Report of meeting held on Saturday 10 February 2018
President Ken Terry welcomed 45 members and 5 guests to the meeting. Forthcoming events included the Spring Lunch, to be held at the Copley Arms, Hessenford, on Friday 27th April. The menu would be put on the website so members could choose what they would like.
Deputy President, Roger Bennett, announced the arrangements for St Piran’s Day on Monday 5th March. Children from Looe, Pelynt and Trenode schools, plus Sheila’s School of Dance, would meet at West Looe Quay Centre at 10.15 a.m., where Andy Kelly and Viv Bennett would provide musical accompaniment and lead the procession across the Bridge to the Guildhall, where Roger would act as master of ceremonies and invite the children to perform the pieces they had prepared. Spectators were welcome, and Ken, Sue and Norma would distribute saffron cake.
Ken explained that he had been invited by Liskeard and Looe Round Table to join with them in a St Patrick’s/St Piran’s Day concert to be held at Tencreek Holiday Camp on March 17th, St Patrick’s Day. The venue would be open to the public from 12 noon for those wanting to watch the 6 nations rugby match on large screen. Food would be available. The concert, entitled Guinness and Gin, would begin at 6.30 pm, with two Irish bands and a Cornish one. Sue would have a stall to sell goods, and Ken had negotiated a price for members of £10.
The next meeting on Saturday 10th March would be the AGM, when all the committee would stand for re-election. The committee would welcome new members, and Secretary Norma Dobinson invited nominations from anyone who wished to stand. In particular, the Society still needed an archivist.
Following the success of last year’s 90th anniversary celebrations the committee had decided to serve afternoon tea after the AGM and a short talk by Duncan Matthews on ”Mermaids”. There would be some points for discussion over tea, and he would ask each table to appoint a leader to report back. The programme of outings for the summer had been arranged, and information would be available at the AGM.
The President went on to read the minutes of 50 years ago, when there had been 67 members present and the talk had been on rivers of east Cornwall. The speaker had included the Lynher, Fowey and de Lank Rivers, but not the Tamar because it was partly in Devon.
He went on to introduce the speaker, Carole Vivian, on Living with Poverty and the way in which the authorities dealt with poverty in East and West Looe and Polperro.
She explained that each parish was responsible for providing relief to its own poor, so punishments were harsh for those who strayed outside their own parish and required relief. Vagrants who refused work could be branded, and might become slaves. However, those who were genuinely travelling through a parish to return home could be provided with relief. These might be soldiers returning from war, or sailors who had been shipwrecked.
Poverty might arise because people were incapable of work through illness or disability, or because people were lazy. Those that have should help those that have not, on the understanding that those that have not should be deserving. Vagrants refusing to work could be imprisoned, have an ear cut off, or even be hanged. Those incapable of work should register as beggars with the parish authorities. It usually fell to the lot of the church wardens to administer poor relief.
In 1597 parishes were instructed to levy a poor rate, and in 1653 it was decreed that each parish should appoint two persons to collect alms, to compel and encourage generosity. The two were elected annually by the parish vestry. They might arrange apprenticeships for orphans and poor children, usually from the age of 8, but sometimes younger. They sometimes provided food or clothing for those in need, and in 1761 Mary Skinnard was paid to attend for three weeks to some children who had smallpox. In 1656 alms were provided for the families of the 80 Looe men captured by Barbary pirates.
In the late 16th Century the overseers were instructed to find work for those who were capable of it. By the Poor Law Act of 1601 the poor were divided into the able-bodied; the impotent poor and the unwilling poor. The able-bodied were given tools or materials for work.
A Law of Settlement was enacted in 1662. Newcomers to the parish must either obtain employment to enable them to be self-supporting or be capable of renting a property worth £10 per year for 40 days. After 40 days they could claim poor relief in the new parish.
In 1697 paupers were expected to wear a letter “P” on their clothing, with something to say where they were from.
In 1702 there is a record of someone who had been provided with 51 weeks’ relief, and had leather britches, shoes and shirts provided for him. In 1743 there is a record of a pauper burial at Talland of someone who had 47 weeks’ parish relief, including payment of rent. Her possessions included two shifts, a blanket, an apron and a pair of stockings. The parish would have claimed all her goods to mitigate the cost of the funeral, which included 9/6 for a coffin and 6/2 for wool to wrap her body, in accordance with the law of the time, enacted to help the wool trade. In contrast, in 1721 Bishop Trelawny’s family paid a fine rather than have him buried in wool.
Another task of the overseers was to find the fathers of base children. East Looe has detailed records, written on scraps of paper, which give sometimes cryptic allusions to the supposed parentage of the child.
Poor houses were established in each parish. In Pelynt the poor house was attached to the churchyard, and may formerly have been the Church House where ale was brewed for festivals. The recently restored Guildhouse in Poundstock had bedsits for 7 families downstairs, with a schoolroom upstairs.
Later these were replaced by workhouses, designed to receive those unable to work, to provide a “haven of last resort”. They were not intended to be too comfortable, so families were split up, men and women having separate quarters and children housed apart from parents. Work was provided for those capable of it, and medical care for those who were not. Often those who lived outside the workhouse were not much better off than those inside it, but relatives and neighbours helped each other as much as they could. Storms at sea, crop failure, the death or injury of a wage earner could all mean destitution, and those without family support such as miners working away from their homes were particularly vulnerable.
Carole was thanked for her fascinating talk, as usual packed with illuminating detail. The meeting ended with the raffle, tea and cakes.