In former times, it was quite common for people to leave money in their wills for the relief of the local poor or other good causes. The care of the poor was viewed as a local affair and many bequests were for purely altruistic motives, but in pre-Reformation times there was the added bonus of ensuring that people gathered to pray for your soul, and as this became forbidden, 'being remembered' became a major factor. Some benefactors sought to set up lasting memorials to themselves by arranging for a perpetual charity, and this needed a regular supply of money and some form of trustees. The money was often supplied by leaving land for the purpose, which could either be rented out or its crops sold to finance the charity. Some benefactors indulged themselves with strange complicated bequests, laying down many rules and regulations, and often stipulating that the charity be distributed over their grave. Over the years, however, social changes have often made a nonsense of the charity, and the money involved has usually become negligible. Of more interest to folklorists, however, is that the original documentation has often been lost and the charity has become a custom. Small changes have crept in, and what may have made sense at the beginning has lost any rational explanation. In the absence of real information (or, in some cases, in the absence of any interesting information) legends have been created to explain, and as these are necessarily post facto creations, they fit the bill nicely. These legends then begin a life of their own. Lack of space precludes the inclusion of most surviving charities, but see Shuel, 1985; Kightly, 1986; H. Edwards, A Collection of Old English Customs and Curious Bequests and Charities (1842).

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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