Hebden Township Historical Data

Transcription of a 1709 Legal Document relating to Beckett's Charity

This remarkable document, currently in the safekeeping of David Joy, appears to be a formal legal opinion dated 1709 relating to an incident whereby a portion of the Thomas Beckett legacy which had been left to the poor of Hebden, was lost after it had been lent out unwisely and without proper authorisation.

The paper is on a single sheet, and the document is in three parts: a summary of the facts, a list of options and observations, and a conclusion. The first two are very readable, but the third section has been written with what appears to be a very blunt quill, and the imprecision of the script and amount of ink used makes it difficult to decypher. Archaic spellings have been updated, and traditional abbreviations written out in full. Where the transcriber is unsure of a word, it is followed by bracketed questions marks: (**); and where a word or set of words are illegible, each word is replaced by unbracketed questions marks: ** **.

A digital copy of the original is available at the bottom of this page. Any corrections will be warmly welcomed.

The Document Transcription

The Case of the Poor people of the township of Hebden com Ebor[1]

Thomas Beckett by his last will and testament dated ** 16 ** devised and gave £50 to be put to interest or bestowed in lands to the use of the poor of that said township for ever; and by this will directs that his Executor John Horner after his decease should pay the interest to the Constable, Churchwarden, Overseer of the Poor and two of the most substantial men in Hebden yearly,[2] till they could bestow the same on lands, and when lands should be purchased, pay the said £50 to the said officers and persons; and the interest before the purchase and profits of the land so purchased after should be paid by the officers and persons to the poorest people of Hebden at the feast of Thomas the Apostle yearly.[3] See the copy of the will relating to this bequest.

Thomas Beckett died about April the 8th 1665 after whose decease viz. on the third day of January next following the first feast of St. Thomas the Apostle after his decease John Horner the Executor paid the said £50 to William Topham who was the then constable and overseer of the poor, Henry Iveson then churchwarden, and Anthony Young a substantial man then, for which they gave their receipt, with a covenant to indemnify the Executor bearing date the 3rd January 1665[4] Topham and Young being then the most substantial men in the Township.[5] Vidd the Covenant.[6]

This £50 has till now of late been yearly put to interest by the constable, overseer, churchwarden and two substantial men of the township and about the year 1690 15th part of this money was borrowed by one John Richardson and his father of the officers and persons concerned, who in the year 1691 designing to pay the same in (**) one Thomas Sym a neighbour of the said Richardsons intending to borrow the same 15th part applied himself to Chris Gooson a churchwarden then and James Layland an overseer who without the privity of the constable or other substantial men of the town (Richardson paying the money to Sym) delivers up his bond and taking a security by bond of the said Sym in their two names and the name of one Richard Tennant another overseer of the poor without his privity dated January 13th 1699; this Sym never had any visible assets either real or personal and is now become insolvent and a prisoner for debt in York Castle[7] the interest was paid till St. Thomas of Apostle 1707 but the security was not delivered up to the officers and persons concerned, till after 4 or 5 years, so that the money could not be called in for want of security.

Note: that Sym was only bound in the bond[8]

Note: that in letting out of the money the discharge of the will was not pursued, and the security detained by said Gooson and Layland

Note: that in the bond or condition no mention is made of the moneys to be part of the charity moneys.

  1. Qud: Whether as this case stands may Gooson and Layland be compelled either before the commission of charitable uses, by virtue of the Statute of the 43 of Eliz.[9] or by original Bill in Equity[10] to make good this money, and which of the ways, or what other course is proper to take in this matter for recovery of the money?
  2. Qud: In whose name or names ought a suit (if any be thought fit to be) be prosecuted? May the poor in their own names, in forma pauperis,[11] prosecute such a suit by original bill or in the name of the Attourney General, for this town ** ** will not be at the charge of such a suit? or can the major part of the town charge the rest with that suit if the major part so agree, and have their tax confirmed and distrain[12] upon if necessary?
  3. Qud: It's to be observed that J Corner (sic) the Executor has not pursued the directions of the will in paying the £50 before lands were purchased and for such defect can the poor or proper persons call of the executor for the money, and may the Executor have his remedy over upon this covenant? vide the covenant.
  4. Some of the inhabitants not long after the lending of the money gave notice to Gooson and Layland of Sym's disability, and desired them to call the money in; can any of the inhabitants then be witnesses to prove this, and that the money ** put forth without the consent of persons directed to act by the will; if not must they be made party to swear it in their answer? Quord (**)
  1. I conceive that it was incautiously done of Gooson and Layland to put out this money in their own names and making no declaration that it was the poor's money. But since it was publicly declared and taken no notice of in the Town that Sym was debted by Bond for the poor's money and the Town or officers of it have ** this ** of Sym's it will be hard and difficult to make Gooson and Layland to ** it out of their own Estates.
  2. That unless a commission of charitable visits be on foot in this neighbourhood, a bill in Chancery in the attorney general's name is the proper remedy. But unless this town ** ** ** I do not think this may ** ** charge the rest to be contributing to the cost of it.
  3. I think Horner's payment was unadvised and not pursuant to the directions of Beckett's will but after 40 years payment and acquiescence there will be no charging Horner ** ** pay it ** **
  4. I think that the inhabitants will not be proper witnesses, because, either they must be sharing in this charity and so **, or persons taxed to the relief of the poor and consequently speaking for their own end(**).

Signed: Jo. Chesshyre
Dated: Seventh (**) ** of March (**) 1709


[1] com Ebor: within York(shire)

[2] Constable...: The Constable at this time was an unpaid official, probably appointed by the local justice of the peace, who was responsible for keeping order within the parish. The churchwarden had considerable status in those days, and managed the church buildings and accounts. The Overseer of the Poor was responsible for assessing how much money was required to support the poor, collecting that sum from the property owners as 'poor relief', and distributing relief to the poor in the form of money or food. As Hebden is a township in the much larger parish of Linton, it is likely that these roles were filled by men from outside the township. The inclusion of "two of the most substantial men in Hebden" may have ensured that there was township involvement in the distribution.

[3] feast of St. Thomas: Although the feast of St. Thomas is celebrated on July 3rd in the Roman Catholic calendar and the modern Church of England Calendar, the traditional date is December 21st which is clearly the date involved here. That date is still used by the Trustees of the Beckett's and Ibbotson's Charities.

[4] 1665: This should be 1666.

[5] paid the £50: It is unlikely that any of the original recipients of the £50 were directly involved in the subsequent controversy, which occurred 25 years later.

[6] covenant: The covenant between Horner and the recipients of the £50 is not known.

[7] Thomas Sym: Parish records tell us that there was at least one family with the name Sym (with variations) living in the area in the seventeenth century. Thomas Sym probably died in prison, as there is a record of a Thomas Sym being buried at St Mary Castlegate, in York, in 1711.

[8] bound in the bond: In other words, Sym acknowledged the debt with an IOU, but without pledging an asset to be forfeited in the case of default.

[9] Statute of the 43 of Eliz.: This refers to the Charitable Uses Act of 1601. Although it is no longer in force in England, this statute is noted for its attempt to define charitable purposes and has been a long-lasting influence on charity law ever since.

[10] Bill of equity: This refers to the Court of Chancery, a court where issues of "natural justice" could be taken.

[11] forma pauperis: Latin term for "in the manner of a pauper," which describes a litigant who is excused by a court from paying court costs because he cannot afford to do so.

[12] distrain: to seize someone's property in order to obtain payment of money owed.

The Original Document