James Barham (1721 – 1786)

Soldier, Cordwainer and Master of the Workhouse

Workhouse Master

When James died in 1786 at the age of 65 the burial record described him as "Master of the Worhouse". On this page  the evidence surrounding his final career is discussed. For other aspects of his life see the following links:

The first possible indication that James was involved in the care of the poor appears in the minutes of the Guardians of the Workhouse of St Botolphs Aldgate Parish on 19th July 1767.

The Guardians agreed with James Barham of Waltham Abbey in Essex, concerning whose Character they have made Enquiry and are satisfied, for Nursing and taking Care as they may think proper to send him, at a Convenient House near the Kings Oak on Epping Forest at Two Shillings and Six pence per Week each And Ordered that the Master and Mistress of the Workhouse do Send the Several Children in the Workhouse under the Age of Six Years as soon as Conveniently can be done to the said Mr Barham's to be nursed and taken of, And that the said several Children be doubly clothed.

So why should this James Barham be the cordwainer from Three Colt Street Limehouse? Firstly there is the fact that we know he ended his life  as Master of a workhouse. Secondly, St Botolphs is only 2 miles from Limehouse.  However Waltham Abbey is much further away (16 miles) but nevertheless it is still possible that James had taken up residence there.

There are numerous references to Mr Barham in subsequent minutes up to September 1969. There is then a gap in the minutes until November 1773 when someone else appears to be in charge of the Epping House

In February 1772 the following advertisement appeared in the Canterbury Journal and the Sussex Weekly advertiser:


A GOVERNOR of the POOR in the WORKHOUSE in the town and port of HASTING in the County of SUSSEX. Any Perfon properly qualified, that is fkilled in the Linen and Woollen manufactories, who chufe to undertake the Management of this Office, will meet with good Encouragement. He is defired to treat with the Parifh Officers before Eafter Monday next. Further Particulars may be learnt by applying to the Parifh Officers in Hafting aforefaid. .

James Barham was duly appointed to the post and his signature on the contract appears identical to that on the affidavit of 1766 and the register entry for the marriage to Mary Durrant suggesting that these are all the same person.

Enquiry of the Hastings Reference Library produced the following:

Chapter 18: Life in a Georgian Workhouse p141

By 1772 the number of poor was decreasing, due possibly to the fact that the town as a whole was entering on a period of prosperity as a fashionable resort. A new governor of the workhouse, called James Barham, was appointed and the surgeon's salary restored. William Daniel was allowed to take his wife and six children out with all his household furniture and also given 40s. "by way of encouragement for to keep out." One might think that the resources of the house must have been severely strained at times to accommodate all the miscellaneous goods that were brought to it, but cases did arise occasionally when the poor possessed properly of a different nature: “Agreed that Thomas Burcher, a Poor Boy now at Service at the Rev. Mr. Whitear's, should have his Tenement that belongs to him in the occupation of Widow Gurr, in the Lane going up the Lighthouse, on Account of his being out of the House for about four Years, the Parish Officers agreeing at the same time with Master Reed to pay rent for it (if any of the Poor live in the house)......” James Barham had apparently to face criticism from outside as well as inside the house. In July, the wife of Butcher, Richard Thomas, was committed to gaol by the magistrates for abusing him and “behaving in a very riotous manner at the Workhouse”, until her husband should give security for her good behaviour. But by the summer of 1772 the experiment of a joint workhouse for more than one parish was coming to a close, and as many of the poor as could reasonably be expected to get their own living were discharged. These included William Dean with his wife and three of his children. From 1773 All Saints looked after its own poor, and the last few entries in the old Minute‑book show that St. Clement's carried on in possession alone. They had raised £400 to purchase it. It later became the home of the Hastings Literary Institution, which was founded in 1831 and included amongst its members most of ‘the leading literary and scientific residents of the borough’.

So in 1773 the joint workhouse closed and there is no further sign of him or his wife until 1784 when he was appointed Master of the new joint Poorhouse for Darenth and Horton Kirby. An extract from the Dartford Archives states:

Articles of agreement re the establishment of a joint poorhouse for Darenth and Horton Kirby. Agreement dated 18 October 1774 between the churchwardens and overseers of the poor of both parishes.
The house had recently been erected on Greensted Green at the charge of the parishioners and inhabitants of Darenth. The Horton Kirby churchwardens are to pay £10 per annum for half the rent. The Governors are to be the Vicars, Churchwardens and Overseers of each parish plus up to 4 additional persons from each parish. The Governors are to choose "such person or persons to be Master and Mistress of the House as they shall think proper with such Salary or Salaries and to be paid in such manner as the said Governors or the Major part of them shall agree upon".

Further research by RB reveals that the Horton Kirby Vestry Minutes record that, at a Vestry meeting held at Easter 1775, a Mrs Vickers had applied to be Mistress of the Poorhouse and this was agreed. So, it is clear that James Barham was not the first incumbent.

However, on the 28th March, 1784, the Minutes say:

“a Vestry was held to consider the proposals that were made at a meeting on Tuesday past for a Master and Mistress of the said Workhouse. It is unanimously agreed that the articles entered into with J Barham of Rochester should be confirmed.”

It is not clear why they moved to Darenth, but the designation “of Rochester” is of course interesting and suggests that after leaving Hastings he might have spent time in Rochester, possibly also gaining employment as a workhouse governor. However no evidence to this end has yet been found.

James was buried in Darenth on 14th October 1786, when his age was stated as 65. Mary had died a year earlier, also in Darenth, aged 58. There is some evidence that his son James succeeded him for a while as Master.

There is no evidence of the workhouse today, and the Darenth Vestry minutes record that the property was sold in 1838.