Broad Street Wrington Village Records
Studies of the history of a Somerset Village

Manorial court papers, 1733 - 1757
Pages 49 - 53

Source: Wrington Manorial Court Papers, Xerox copies of original MSS. in Bristol Records Office. (Ref: AC/M1O/4).

The working papers of the manorial courts held at Wrington have survived for the greater part of the 18th century, among the business papers of the Bristol solicitor
who acted as Steward of the Courts. They give a behind-the-scenes picture of manorial administration at the latter end of its long sway, when it was being fast superseded by a more modern village community and farming methods. Copies of the papers for several years were studied by a group of eight people. Research centred upon the year of the map of Wrington Tithing (1738), in the hope that the records and the map might illuminate each other; while earlier and later years were also studied, in an effort to discern changes as they took

The years which have been studied are as follows :-

1733 Mr. and Mrs. Smith. 1737 Mr. and Mrs. Smith. 1738 Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
1739 Colonel and Mrs. Lee. 1740 Mr. and Mrs. James. 1741 Mr. and Mrs. James.
1747 Commander and Mrs. Lawder. 1750 Commander and Mrs. Lawder.
1757 Commander and Mrs. Lawder.

and the individual contributions that resulted have here been amalgamated into
one paper.


The Manor consisted of three tithings: Wrington, Broadfield and Burrington (see paper, The Boundaries of the Manor of Wrington), and up to the dissolution of the monasteries was the property of the Abbey of Glastonbury. It was then bought from Henry VIII by Sir Henry Capel, whose descendants became the Earls of Essex. In 1726 the Manor was sold to William Pulteney, who in 1742 became the Earl of Bath. In 1764 he left the reversion of the Manor to Henry Barnard (descended from the 15th century family of Vane), who never actually held it as the Earl's niece Henrietta, Countess of Bath, was in possession till 1808. Henry Barnard became the second Earl of Darlington and died (before Henrietta) in 1792. His elder son, the third Earl, became the first Duke of Cleveland and succeeded to the Manor of Wrington in 1808; but his third son (1803-1891) was the last Duke of Cleveland, the line became extinct, and the Manor was sold by auction in 1895 (see paper, The Sale of the Wrington Estate, 1895).


The Courts Leet and Baron are recorded in 1738,1747,1750 and 1757 as being held at the Golden Lion, Wrington, by Jarrit Smith, Steward for the Earl of Bath. This venue was presumably because the Manor House was being let, and some time between 1738 and 1754 was demolished (see paper, The Manor and the Manor House).

The Courts - whatever the text-book medieval theory of courts Baron being held every two or three weeks, and courts Leet every six months - seem to have been held in the 18th century once a year: usually both Baron and Leet on the same day (an obvious convenience for everybody), in October (i.e., 24th October 1733, 24th October 1737, 23rd October 1738, 15th October 1739, 20th October 1740, 22nd October 1741). Only in the earlier papers studied is there more than one a year; additional courts Baron were held on 16th January 1737 and 28th July 1738.


In theory, the holding of a Court Baron, or ordinary manorial court, was one of the Lord of the Manor's inalienable rights; it dealt with purely internal affairs of the manor, chiefly the organisation of agricultural routine. The Court Leet was in theory more important, a court of record which was originally granted to the lord of the manor as a privilege, and which was empowered to deal with more important cases and minor crimes, both within the manor, and those which might infringe on the neighbours. In fact, by the 18th century, not only has the frequency of the courts declined, but so have the Lord's powers.

The business of the two kinds of courts appears to be almost wholly concerned with internal routine and village affairs, and to overlap so that apart from their headings, the two are often indistinguishable. Within these limits, however, the courts still had powers in many directions: from maintenance of hedges and buildings, to attendance at church. In many ways its modem equivalent is the Parish Council - except that the manorial courts had the power to impose fines.

Although it still retained its manysidedness, it is difficult to judge how effective the courts really were. Certain offenders turn up in successive years for the same offence, seeming to point to the fact that the Court was, on occasion, comparatively powerless to enforce its own orders. Thus in the 1730's, "We continue ye presentment of all those that keep sheep on the Hill having no right of common", or "We continue to present ye water course to be cleansed from ye upper end of Comb Close to Embly Brook", or again "We continue ye presentment of Mr. Richard Woodcocks Mill House and Mary Hort's house under the same penalties in the presentment made 24th October last, to be don." In 1740 Joseph Halstone was ordered to break up his "Bay" in Lye Brook at the lower end of his orchard in ten days time, under the penalty of £1 - a not inconsiderable sum.

Yet in October 1741 we find exactly the same order against him, for the same offence and under the same penalty. Did he just ignore the Court, or repeat the offence ? Did presentments "continue" until the jury tired of presenting them, or action was taken ? It is true to say, however, that most of the offences that would cause hindrance to the rest of the villagers-overhanging hedges, delapidated bridges, blocked ditches-are not repeated the following year. It may have been that a warning from the Court indicated to the offenders the feelings of their fellow villagers, and in order to remain popular they carried out the necessary repairs. In 1737 there is a specific reference showing that fines were coJlected, by the Bailiff: a Mr. Woodcocke, writing to the Steward (Jarrit Smith) at College Green, Bristol, advises him that he has sent papers by the bearer re]ating to the Courts of Wrington, which he had conducted for about a year, but for which he had received no payment; neither, he complains, had he received any of the fines and presentments collected by the bailiff of the manor . He asks that the Lord of the Manor be advised, as it "is but reasonable I should
have some satisfaction".


The Jury or "Homage" played a very important part in the courts. They actually presented the lists of offences, deaths, nominations for officers, etc., to the presiding Steward; and where necessary they decided too what was the appropriate penalty, in accordance with the all-important "custom of the Manor" and finally, signed the proceedings.

Each year's court papers are accompanied by long lists of inhabitants of the three tithings : male householders under the age of seventy and over sixteen, who are liable for attendance at the Courts, and further lists of those warned for service, and those sworn to serve, on the jury. The tithing lists show considerable variations in numbers from year to year, and it would seem probable that the "Tithingmen" responsible for compiling these lists were not always very accurate or very thorough, especially as some names disappear and reappear. A note on the Burrington Tithing list for 1737, which shows a large discrepancy compared with other years, states "This was brought after the Court was over", which would suggest a hasty compilation. Samples of the numbers of householders listed are :

Wrington Tithing:    1737 ..93 names
                                         1738 ..106 names (74 of the 1737 list)
                                 1740 ..90 names
1741 ..67 names (58 of the 1740 list)

Broadfield Tithing :  1738 ..47 names
1740 ..61 names (36 of the 1738 list)
                                 1741 ..31 names (22 of the 1740 list)

Burrington Tithing : 1738 ..83 names
1740 ..35 names
1741 ..66 names (28 of the 1740 list)
                                 1747 ..93 names (48 of the 1738 list)

In the 1750's the lists show about 100 tenants of the manor in Wrington Tithing, 50 in Broadfield, and 75 in Burrington, who owed "suit and service" at these courts. Instances are recorded where these tenants were fined 1s. or 2s. 6d. for non-attendance at the court.

The lists of jurors also vary, though less markedly, from year to year. In 1733 the homage or jury at the Court Baron comprised 13 members (7 from Wrington, 6 from Broadfield, none from Burrington) ; that of the Court Leet held the same day, 15 members (4 from Wrington, 2 from Broadfield, 9 from Burrington). In 1737 the Court Baron jury contained 13 members, the Court Leet jury 16. In 1738, the numbers were 12 and 15 respectively-and again there seems to have been no consistency about the numbers or proportions from any one tithing. It would seem that a nucleus of jurors, including the foreman, remained the same each year as available, and numbers were made up by the addition of other suitable persons. For the three years 1733, 1737 and 1738, nine members served on each of the three years, eighteen members on two of the three years, and twenty-one served for one year only. Jurors were fined 2s. 6d. for non-attendance, when they had been told they were required.

Although these lists are obviously not really accurate enough for population studies, they are of interest in that they contain many names still known in Wrington today, such as Gallop, Parsley, Collins, Brean, Ozen or Organ, Wood, Clark, Harse, Tucker, Hort, Brooks, Hazzard, Williams, Young, Smith, Hailstone (Hailstones Farm, now Mr. Horace Ashman ?) and Chancellor (Chancellor's Farm, now Mr. Rupert Jackson ?).


It is in the preliminaries with which the court papers start each year that the separate identities of the court Baron and the court Leet seem to have been best preserved; otherwise by this date the two names mean very little in practical terms. The first function of the Court Leet each year was the appointment of the manorial officers. The officers for each tithing were presented by the Jury. They were to be sworn into office within ten days. The officers consisted of:

(a) One Constable each for Wrington and Burrington. Broadfield had none; perhaps, because there were so few houses there, it came under the jurisdiction of Wrington. He was responsible for law and order.

(b) One Tithingman for each of the three tithings of Wrington, Burrington and Broadfield. He was generally responsible for the inhabitants, their attendance at court, producing lists of house-holders, tax-payers, court attendance, etc.

(c) One Hayward for each of the three tithings, responsible for agricultural organisation.

(d) Two Shambles Wardens: responsible for keeping the communal slaughter-house -probably close to the marketplace-clean. They often had responsibility for the tidiness of the market itself as well.

(e) Two Leather Sealers, who inspected and stamped hides before sale officials characteristic of a sheep-farming manor.

(f) Two Ale-tasters, who were in effect weights-and-measures officers.

(g) Two Surveyors of Highways, also responsible for the watercourses,
and in 1738 called Brook Wardens.

These village duties were probably undertaken on a rota within each tithing. On some occasions houses or inhabitants were named, and requested to produce the required officer, although one could offer a substitute, if suitable. In 1747, 1750 and 1757 Mrs. Jane Haiden is directed to provide a suitable Tithingman for Wrington. A penalty of £5 was levied on those refusing to take up office; although the extent to which these jobs were by this time honorary is not altogether clear. The ancient manorial officers such
as hayward and ale-taster probably had less and less meaning; but the surveyors of highways seem to have been kept very busy. In 1737, instead of two formal officials, a list of 14 names is given, to do "brook work". The list of officials for 1738 is completely different from that of 1737; although in 1740 and 1741 at least, a Hayward continued in
office for two years together .


As the Court Leet was exclusively responsible for the appointment of officers, so the Court Baron was responsible for recording the deaths of manorial tenants, and the heriots, or manorial death duties, owing. Because only the by now declining number of manorial "villein" tenants were liable to pay heriots, the numbers of deaths recorded are quite small, many fewer than the actual number of deaths recorded for the same years in the parish registers.

On 24th October 1733 two deaths were presented; on 26th January 1737, two; on 24th October 1737, nineteen: including wives and daughters, and one man and his wife. Heriots were due on all these. On 28th July 1737, one death was presented, the estate in this case passing to the Lord of the Manor. In 1740 five deaths are recorded, and in 1741, seven. The jury knew, in all these cases, that the customary heriot should be paid: but in the majority of cases they conclude "a life lost and herriot due - but what we know not" : a sure sign that the old system was falling
into disuse.


With the presentment by the jury of offences and events requiring the court's attention, the work of the Court Leet and Court Baron seems to overlap completely. One suspects that business not completed in the morning's court was simply carried on to the afternoon! Penalties, either threatened or imposed, are given, and in many cases a time-limit for action is set. Cases can be grouped roughly into several kinds: