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History of West Calder
Chapter XI. Poor and Poor Finds, 1799 to 1814


This quaint homely phrase, Poor and Poor's Funds, sounds sweeter and kindlier th/m the harsher and more repulsive title now in common use, viz., Paupers and Poor Rates.

The one bespeaks of the Christian fellowship and care of the Kirk, when the rich and poor met together in the name of the Lord— the maker of them all.

The other sounds of pauperism or semicrime, whose enactments separate society— banishing the less fortunate members thereof to the cold shades cf the palace-like prisons of the several Unions—where, like monks or nuns, the sexes are separated, the husband from the wife, the daughter from the father, the brother from the sister, under repressive discipline, resentfully eeking out the weary remainder of their days, comfortably it may be to all outward appearance, but oppressed with a more intense longing than the caged bird to be free : their only fault being poverty, a crime, as the Yankee poet calls it, with more pith than refinement—

Dimes and dollars,
Dollars and dimes:
The want of money
Is the worst of crimes.

Meanwhile the well-springs of charity— the noblest fountain of life present and eternal—are sealed up in the human breast; for while the paupers helplessly resent their treatment and shun it to the last, the ratepayers likewise grumble and grudge the supposed extortion.

The one was Church law and practice. The other is State law and practice.

The Christian Church, in its fundamental polity, voluntaril\r adopted the care of the poor, with results that varied according to the spirit that dominated the Church.

The Kirk of Scotland, as reformed by Knox and his compeers, adopted the same plan, which survived till about 1848 with honour to the kirk and untold benefit to the nation, which was redeemed, by this and other means, from faction and feud to the highest state of civilisation.

But selfishness and -schism, with their attendant divisions and heartburnings, from one cause and another, crept into the Kirk, which, rent and torn, was unable longer to bear its wonted burden, and, gladly easing itself thereof, threw it upon the grim calculating shoulders of the State, which again delegated its work to the various Parochial Boards, with the result that we of this generation are only too familiar with, better, perhaps, in some respects than formerly, but lacking the true element of real charity, and hence giving birth to the callous proverb which is born of, and may well become, this age of mammon worship “As cold as charity.” For the purpose of comparison with the two following tables, I have been favoured by Mr Thos. Thomson, Inspector for the parish, with a similar abstract for the year 1884.

POOR AND POOR’S FUNDS.

The following Tables will show the money collected for, and expended on the Poor, from 1790 to 1814, the number of the stated Poor, and the amount of sums occasionally given, together with the number of those Marriages and Funerals which have been recorded :—

TABLE I.

The average number of poor for these 24 years is nearly 12 or 11 11-12ths for each year, and the year’s support, including the sum paid for house sent, requires the average sum of £2 10s. for each of the paupers. The monthly allowance is from 3s. to 5s., according to the circumstances of the individuals; every attention being paid to what they can do for themselves, and to what their children or relations may be able to do for them.

The occasional aid, amounting to nearly one-third of the sum given the stated poor during 21 years, is caused by the wish of the administrators of the fund to keep the regular poor’s list as low as possible. A small part of this is given in coals to the stated poor, but much the greater part is given to those who are not in that situation.

In ordinary years, and when the sums yearly are not above <£10, the sums paid occasionally may be nearly one half to the stated poor and the remainder to others who are not on the roll.

In the years of scarcity, when the sums are large, the distribution is made in coals or meal at a reduced price, and money to every family in the parish which requires to be supported.

The bond mentioned in the tables was for money lent on houses in Edinburgh, but it is now entirely exhausted.

The difference in the total, comparing one year with another, may be accounted for by carrying forward the balance, or, as sometimes happened, by borrowing money till the funds, by assessment or otherwise, were able to pay it.


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