Monday, 8 February 2016

Charities of the Parish of Eton

Charities established before modern times were almost always based on parishes; the incumbent and churchwardens frequently being made responsible for their administrations. Several ancient Eton charities still exist and because of these even today the boundaries of the old ecclesiastical parish has a relevance, for the money and gifts paid out from the old charities can only be given to those residing within that parish. The greater part of Eton Wick lying west of the Village Hall is outside the old Eton Parish.

The earliest known benefactors were both Provosts, Henry Bost (1477-1504) and Roger Lupton (1504-1535), whose legacies provided that 13s 4d and 10s should each year be given to the poor of Eton. Many of the other donors were Provosts, Fellows and Masters of Eton College, notably Dr Henry Godolphin, who founded the almshouses in 1695, and Mark Anthony Porny, whose will made possible the establishment of the Porny School in 1813. Although both buildings are in the town, people from Eton Wick are of course eligible to go to both, and the Porny Bibles given to prize -winning children at Eton Wick School are the modern practical compromise for the gifts of bibles and prayer books once given to all Porny school leavers of good character.

Money left as legacies was often invested in Consuls or property so that the interest and rents could be used for the benefit of the poor after the necessary deductions for expenses and taxes.  In 1612 the Provost, Henry Savile, and ten other feoffees or trustees for the poor of Eton, including Matthew Bell of the Wick, purchased two houses in Windsor. This became the basis of the trust known as the Eton Poor Estate. The money for this came from legacies, and further gifts made it possible later in the century to buy land in Langley Marish and in 1716 'all that messuage and close of land known as Wheatbutts'. Wheatbutts remained the property of the trust until sold at public auction by Mr Vaughan, himself a well remembered benefactor of the village.

Account books and deeds have survived from the early seventeenth century and show clearly how the income was spent.  Each year £2 was given to the overseers of the poor to be distributed as bread or vouchers while the rest was used to help individuals in times of need, to help clothe boys just starting work, to pay the rent of the almshouses and to apprentice boys to a good master. Two or three hundred years ago apprenticeship involved far more than it does today. Indentures had to be signed and a premium paid by the boy's parents or some charitable body such as the Poor Estate. In the seventeenth century the premium could be as much as £ 5 and tradesmen and farmers as well as poor parents availed themselves of the charity. The master promised to teach the boy his trade and to house and feed him for the full seven years of his apprenticeship. In the archaic language of the indenture the boy agreed not only to serve his master well and keep his secrets but to refrain from playing unlawful games and contracting marriage. So must have read the indenture of Francis Cox of Eton Wick, who was apprenticed to Joseph Piper, basket maker of Eton. Three years later his younger brother, John, was apprenticed to a 'joyner' of Pall Mall, London.

Of the people who received help in times of distress, Elizabeth Fennel can be recognised as living in the Wick. In 1725 she had been a widow for several years when she was allowed £1 by the Trust. Her husband, William, had been farmer of Dairy Farm and in the same year another widow, Joan Fennel, received the same amount. Neither woman could write and merely made her mark.

In the second half of the nineteenth century the Trustees widened the scope for which the money could be spent. From 1867 money was set aside to pay for outfits for selected girls when entering service. In later years this was extended to include shop girls and even a monitor at Eton Wick School though it was never thought right to include factory girls. Thirty shillings (£1.50) was
the amount usually given to each girl and in 1903 one village girl who went to work at the Greyhound spent her money as follows:

£ s d
Jacket           13 11
Nightdress      3 11
Flannelette     5 11 ½
Silk                3 11
Stockings       1 2 ½
Gloves           1 0
                £1 10 0

The same lucky girls, about eight a year, were rewarded with a further with a further thirty shillings if their work was satisfactory to their employers during that year.

In 1883 the momentous decision was made to use the charity's funds to pay the salary of a qualified nurse who would attend to the sick poor in the parish. They had first claim on her time and attention. Others could ask for help in times of emergency or for periodic visits, but were expected to contribute to a Parish Nurse Fund. There were plenty of patients in town and village who needed her help. Scarlet fever and diphtheria were killers and epidemics of these and other infectious diseases still occurred. Flooding too left its aftermath of illness, especially in the terrible year of 1894 when the Queen sent soup and carts to help with the relief of those affected. In 1912 the nurse took it upon herself to examine the school children, then still quite a new idea, and in 1916 it was found necessary, and possible, to employ a second nurse who would be responsible only for those living in Eton Wick. Few villages were as fortunate.

At the turn of the century the trustees of the Eton Poor Estate began another charitable venture, that of giving weekly pensions to 'aged poor persons'. In the first year five shillings (25p) was given to each of six pensioners though it was not always possible to maintain this number. Today there is no need for apprenticeship money or girls' outfits or even a parish nurse, but still about thirty elderly people from Eton Wick benefit from the extras that a pension from the Poor Estate can buy.

This is an extract from The Story of a Village: Eton Wick 1217 to 1977 by Judith Hunter.

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