The Welfare State as we know it today has evolved over a great many generations, and current debates and practices concerning poverty echo through the centuries. Migration was often seen as the solution, and families or individuals left Great Mongeham to seek a better life. Some migrated to other parts of the UK while others went to the United States, Australia or Canada. There is a whole branch of the Barwick clan in Australia. This article refers to the families of William Parker and J. Camwell who migrated to the U.S.A. Unfortunately I have no information of these or other families after they left the village. If you are a descendent of these or other migrant families to destinations either here or overseas, please let me know your story via the ‘Contact Us’ section.

In 1477 Elizabeth Palmer the wife of a Calais mercenary was probably abandoned and left destitute in Sandwich when her husband returned to France. She wandered in east Kent, and stayed at Great Mongeham for 29 days from 6th March until Maundy Thursday. She then walked seven miles to Lydden where she was given a sheet. On the following Saturday she went on another seven miles to Lyminge where she stayed the night, arriving at Romney, 12 miles away, on Easter Sunday. It appears that during the latter part of her journey she had taken up with a local tinker. She was made to leave the town and the company of the tinker.

The Poor Law of 1601 divided the poor into the ‘impotent poor’ who would work but couldn’t (through age, disability, etc) and who would be helped by outdoor relief or in almshouses; and the able bodied paupers who would be beaten until they saw the error of their ways.

Paupers would tend to migrate to more sympathetic parishes, so in 1662 the Settlement act was passed which meant that a person had to have a ‘Settlement’ in order to get relief from the parish. Settlement resulted from being born in a parish, marrying a man who lived there or working there for a year and a day. If a labourer moved away from his parish of origin in search of work the JPs issued him with a certificate of settlement saying that if the man fell on hard times his own parish would receive him back and pay for him to be ‘removed’ .

Gilbert’s act of 1782 allowed parishes to form unions and build poor houses. Poor houses were built at Eastry and Martin (between Deal and Dover). A workhouse was erected in Martin-street about 1790 and the parishes of East Langdon, St. Margaret’s at Cliffe, Guston, West Langdon, Little Mongeham, Great Mongeham, Sutton; Ripple, and Westcliffe sent their poor. A manufactory of spinning and weaving linen, sacking, sheeting, &c. is carried on in it. Hasted tells us “This house is visited by proper persons deputed from each parish and under good regulations, so that it appears comfortable and clean, and the people content; which is here noticed as a laudable undertaking, worthy of be­ing adopted in other places; for it is not often the case in parish work-houses, which are usually kept in a. state of misery purposely, both from parsimony and to terrify the poor objects, who are threatened with con­finement in them.”

The Allens, who owned the Three Horseshoes for most of the 19th century, help to illustrate this. A Dover St. Mary Settlement notice shows Shadrack Allen senior and his wife moving from Ringwould to Dover St. Mary on Feb 2 1793. Six years later he was running the Three Horseshoes. In 1821 his daughter, Mary had a daughter, christened Mary Bishop, who was born out of wedlock. At the time she was in domestic service. The following year her son was christened. Her address was given as the Martin workhouse. What sad tale of rejection, lying behind these two simple entries in the parish register, we can only imagine.

At the beginning of the 19th century parishes were offering supplementary benefit of cash and or goods to the low paid or work in exchange for relief to the unemployed.

The Poor Law Amendment Act was an attempt to establish a common system for poor relief and to spread the burden more evenly. Poor Law Unions (an amalgamation of several parishes) were established to administer the workhouses which were intended to replace all other forms of poor relief. Great Mongeham was part of the Eastry Union which included all the parishes from Wingham to Walmer. Nonetheless outdoor relief continued to be the main source of help, averaging 78% of total expenditure in 1840. The map of the workhouse is taken from the 1905 Ordnance Survey map

In Great Mongeham the Poor Law was administered by the Parish Vestry who, in the 19th century, met at the Three Horseshoes (photograph at the beginning of this article). The Parish Vestry was the forerunner of the Parish Council and comprised of local landowners and proffesionals. Entries in the poor book relate how relief was paid to fishermen to make up for deficiencies in the mackerel or herring catch. In 1835 the poor law guardians paid for 5 weeks nursing and provided mutton for Edward Williams and his family who were ‘in the smallpox’. The following year they also provided meat and beer ‘for Thos. Goodban, a sick pauper, by order of Mr. Davey, surgeon’.

The vestrymen would not give money to the ‘undeserving poor’, but in April,1833 they agreed that ‘the rate of Wages allowed to men at work on the road be reduced to the sum of 8/- per week for man & wife and 9d per week for each child up to six’. On boxing day they reduced it to 7/- because of the low price of corn (which of course meant that they would pay less for bread). On January 30th a number of the ‘working paupers’ of Great Mongeham attended the Vestry meeting ‘to complain of the wages they received’. After enquiries the Vestrymen discovered that nearby parishes paid the same, so refused to increase the payment. At the April meeting R. Pittock applied to have his rent paid. The vestrymen agreed that he should ‘pick stones to the amount of 25/-‘.

One way of solving the problem of long term paupers was to get rid of them. The Parish Poor Book of 1828/9 show accounts providing for the emigration to America of William Parker (a fisherman who had already been given poor relief that year), and J. Camwell and their families. Not only were all their expenses paid but they were given provisions and £20 pocket money. The total bill was £106-1-10. In 1836 the Great Mongeham Vestry created a fund to defray the expenses of poor persons willing to emigrate.

Other accounts in the Poor Book relate to buying handcuffs and a staff for the Constable and for reimbursement for driving out paupers and vagabonds who did not have a certificate of settlement. In June1835 John Rigden, the Constable, was paid £5-5-3 which was the County Rate. John was also a shoemaker. Later he became the parish clerk.

In the 19th century the parish boundaries extended as far as Walmer station. A large part of the population were either agricultural labourers or fishermen, and their fortunes fluctuated as food prices went up and down. There would have been times of great hardship, ameliorated only by the help of friends and relatives and by the decisions of the Vestrymen. Although times were often hard, I don’t think anyone would have been allowed to starve (as was often the case in the cities).