews were removed and the current seating arrangement, of wooden seats was put into place.

Mary Langston

Mary Langston lived in Pembridge almost a hundred years ago. She was the sister of Henry Langston who was, for many years, the people’s warden for the parish. She was responsible for starting to saving extracts from the Parish and Deanery magazines from 1889 to 1956 which were glued into several scrap books, which have survived, giving us an invaluable record into events that took place in the village, with details of Church Services, bazars and outings. Visiting lectures, talks and magic lantern performances are also mentioned giving us a chance to see what village life was like over a range of years, including both world wars.

Mary Langston was a keen historian and produced a booklet in 1931 called ‘The Story of Pembridge and its church.’ which describes Pembridge Church, giving a list of all the rectors since 1432, and a description of the architectural features. It talks about the notable features of the village and has several photos showing what the village looked like in the 1930s. The picture at the top of this post is taken from the booklet.

At the end of the book there are details of some of the old customs and superstitions from the village, the following is a description of such custom taken from Mary Langston’s book:

“Burning the bush” on New Year’s Day was carried on till nearly the end of the last century. Very early in the morning, long before sunrise, the men, boys tradesman and dogs of the farm assembled in a corner of a field of autumn-sown wheat; a pole was put upon the ground with a wisp of straw tied to the top of it, and at the foot, straw and brushwood were piled. These were set alight and the mend stood in a circle round it with a cake and plentiful supply of cider. The bailiff filled a horn much with the cider and handed it round. He then called for cheers, everyone shouted “Good old Zider”, and as they did so bent slowly towards the fire at each syllable till their backs were horizontal. This was done three times followed by a hearty “Hip, Hip, Hooray” as they rose again. Cake was eaten and more cider drunk. Cheers were given for the master and mistress and if there were any very unpopular characters in the neighbourhood dumb cheers were given as bows were made to the fire. Then the wagoners, taking a wisp of straw, lighted it at the bonfire and tried to run over thirteen teens of wheat before it went out. If he succeeded there would be a good harvest, but if he failed a bad one.”


The Bells of St Mary’s

There is a peal of five bells in Pembridge, which are still rung regularly.

According to Mary Langston, writing in the 1930s, the following are the inscriptions on the bells:

1. Stephen Stead and Rowland Smith. Churchwardens 1735

2. 1658 All Glory be to God on Hy Recast 1898

3. “Recast A.D. 1898 Barwell. Founders, Birmingham. Sole deo Gloria Pax Hominibus. 1658

4. A Reformation bell: rough tracery runs around the top, broken by the words: ‘William Hall and Howard Rogers, 1658”.

5. This bell is inscribed with the words:

“To the Glory of God and for calling Souls to worship Him.
Recast A.D. 1898 from a Pre-reformation bell on which was inscribed ‘Assit principio Sancta Maria Vocato’.
James Barwell Founder. Birmingham
F. Whitehead, M.A., Rector.
A. P Turner,
H. Langston. Churchwardens.”

These inscriptions suggest that the majority of the bells were recast in 1658, and it is likely that the bells were augmented to a ring of five at this time. There was a lot of work carried out on the bellower during the 17th century, but subsequent to that only minor repairs took place until 1898 when a major restoration project was carried out and the bells recast by James Barwell, who ran a bell foundery in Birmingham.

James Barwell

The tenor bell, in particular, was reported by Rev J B Hewit, Rector of Upper Sapey, Worcestershire, formerly curate of Pembridge when writing in the Woolhope Club Transactions of 1901, to have been badly chipped. Evidently it had been the tradition up until that point to use a blacksmith’s hammer to ring the bell on occasions of festivity, as this produced more noise than the clapper.

These days the bells are rung in a more traditional fashion.

Pembridge Free School

William Carpenter, Esq. a prosperous layman who was born in Pembridge, left money in his will of 1650 to endow a free school in Pembridge for the children of the poor. The school may have been established before this, possibly as early as 1616. The school used an existing building, which still survives today and can be seen in the photo above. This was a timber framed property, next to the church which was probably built in the 1500s. In 1680 the schoolmaster was James Williams.

The school was administered by the churchwardens and from the church warden account books there is evidence showing a number of repairs to the building over the years. In 1712 they mended the chimneys; in 1719 the walls were repaired with 2 loads of clay and severn burdens (or loads) of rods. These were probably split hazel wattles to make up the wattle and daub walls. In 1773 the roof was re-thatched, however at some point the thatch was replaced by tiles that exist today.

In 1782 an inventory was taken of the school and the contents were as follows:

Inventory 1782

  • A lock and key to the door
  • a grate
  • a form fixed on the East side – 9 feet long
  • a form fixed and joined to the former on the south side
  • 2 benches of equal length – with the aforesaid forms
  • a writing desk 5′ 6″ long
  • a writing desk 8’6″ long
  • 2 benches to each desk equal in length thereto
  • a shelf on the North side – 10′ long.
  • 3 shelves on the north side  – each 3′ long
  • 2 shelves on the East side – each 3′ long
  • 1 shelf on the west side, 6′ long
  • 1 shelf on the mantelpiece – 6′ long
  • 2 benches for readers to sit on, each 6′
  • 1 bench 6′
  • 1 bench 3’6″

seen and compared & do agree with the above by us
Henry Copner
Thos. King April 28th

In 1841 James Higginson, aged 35, was the schoolmaster living in the school building with his wife Mary and their 7 month old baby. Mary was also the schoolmistress but taught the girls elsewhere in a room that was rented for £4 per annum. Her salary was £20 and she had 50 girls on the roll, 40 of which turned up regularly for lessons. They were taught reading, writing and arithmetic, but also knitting, spinning, plain sewing and plaiting straw for their bonnets.

James had a salary of £25 and also had 50 students on his roll but only 16 to 30 boys turned up regularly. They also learnt reading, writing and arithmetic. The school continued until 1866 when it was absorbed into the newly built ‘National school’ which exists today as Pembridge CE Primary school.