Winchelsea’s poor, lives revealed


Malcolm Pratt former Town Clerk of Winchelsea gave an extremely interesting talk at Rye Museum on Thursday October 12. Malcolm has made a study of the many letters, 370 in all, found in 1960 by the then new Rector of Winchelsea. This collection of documents, from the mid 18th century up to the end of 19th century, shows the struggle to maintain the poor of the area. Malcolm is the author of Winchelsea Poor Law Records 1790-1841. “Through the use of an amazing and unusual collection of letters, this volume puts stories, faces and individual identities to the poor of Winchelsea of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries”, he says.

His talk drew on the cases of three needy families and their outcome as traced by the letters now held in the East Sussex Records Office at the Keep. The parish of Winchelsea, an extensive area, included Rye Harbour where many of the poor lived. In the 18th century the local parish had to support the poor of the parish even though some of these people resided in areas as far flung as Boulogne.

Malcolm outlined the details of the regulation of who qualified as belonging to the parish and the fact that £1,000 was raised by the wealthier people of Winchelsea parish each year to support the Poor Law. The system was very strict and was conveyed by overseers to distribute the funds to the very needy. Even then some of the poor had to wait weeks for the payment – has much changed over the years?

Thank you to Malcolm, who donated his fee to to the “Friends of the Ancient Monuments” (FOAM), which primarily supports Winchelsea Corporation in maintaining the ancient monuments in the town, specifically the three town gates and the Court Hall. He is always willing to give this series of talks.

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