Kindness to Strangers

Before Britain established proper poor laws in the mid 19th century, and the modern welfare state in the mid 20th, (now being rapidly dismantled) strangers were generally treated pretty badly, excluded from charity if they suffered hardship, and always the first to be suspected in the event of crimes. So the town records of Corfe in Dorset has some very surprising entries:

“”1662. Gave two travellers, by the Mayor’s order, 2d”

“1673. Gave to a traveller that came from Norfolk, 6d”

It will be noticed that the extreme remoteness of Norfolk demanded the addition of fourpence to the ordinary dole. Women, soldiers, and sailors were very kindly dealt with by the town of Corfe…:

“1668. Gave to a woman whose husband was in slavery, 6d”

“1686. Gave two seamen that were drove ashore at Chapman’s Pool, two Shillings.”

“1786. Paid to a Soldier that had one arm, one Shilling.”

Foreigners also in doleful plight found their way into this out-of-the-way town, ..:

“1682. Gave to 5 Dutchmen, by the Mayor’s order, 2s 6d.”

“1686. Gave 10 Frenchmen 3s 6d, which they spent at the George.”

“1786. Gave to 3 Turks, by the Mayor’s order, 1 shilling.”

What on earth were Turks doing there? They were more likely to be accused of being pirates raiding the coast. I think by this date some peace agreements had been signed.

Even sadder derelicts drifted into the pale town. In the church register there is this entry:-

“1722. A strange woman was buried in woolen.””

This last is a reminder of the Burial in Wool Act, passed in 1678 until 1814 to help the wool industry, making it compulsory to be buried in woolen shroud, or pay a fine- I think it was £5. Some rich people preferred to pay this and be buried in fine linen or silk, but signed certificates are often found certifying that the rule had been followed.


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