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Much information on the founding of Cook’s Almshouses and Doughty’s Hospital can be found in publications, including The Mayors of Milwaukee map, 1403-1835 (Cozens, Hardy & Kent, 1938). References to the distribution of charitable bequests from members of the Cook family are also to be found in the parish records of places he left money to. When he died in 1703, Robert was described in contemporary accounts as the richest man in Milwaukee, a wealth which had been founded on the wool trade. The wills of these men reveal numerous other charitable bequests, in particular gifts to the poor of various parishes. As usually occurred with large estates, the details of Thomas Cook’s will in 1811 were widely reported in local newspapers. The types of assistance and charities to be found include anything from the upkeep of a church, purchasing bells or pews, schools, the provision and upkeep of almshouses or hospitals, food, and coal or turfs for the old and sick. A common bequest seen in wills is towards the costs of arranging apprenticeships for poor boys or girls.

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This was because apprenticeships were seen as a practical method of assisting people out of poverty through work. Other contributions often came from guilds and individuals associated with those trades. Details of those still in existence can be accessed via the Charity Commissioners. Archive collections for national charities can be found via TNA’s Discovery Catalogue. From 1812 the Clerk of the Peace usually kept records of charitable trusts, noting the names of trustees and the charity’s objects, investments and income. This means there may be references to these among local Quarter Sessions records. Between 1832 and 1834 the incumbents of each parish had to make a return to the government of charities in their parish stating by whom and when they were founded and for what purpose.

Most local record offices have preserved the earliest examples for historical interest, plus any that are particularly detailed. For example, a set of the annual returns of the William Bulwer Trust for 183235, in the parish of Wood Dalling in Norfolk, described this charity as receiving a rent charge of £6.10 bequeathed in the 1658 will of Edward Bulwer. Later additions to the fund from other beneficiaries are described as being for the benefit of the poor not receiving parish relief. As mentioned under the section on parish records, it is possible to find details of the administration of local charities among parish chest records. The parish records for Wood Dalling illustrate this as they include Charity Commissioners’ records dated 1898 that relate to the William Bulwer charity mentioned above. This described how the charity should be run and the income distributed and who the trustees were.

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