Friday, September 18, 2009

A poor box

click photo to enlarge
One of my childhood memories is being taken into the church of St Alkelda in Giggleswick, North Yorkshire (though it was in the West Riding at that time), and reading the words, "Remember The Pore" on the poor box that was fixed in the aisle near the south porch. The date on the box interested me, but the spelling of the word "poor" puzzled me (for I knew that must be what the word said.) It could well have been that seventeenth century carved lettering that gave me the first realization that words have not always been spelled as they are today.

My copy of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives examples of the development of the spelling of the word "poor" over the centuries. Here is a brief summary: c.1205 pouere, c.1300 pouir, c.1375 powere, c.1380 poer and poeure, c.1440 power, 1434 poyr, 1536 poor, 1540 power, 1554-9 poware, 1592 pore, 1611 poore, 1629 pore, 1650 poor. Before attempts to standardise spelling began in the eighteenth century writers often went their own way with words, and the list of spellings in the OED in no way shows a sequence that was followed by all. In fact, the dictionary shows an instance of it being spelled peer as late as 1802! However, from the examples quoted above we can see that pore was certainly current in the seventeenth century.

Poor boxes are found in many English churches and often date from the 1600s. They are evidence of the role the church played in supporting the poor through the collection of money from parishioners. Such boxes and collections are often known as "alms", and in some areas the term "mite box" is also used. What I didn't know as a child when I read the words shown in the photograph is that they are probably a quotation from the Bible (Galatians 2:10), but, through the power of the internet I now do! Furthermore, what I never noticed as a child was the date A.D. 1844 carved at the bottom of the box, but, through the power of photography I now have! I imagine it was carved when the box underwent some restoration.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 22mm (44mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f3.5
Shutter Speed: 1/15
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On