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1786: The 'pauper's' cumuppance

Here is a curious example of an eighteenth century 'social security' scam caused by the fear of bank failure leading to a crime of greed which, for a while, outsmarted the judges in Cuckfield.

A few days since died, at Ryegate, in Surrey, one Richard Dixon, of Worthe, in this county, aged near 90 years. The old man as long as he was able, followed the beliefs of a pedlar, and by his industry had scraped together several hundred pounds, which, through the medium of Mr Stephen Dendy, wholesale linen draper, London Bridge, with whom he had constantly been dealt.

He placed in the stocks [invested his money], where he suffered it to remain till about the time the French openly declared in favour of the Americans [1778], during the late war [American Revolutionary War], when the old man said the circumstance so alarmed him, that he began to fear a national bankruptcy, and to feel for the safety of money.

He was therefore desirous of having it in his own possession, and requested Mr Dendy to sell out for him, which he accordingly did. And having paid him the full amount of his property, agreeably to his own particular with, all in guineas, he eagerly shot them into the bottom of a new sack which he had cut off for the purpose, and carried them away, with a countenance expressive of utmost joy.

Having now lost all his confidence in the Bank of England- and consequently the interest that his money brought him in there - and being too parsimonious to touch a sou of the principal, he resolved on making up the deficiency, in some degree, by levying contributions on the parish, under the plea of poverty.

Justices of Cuckfield hoodwinked

In which he succeeded so well as to get the sum of five shillings allowed him weekly for a considerable time, and until he did not think that sufficient, when he had the effrontery to summon the parish officers before a sitting of Justices at Cuckfield where he managed his hypocrisy so well, that it operated much on their Worships humanity, and actually obtained an order for an augmentation of two shillings and sixpence per week.

But unfortunately for him, some considerable time before he died, the circumstance of his being kept by the parish accidentally reached Mr Dendy, who, very much to his credit, immediately discovered the imposition to the parish offices, assuring them at the same time, that to his certain knowledge, their pretended pauper was possessed of many hundred pounds.

Upon this they challenged the old man, who in reply first calling on God to bless his own heart, declared ‘he was not worth sixpence in the world’. This by no means satisfied the officers, who proceeded to search his apartment in the poor house where, at length, in a hole in his closet, under an old saddle and a pile of wood, they discovered his hoard, and to their agreeable surprise found it contained eight hundred guineas and a farthing, carefully sewed up in the identical piece of sack above-mentioned.

The wretched hypocrite now stood petrified with confusion, and had the mortification to find himself obliged to refund all he had received of the parish, with expenses, to the no small pleasure and satisfaction of every other person in Worthe and its neighbourhood. The interest of the money in which the old wretch suffered to lie years rusting in his closet, whilst his family were half starving for want of it, now being again in the funds, supports them with credit and independency.

Hereford Journal, 28 December 1786

Drawing: The Peddler, 1903, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Wikimedia public domain image.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.



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