Hinckley, like many towns in the 17th century, had its own charities to aid the poor, provide education and generally improve the life of the inhabitants. Since the last years of Queen Elizabeth's reign, a Poor Law had made some provision for those who needed assistance, but the extra facility of the Feoffment Charity, made up from the gifts of various people in the town, was a welcome addition in those days. The account books of this charity are today still in existence, preserved as a result of the care taken by the Atkins family, who played an important part in the administration of the charity in the 18th century. In 1810, the accounts were bound together by John Ward, and they remain in this binding today, a unique record of the Hinckley of three centuries ago.
The accounts date from 1623 and mainly relate to rents paid for property held by the feoffes as a source of income for the charity and also for payments made for charitable work. Some examples taken from the accounts give some idea of the scope and activity of the charity:-
From these accounts we can see that mixed education, the repair of a bridge, the site of which has vanished, and the watch or local police force, were all paid for by the charity. Yearly the schoolmaster of the Grammar School was paid £10-0-0 and his assistant, the usher, received a salary of £4-0-0.
As time went on and inflation increased, so too did the salaries, One hundred years later, the schoolmaster received £15-0-0, and the spelling in the account books had also improved. The scholars of those days were taught in a rather dilapidated thatched building. The accounts every year record such entries as the one for 1645:-
Another unusual work of the charity was concerned with the keeping of the stray animals in a pound or pinfold and also in the keeping of a town bull. Normally the keeper of the bull in the 17th century received £2-0-0 a year, but in 1637 there is the following entry: -
One must assume that an incident had taken place in which the town bull, attracted by the inmates of the pinfold, had gone on the rampage.
During the Civil War there are few entries, save for the salaries of the 'scoulmaster' and the upkeep of the 'scoule’ Arrears from tenants of Feoffment property increased, factors which indicated how Hinckley suffered in the war which brought two skirmishes in the town boundaries.
Just over a century later the charity was still doing good work in the town. By now the feoffes were holding annual meetings in the inns of the town, rather than in the town hall. Perhaps they resented having to pay Id for candles in the building, or possibly there were other reasons connected with the 2 shillings and eight pence expenses paid to the White Horse Inn in 1764, that made them change the venue of their meetings.
The accounts for this period are no less interesting than those of the earlier period. In December 1761, the mole catcher was paid l/6d, and in 1769 payments were made for items as varied as 'staples and two locks to fasten the chain to prevent people from spoiling the new pavement1 and 'to John Gilbert for taking stones out of the horsepool’.
The Charity Accounts are indeed a curious and fascinating insight into the Hinckley of the past.
Author: Hugh Beavin
Written for: Hinckley Historian Magazine