BHS Notes

 

Book Review

Banbury’s People in the Eighteenth Century: from Records and Accounts of the Overseers of the Poor 1708-1797 and other Lists and Sources, transcribed and edited by Jeremy Gibson. Hardback, 365pp including biographical Index of personal names, 2019 Banbury Historical Society vol 36 , ISBN 978 0 900129 35 3.

This volume provides a wealth of detail on the inhabitants of Banbury in the eighteenth century. The introduction provides a succinct overview of the civic landscape of the town, its responsibilities towards the parish poor in relation to its legal obligations and a look at the administration of the local workhouse. Its core comprises a transcription of the Accounts of the Overseers of the Poor (also referred to as the Vestry Book), from 1708 to 1797, previously unpublished and now held by the Oxfordshire History Centre at Cowley. It is indeed rare that such a detailed volume as this has survived, offering us a valuable insight into the lives of Banbury’s people in the eighteenth century. What is even more noteworthy is that the volume is transcribed from the original handwritten material, which is a feat in itself, making the Vestry Book more accessible to demographic researchers, family historians and those with a wider interest in social history.

The volume is not only about the poor, however. Light is also thrown on a broader social spectrum of the town with space allocated to two events in the century; the building of the canal (1768-78) and the demolition of the parish church in 1790. It comprises lists of names of the better off, such as those assessed for land tax and rates (from which relief for the poor was paid), the names of pew owners (1691-1788), shopkeepers (1785-9) and overseers of the poor. A copy of the legislation for taking down the church is also included and the book is interspersed with appropriate excerpts from the Jackson’s Oxford Journal where relevant. Finally, a comprehensive Biographical Index of personal names brings together the 2000 or so Banburians whose names appear in this volume.

The Vestry comprised the ‘middling sort’ of Banburian who acted as vestry members and as actual overseers. One of the roles of the Vestry was to help and sustain the poorest people of the parish. As the author explains in the book’s introduction, particularly vulnerable inhabitants were the sick, aged, orphaned and illegitimate children and widowed mothers with young families. The overseers were responsible for distributing poor relief in the form of money, clothes (or, more likely, cloth and sewing thread) and shoes, and local women were employed by the parish as nurses for the sick and women in childbirth. The Vestry was also responsible for the appointment of the Governor of the workhouse and the setting out of his/her responsibilities. The parish clothed the poor upon entry to the workhouse, thereafter it was the responsibility of the Governor to clothe and maintain inmates, pay for funeral expenses should they die in their care and, with the exception of those with smallpox, pay for any medical care. The 1760s appeared to be particularly concerning for the Vestry when Governor, John Grant was discharged from his office after being ‘complained against by the Overseer … for supplying the said Workhouse with unwholesome Food for the Maintenance of the said poor’ (p137).

A particular strength of this section of the book is the extensive footnotes which make the linkage between parish expenditure and the life events of some of those named. This has been done by cross-referencing detail from parish registers (proven in themselves to be a robust demographic study source), other primary documents and secondary material. This enables the reader to help build up a rounded picture of the lives of Banbury inhabitants and helps to ‘humanise’ those whose lives had been met with adversity. For example, in September 1749 the Vestry recorded that ‘… the affair relating to the late Thomas Allen’s children be pursued in the best method they … the Overseers think proper’ (p105). The author then provides supplementary information drawn from parish registers, informing us that Thomas was a victualler. He married Mary Maice by licence in May 1744. Their daughter, Mary was baptised in August 1746. Thomas died in November 1747 (when Mary was about a year old). With reference to the building of the canal, the book includes several extracts from the diary of Sir Roger Newdigate (held in the Warwickshire Record Office), promotor of the canal project. From this source we learn that several local dignitaries pronounced their disapproval for the scheme ‘without one reason’ in 1768 (p145). However, ten years later, the Jackson’s Oxford Journal demonstrated the impact on the community by reporting that the wharf would be constantly supplied with coal ‘of an exceeding good Quality’ … so rejoiced are they [the inhabitants of Banbury]… the boats are intended to be ushered in, with Bells ringing, Colours flying, and a select Band of Music for the Occasion’ (p178).

This book is a remarkable achievement encompassing a wide range of sources; there is a wealth of material here to explore and analyse and the writer is to be congratulated on what is the culmination of five years’ work. It will, undoubtedly, encourage further research. For example, the abundance of known occupations of inhabitants over a long period can help to build further detail on shifting social patterns, and as the author suggests, publication of accounts spanning a period of 90 years opens the way for comparisons on poor relief spending. It is an attractive book with an eye-catching cover. The current mayor of the town is noted for each year over the period and the names of all individuals are in bold type for easy reference. I’m sure it will inspire members of the Society and others to embark on further research into the workings of the parish and its people in the eighteenth century.

Rosemary Leadbeater .

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Book Publication

'The Midlands Canals in 1871' – Dr. Barrie Trinder

Our vice-president Dr Barrie Trinder lectured to the Society on Banburyshire’s Victorian Boatpeople in October 2015. The research that he described is incorporated in his new book, The Midlands Canals in 1871, which is to be published by Robert Boyd Publications on Monday 8 July 2019.

The study is based on an analysis of the 1871 census and covers the network of narrow canals radiating from Birmingham, ‘centre of all the canal traffic of England’, and extending north-west to the Mersey, south-west to the Severn, south-east to the Thames and north-east to the Trent. The book describes the Midlands waterways at a time that has hitherto received little attention from historians. It presents evidence about numbers of vessels and of boatpeople, living conditions on boats, the prosperity or otherwise of individual waterways, the principal traffics and evidence about boatpeople’s culture. There is an extensive bibliography and the text is fully indexed. The book of 242 pages is printed in colour, with nearly 200 illustrations. Nineteen diagrammatic maps show the waterways covered in each chapter. The book re-peoples the waterways, identifying boats in every nook and cranny of the system. It will be a delight to present-day boaters, as well as providing valuable data for local and family historians.

 The book includes a chapter on the Oxford Canal which will be of particular interest to BHS members. Copies will be available to members at a discount price at our AGM at South Newington on Thursday 11 July and at the reception before our first lecture of the 2019-20 series on Thursday 12 September.

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Harry Judge (1929-2019).

Few people did more to influence Banbury’s development in the twentieth century than Harry Judge who was appointed headmaster of Banbury Grammar School in 1962, and went on to transform the town’s educational system, being designated  principal of Banbury School from 1967. He left the town in 1973 to direct the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Oxford, a post he held until 1988. He became one of the most respected educationalists of his time, sitting on numerous committees and commissions. Harry Judge’s family had roots in North Oxfordshire, although his father worked for the Great Western Railway and Harry was born and went to school in Cardiff before studying at Brasenose College, Oxford. He was a valued member of the committee of the Banbury Historical Society from 1963, and was elected a vice-president when he stood down. In 1977 he returned to Banbury to deliver to the Society a memorable lecture on ‘History, Politics and Education’. He described his time in Banbury in A Generation of Schooling: English Secondary Schools since 1944 (OUP, 1984). We extend the Society’s sympathy and best wishes to his widow and family.

BT (April, 2019)


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