In an earlier article in Hinckley Historian No. 1, the details of the Great Feoffment were outlined with especial reference to the account books. A report by William Grant of the Charity Commissioners 'enquiring concerning charities in England and Wales’, was reprinted in 1839 by Thomas Short, bookseller in Hinckley and detailed the various local charities with which the town was blessed. No less than fifteen main charitable bequests existed according to the report and they were of inestimable value to the town in the days preceding a welfare state. At that time the principal aid available to the poor took the form of the local workhouse recently erected in 1838 on the London Road, the architect being J.A. Hansom.
The principal charity in Hinckley in 1839 remained the Great Feoffment which had been recognised by a decree made at Leicester on October 4th in.-1603. Very substantial amounts of land were held by this charity which brought together 'diverse and sundry feoffments of great antiquity' according to the report. Some 421/2 acres of arable land and numerous properties in the town provided the income for the charity.
The properties in 1603 included such interesting details as, ‘the tenure of Widow Winckles and the residue of the said burgage as the Shoemakers’ Haule, the Drapery and Butchery, then employed to the use of the market there.’ From the original terms of the Great Feoffment 'the charitable donors thereof ordered, adjudged and decreed that the said lands, tenements and hereditaments, and the profits and revenues thereof, should be from thenceforth employed to such lawful and charitable uses.’
By the time of the publication of the document, on which this account is based, (in l839) the Great Feoffment included many buildings in Castle Street as its property. The list mentions a house, druggist shop and outbuildings, shops and various dwellings. In Grim's Lane a dwelling house and the National School were owned by the Feoffees who administered the charity and the total income up to Christmas 1836 was £287.7s.0d. Much of the work of the Fe of feds consisted in the financing of education in the town and to this day the residue of this charity still remains in part at the disposal of the John Cleveland College (Hinckley Grammar School Foundation).
The Little Feoffment Charity indenture was dated 1667 and this superseded an earlier document of 1625- By the l830fs this charity had developed, 'a large range of buildings fronting the Market Place, Hinckley.’ Properties included in this development were, ‘the Town Hall, used for public business, a public-house called the White Hart1 and various other warehouses and shops’ The charity commissioners were unhappy about the accounts of 1836 being 'imperfectly made out’. New trustees were appointed and as the commissioners stated, 'We cannot refrain from observing that there appears to us no reason for a seperate conveyance of the properties...or...,for the management of different sets of trustees*' Charity had to begin at home with a more careful and prudent administration of the accounts which had already landed one feoffee, Mr. Bray, in difficulties with the court of chancery.
The third major charity listed was the Manor Trust and this was first mentioned in a document of 1604. Originally the Trust had been a considerable one, but over the centuries it had declined and accusations of unfair administration had been made particularly against Mr. Sansome. The Commissioners investigated these complaints and exonerated Mr. Sansome from blame. In 1793 Thomas Sansome, a name which occurs in connection with the charities from the seventeenth century, was responsible, with others, for the sale of much of the property listed in the original document of 1604-This Trust provided for various services in Hinckley, such as constables, but the main function it appears was to let properties in the town at what were considered to be reasonable rentals. The Trustees, as Lords of the Manor since 1604, had a considerable role to play in the life of the town.
The remaining charities described by the commissioners were more specific in their provisions. Newtons' School Charity gave the parish of Hinckley £26 per annum from the trustees of Gabriel Newton’s Charity at Leicester. In the account of the commissioners a description of how this money was spent ran as follows:- 'In respect of this charity, a schoolmaster instructs 25 boys sent to him by the vicar and churchwardens. Each boy remains at school three years, and receives a complete suite of clothing.1 The boys were supplied with other necessities of study and 'there is a sermon preached annually, which produces about £14 in aid of the funds, which are under the management of a committee.'
Wightman's Charity was set up by John Wightman, citizen and grocer of London (born in Hinckley) in his will dated 22nd September 1636. The charity gave the parish £50, a large sum at that time, and the interest was distributed to the poor thereafter. Later the money was used to buy lands according to the agreement with Constance, John Wightman's widow, and accordingly land was purchased in Earl Shilton and in the I830fs was being let for £6 per year.
Sir William Roberts, who had been a local figure of importance in the reign of James I, had also created a local charity as well as building almshouses still standing at Sutton Cheney close to the site of his manor house. He had given £30 to be lent annually on bond with good securities to six tradesmen of Hinckley having most need and being husbands, by the minister, churchwardens, and overseers, at l0d. in the pound interest, which he directed should be, on Good Friday annually, distributed in equal shares between the poor of Hinckley and Harwell. Some of the money had been lost in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and it was recommended that the £10 which remained should be paid into a savings bank for the use of charity.
Fitch’s Charity, which dated from 1672, provided that market tolls on corn and grain should be placed in trust and given to the poor and used for the upkeep of the streets and causeways in Hinckley. Elizabeth Fitch's Charity in the l830fs provided 40 shillings for the poor each year and 30 shillings for repairing the streets.
Sarah Forryan, another beneficent local lady, had left the sum of £5 in 1734 to be held in trust by the vicar and churchwardens which "might be laid out in a gown, to be annually given on St. Thomas's day, to a poor widow of this parish.' By the middle of the eighteenth century the legacy had been unpaid for several years and eventually the principal sum was placed in the hands of the Great Feoffment who, in the 1830's, paid 10 shillings per year to the charity committee.
The third of four beneficent ladies was Miss Dorothy Noel who, in her will of 1708, had given £4-0 to the town, the said money being applied towards the education of three poor children. The charity had been badly administered and half the sum lost and as a result the Great Feoffment had taken over administration of the money and had used it to distribute to the poor on Good Friday. Miss Noel had also given the town money for the church and for the maintenance of streets.
Sarah Brown’s Charity, which dated from her will of 1806, provided £200 which was invested in Navy five per cent annuities, at a time shortly after the victory of Trafalgar. The interest from this was to be divided amongst the no doubt numerous 'poor widows of sober life and conversation15 many so widowed because of war. This stock was later converted into a new issue and at the time of the commissioners report produced an annual dividend of £7. 7 shillings.
Hinckley's remaining charities received, with the exception of Chessher's Charity, a brief consideration by the commissioners. One, of which the donor was unknown, had been derived from the sale of a small property in 1818 and amounted to £20. It was used to distribute to the poor. Woodlands Charity, set up by Sampson Woodland and Richard Woodland in 1741 and 1750, left the poor of the parish a total of £80, and in addition Richard in 1750 left the Stocking Close of two acres, 'the yearly rent of which (then being £4. 4 shillings) was for ever to be distributed to the poor, without any respect to any particular denomination of profession.’
Jacques’ Charity set up by a will of, Richard Spooner Jacques, dated 1803., provided £100 to be invested and 10 shillings and sixpence to be paid to the resident minister for preaching a sermon on Christmas Day annually, and the remainder to be laid out in six-penny loaves to be given to such poor persons belonging to the parish who should attend the said sermon.’
The distribution of bread was also the main concern of John Brockhurst's Charity/who by his will of 1788 left £40, the interest of which was to be distributed amongst the poor.
Dr. Robert Chessher's Charity, which began after his death in 1831, amounted to a sum of £1,900 to be used for numerous good works in the town including the purchase of clothing and bedding for the poor and the distribution of bread. In l836 a total of 480 six-penny loaves were given to the poor by Chessher's Charity. The work of this distinguished medical man, whose fame had brought Canning to the town, clearly continued long after his death.
One other charitable institution, not included in the main list, was mentioned by the commissioners and because it was part of the inclosure award of 1761 it was not generally considered in the same way as other bequests. This left a small close of land to the parish clerk who occupied some as a garden and let the remainder at £6 a year. The rents of this land were the salary of the clerk.
In 1834 a Charity Committee was formed consisting of 'the vicar... churchwardens and overseers and four other respectable inhabitants, to be chosen annually.’ The committee became responsible for distributing charity on four occasions during each year including at Easter and Christmas. It was fortuitous but not accidental that this consolidation of local charity took place in the same year as the Poor Law Amendment Act was set up with a national system of Poor Law Unions and Workhouses. Many of the names of the donors of charity still exist in the town today and many a family had cause to be thankful for the charity which began at home in Hinckley during the years of the 'Hungry Forties.’
Author: Hugh Beavin
Written for: Hinckley Historian Magazine