The position of the Parish Vestry in society during the 16th century was the lowest tier of local government.
The Highways Act of 1555 laid responsibility for the King’s Highway upon the vestries who had to appointed a Surveyor and provide the labourers.
The Poor Law of 1563 required parishes to appoint Collectors of Charitable Arms followed in 1572 by the Office of Overseer of the power was appointed subject to the support of the local Justice of the Peace.
Parishes collected a poor rate and distributed amongst the poor. The General Workhouse Act of 1723 empowered parishes alone or in partnership with others to build a workhouse.
By 1832 the burden of the poor became too great and the Poor Law Act provided for parish unions and boards of guardians to build large workhouses which were made as unpleasant as possible to reduce costs by persuading the poor to avoid them. All of these functions were run by the vestry, made up of qualified ratepayers.
Llantrisant’s home parish had the hamlets of town, Gelliwion, Castellau, Broviskin and Trane and each had their own overseer of the poor and all were answerable to the same parish vestry.
Some of the entries of the parish vestry minutes from 1771 illustrate the level of poor reliief they offered such as:
November 19th 1773
A pair of shoes for William Watkin’s wife
A waistcoat, petticoat, shift and pair of shoes for Morgan John’s wife
A blanket for Margaret Thomas
A shift for Zephaniah’s widow
February 4th 1793
Agreed to grant relief to Elizabeth Daniel and Jennifer Rosewall, iwith nine children, deserted by husbands John David and James Rosewall, miners
Under the Old Poor Law most relief was known a outdoor relief, such as payment to paupers. The amending Act in 1723 gave parishes the power to purchase buildings for use as a workhouse for able bodied paupers. Anyone refusing a place would lose any entitlement they had to receiving poor relief.
A vestry meeting was held on December 5, 1783 to “consult in regard of establishing a workhouse for the poor” at a time when vagabonds, prostitutes and thieves were rife in the town.
The Parish Vestry minute said, “That a Workhouse be established in or near the Town of Lantriessent for relief for the Poor of the said parish Lantirssent and setting the said poor to work and so forth and further that: John Popkin of Talygarn, and Mr Evans Jones by appointed…and vestedwith full power… in behalf of.. the said parish to purchase, or rent, build or erect one or more House or Houses for the purpose aforesaid.”
The Vicar, churchwardens, overseers of the power, the portreeve, town clerk and thirteen local landowners and farmers were appointed trustees to superintend the workhouse and inspect accounts. The workshouse was to be built with contracts to John Popkin of Talygarn. Margaret Jenkin, a widow, was engaged as superintendent “to see the poor fed, put to work and to weigh and measure every article used in the said house.”
She had to record the sale of anything for which she was paid “£12 a year, fire, meat, candles and one room for her use, her wages to be paid weekly”. A male superintendent Thomas Jenkin, was paid an annual salary of £19 and Mr Evans Jones, shopkeeper received £5 as treasurer. They had to pay for their own tea, coffee or sugar however.
Many of the male paupers were press ganged during this time and forcibly conscripted into His Majesty’s Navy. On 4 February 1784 another meeting was called and Popkins was ordered to apply to Lord Cardiff and the burgesses of the town for land of one or more acres of the Graig Common “on which to erect the workhouse with all necessary conveniences”.