1761 Tilehurst map

Tilehurst Poor's Land Charity a Brief History

Help for the Poor of the Parish of Tilehurst

The provisions of the 1811 Inclosure Act included an allocation of land to be used to generate income. The income was to be used to provide fuel for the poor of the parish. Trustees established by the Act were authorised to let the land, and the profits from the rents were, from time to time, spent on fuel for distribution amongst the poor inhabitants of the parish of Tilehurst.

The area covered by the ancient Manor and Parish of Tilehurst included the present Tilehurst Parish, Holybrook Parish and Theale Parish plus those parts of the Borough of Reading known as Tilehurst (which includes the Church of England parishes of St. Michael's, St. Mary Magdalen's and St. George's).

The Act allocated three parcels of land at Kentwood Common and Workhouse Common, amounting to some 26 acres (10.5 hectares), to be held and managed to provide fuel for the poor of the Parish. This is the basis of the Poor's Land Charity. Some of this land has since been sold, and the proceeds invested to provide an income.

Originally the land was let for agricultural purposes, but more recently for allotment gardens. The Charity also owns the land on which the Victoria Recreation Ground stands, and this is rented by Reading Borough Council.

Parish chest used to hold the Inclosure Award

Rents of the Poor's Land were originally used to buy fuel, distributed as 'coal tickets'. However, since the 1970s, increasing use of electricity and gas instead of solid fuel has led to the income being used to provide grants for a wider range of goods and services for people in need, hardship or distress who are resident in the ancient Parish.

The original Inclosure Act appointed Trustees to hold and administer the land for the poor, and to arrange for them to receive fuel. These Trustees were the Rector, the Churchwardens, the Overseers of the Poor and the Lord or Lady of the Manor. The seven present Trustees are their successors, although modifications have been made over the years to reflect the changing structure of local government. The Rector is still a Trustee, ex-officio, and the others are one each nominated by Theale Parish Council, Tilehurst Parish Council and Reading Borough Council, together with three co-opted Trustees.

The Trustees have always had complete discretion over the people who received help from the Charity, provided only that they were in need, hardship or distress and, in the early days, were legally settled within the area of benefit.

People receiving help would have been mainly those with no source of income because of age or inability to work. Some would have been unable to work at all, because of illness, disability or injury. Others would have been in need because of lack of paid work, either temporarily or in the longer term - most agricultural employment being both casual and seasonal.

In recent years, the Trustees have normally defined 'need' as being in receipt of state welfare benefits, confirmed by receipt of a covering letter from a Social Worker, District Nurse or other professional person. Following the repeal of the laws of Settlement, grants were made to any qualifying person living within the boundaries of the 'Ancient Parish'. Today, few applications for grants are received from pensioners or those unable to work for medical reasons. Many applicants are single parents, both those who are young and unsupported, and those who are older and no longer have the support of a spouse or partner. Another group of applicants are those who are seeking to build or rebuild their lives after periods in hospital, rehabilitation or leaving the family home, or who are refugees from other countries.

In 1959, the Trustees considered a draft 'Scheme' drawn up by the Charity Commission which would become, in effect, the constitution and rules for managing the Charity. The Charity Commission's standard conditions were incorporated into another draft which was discussed and agreed in 1975, but this, too, made no further progress. Then in February 1981 a new draft was considered, and the current scheme was finally agreed and sealed in 1982, having been published for public comment. The new Scheme of management for the Charity highlighted the aim of making grants to those individuals in need hardship or distress, rather than to other organizations. It also broke away from the original purpose of using funds to pay (solely) for fuel for the poor.

From 1959/60, the Charity's income rose due to investment of the proceeds from the sale of land. By this time, the number of coal tickets issued each year had declined, and the Trustees had more funds available. Consequently, from 1960/61, grants were made to individuals for purposes other than for fuel, including contributions toward the cost of higher education, electrical goods, flooring, a shower, school field trips, holidays (for the disabled and for poor families with children), and funeral expenses.

This type of grant continues to the present day, with more emphasis on household requirements, particularly electrical goods. Furniture requests are usually passed to Christian Community Action, a local Charity which collects unwanted furniture, and passes on good quality items to those in need for a very small charge. By a special agreement, these charges are invoiced to Tilehurst Poor's Land Charity for qualifying applicants. Holidays and School uniform are paid for when funds allow. Medical services and requirements used to be covered by grants, but requests are now referred to specialist Charities so that the Charity's limited funds may be more widely used. Over the years, grants have occasionally been made to help the payment of arrears of rent and utility bills, but only where the contribution possible would make a significant difference. The Trustees are not allowed to make grants for anything for which may be paid for by central or local government funds, nor may they make grants toward fines.

Part of the income of the Charity comes from rents of the land still held, including a builders' yard, the Victoria Recreation Ground and allotment gardens. The rest of the Charity's income comes mainly from dividends and interest on investments, which is money received from the sale of land for residential development.

Following legislation, control over the investments of the Charity was transferred from the Official Custodian of Charities to the Trustees in 1992. This gave the Trustees complete control over their investments, subject to the maintenance of their Capital Funds (Permanent Endowment) and to taking suitable professional advice. The Charity has an agreed Investment Policy and there is an Investment Committee which takes advice from time to time and makes recommendations to the Trustees.

In the early years of the Charity, until the 1950s and 60s, the Trustees usually met only once a year, in or around November, to arrange for fuel deliveries or coal tickets for those in need. However, as grants were offered for a wider range of benefits, including some urgent grants, meetings began to be held quarterly, and now are held six or seven times a year. In addition to grant making, meeting time is also taken up with allotment garden and other property management issues.