John Sayers Dole, SuffolkThe lovely church of St Mary in Woodbridge , Suffolk, is worth visiting for the magnificence of its architecture and the fineness of its entrance porch. It contains a seven sacrament font, a rare survivor of the Puritan zeal that saw so many such 'idolatrous' objects of Catholic heritage destroyed. But the porch contains a more homely and touching artefact, on the left as you enter: a dole-cupboard, relatively simple in design, dark wood with a ridged top beneath which there are leaded glass panes, the details of Sayer's bequest written on a panel between the glass panes and the ridged top.
Sayer died in 1638, and his will made provision for a weekly dole to the poor of the parish in a most practical form. He left land known as Garden Close in Melton, a hop garden adjoining it, some fenland, and a hemp field, in total 15 acres 2 rods and 26 perch for charitable use. The rent from this land was to be used for the purchase of clothing and bread for the poor, though it seems to have been bread for which the money was generally used. At one time the rent enabled 42 small loaves to be purchased, left in the cupboard for impoverished residents to help themselves at the weekend. The land was sold in 1958, seemingly contrary to the original wishes of John Sayer, and the money raised from the sale invested: this now allows for just nine small loaves to be left in the cupboard, which perhaps shows the wisdom of Mr Sayer's original bequest, or more optimistically shows there are fewer in need of this bread these days.
More British Folk Customs?