We’ve cheated slightly in December and chosen two documents: a valuation of gifts to Sir John Bramston, 1636 (D/DEb 8) and ‘Bread and Meat given to the Poor’ at Terling, 1843 (D/P 299/28/6). Both will be on display in the Searchroom throughout December.
The custom of giving presents at Christmas has a long history. These two documents detail gifts received by those at the extremes of the social scale – the rich and powerful and the poor and needy.
Sir John Bramston was Lord Chief Justice of England and at Christmas 1636 he received many gifts, mainly of meat and poultry, from family, friends and associates. The list begins with a gift of 20 turkeys from his sister-in-law Mrs Aylmer and her son. Presents included cattle, pigs, game, oysters, wine, eringoes (candied sea holly roots, a Colchester speciality) and even a silver dish. Those giving presents included his tenants but also Lord Petre, ‘Mr Dacye the lawyer’ and the town of Chelmsford which presented him with a hogshead of claret. The gifts were delivered to his manor of Skreens in Roxwell and the list includes sums of money given to each servant or messenger making the deliveries.
In contrast the list of poor at Terling who were to receive money, bread and meat on Christmas Eve 1843 records the number in each family, with the number of loaves and pounds of meat given in proportion to the size of the family. Charles Coal who had 10 in his family received 5 shillings, two loaves and 10lbs. of beef. Notes on the list indicate that some of the poor were not deserving of money or meat. James Church who had seven in his family was considered ‘Not deserving money or Meat’ and received only two loaves. There were 142 recipients listed, with a total of 607 family members, who between them shared 183 loaves, 566 pounds of beef and £10 7s. 6d.
The documents together, though separated by 200 years, provide an interesting insight into social inequalities. We can only hope that Sir John Bramston shared out his gifts and didn’t try to consume all of them himself!