Pages 49 - 53

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give a behind-the-scenes picture of manorial administration at the latter end of its long sway, when it was being fast superseded by a more modern village community and farming methods.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:

(1) Encroachments

These are mentioned in various forms but generally concern a trespass on the Lord's waste. They are noted in a number of ways e.g., "an encroachment", "an encroachment on the Lord's waste", "detaining part of this manor paying no acknowledgement to Lord or tenant" or "an encroachment by enclosing a part of the waste ground belonging to the manor of Wrington". In 1739 Edward and Thomas Ford were brought before the Court for obtaining a piece of land belonging to the Lord of the Manor lying in Arthur's Meadow, and paying no rent for it. Penalties usually varied from 5s. to 10s. each offence, although in 1739 Paul Hill was told to pull down encroachments upon the tenants' common, on penalty of £5 if it was not done by Christmas next.

(2) Highways, Hedges and Watercourses

The maintenance and repair of highways and farm-tracks kept the courts perpetually busy. Places are described, though usually with reference to owners which makes them difficult to identify today. Penalties range from about 10s. to 40s. Sample entries are :

1733: " John Hailstone to showl up the soil lying in the way between his Leas
and Mr. John Inmans orchard".

1733: The way to be cleansed from the Cross to Mr. Dyers corner of his house
          and the Market Place to be done every month under a penalty of 5s.
          each offence by the "present Bayliff of the Market".

1739: Mrs. Lowle gives her evidence concerning a way leading from Aldwick to
Wrington. She says she remembers the way "sixty years", and that it was
         no other than a halter-way; her husband used it for carrying timber.

1741: "We present Samuel Brean to put up another bridge between the two
garstons two foot wide in ten days under the penalty of one pound".

1741 : "We present Mr. Rains to put up a lane and bridge between Whatley
Mead and Broadmead before the 20th Nov. next under penalty of one

The need to cut back overgrown hedges is obviously a side-line on maintaining the roads.

1733: Two men named and presented to cut up the two brakes near Lye Cross.
1747: "We present Mr. Richard Parsley and Nicholas Walker to make or cut
their hedges in Neat's lane to be done in a month's time under penalty
            of 10s. each as presented last year".

1747: "We present Thomas Organ senior and James Lovel to shear their hedges against
            Cop thorn Lane in three months, under penalty of 10s. each."

Commander Lawder notes that, in 1965, this lane is still impassable!

The court could also order the repairing of broken-down hedges :

1737: A party hedge: "Richard Parsley to make up his hedge lying against John
Hills ground, and John HiIJ to make up his hedge lying against Richard Parsleys
          upper ridings".

!741: "We present Porter Thompson Esq. or occupier to have the hedge made from
           Rush Hill batch to the upper end of the ground by Xmas Day next
under the penalty of one pound".

In 1738 a presentment is made of specific trees to be felled, detailing the tenants to do the jobs, the location of the trees, in one case the species of tree (a witchhazel), a time limit of 20 days in each case, and a penalty of 5s. each if the order is not carried out.

Watercourses, whether the River Yeo itself, or field ditches, had to be scoured by their tenants in order to prevent flooding :

1739: Charles Barnes and Sarah Brown are to put their flood-hatches in good
repair by Christmas under penalty of a fine of £1 10s.

1739: The millers are ordered to "draw their waters in time of high water", on
penalty of 20 shillings.

1740: "We continue the presentment of Richard Chapman to throw his ditch
from the pool at his house leading down to the County bridge by Mid-
summer next on the penalty of one pound".

1740: "We present Charles Barns to put his flood hatch at Perry bridge in good
repair by Xmas next on a penalty of one pound ten shillings".

(3) Cutting of Fern

One of the ancient common rights which the courts seem to have been most concerned with preserving at this time is that of cutting fern as bedding for animals. Only those with the ancient manorial rights of common could do so, and the date - "not before sunrise on September 14th" - when cutting could commence is regularly laid down.

Before this deadline, the commoners could mark out their areas for cutting; but if they had not cut their piece by November , any commoner might cut it. Anyone who cut fern before dawn on 14th September was liable to a fine of 20s. "according to the custom of the manor". In October 1737 seven people are presented for "Cutting fern having no right of common" and each are fined 20s. One person is named for "cutting turf, fern, and furse and selling it off this manor having no right of common himself" and another for "cutting of fern and carrying it off on another lords manor". In each of these cases the penalty was 20s.

(4) Repairs to Buildings, etc.

The court had power to order the repair of buildings, both farm and residential, though as these are almost always identified only by their then owner, it is not often possible to identify them in the village now. Penalties varied enormously, from 5s. for barn repairs, to £50 for a house. The Mill House, together with another house, were presented as needing repair on 24th October 1737, and again on 28th July 1738, both times under a penalty of 20s. each: presumably nothing had been done. In 1739 there is a reference to the "Blew Bell", probably the Bell Inn, in existence until a few years ago, and now a garage in Broad Street.

1740. "We present Widow Dammas Snigg to thatch her house by Midsummer
next on the penalty of ten shillings".

(5) Stocks and Pounds

The stocks and whipping post in Wrington were reported out of repair in 1747. The painting of Broad Street (see paper A Map of Wrington in 1738) shows the stocks outside the Old Rectory wall, next to the present bakery shop, and set on the edge of the pavement. Burrington, too, had its own stocks, which the tithing was ordered to repair in 1750, under penalty of 20s.

Each of the three tithings had a pound, in which the Hayward put stray animals: either to be reclaimed on payment of a fine, or to become the property of the lord. Wrington Pound was attached to the Manor House; Broadfield Pound has been identified as the long, narrow enclosure in front of Chancellor's Farm, and now incorporated in the farmyard. In 1737 the Lord of the Manor was requested to repair the pounds at Wrington and Burrington, as they were both very much out of repair. In 1737 at the Court Leet the presentment was made that the Pound at Wrington was to be mended and put in repair in ten days time. A cryptic marginal note reads "Don". But in 1750 the Lord of the Manor was again "humbly presented" to repair the Wrington Pound, from which group of persons had removed their sheep without leave, and were fined 5s. "Pound-breaking", as it was known, was a risky sport !

(6) Weights and Measures

In 1733, John Badman was ordered to find sufficient weights for the weigh house, suitable for use at the Market. In 1737 a presentment of short measure was made to the court by the Ale Tasters. Five names are listed, three residents of Wrington, and two from Broadfield. We are not told the judgement of the court! At the same court, the Lord of the Manor was humbly requested to find "standing (i.e. ,standard) weights and measures" for the officers "to walk (for 'work' ?) by".

(7) Nuisances

A variety of minor offences can be included under this head. No names are mentioned, but the presentment in each case was prefaced by the words " All those that. ..." In this connection we have presentments for the restraint of all those that "keep pigs about the streets", "who keep goods on Haviots Green", and "keep ducks two be annoyance in ye brook". Penalties varied from 5s. for the pigs and ducks, to 10s. for the goods on the Green. Certainly the 18th century painting of Broad Street previously referred to provides ample illustration of this offence !

(8) Behaviour

The courts could exercise control not only over unruly behaviour, but also over matters which now would be regarded as purely personal :

1733: Mr. William Pierce is presented for selling cider without a licence, and
for "Keeping a disorderly house", penalty 10s.

1733: Three persons are cited for not frequenting some place of worship, under
a penalty of 10s. each.

1739: Mention is made of four people fined 2s. 6d. each "for not attending
Church on Sunday".

(9) The Lord of the Manor

Where others were summarily "presented" for their offences, the Lord, as has been already noted, is occasionally "humbly requested" to set something to rights. Other requests were also made to him on the occasion of the courts - it was, indeed, probably the only opportunity the villagers had to voice their collective opinion in public, with impunity.

1737: The Lord of the Manor was requested to go in procession according to custom, "his lordship and tenants being sufferers for want thereof". Is this perhaps a request to survey the manor and its bounds, which resulted in the making of the 1738-9 map ?

1738: The Court desires that the Lord of the Manor puts up Mere Stones, one at the head of Water Combe (the southwest corner of Blackdown) and the other at the Fox Hole (Reads Cavern). This too would appear to be associated with the map and survey then being made. See also the paper The Boundaries of the Manor of Wrington.

In 1738 a legal trial of strength appears to have occurred, the protagonists being two tenants in Burrington, and the Lord of the Manor (Rt. Hon. William Pultney, Esq.). William Purnell, one of the tenants, ultimately withdrew from the action and appears to have been followed by the other, John Dyer.

William Pultney was in no doubts where the right lay and says in a letter that he would not give any allowances for Law Charges as "whatever these may be have been caused in great measure by their own obstinacy and folly in this dispute, which hath put me, as well as themselves, to a great expense and trouble, without any possible hopes of success".

(10) Arbitrations

Disputes between two tenants, if not decided "according to custom" by the Jury in court, were often referred to an appointed panel of the jurors for further consideration, and a decision. In 1737 -8 there were these examples of the procedure :

(i) In 1737 the panel viewed a boundary and a tree in dispute between the Rev. Goddard and Mr. Totton; the verdict of the jury was that the tree was to be felled and divided: the body (trunk) to Mr. Goddard, the shroud (crown) to Mr. Totton. The tree was to be felled in equal cost to both parties within two months. The fences were to be reinstated at the same time. The penalty for non-compliance with the ruling of the court was to be 20s. each.

(ii) Five members of the Jury, being appointed to view a watercourse under dispute between two persons (one of whom was a juror!), adjudged "that according to equity and the custome of the mannor they ought to be at equal charges in throwing or cleansing the watercourse for the future".

(iii) The way to the Rector's property being under dispute, five members of the jury were chosen to view, and adjudged a right of way through a stated property.

These form good examples of the power of the jury to apply "the custom of the manor"-even in defence of the villager against the lord, if it were justified. Manorial custom or precedent, although in many ways it imposed on the ordinary villager, also offered him great security.

(11) Contracts for Tenancies

These are recorded by the court. The final deed would be entered on the finished court roll of business, and a copy of the entry handed to the tenant as his title deed; hence, "copyhold" tenure. The following tenancy contracts are drawn up in 1737-8:

(i) It was contracted with John Gibbs (apothecary) of Wrington, that he pay £172 for the fee simple and inheritance of a messuage or tenement and about 8 acres of land, claimed by William Thomas for his wife's life. To be conveyed to John Gibbs and his heirs clear of incumbrances together with the Lord's Rent and Heriot.

(A letter from William Thomas to John Gibbs states him to be most anxious to have Gibbs as his tenant upon almost any terms. He allows him half a year's rent from the executors of the late tenant to repair the house, agrees to discharge the Heriot when it occurs, but insists on Gibbs paying the Lord's Rent (7s. 0¾d. yearly), and all taxes and reparations, and requests the rent due to him to be paid half yearly. His letter ends "Mine and my spouses services attend you and yours".)

(ii) For the sum of £30 John Gibbs to have the reversion in fee after three lives (named), of all the house and garden in Wrington in possession of John Baldwin, conveyed to him and his heirs clear of incumbrances, together with the Lord's Rent and Heriot.

(iii) It was contracted with Thomas Hort, Yeoman that for £300 to be paid to Mr. Pulteney a leave was to be granted to him of a messuage or tenement of about 19 acres (late Joseph Hort's ?) for a term of 99 years under a yearly rent of 11 s. 5d. and heriot of best beast or best goods.

(iv) It was contracted with Samuel Hort, Yeoman, that for £60 he was to have a lease granted for a piece of ground called Goose Acre (about 5 acres), late Hugh Emery's, for a term of 99 years under a yearly rent of 3s. 7d.

The terms of these tenancies would have been laid down not by the jury, but by the Steward (and solicitor) Jarrit Smith.