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Researched by Janet Meads. Latin translations by Jacqui Minchington.

The Manorial Courts of Burton Latimer

Manors in early times were not something that one could purchase at will. After the Norman Conquest, William granted lands to his most loyal men as a reward for their valour and their support, the land still belonged to the king and he expected rent or some other service for it.  The person who was granted the manor did not necessarily live there and as often as not the affairs of the manor were settled by the lord of the manor's steward or bailiff or their deputy. 

The Manor was the basic economic  and administrative unit within the parish and the Lord or Lords (there were often more than one) of the Manors, ruled through Manorial Courts, where they exercised their rights over their tenants. In medieval times the lord kept a certain amount of his lands for his own use which was called a demesne, and leased the rest to tenants or as common land. Likewise the cottages he owned were leased out to villagers. There were two kinds of tenants; those who occupied land and or property and paid the lord by doing service, i.e. working a portion of the week for the lord in his fields or the like, or freemen who paid a money rent. The first kind of tenant held his house etc. from the lord and the acknowledged form was that he or she had a copy of the tenure, thus copyhold. If the tenant died then his house and land  would usually be inherited by the heir of the copyholder but a fee would have to be paid to the Lord of the Manor at the time the inheritance was taken over. Some of these payments and transactions we find written into the later Burton Latimer Court Rolls.   

By right, the lord would hold a court for his local tenants, which was called a Court Baron. It was for the general business of the parish, relating to the customs of the manor, concerning the land use and could enforce dues to the lord, whether for work or rent, these were also recorded in the Court Rolls.  Minor offences were dealt with by another court, the Court Leet,  held every 6 months. This court inspected the working of the View of Frankpledge which was a more local court, and was often held in the hall of the Lord of the Manor's house. The court had power to deal with local offences such as common nuisance and affrays and could fine and even imprison offenders, once again these offences were recorded in Court Rolls (so called because they were written on parchment and made into rolls).

Burton Latimer seems to have held both the Court Baron and the View of Frankpledge (a system of mutual responsibility within a group of about ten households for the  maintenance of law and  order) at the same time. The Court Rolls are usually written in Latin until 1733.  Luckily the View of Frankpledge with Court Baron for Burton Latimer survive for 1587, 1589 and 1596, written in Latin, as do the ones for 1733 and 1734 which are in English. These will be discussed later.

In the course of time because of divisions due to death, inheritance, the king's whims and sales, the Manor of Burton was divided. It seems that at one stage as many as four people claimed to be the Lord of the Manor of Burton. Eventually the manor settled and was held mainly by two families - Latymer from which the current name of Burton Latimer is derived and Plessey or Placey. Several old documents refer to "Burton Lattimer alias (or otherwise) Placey."

The name Latimer originated from William le Latymer, Lord of Sutton, he leased the manor to Gerard de Eylisford during the reign of Edward II (1284-1327), who paid rent of one ounce of silk or 12d yearly at Whitsuntide. The Placey Manor was named after the family and heirs of Robert de Plessy who gained it when he married. Although women could inherit lands etc. they usually forfeited it to their husbands on marriage.

The business which was necessary for the smooth running and the management of the manor was conducted through courts and the records of these courts were written on sheets of parchment which were later sewn together and rolled, thus we now call them Court Rolls. Strangely two of the surviving examples of court rolls that we are about to compare are both from the Latimer Manor where two widows owned the manor and  it would have been their steward or his deputy who held the court. Both widows had inherited the title from their fathers originally and had regained it when their husbands died.

Lady Katherine, Countess of Northumberland, co-heir of John Nevylle, knight, Lord Latymer, deceased father of the said Countess, held the View of Frankpledge and court Baron in 1558, 1589, and 1596 and these documents still survive in the papers of the Neville family. Anne Dickenson the daughter of Edmond Bacon of Burton Latimer Hall held her manor courts in 1733 and 1734 and these documents still survive in the Harpur family papers.

The workings of the courts, although almost two hundred years apart, are very similar. All the lord of the manor's tenants had to be notified that the court was to be held on a certain day at a certain place and time. A notice was usually placed in the church porch or read out in church. Every tenant was expected to be there unless they had a very good reason and if their excuse was not good enough, or if they had not sent someone in their stead, they had to pay a fine. If they had not put in an appearance at three courts or sent someone as their proxy they were  fined, which meant that most people were at the court and the rolls give a good indication of the adults living in the town or village at the time.

All the Burton Latimer court roll documents have the same kind of heading, beginning, as in 1589 with :-

"View of frankpledge with court Baron of the Lady Katherine Countess of Northumberland one of the co-heirs of John Nevyll, knight, Lord Latymer deceased father of the said Countess, held there on the last day of March in the xxxjst year of the reign of our Lady Elizabeth Queen of England France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith etc before William Buttery deputy of Francis Fyton esquire Steward of the Lady Countess." This is in Latin in the original and can be found in the West Sussex Record Office among the Neville papers.

The 1733 Court Roll is virtually the same although by this time it is written in English and the Lord of the Manor has changed as has her steward:-

"Burton Latimer (otherwise Placey)

The View of Frank Pledge with the Court Baron of Anne Dickenson Widow held at Burton Lattimer the Ninth Day of June in the Sixth Year of the Reign of Our Sovereign Lord George the Second by Grace of God of Great Britain France and Ireland King Defender of the Faith and so forth and in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty Three.  

By Thomas Massey Gent.    Steward there."

The court proceeded along much the same lines each time with the names recorded of all those that had sent their excuses and then the tenants who were actually present. These lists give a good indication of the people living in the village at the time, but it has to be remembered that not all tenants actually lived in the village and some might have sub-let their property.

As these courts were responsible for electing certain local officials, the constable, herdward, tithingmen etc. were expected to report on any events that had occurred during the year, since the last court. These reports give an insight into the daily workings of the village.

In 1587 the constable and herdward reported that all was well, then a jury was sworn in to hear the other reports of minor misdeeds in the manor.

Two sheep, namely a ram and a mother ewe, white in colour, had strayed into the manor, they were each worth 20d.

Francis Mulsho gent. had cut down and carried away two ash trees and two elm trees valued at 6s 8d formerly growing upon the lady's land. He was fined 6s 8d but it seems there was some dispute about who was the rightful owner of the site on which the trees grew and the dispute seemed to be continuing.

John Baxter gent. had blocked and filled with wood a well called a common well lying next to the Queen's highway here, to the serious harm of the inhabitants of the village who were accustomed to draw water from it. He was fined 10s and ordered to open up the well stopped by him and scour it sufficiently or face another penalty of 3s 4d.

Richard Bett, alehouse keeper, had allowed illegal games in his house to the bad example of the lieges of the Queen. He was fined 12d.

After this the court elected the officers. Then any general manor by-laws (usually agricultural) were announced and written into the court roll.

  By 1589 the tithing men reported that two sheep, a ram and a mother ewe white in colour, each valued at 20d arrived as strays within the manor and were in the keeping of Thomas Plowright (these seem to be the same animals recorded on the previous court roll) and also in his keeping a little bull calf, black in colour, worth 5s which has come from outside and remains in the manor. Stray animals were kept in the village pound until they were collected by their owner who had to pay a fine to retrieve them. Another two lambs, white in colour, valued at 20d each were found earlier in the year and again were in the keeping of Thomas Plowright.

The constable at this court reported that all was well, but not so the herdward, William James who reported that John Eyre had rescued 60 sheep from him and done damage in separate fields. Joan Welforde wife of Thomas Welforde had also made a rescue and attack and done damage. John Eyre was fined 12d by the court and Joan Weforde 6d.

In 1596 the jurors had similar misdeeds to report.

John Harrys and John Yeat fought together and drew blood. If blood was drawn the fine was higher which accounts for the men having to pay 3s 4d each. Later John Harrys made an affray on Joan Yeat widow and this time he had to pay a fine of 12d. It seems that the two families did not get on well.

Periodically we get an insight into the old local names in the manor as when John Peacham was reported for having ploughed with his plough the common pasture called le Olde. Apparently this pasture was used for the neats, or cattle. He was also fined 6s 8d for making waste upon the land of the lord in cutting of wood and in cutting of trees in a certain place called Whome end and in a certain place called the close formerly of Thomas Plowright. The Old which is now known as the Wold, is still in existence but it would be interesting to know where Home End was. It seems rather strange that although John Peacham had committed several transgressions he was still deemed fit to be elected at the end of the meeting into the office of constable.

Once more, a sheep had strayed into the manor but it is significant that this one was worth 3s 4d. It seems the price of sheep had risen steeply.

The Court Rolls from 1733 are much clearer and more understandable. The Lord of the Manor is Ann Dickenson, widow who, it is believed, lived at Burton Latimer Hall which still exists. She died in 1743 and left a will in which she mentions her manor in Burton Latimer. Once more the lists of tenants, either present or absent are recorded. It is noticeable that several of the tenants who are described as of surrounding towns and villages are excused from paying a fine for non-attendance because they had not been given notice of the date of the court.

These later rolls record the tenants who have died or sold their property or land and the people who have taken over their tenancy. Again the records indicate the families in the manor. An example of one such record reads:-" .....and also present upon their oathes that since the last court Rebecca Bennett widow dyed seized of one messuage or tenement with the appurtenances holden of the lady of the manor by fealty and suit of court and that by her last will and testament she devised the same to her son Francis Eady and his heirs". Francis would then have had to pay a fee to the lady of the manor, in order to take over his late mother's tenancy. There are several similar items in the rolls.

The constable and other officers are still appointed at these courts but there are no records if misdemeanours written.

The 1734 rolls give an added insight into village life when the change of tenant specifies the amount of rent on a property. The Francis Eady, above mentioned, was to pay rent of one penny a year for the property he inherited from his mother. Some rents were a farthing, some fivepence halfpenny, one "rent by the year: a pepper corn" and John Belcher who was tenant of the fulling mill at the North mill, now the site of Weetabix was charged sixpence for the mill and other buildings. 

It is interesting to note that in the later rolls the titles of some of the officers in the manor have changed. The constable keeps his name and duties. The tithing men have become field searchers or fieldsmen and the herdward has become the hayward.

Much information can be gathered from these and other court rolls, of which these are only a sample, both for family historians and local historians.

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