How to Block an Appeal Against the Poor-Rate!

This advertisement, placed in the Norfolk Chronicle for June 12, 1783, tells a strange story of local discontent colliding with official obfuscation.

Information Wanted.

The Inhabitants of St Martin at Oak finding themselves mulcted to the Parish Rates at the enormous Ration [ratio] of 4 shillings and 10 pence per pound, enquired how other Parishes were assessed, and found it was generally from 3 shillings and 9 pence to 3 shillings and 11 pence; they therefore, (willing to adopt a fair Medium) made their Rate 4 shillings but this was objected to by the Court, and refused to be signed; they were, however, recommended to the Court of Guardians, and accordingly made the Application, when they were told, that if the Parish did not make the Assessment conformable to the given Mulct, (viz. 4 shillings 10 pence) they should be prosecuted according to Law — and the Governor added, that if they wanted Redress, they must appear on the Day of Appeal.

On the Day of Appeal they attended at Court, when the Mayor and Steward told them “they had nothing to do with it.” Surprized [sic] at the Treatment they received, they then requested the Court to inform them where they must apply for the equitable Relief which they solicited — the Answer given was couched in the following elegant Terms: “Go find it out.”

This Reply having left the Parish Totally In The Dark, they would be obliged to any intelligent Person to give them the Information which has been denied them, and they will ret [sic] in a proper Sense of the Favour done them as long as the inexplicable Conduct of the Court shall dwell in their Remembrance.

[signed] Andrew HOLLAND, Churchwarden.
John PEROWNE, William HOWLING, Thomas WATSON } Overseers.

I wonder what the outcome was? Were the ratepayers of St. Martin at Oak ever able to apply for relief? Did they win?

This makes me feel as if I have arrived somewhere towards the end of a long-running feud with little idea of its beginning or the reasons behind it. How can ‘a fair Medium’ between 3 shillings and 9 pence and 3 shillings and 11 pence be 4 shillings? And if these figures for other parishes were correct, why should St. Martin at Oak have to pay 11 pence more that the highest figure? I suspect there’s quite a tale here, if I could only work it out.

By the way, I love the use of ‘mulct’ to mean something like ‘assessed’. My modern dictionary says it means ‘… to extract money from someone by fine or taxation … or by fraudulent means.’ No doubting which of the two the folk of St. Martin at Oak had in mind!


William Savage lives near the beautiful North Norfolk coast in Eastern England and writes historical mystery novels, set in Norfolk between 1760 and 1800. The first book in the series, “An Unlamented Death“, appeared in January 2015. A second book is now in its final stages and will be published later in Spring 2015.

Will is also a local historian. In that guise, he researches topics relevant to the general period of his historical writing, gives talks to local groups and societies and is a regular volunteer guide at a nearby National Trust property. He finally has time for doing all this now he has retired.

About William Savage

Independent researcher and author of mystery stories set in Georgian Norfolk.
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