Nostalgia: The old, poor and destitute

The pan-tiled building pictured in the 1950s in Low Conduit Street, now Princess Square, was the site of Scarboroughs rst hospital.
The pan-tiled building pictured in the 1950s in Low Conduit Street, now Princess Square, was the site of Scarboroughs rst hospital.

According to Joseph Brogden Baker in his History of Scarbrough (sic), published in 1882, “no borough ever possessed so large an amount of philanthropic institutions or more varied in character”.

Before the Reformation, the town had at least six hospitals or almshouses for the poor, all funded by donations to chantry chapels where priests said masses for the souls of their benefactors. However, after the Protestant suppression of chantries, only one well-endowed poorhouse survived, dedicated to St Thomas the Martyr and situated close to the parent church of that name.

The pan-tiled building pictured in the 1950s in Low Conduit Street, now Princess Square, was the site of Scarboroughs rst hospital.

The pan-tiled building pictured in the 1950s in Low Conduit Street, now Princess Square, was the site of Scarboroughs rst hospital.

St Thomas’ poorhouse survived the Reformation because it was amply endowed with valuable land and had become the responsibility of the Common Hall. St Thomas’ fields, arable and pasture, covering an area of 20 acres, were in Nether Burtondale, on the west side of Scarborough Mere. Later they were referred to as the Marr Closes.

From 1572 onwards, as justices of the peace, Scarborough’s bailiffs were authorised by parliament to levy rates for the maintenance of paupers in their parish.

As a result of this new, additional source of revenue, the old, medieval hospital on the west side of what much later became North Street was demolished and replaced on the same site by a much larger building.

The number of “aged and infirm” housed in this hospital was strictly limited by the chamberlains, but inmates seemed to have been looked after. Adjacent to the house were gardens and they were allowed outside between six in the morning and six at night as recorded by the curfew bell.

The bellringer was paid eight shillings a quarter for coals and candles and the paupers received £2 6s 8d at Candlemas and Lammas, February 2 and August 1, and £3 at Christmas.

Though no longer subject to the rules of the Augustinian order, they were expected to attend services in St Thomas’ church at least once a week.

Twice, in 1598 and again in 1651, attempts were made to set up a house of correction where vagrants, “night walkers” and beggars of the parish would be put to work to earn their keep; but both seemed to have failed within a short time.

In addition to the aged and impotent paupers, the town had to look after its child orphans. On Lady Day, March 25, 1636, there is a record of the children then in care. There were three girls aged eight, one nine-year-old, and one ten-year-old and seven boys, ranging in age from eleven to sixteen. One was the son of a widow, but the rest were orphans.

The borough took responsibility for such children until they were old enough to be apprenticed, sometimes when they were only eight and others as old as fourteen.

Invariably, the girls were taken on by families “to learn housewifery” until they were 21, whereas the boys were put to a variety of trades such as mason, blacksmith, fisherman or tallow chandler up to the age of 24.

One typical apprenticeship indenture reads: “Elizabeth Skiner, aged about 9 years, daughter of Geo. Skiner of Scarborough, yeoman, deceased (having been relieved by the parish for two years since her father’s death) to Anthony Dunsley and Francis Dunsley, his son, of Scarborough, labourers, to learn the arte & mistry of housewifrye until aged 21 or marriage, 20 Feb. 1637”...The Dunsleys “shall in due manner chaistice her, findinge...meate, drinke, woollen, lyninge, hoose, shooes and all manner of apparell...” The Dunsleys had found themselves a full-time skivvy.

Such indentures of orphans contrast with those of mainly boys who were apprenticed by their parents. The overwhelming majority of these were to learn the art and mystery of a mariner or a shipwright and they came from outside the borough, not just from Seamer, Scalby, Cloughton, Harwooddale or Fyling, but from as far away as Scampston, New Malton, Weaverthorpe and Wrelton.

Those children whose fathers belonged to one of the craft trades received charity from members if they became paupers. Of the early records of the Society of Owners, Masters and Mariners little has remained, yet those for the year 1635 show a remarkable concern for any seafarers who had fallen on hard times. Five shillings were given to “shipp broken men”, another 2s 4d to “poor men”, and one of the wardens “layed out” 1s 4d “to a poor seamans wiff”.

Surprisingly, Scarborough’s seamen’s charity also stretched to foreigners: not only “two Sunderland men”, “six Yarmoth men lost at Whittbie”, and “six shipp brooken men of Dunage [Dunwich]” but also “six Freenchmen that lost there shipp” and “four Flemings”. It appears that there was then a special comraderie of seamen of all nations.

Before the Reformation richer men and women left gifts to chantry priests; by the 1600s their wills contained donations to St Mary’s church, the pier or simply to the parish poor. The earliest case of money left to build a new hospital occurs in the last will of John Farrer.

Every Scarborian ought to know that Mrs Thomasin Farrer was the gentlewoman who in the 1620s discovered what became famously Scarborough’s spa waters. (Even Scarborough Corporation recently acknowledged her existence by naming a Spa bar Farrer’s).

Her husband, John, is virtually unknown even though he was elected one of the town’s bailiffs in 1599, 1602, 1607, 1613, 1619 and 1625 and during that quarter century sat continuously amongst the Common Hall’s oligarchy. He was one of the six men who shared the salt-making monopoly from 1600; one of the 35 shipowners who founded the Society in 1602; one of the 12 “subsidy men” who paid a parliamentary tax; and one of only a dozen men in the town who had his own body armour and firearm.

Just before his death in 1627 he founded a hospital for “poor widows” to live under one roof in two cottages.

The hospital, afterwards named after him, was built in Low Conduit Street on the south side of what has become Princess Square.

It was demolished in the early 1950s to give way to a fish restaurant.