London Lives Revealed: Richard Hedges
Written by: Robert Shoemaker
All this week on fifteeneightyfour we are reconstructing the lives of eighteenth century Londoners who feature in, London Lives a new book which examines the daily lives of the poor and criminal in eighteenth century London, including thieves, paupers, prostitutes and highwaymen, and shows how their actions influenced the pace and direction of change in social policy.
Richard Hedges, d. 1716
Generous, Negotiated Relief for a Pauper and His Family
The extensive and multifaceted support received by Richard Hedges and his family demonstrates how generous the eighteenth-century system of parish relief could be, when you were a respectable pauper, lived in a well-to-do parish, and knew what to ask for and how to ask for it.
Richard Hedges first appears in London Lives in 1708, when his wife, Repentance Hedges, received relief from the churchwardens of St Dionis Backchurch. In their Account Book (AC), they recorded that on October 13 they paid 2s 6d “to Richd. Hedges wife that lived at D[oct]or Tysons become poor“. This immediately triggered a examination settlement , and over the next week the parish officers spent at least 14s enquiring into Richard’s circumstances, including going to “St Jones’s [sic] to inquire after Richd. Hedges he formerly lived there”. Evidently it was decided that he was settled in St Dionis Backchurch, since over the next twenty-two years he and/or his wife received considerable assistance from the parish as a result of their, and their children’s, poverty and illnesses. Often the parish records are not clear about whether the relief was given to him or his wife, with only the name “Hedges” mentioned. All mentions of “Hedges” only are included on this page, whereas references to his wife can be found in the biography of Repentance Hedges.
The large amount of money the family received reflects not only the family’s needs, but also the relative wealth of St Dionis Backchurch, while the frequently varying size of the handouts illustrates the considerable discretion exercised by parish officers as they attempted to allocate charity according to need and other criteria. At the same time, the agency of paupers like Hedges is evident in their negotiations with several agencies for support, in this case not only the parish and its charities but also St Bartholomew’s Hospital.
The whole family seems of have fallen on hard times in 1709, when they received several forms of relief. In January they were given a substantial allocation of £1 8s from one of the parish endowments, the gift of Dr Rawlinson, and in April Richard received 10 shillings from another charity, Lady Harvey’s Gift. In June, when he was described as being “in great want”, he was given a further 15s from gifts, and a 2s a week pension (which he received for 24 weeks). His children were also helped: “then the churchwardens acquainted the overseers that the children wanted clothing it was ordered the churchwardens to cloath them according as was needful”. Reflecting clearly his status as a respectable pauper, Hedges also received “sacrament money” at least six times that year. The following year he apparently received less money from the parish, though he was still given smaller sums from Lady Harvey’s and Dr Tyson’s Gifts.
Apparently Hedges also had difficulty paying his rent, and in August the parish paid a quarter’s rent, following that with a “summons” in September “about abatement of rent”. This seems to have led to a dispute between Hedges and the parish over the level of relief he received, as on 1 January 1711 Hedges had the churchwarden summoned to appear before the Lord Mayor. In the first half of that year Hedges received nothing from the parish. Although he was included in a list of recipients of the beneficiaries of money received when a widow was buried in linen in May, he was not actually given anything.
In the autumn of 1711, however, Hedges fell ill and he was once again in receipt of relief, which appears to have been continuous until his death four years later. In October the parish paid the rent of his room in Vine Yard, off Goswell Street (in a house designated for the recipients of charity from Lady Matthews), and in November he was in the charity ward of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, which wrote to the churchwardens requesting that they “send to Richard Hedges some necessarys which he wants–a pair of shoes–a shirt, and wastcoat [sic]”. An undated list from around 1712 lists money spent on Hedges including for a shirt, “hospital”, and about two shillings paid almost every week. In 1712 he was recorded as receiving a pension of two shillings a week,”more to her [his wife] in sickness, cloths, & to him in the hospital and rent”, as well as sacrament money and payments from parochial gifts. Similarly, in 1713 he received a pension, rent, sacrament money, and money from gifts. The following year he (or his wife) received extra money when they, and their children, were sick, and there was an attempt to get him back into work. In November 1714 they attempted to get him back to work, and gave him 13s to buy a wheelbarrow and a fork so he could “trade with the barrow”. However, they also had to give him some money (the amount was not specified) to fetch his clothes out of pawn.
In 1715 Richard appears to have fallen seriously ill and the parish payments became more generous. For the entire year he received between 5s 6d and 6s 7d each week, plus his rent. The last entry concerning him in the parish records reads “paid him when sick and funeral charges since his decease and for his rent as per receipt 14: 6: 5”. His widow, Repentance Hedges, continued to receive relief from the parish until she died fourteen or fifteen years later.