In was in Elizabethan times that the
government introduced a means of looking after the increasing numbers of poor
people. The closing of the monasteries and religious houses in the 1530s by her
father, Henry VIII, had removed part of the then welfare state. Monks, priests
and nuns had the responsibility of helping any callers, providing shelter and
food, and they also provided a basic medical care. Also there was had been a
significant move from arable farming to the more profitable sheep farming.
Landowners needed more land and evicted many villagers to create sheep pasture.
Whether this happened in Everton is not known. There was also less need for
agricultural labourers so they were laid off and forced out of their tied
cottages. This led to large-scale destitution and begging and laws were
eventually introduced to try to control the problem. It became illegal to be a
vagrant or to beg. The idea was to keep people in their own parishes and have
the local authorities supervise the poorest members of society.
Since then up until the introduction of the
Welfare State after the Second World War every business in every parish had to
pay what was called parish relief. The Tetworth residents came under the
administration of the Board of Relief at Caxton. The Everton residents were administered
by the Board of Relief at Bigglewade. These trustees decided the amount of
payment, organised its collection and administered its benefits to needy people
in the parishes under their jurisdiction. An officer came to one of the pubs,
the Cock in Gamlingay, every Tuesday.
was not noted for his generosity, and the usual amount paid out to a family man
(in the late-19th century) was approximately two shillings (£0.10), and
sixpence (£0.02) for each child; but to get this you had really to be in need,
and it was not unusual for the officer to refuse to give relief. If he felt
that there was real hardship, he then issued a form of voucher for the amount
allocated, and this could be cashed for goods at the different shops. At the
butcher, you were allocated only bones for soup making, and at the grocer, only
the bare essentials, such as tea, sugar, margarine, soap and bread. In the case
of a widow, her allowance was one shilling and sixpence (£0.07) a week, with
sixpence extra for each child. Again a voucher was issued, and she had to go to
the shop to collect her goods. Everyone seemed to know when a family was on
Parish Relief , and it was so humiliating that it was only applied for as a
last resort. The final degredation was the Workhouse at Caxton or Biggleswade,
where the meaning of the word charity was not known.
(Gamlingay Reminiscences, p.3-4)
At the end of the last century locals had to walk to a cottage
near Tetworth Hall where a man could collect his five shillings. (£0.25) This was
all he and his wife had to live on for a week.