When James Whittaker, a clothier from Church Clough, died around 1653, he left money in his will to provide a yearly dole to most needy poor in Colne.
“That the said James Whittaker did in and by his said last Will and Testam[en]t charge the sum[m]e of one pound thirteen shillings foure pence of Lawfull English money upon certaine of his Lands in the said Will particulerly [?] to bee paid yearely to the most needfull poore people of the parish of Colne for ever…”
Some years later the terms of the will were disputed and among the papers relating to the dispute are accounts for about 10 years of who the money went to. Here is an example for 1661.
“A particular Account of the money that Isabell Hammond hath Discharged w[i]thin Colne parishe for the year 1661..”
Most of the paupers are given their full names – many surnames are common in the town today: Blakey, Emmott, Holgate and Bancroft for example – but some have only nicknames, such as Old Besse a Bridge or Little Alice. Others are referred to simply as somebody’s wife or child: Little Hughe wife, Whipe Childe or Halstead wife.
These documents show how giving something to those in need in the wider community was a consideration when making a will back then: look at what you have, think about what you can give. The informal way people many were referred to in the accounts shows how familiar people and their circumstances were to each other, right across town – this really was a “know everybody” society.
Sources: James Whitaker’s will: National Archives reference PROB 11/226/505 ; dispute papers: Lancashire Archive reference WCW James Whittaker 1653