Nostalgia: ‘The greatest of these is charity’

Trinity House on St Sepulchre Street. Money left to the town in Admiral Sir John Lawson's will enabled the purchase of a plot of land for the Society of Owners, Masters and Mariners first hospital.
Trinity House on St Sepulchre Street. Money left to the town in Admiral Sir John Lawson's will enabled the purchase of a plot of land for the Society of Owners, Masters and Mariners first hospital.

If two centuries ago the national system of poor relief was on the point of collapse, in Scarborough it survived only because it was supported by voluntary charity. As the Royal Commission inquiry of 1833 revealed, the town had a bewildering number of old and new endowment and legacy properties and funds, many of which were operative, while others had disappeared mysteriously, but all were originally for the resident poor. Here there is space for only a few representative examples of Scarborough’s chief charities.

The oldest post-Reformation bequest on record was made in 1611 by Katheryn Conyers, widow of the London goldsmith, Ralph Conyers, who in his will had left £10 “for the use of the poore people of Scarborough”. Ten years later, 30 shillings were doled out by the Bailiffs to more than 40 of “the poore of Scarborough”, most of them widows and 3s 4d “to Folk of St Tho howse”.

No further trace of this charity could be found in the Corporation documents unlike Farrer’s Hospital, which consisted of two tenements in Low Conduit Street (now Princess Square). In his will of 1627, the husband of Thomasin Farrer, Mr John Farrer, had bequeathed two cottages for “the habitation of as many poor widows as the same could conveniently contain” for ever. This so-called hospital was still serving Farrer’s purpose in 1834 and was not demolished for a fish and chip shop until the mid-1950s.

A second Conyers legacy, this one of William Conyers, who had been Bailiff in 1600, 1604 and 1608 and had died in that office in 1620, was £40 to be invested by the Corporation at five per cent. By 1834 it was being paid to the inmates of St Thomas’s Hospital by the churchwardens.

The will of Admiral Sir John Lawson had also survived up to 1834. In 1665 he had left £100 to the poor of the town, the interest of six per cent to be given out annually on the morning of St Thomas’s day for ever. His widow, Lady Lawson, did not trust the Common Hall to fulfil the terms of the will and so delayed payment until she had received guarantees. Eventually, a plot of land on the south side of St Sepulchre Street was bought with Lawson’s money and the Society of Owners, Masters and Mariners built their first hospital on the site. By 1834, when Trinity House had just been re-built, the residue of Lawson’s bequest was still being paid “in small sums” to the poor of the parish selected by St Mary’s churchwardens.

Subsequent gifts were not so fortunate. Richard Allatson, gentleman, who had served as bailiff in 1694, 1697, 1702 and 1711, left the rents of his house and 38 acres of farm lands at Weaverthorpe to the poor of Scarborough who did not receive parochial relief at Christmas; but no trace of this handsome bequest could be identified by 1834. The same applied to the terms of William Meggison’s will. He had left two acres of land called Glover’s Pits in High Peasholm for the poor of Scarborough who attended the parish church on May Day morning.

Thomas Sedman, Bailiff in 1672, 1681, 1691, 1700 and 1703, left an almshouse or hospital of three low rooms and three chambers above the garrets in Carr Gate (Cross Street) for six poor people for ever. To support them he granted a three-acre piece of land called Burr Causey head (Borough causeway over Peasholm Beck), adjoining Great Northstead Lane in the east, Glover’s Close to the west, Segg Garth to the north, worth 20 shillings a year. Any surplus was to be given to the poor on May 1 at the door of St Mary’s church. By 1820, Sedman’s hospital still existed and rents from his land behind it and in the Dumple came to £14 a year.

Described as a yeoman, Elisha Trott, in his last will of 1697 left a hospital in Tanner (St Thomas) Street for two widows. An acre of land in Burtondale was to provide rental income for the hospital. By 1882, the hospital had been pulled down but replaced by another one in Tollergate which was a “convenient and nice edifice”. The two widows received a bag of coal each every year.

Another surviving bequest was made by Cornelius Stubbs. He had given two “uppermost houses” in a lane near the Castle Dykes for four persons and the ten shillings rental of his house in Quay Street for their repairs. As late as 1882, only one of the houses was occupied rent-free by two poor persons put there by the vicar and the churchwardens.

In 1711, James Rickenson left 26s a year to the poor of Scarborough to be paid for ever at Christmas out of his property called Church Close. However, in 1786, the Charity Commissioners had discovered that Church Close had been sold to the Rev Samuel Bottomley (1773-1830), the Presbyterian minister; and he had no knowledge of Rickenson’s will and therefore regarded the charity as null and void.

In contrast, some eighteenth century bequests had endured. In 1720, Cornelius Burgh, Bailiff in 1753, had given four tenements in Dumple Street to the poor for ever, and by 1828 five persons were living in them. Similarly, Alice Chambers had left £20 to the Corporation at five per cent and her 20 shillings was still being distributed to Scarborough’s poor at Christmas along with Lawson’s charity.

Thomas Bell’s gift of the interest on £200 was dated 1773 and meant for the inmates of the Merchant Seamen’s Hospital. However, the capital was lost when Moorsom’s Bank failed and the Corporation did not replace it.

William Robinson, who was Bailiff in 1699 and 1706, left a house in Longwestgate to Scarborough’s poor. When it became dilapidated and uninhabitable, the Corporation agreed to repair it but only out of its rental income. After re-occupation there is no evidence that it was restored to poor people.

Finally, the largest donation made to charity was that of £1,680 made by Eleanor Cockerill in 1825. The Cockerill’s were a long-established and successful ship-building family who had lived in Paradise House for several generations. Eleanor’s trustees were father and son, William Travis, Bailiff in 1803 and 1811, and Nathaniel Allan Travis, both doctors of medicine and members of the Common Hall. The interest was to be distributed annually at Christmas by the vicar of St Mary’s and the churchwardens to poor widows who lived in the parish.

[to be continued]