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Disaster relief in 17th & 18th Century Suffolk

Leafing through the parish register for Lindsey, one of our intrepid searchroom assistants came across an interesting discovery.

When there was a disaster in a parish, somebody was authorised to carry a brief description around the country, hoping to be able to collect money to alleviate the disaster.  If, for example, there was a disaster in Combs then visiting the parishes of Stowmarket and Battisford and Needham Market might be lucrative.

But you can see from these images that the registers record collections for unfortunate events in such far flung places as Duxford in Cambridgeshire, Windsor in Berkshire, Handsworth in Yorkshire and for disasters befalling the French Protestants.  The register talks of hail storms in Kent, ‘inundations’ in Yorkshire [nothing changes], fires, and even a disaster in Montreal.

Our staff member further learnt that the originating parish had to apply to the monarch, through the Lord Chancellor, for the collection.  The appointed collector, and many others along the way, had to be paid a fee and it is suggested that sometimes only half the collected money made its way to the ‘sufferers’.

What enterprise, to go to the expense of sending someone to Suffolk, in the hope that there might be relief for the ‘sufferers’.  Perhaps we were known as a particularly generous county!

The images below are from two pages of such ‘briefs’ from 1769 and from 1681-2 – they come from the Bildeston composite register (Ref: FB79/D1/3).

bildeston briefs

Briefs from the 1760s describing hail storms, inundations and a fire in Montreal.

Briefs from 1681-2 describing a fire in Tems street and a collection for French Protestants

Briefs from 1681-2 describing a fire in Tems Street, London and a collection for French Protestants