The Board of Guardians

The Board of Guardians of Milford Union was made up of twenty-six guardians and was a microcosm of the surrounding communities, consisting of both the tenant farmer class and the landlord class in the form of elected and non-elected or ex-officio guardians. Women were excluded from sitting on the boards and members of the clergy or Holy Orders were also excluded, as the poor law commissioners feared it would lead to religious tensions within the boards. A ratio of three elected guardians to one ex-officio was laid down in the poor law although the number of magistrates was later increased so that there were equal numbers of each class on the boards.

The elected guardians were elected from the electoral divisions of the union, each electoral division being entitled to elect at least one guardian. Towns were entitled to have between two and four representatives due to the increased population in these divisions and as a result the bigger towns of Carn, Milford and Ramelton elected three guardians each while Carrigart, Kerrykeel and Rathmullan had two. The ex-officio guardians were drawn from the Justices of the Peace residing in the union. It was felt necessary to include ex-officio guardians on the boards, as it was feared that if they were left out they would refuse to pay the poor rate and not co-operate with the boards, thus jeopardising the entire Poor Relief System.

Elections for seats on the boards of guardians were held as near as possible to the 25th March each year with the new guardians taking up office from the beginning of April. For a person to stand as a candidate in an election they first had to be nominated by a person entitled to vote. In order to be qualified to act as a guardian a candidate had to be a male of full age who was liable to pay county cess. The candidate was required to be a landlord entitled to vote on the basis of being paid more than 10 per annum as rent from property in the union or to be in occupation of property within the union on which he paid cess of more than ten shillings.

Elected guardians often felt obliged to support their landlords who were the ex-officio guardians, this led to the main offices on the boards - the chairman, the vice-chairman and the deputy vice-chairman- being dominated by the ex-officios. At the first meeting of the Milford board of guardians, Sir James Stewart, one of the biggest landowners in the area, was elected chairman. John Law and Nathan Stewart, vice-chairman and deputy vice-chairman respectively, were both ex-officio officers. The influence of these ex-officio guardians was extended further when a resolution was passed at the same meeting stating that the chairman, vice-chairman and deputy vice-chairman be automatically included in all committees.

Above Right: List of the attendance at the first meeting of the Milford board of guardians and the election of chairman, vice-chairman and deputy vice-chairman, (BG/119/1/1, 30th August 1841).

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