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Churchwarden Accounts 1699-1759

 Churchwardens have been responsible for the maintenance of the church building since records began but they also had responsible for poor-law administration for several  centuries. A book of Churchwarden Accounts from 1699 to 1759 were held in private hands until 2011. It is sometimes referred to as ‘Book 1′ because it was part of a collection of three books from the 18th century. Book 2 , or the Poor Book, contains  the poor law records from 1730 to 1767.
 Each year the two Churchwardens listed the items they had spent money on. The expenditure covers the sort of practical concerns that are to be expected such as mending the church building, cutting the grass in the churchyard, paying the bell ringers and buying bread and wine for the sacraments.
Payments to some people in need are mentioned but what is surprising are payments to people for vermin control. A bounty was paid for sparrows, hedgehogs, polecats and foxes and are recorded in very specific detail. Fox hunting was  already a sport but the control of what was considered vermin was the main purpose for these payments.
The churchwarden accounts sometimes list the payments received each year from each tithing. Sometimes the account makes it clear that the rates were collected in a specific year for the church and ‘town’. Sometimes it appears that blank pages had been used retrospectively to record revenue that may not have been collected at the time the sequence of pages would suggest.
 The original format was for there to be a blank page opposite one page for the expenditure for the year just completed. The new year started on the 25th March until 1752 when the Gregorian calendar was adopted and 11 days were ‘lost’ which explains why the start of the financial year is 6th April.
 The account refer to ‘estates’ which may be linked directly to a farm building and the 1794 map shows there were many more farms in the past. Some of the names of features in the landscape such a field name, woods and roads, hint at where some of the farms may have been but at best only vague definition are used, such as “…for the estate called Adams…” but frequently only the person’s name is listed.
The people paying poor rates were frequently not the owners but the tenure was linked to the life of the tenant. Some land was held for three lives so father passed on his land to his son and grandson. Rights passed through daughters which explains some of the name changes because the daughters may have been married.  Widows retained the rights of their husbands but the dates of death, publication of wills and the payment of poor rates do not tally exactly.
 Married women could not own property in their own right so the introduction of  a widow paying poor rates is a good indication that her husband had died in the previous year. The same applies when the title Mrs is used or, more unusually, a woman’s first name is used.
 There are other explanations for somebody stopping paying poor rates for an estate. Some land was held on short-term rental agreements so land could be exchanged between farmers. It was quite common for no name to be given for the rate payer. The term ‘occupier’ is used frequently.
 Another common occurrence was for estates to be split so two or more people are paying for part of the estate in the same year. The rate payer gives an indication of the size of the estate but these were estimated values and do not correlate exactly with the acreage.
 Sometimes name of estate remains constant regardless of who was the proprietor so the very confusing situation when Mr Taswell was paying or Hippisley’s whilst William Hippisley was paying for Taswell’s (file 1076b dated 1741).
Most of the yearly accounts divide the contributions by tithing so it is reasonable to assume that the estate was in he tithing specified but that cannot be relied upon. Some of the payments in the 1750 accounts appear to be based on who owned the land rather than where the land was situated.
 There is evidence that people living outside the parish were paying poor rates to Chewton Mendip but all the evidence shows that the overseers were residents.
 All of this makes some of the dates rather speculative and based on assumptions rather than verifiable fact. It is the intention  to transcribe the whole book and extracts have been transcribed from every page but so the only page published so far is 1030b.
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