BLTC Press Titles


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The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller


Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross


The Bhagavad Gita

Anonymous


Annals of the British peasantry

by Russell M. (Russell Montague) Garnier

Excerpt:

1 1698, c. 40, vol. x. p. 177.

1 Stat. Account of the Parish of Kilsyth, Stat. Account of Scotland, xviii. 358.

K

matters of parochial government, quite as omnipotent as the Scottish parochial sessions. It was the practice of the ratepayers, when forewarned on the previous Sunday by the parson, to congregate at toll of the church bell in the vestry, immediately to adjourn to the nearest alehouse, and, over pipes and beer, discuss the outfit of a pauper, the repairs of the sacred edifice, the precautions against the spread of epidemics, or the necessity for a revised assessment. In small, isolated villages this was, however, a rare and perfunctory affair. The costs of the tobacco and liquor consumed were generally defrayed out of the rates. Many churchwardens derived from the same funds the price of a suit of clothes or a pair of top-boots, which they regarded as a lawful perquisite of their important office. The business performed was generally the election of a new constable, a cursory supervision of the different ley-books, and the purchase of a pair of looms for the employment of a few industrious paupers. One or two of the half-dozen ratepayers in the parish capable of signing their names were called in to support the proceedings. Then the mugs of beer were drunk to the dregs, the ashes of clay pipes knocked out, and the vestry adjourned for another year.1

Scotland's statesmen have regarded a compulsory assessment as the last resort of the destitute. It was not even introduced into her statute book till nearly a hundred years 2 after her first poor law was passed, and, even then, the courts made it virtually impracticable. Eden, who exaggerates somewhat the extent to which voluntary aid was carried, cites the case of "a public-spirited and learned Scotchman" who refused to pay the poor's rate with which he was assessed by the overseers of his parish, and, standing an action in the Court of Sessions, prevailed upon the broad ground that there was no Scottish law in force by which an involuntary assessment could be established. How he managed to establish this claim is difficult to see, because, when the funds from voluntary sources were inadequate, the Act of 1663 clearly empowered the authorities to levy a rate equally between the heritors and possessors of the parish. The minister, acting upon the instructions of this statute, gave notice from the pulpit of a meeting of the heritors and elders. In the kirk session or vestry thus formed, the heritors elected a preses,3 after which the minutes of the former sederunt and roll of the poor were read by the clerk. The heritors then made an estimate, and assessed themselves in a certain sum, to be

1 Vide example of Royston, Fragments of Two Centuries, p. 32. Alfred Kingston. 1 By the Act of 1649, c. 161, vol. vi. ii. p. 220, a compulsory poor rate was ordained if voluntary means of relief failed, but it never seems to have been enforced. » Parish of Jedburgh, Stat. Account of Scotland.

collected from them severally, according to the proportion of their valued rents, of which the proprietor paid half and the tenant half. Though the tenants were not mentioned in the summons, they were welcomed, and their advice solicited. The poor in want of temporary assistance received an interim supply, and those permanently disabled from work were taken upon the roll, being first obliged to subscribe a bond of conveyance, bequeathing all their effects to the heritors. Though this was never put into force, the poor were thus indirectly prevented from concealing their property, and so alienating public charity by unworthily gaining admittance to the roll.1 As a rule, however, the weekly collections in the churches, the charitable donations, the proceeds of pew rents, mort cloths, marriage and baptismal dues, letting out of the hearse, interest on money lent, fines for breaches of Church discipline, and rents of mortified lands and houses were sufficient for the wants of "the failed, the cruiked, the seik, the impotent and the weak folke," which collectively constituted the whole pauper population regarded by Scottish public opinion as legally worthy of relief.


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