In early times, in the absence of any other body, the incumbent and churchwardens of a rural parish would exercise some civil as well as ecclesiastical duties, particularly as regards managing the poor of the parish and administering the Poor Law.
Typically, the churchwardens were required to keep accounts, showing their income from rates and expenditure on the church fabric, the poor and whatever else they felt fit to take in hand. No churchwardens’ accounts survive for Steeple Morden.
The Vestry Meeting evolved as a broader body, with greater responsibilities. It was a meeting of parish ratepayers chaired by the incumbent of the parish and originally met in the church or its vestry, from which it got its name. It still dealt with a mix of secular and ecclesiastical matters, with the poor and parish roads often central to their deliberations.
The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 removed responsibility for the poor from individual parishes and created Poor Law Unions, which were groupings of parishes, with an over-arching Board of Guardians to administer the poor law and erect Union workhouses to house the needy poor.
The creation of County Councils in 1889 and District and Parish Councils in 1894 took away the remaining civil functions of the Vestry Meeting, which became the Parochial Church Council to oversee ecclesiastical matters only.
Steeple Morden had its Vestry Meeting, although it is not known when it came into existence. Unfortunately, only two Minute Books survive. The first for the period 1822-1869 and the second for 1885-1894. Both are in the Cambridgeshire Archives.
It is planned to reproduce the two Minute Books on this site, although for now this is a summary of the 1822-1869 Book:
Mainly deals with the appointment of officers, levying of rates and audit of accounts, but including repairs to church 1844; Mr. Thurnall to be asked to pay for land and houses purchased of the parish 1851; parish workhouse & land to be sold 1851; Small Tenements Rating Act adopted 1852; claim for rates against Eastern Counties Rlwy. 1852; successful appeal by Rev. Thomas Brereton against rates 1857; parts of parish where improvements have taken place to be surveyed by Mr. Nash of Royston 1858; retiring churchwarden to be compelled to produce accounts 1861; objection to cattle in churchyard 1861; £50 from poor and highway rates from Royston and Hitchin Railway Co. to be given to churchwardens in lieu of church rates 1863; plans for restoration of church by Mr. Coffine of Nottingham not to be paid for by parish 1864; church to be completely restored 1867; Waywarden to represent parish on Arrington and Caxton Highway Board elected 1868. At front: memorandum by Rev. E. Green concerning sale of old workhouse etc. in 1851, and disposal of money, 1890.
Last Updated on February 26, 2022