Stories From The Rates


Rate books are an excellent census substitute and a fascinating window into civic life in England. Rates were local taxes. The money collected was used for the upkeep of the churches, water supply, prisons, roads and hospitals. Rate books are arranged by street and the images can be used to discover who was living on a street when your ancestors were there. These records can also be used to trace house histories and to learn the names of previous generations who lived in your home.


The Poor Law Act of 1601 introduced rates for the maintenance of the poor. Ratepayers were also entitled to vote for committee members who oversaw the distribution of poor relief. The amount payable was based on the value of the property and was collected at Midsummer (June), Michaelmas (October) and Christmas (January). 


Almost any entry in a rate book tells a story and none more so than the actual rate that is set. In 1906 at a meeting of Warblington Urban District Council (WUDC) it was proposed that the rate be 5s in the £ a figure that attracted interest as far away as Whitby, as evidenced by this article in that town’s newspaper. This is such a high figure compared to the more typical 2s 6d that was charged in the 1914 Rate Book. What could have caused such a monumental figure to be considered?


The article in the Whitby Gazette has part of the reason. The outcome of the court case brought by JD Foster against Warblington UDC for damages to his oyster business caused by the Emsworth Oyster scare, had found in JD’s favour and he was awarded £3,300 plus costs, a considerable sum back in 1903. The ratepayers were aggrieved and bitter, and the “wealthy Mr Foster was urged to forego his pound of flesh”. A judicial review was heard in the courts in 1906. “While there were no new facts, there were new twists to the plot. Mr Foster claimed that his losses had now risen to £18,000. It was pointed out that he himself had been a member of the Council when the offending sewage scheme was approved.”


“The decisive factor was apparently Jack Kennett. His business had also suffered, but he made no legal claim. The exact nature of the evidence he gave to the Appeal Court is now lost in obscurity, but it helped tilt the scales of justice. Foster’s damages were cut to £850, and Kennett was the hero of Emsworth.”


The quoted passages above are from un-attributed hand written notes contained in the archive, which continue as follows:
“As a postscript to this turn of the century drama, both the giant participants lived on for many years in Emsworth. JD Foster died in 1940 and was buried with some pomp, but limited local affection, in Warblington Churchyard. Jack Kennett, assisted by his son”…”continued in the oyster business until the outbreak of another war in 1939, and died – greatly respected - in 1950.”


All of which seems a little hard on JD, but it has to be said that JD had some previous form as far court cases with Warblington UDC are concerned. To be revealed in some future Museum writing.