Aston Government

Apart from the Records of a few 14th & 15thC Courts for a View of Frankpledge (Joint Surety), held by the Steward of Wallingford Honour, no Medieval Records of Manorial Courts have survived.

Records of Aston Rowant Court Baron Service exist for some years in the late 16thC.  The September Court of 1583 appointed ‘le hogherd‘ to keep Pigs all the year round in Aston Commons, regulated the times for pasturing Sheep, and fixed shares for paying the Hayward at 8d a Virgate.  Court Barons were also held in the 17th & 18thCs, but only notes of Stokenchurch Business have survived.  In 1780 General Caillaud’s Court Baron met at the ‘Drum & Plough‘ and made Presentments of the Inclosing of part of the Manor’s Waste for Gardens, and arranged to Perambulate (walk around) the Manor.  In 1830 the Court of William Francis Stone, Esq, was held at Chalford Manor-House for ascertaining the Manor Boundaries.  Courts of Ewelme Honour (the successor of Wallingford) were held into the 19thC and Courts for the Stokenchurch Division often met in Aston Rowant

Local Government, however, was mainly conducted through the Vestry. There were 2 Churchwardens: from 1739 to 1756 the Churchwarden nominated by the Vicar rendered the Aston Accounts, and the Churchwarden elected by the Parish for Kingston’s Accounts.  A change in the method of Election appears to have taken place at the end of this Period, for after a gap of 4-yrs in the Accounts one Churchwarden was chosen for each Village.  From 1733 Rates were collected every 2-yrs. The Rate was usually 1d–3d in the £1, but rose to 4d or 6d when money was needed for repairs to the Church or its Property (e.g. 1733–34, 1739–40, 1779–80 & 1797–98). The sums raised at Aston were nearly double those raised at Kingston, but Expenses were also heavier at Aston and on several occasions could only be met by a contribution from the balance in hand at Kingston After 1815 a simplification in Accounting was introduced: a Disbursement Account was kept and the Rates collected from the 3-Liberties of Aston, Kingston & Chalford were amalgamated and Accounted for by both Churchwardens. The Rates were supplemented with the income received from the Church Lands which amounted to £5 a year in the 1820‘s compared with £2-8s. in 1733 Some 5 or 6 Parishioners usually attended the Vestry Meeting. The Vicar was not always present.  In 1813 there was an unusually big attendance of 12 to discuss the opening of a School

An Overseer for each of the 3-Liberties was elected at the Easter Vestry Meeting, and their Election was later confirmed by 2 JP’s, who verified the Accounts. A rota of 7 or 8 of the Principal Farmers served as Overseers at Aston & Kingston, and members of Chalford’s 2 Farming Families, the White’s & the Stephen’s, served alternately.  A uniform rate was levied for the whole Parish, but each Overseer kept separate Accounts. 

The strain of prolonged War and the rapid increase of Population in the 2nd half of the 18thC created problems of an unprecedented nature at the beginning of the 19thC. When the Hearth Tax was levied in 1665 – 4 of the Householders of Aston and one each at Kingston & Chalford were discharged on account of Poverty, but these figures give no information about the very Poor who were exempted from the Tax.  It is known that by 1770 Cottages, then belonging to the Overseers, had been built on the Waste to House the Poor: 4 families were living in them, and by 1776 the official figure for expenditure on the Poor was £90 at Aston, £60 at Chalford, and £50 at Kingston, where the inhabitants were less dependent on Agriculture.  The Rate rose from 4s in the £1 in 1798 to 11s in 1830, but with a sharp temporary rise between 1799 & 1802. There was an exceptionally high rate of 12s- 6d. in 1800, when a total sum of £1,795 was spent: of this Aston paid about £80 more than Kingston, despite its far smaller population.  The size of the problem in this Parish is further demonstrated by the fact that in 1803 when there are Official Figures of Poor Relief for the whole County the Rate at Aston was nearly a 3rd more than the County average.  In that year 84 men & women were receiving Parish Relief and 140 children were being maintained.  The disbursements made by the Overseers were of the usual kind.  Money was paid out for Nursing the Sick and for the Apothecary’s Bills, particularly when there were cases of Smallpox; for children’s clothes; for rent, coal & wood for the indigent; for Funerals & occasionally for Transport. During 1800, ‘the year of great scarcity‘, £45 was spent on weekly payments to Widows and others who were in need of regular support. Two-3rds of the expenditure, however, was as a general rule on weekly payments to Widows and others for this purpose. Lack of employment for the able-bodied was the chief trouble: it was partly met by the Roundsmen System. In 1797 £18 was paid to Roundsmen in Kingston, of whom some were sent to work in Chalford, and the Aston Overseers subsidised 12 Employers of Roundsmen. In 1813 the Overseers provided half the pay for the ‘Rounds Boys’.

The Roundsman System (sometimes termed the Billet, Ticket, or Item System), in the Elizabethan Poor Law (1601), was a form of organised Labour Exchange for the poorest Labourers by which a Parish Vestry helped to pay Local Farmers, Households and others to Employ such Applicants for Relief at a rate of headline wages negotiated & set by the Parish.  It depended not on the Services, but on the wants of the Applicants: the Employers being repaid out of the Poor Rate (Local Taxation) all they advanced in Wages beyond a very low-wage amount.  Variants of the Roundsman System operated & co-existed from Parish-to-Parish and sometimes depending on the type of Labour.  According to this Plan the Parish in general agreed with a Farmer to sell to him the Labour of one or more Paupers at a certain price, paying to the Pauper out of the Parish Funds the difference between that price and the subsistence rate (the difference being an allowance which the scale, according to the price of bread and the number of his family, awarded him). It received the local name of “Billet” or “Ticket System” from the Ticket signed by the Overseer which the Pauper, in general, carried to the Farmer as a Warrant for his being Employed, and afterwards took back to the Overseer, signed by the Farmer, as a proof that he had fulfilled the conditions of Relief.  In other Cases and Parishes, the Parish contracted with a person to have some work performed for him by the Paupers at a given price, the Parish paying the Paupers from that person and General Funds.  In many Parishes the Roundsman System was conducted by means of an Auction, all the unemployed men were put up to Sale periodically, sometimes monthly or weekly, at prices varying according to the time of year, the old & infirm selling for less than the able-bodied. The Roundsman System was discontinued by the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834.

Pest House

The Overseers were also responsible for the upkeep of the ‘College Houses’ or ‘Poors House’, and for the Pest House.  In 1839 they delegated the repair of the latter. It was apparently being used as an extra Dwelling and the Parish Meeting agreed that Thomas White of Chalford should hold in his possession that part in which Thomas Wiggins lived at a Rent of 1s, and should undertake the repair of the whole house.
Pest HousePlague Houseor Fever Shed was a type of Building used for persons afflicted with communicable diseases: such as – Tuberculosis, Cholera, Smallpox or Typhus.  Often used for Forcible Quarantine, many Towns had one or more Pest Houses accompanied by a Cemetery or a Waste Pond nearby for disposal of the dead.

Some administrative changes are shown in the Rate Books (1821–35). Two Overseers & 2 Churchwardens were Jointly responsible at this Period for the Accounts; the Rates were levied 8 times a year instead of irregularly; after the new valuation in 1833 the Rate-payers of the 3-Liberties were amalgamated into one Alphabetical List.  It should be noted, however, that even before the amalgamation the total sum raised had always been divided according to need. Aston’s Rich Ratepayers, for example, had paid £20 to £60 a year from their balance to Kingston between 1808 & 1814.  Chalford’s nearly always had a surplus and in 1805 more than half the sum raised was handed over.  In that year Kingston made an attempt to increase its total by levying a Rate on 93 inhabitants instead of on the usual 27 or so. This experiment only gained a few Pounds and was not repeated. In fact, Kingston Traders & Farmers were evidently doing badly in the early 19thC, for a 4s Rate produced only £172 in 1829 compared with £207 in 1798