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Early Modern

OTHER MATTERS

THE MAINTENANCE OF HIGHWAYS AND OTHER MATTERS

Under the Highways Act of 1555 the upkeep of the King’s Highway became the responsibility of the parish. Each parishioner owning a piece of ploughland, or keeping a cart or plough, was liable to supply a cart for four days a year for use in road repair. Each able-bodied householder or tenant was required to give four days labour a year (increased in 1691 to six). It was possible to pay a fine to avoid this or to provide a substitute. Parliament enacted that a surveyor should be appointed by each parish and this became the responsibility of local justices.

The parish authorities were also responsible for fire precautions and fire fighting in the town. They had to ensure that a fire pump was purchased and maintained in good working order. They were also responsible for placing ladders, buckets and hooks at strategic points around the town. A parish fire-engine is first mentioned in the Dartford records in 1740. A charge of six shillings was made each time the engine was called out. In 1783, the churchwardens paid the Sun Fire Insurance Office 21 for an engine and the call-out charge was raised to ten shillings. The Dartford engine house is first mentioned in 1786. Parish officers went ahead with the construction of the engine house without gaining the approval of the parish vestry. The vestry refused to pay the costs and ordered the new engine house to be taken down.

It was the duty of the churchwardens to keep the parish free of vermin. Rewards were paid out for their capture, foxes’ heads at a shilling each, badgers’ hides at a shilling each, hedgehogs and polecats at 4d each and bullfinches’ and tomtits’ heads at a penny each. A dog-whipper was appointed by the parish authorities to keep stray dogs out of church on Sundays. The person appointed received 4d each Sunday "for whipping ye dogges out of ye church".

Other important functions of the parish authorities were the inspection and control of weights and measures used by market traders, the inspection of inns and alehouses, and the checking of beer, bread and leather goods sold in the local area. An ‘ale-conner’ and ‘leather sealer’ were appointed annually by Dartford’s court leet.

 

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