Oystermouth Tithe Map
Inside the Norman arch leading into the tower at All Saints' is an old Tithe Map of Oystermouth Parish. It dates from 1844 and gives a fascinating insight into the Mumbles of yesteryear. It records a very different community with the villages of Oystermouth, Southend, Norton, Newton and Blackpill being very much separate entities.
The purpose of the map was to assess what was known as the 'tithe' - a tax paid to the parish for the care of the poor.
The 'Poor Law' was, from medieval times on, an important principle in British life. It acknowledged the duty of society to provide work for anyone who needed it and to help those, who through infirmity or old age couldn't work.
In 1601 Queen Elizabeth 1 set out the 'Act for the Relief of the Poor'. It made every ecclesiastical parish responsible for the care of its own poor.
For several hundred years the care of the poor in Oystermouth came under the responsibility of what was known as 'The Vestry'. This met once a fortnight and was made up of the Perpetual Curate, the Churchwarden's, Clerk and elected councillors [who owned land or property above a certain value]. The Vestry was elected every Easter.
To care for the poor the Parish imposed a tithe on the income of the local landowners, farmers and workers. It was usually collected in kind [a share of the crops]. Historically this tithe was based on the Biblical concept of a tenth of a person's income. By the 1830s, in Oystermouth, the rate was set at one shilling in the Pound, later raised to two shillings [5% to 10%].
Prior to the Reformation the relief of the poor was thought to be every Christian's duty. It not only helped feed the hungry but was thought to store up 'treasures in heaven' for those who gave of their wealth, shortening their time in purgatory.
After the Reformation there was a marked change in attitude. Those who paid the tithe were not promised a fast pass into heaven and the poor became to be seen as less deserving and a drain on their betters. Landowners and workers did their best to avoid paying the tithe, which became all the more unpopular during the rise of Nonconformity.
Early nineteenth century parish records show various ways of helping the poor in Oystermouth. Payments were made to a Mr Wright for the renting of 'The Dove' in Norton. It had five rooms and housed up to twenty people 'on the parish'. These 'indoor paupers' received two shillings a week to provide food for their families. 'Outdoor paupers' received a few shillings for new shoes, for the local doctor to minister to them or to pay for their funeral costs .
In 1834 the 'Poor Law Amendment Act' introduced groupings or 'unions' of parishes to care for the poor. It prohibited 'outdoor relief' and saw the building of a number Workhouses across the country. In 1844 it also saw the drawing up of local parish tithe maps to make the system more efficient. Oystermouth was part of a number of local parishes to enter the 'Gower Union' which oversaw the building of the workhouse in Penmaen [now Three Cliffs Nursing Home]. Being 'on the parish' remained a stigma well in to the twentieth century.
Though the responsibility of caring for the sick and the poor eventually passed from the Church to the state tithe
liability did not officially end until 1936. Interestingly, it
continues this day for some property owners in England in Chancel Repair Liability for their Parish Church.
[with acknowledgement to Carol Powell]