X  Charitable Bread


Richard Bigg's table like tomb in Hurst Church on which bread was supplied to the poor

Of the charities founded in the 17th and 18th centuries, one of the most interesting is the Bread Charity. Richard Bigg of Haines Hill made his will on the 20th of July 1677 with the intention that the poor should not only be supplied with bread, but that they should also attend church. He left rents and profits from a tenement called the George Inn in Broad Street, in the parish of St. Giles, in the county of Middlesex, together with two houses in the same parish to purchase bread for the poor of Hurst parish.

The loaves were to be put in a basket 'appointed for that purpose' every Sunday, which was then placed on his tomb, built like a table, in the church. After the service, the bread was to be distributed to the 'most indigent and helpless poor of the said parish of Hurst', thus only those who attended church would benefit.

Broad Street, St Giles (left)

In the 17th century St. Giles was a poor parish just to the north of London. Broad Street, now part of High Holborn, lies just south of Oxford Street and east of Charing Cross Road, well within central London, where property prices are extremely high. Today the income from property there would amount to a huge sum of money and even at today's inflated bread prices, the church would have to be greatly enlarged to hold all the loaves.

Broad Street in Victorian times.

The bread was supplied by a number of bakers establishing themselves in the parish. In 1764 a bread oven was installed in the Castle Inn.

Even in the early life of the charity, the Commissioners were left with large surpluses of money. By 1837 the total amount of rents from the properties was estimated at £210 annually. More than eight bushels of bread at a cost of £2. 15s. 0d. were distributed weekly. Some of the surplus money from the rents was spent on other things like scales and weights, a large new bread basket for the church and 'a new set of deale shelves for bread in the church'. In some cases the bread was being distributed without the recipients attending church. The Charity Commissioners reported:

In Bearwood, not in strict accordance with the scheme, a number of families received a weekly supply from local bakers, ... the pauperising effect of such indiscriminate charity had long been noted by the more enlightened inhabitants. ... It would seem to be very desirable that so large an amount as the present rental should be applied otherwise than in the indiscriminate manner at present observed.

When commissioners tried to alter the intentions of the will, they provoked a lot of opposition, particularly from the bakers, and the recipients who did not want changes to be made. The Rev. John Wimberley wrote earlier last century, 'Older residents may remember how great the opposition was in the village to any alteration'. Nevertheless, the commissioners had their way, and in 1884 part of the London property was sold for £3,600 and the money invested. The interest, and rent from the remaining property, was used to buy a smaller amount of bread, and the surplus cash used to help support the Hurst and Twyford Almshouses.

When the distribution of bread was finally curtailed, the Rev. John Broome took the brunt of the blame. For some years afterwards, on the anniversary of the curtailment, a bonfire was built and his effigy was burned instead of that of Guy Fawkes.

Edward Polehampton came from a local family and prospered as a London businessman. He decided to do something for the poor boys of Twyford and built a school, a chapel, and a house for the minister. Tradition says that there was a medieval chapel in Twyford dedicated to St. Swithin which was destroyed by fire in 1710. Appropriately, it was on St. Swithin's day that the new chapel was opened, as recorded in the Hurst parish register:

Memo: that a Chapel at Twyford was opened on the 15th day of September 1728 by William Hughes (as minister of Hurst) who by consent and leave of the Dean of Sarum did then and there in the morning read prayers and preach and did declare that the said Chapel was set apart for Worship of Service of Almighty God without any other Consecration.

Edward Polehampton died before the chapel and school were complete, but in his will dated 1721 he provided money for their upkeep. He stipulated that ten poor boys should be selected from Twyford by the minister of Hurst, and he left £10 a year for their clothing, and £40 a year to pay for a Church of England minister. His duties were to read divine service in the chapel on Sunday and preach a service every morning and afternoon, and to teach the boys to read and write. If the minister refused to teach the boys, then £10 was deducted from his income to pay for a schoolmaster.

The Rev. William Hughes nominated his son to occupy the living in Twyford and he received the £40 plus the occupancy of the house. Only two years after the opening a public enquiry found that he was not fulfilling all his duties as he employed a woman to teach the boys. Both he and his father, who by this time had become the vicar of Sonning, were condemned for this indiscretion.

Polehampton buildings, Twyford. The figure on the left is believed
to be the minister's wife, the one on the right, Revd. A A Cameron,
vicar of Hurst. (Twyford and Ruscombe Local History Society)
(click for modern picture)

Over the years the Charity Commissioners found that the money left in the will was not enough to run the school and chapel as Edward Polehampton had wished. In 1819 they were told that only five boys were attending the school, others having been attracted away by employment at the silk factory in Twyford. Only one service was being held in the chapel as the elderly clergyman could not be expected to teach boys and hold two services. Eventually the chapel and school were demolished to make way for a new boys' school, while in 1889 a school for girls and infants was built at the other end of the village.

Twyford Almshouses, 1984 (click for modern picture)

The Twyford Almshouses, built by Sir Richard Harrison in the 17th century, ran into financial difficulties as they were not provided with an income. However, Lady Winchcombe, one of his grand-daughters relieved the situation by endowing the rent from 80 acres of land at Brokenborough in Wiltshire to pay for repairs and provide funds for the inmates.

A scandal occurred in 1730 when the Rev. William Hughes of Sonning was accused of allowing one of his servants to become an inmate. This was the same Mr. Hughes who had been involved in the mismanagement of the Twyford school. Another enquiry directed that the Rev. William Hughes, and his son, were not permitted to administer any charity in the future.

When major repairs to the Almshouses became urgent earlier in the 1900s, and there were not sufficient funds available, it was decided to sell off a plot of land that belonged to the charity to pay for repairs.

Henry Barker of Hurst Lodge had three sons and one daughter and, like his father, he lived to a good age, dying in the year 1651 aged 76. When he made his will his three sons were getting on in life, childless, and too old to have heirs. But  Frances, his daughter had married and did have a son, and she became the next owner of Hurst Lodge. It was unusual for a daughter to inherit the family home, but Henry Barker's intentions were to ensure that the estate would be held together through his daughter's son, Henry Fairfax. However, Henry Fairfax died without an heir and that branch of the Barker-Fairfax families soon died out.


Fairfax memorials in Hurst Church

Of the three sons of Henry Barker, William, the youngest, is the best known in Hurst today. In 1664 he he built the Almshouses. A building which leaves no doubt about its origins, for it displays a plaque bearing the date. The houses were erected some 21 years before William Barker died, so he did not build them as a death bed wish to make amends for a miss-spent life. Nor did he wish to advertise his charitable deed, as the plaque was placed there by his nephew some years afterwards. William Barker's father had the responsibility of collecting the parish tithes. How much the family gained from this is not clear, nor is it clear if the gift of the Almshouses was a form of recompense.

Hurst Almshouses, 1984 (Click for later picture)

Tablet over Almshouses' doorway

What is clear is that in 1662 William Barker left a meadow called Broad Mead, and a close called Rough Grove in Sonning together with land called Broad Innings and Upper Innings near Broad water, and two pastures called Stowbridge at Haines Hill Close, together with a farm called Phipps Cote at Reading Bottom, as an endowment. The income was to provide eight poor persons with two rooms 'one above the other with a backside plot', and a sum of 3s. 6d. weekly. They were also to receive a 'cloth gown, the colour to be as near purple as may be suitable to the age and sex of such respective poor person, the price therof not exceeding 18s'. The eight poor were to be selected on the following basis: three from Whistley, two from the Wiltshire liberty, two from Winnersh, and one from Newland:

respect should be had to their age and infirmity, honesty, good behaviour, poverty, sobriety alone, and that they should not be lazy, idle, persons, or such as should have become poor by any vicious course.

By the end of the 19th century the land which provided the income was in the hands of Robert Palmer. He was the sole trustee and paid 3s. 6d. weekly to provide the gowns as stipulated in the will. Miss Caroline Palmer handed over the tithes of Hurst for the endowment of the church, but the family still managed the land that had been intended for the upkeep of the Alms House. Earlier they had done their best to keep to the intentions of William Barker's will but the income appears to have been insufficient. The Charity Commissioners reported how the the Palmers were relieved of the responsibility of the upkeep of the trust:

For a considerable number of years now the nominal owner of the estate, the Rev. Golding Palmer, ... paid 5s weekly to each alms person, a payment which covered his liability to pay 18s every other year for their clothing, and was, no doubt, sufficient also to cover his liability for repairs. ...Since his death the only payment made by his successor had been £72. 16s. 0d. yearly, and one payment of £1. 1s. 0d. in 1902 as reimbursement of expenditure by the trustees on repairs.

Upon Mr. Wade Palmer paying all arrears due from him (except the sum of £50 estimated for the immediate repairs) ... the Charity Commissioners accepted a payment of £3,300 by him to the official Trustees of Charitable Funds, which was invested in their name, in full discharge of his liability, and by an Order, dated 2nd June 1905 declared that such payment should be complete and final compromise.

Monument to Sir Richard and Lady Dorothy Harrison in Hurst Church
Lady Dorothy, ne้ Deane (died 1690). She is represented kneeling at prayer
with an out-stretched hand, with two middle fingers that have grown together.

Dame Dorothy Harrison, the wife of Sir Richard made her will in July 1690 in which she left the land in the parish of Binfield to help the poor. The rents were to be divided into three parts. One was to be employed for teaching six poor boys of Hurst to read and write. Each child was to continue at school for two years and no longer. If at the end of that time he could read and write well, then he was to be provided with a bible out of the second part. The third part was to be given to five widows yearly.

If the rents from the land amounted to more than £15 yearly, then the surplus was to be given to Elizabeth Josey who had been a servant. After Elizabeth Josey's death, the surplus should go to her daughter, Sarah, and then to her heirs. Anticipating that her wishes as stipulated might in time be forgotten, Dame Dorothy decided that when the trustees of her will were reduced to only two, then the survivors had to appoint new trustees to keep up the intent. But despite her precautions, time and inflation distorted her wishes. Were the rules of the will to operate today, it can be seen that the £5 given yearly to five widows would not be of much help, while the heirs of Sarah Josey might have become wealthy with the ever increasing rents from the property.

The estate consisted of a small farmhouse, with a barn and stable and about 14 acres of land. In 1781, a lease of the premises was granted to Richard Aldworth Neville Esq. (later to become Lord Braybrooke) for 31 years, at the rent of £15 a year, with a covenant to keep the house and buildings in repair.

The lease ensured that there would be no surplus from the rents for Elizabeth Josey to enjoy, or to provide an income for her heirs, but it did provide the £15 a year for the next 31 years for the poor, and had a provision for keeping the property in good order. By 1798 new trustees had been appointed to administer the will. There were 15 in all, 14 from the parish of Hurst. By mutual consent between the trustees and Lord Braybrooke, it was decided that he should purchase the property so as to:

Enlarge the annual income of the charity and to render the estate of Lord Braybrooke more commodious to him; and that Lord Braybrooke had agreed to pay an annual rent-charge of £18 and also pay £98. 3s. 6d. for trees that belonged to the charity.

It seems that Lord Braybrooke had not paid too much attention to the upkeep of the buildings as promised, the house and buildings being in such a dilapidated state that they had to be taken down. At the same time the trustees believed that they were not entitled to benefit from the £98. 3s. 6d. tree money and agreed that it should remain with Lord Braybrooke but that they should receive interest annually for the sum.

When the Commissioners reported on the state of the charity in 1819 they found that Lord Braybrooke had paid a yearly sum of £21. 18s. 6d. The amount was made up of £18 from the rent-charge and £3. 18s. 6d. which was the interest from the tree money. But they were not happy about the deal drawn up earlier:

It appears to us that there is no reason to doubt the fairness of the intentions of all the parties to this exchange. ... It is reasonable to conclude, that the agreement was at the time considered to be advantageous to the charity. But we apprehend that the trustees had no power to make this exchange ... even if it were clear that the income of the charity has been larger since the exchange than it would otherwise have been, we conceive that there are strong objections to an authorized exchange, by trustees, of land belonging to a charity, the value of which may be increased by future circumstances.

In 1837 Lord Braybrooke was still paying the £18 rent-charge as well as the £3. 18s. 6d. interest on the tree money. This amounted to £21. 18s. 6d. of which £7 was distributed in small sums to all widows of the parish with no regard for the number of five widows as originally directed in the will. Another £7 was paid by John Nash, one of the trustees, to the overseers of each of the four liberties of the parish to apprentice a boy from their respective liberties.

The final £7 was used to send eight boys from the respective liberties to school at the rate of 17s. 6d. each boy. The total cost for their education amounted to £1. 4s. 0d. The remainder was paid for by the parish. Five of the boys were taught by the master of the Polehampton school in Twyford, and the remainder were taught in the National School at Hurst. The remaining sum of 18s. 6d. was spent on bibles.

Among the trades which the apprentices followed over the years were those of wheelwright, shoemaker, carpenter, plumber, builder and baker. In 1905 it was said that the trustees had not followed the careers of all the boys, but two appear to have been successful, one as a shoemaker and the other after emigrating to Canada, so perhaps Dame Dorothy would have received some gratification from the outcome of her charity.

The most fashionable gift for the poor was undoubtedly bread. In 1758 Moses Sadgrave left five acres of land in Ruscombe to his heirs subject to them paying 20/- annually for the purchase of bread in the form of forty sixpenny loaves to be distributed on Saint Thomas's day. Alice Allwright in 1758 desired that rent from land called Half Moon Close should be spent to buy bread to be given twice yearly to the poor of Hurst and Barkham. Rent-charge from land at Hinton was willed by William Sadbury to be used for bread to be distributed to 40 families in the liberty of Hinton on the Sunday before Christmas Day.

Eventually bread went out of fashion, and with the industrial revolution coal seems to have taken preference. William Barker of Stanlake Park made his will on the 29th of July 1869 and left £150 to be invested and the interest used for the purchase of coal, meat and clothing. It was to be distributed among the inmates of the Twyford Almshouses. He also left £300 to be invested for the purchase of coal for distribution among the poor of Hurst.

William Harman of Sindlesham left £500 in trust to be used for coal for distribution to the poor in the liberty of Winnersh. Sarah Glasspool, widow of Hurst, in her will of 1876 left £200 to be invested, and the interest was to be applied in the purchase of blankets or flannel to be distributed amongst the most aged, needy and deserving poor' of Whistley.