Manorial Court Records


Manorial Court Records

At the Dorset History Centre can be found 4 books under the reference D/GLY/B/1,2,3,4.  These are the records of the court of the Hundred of Sixpenny and the Manor of Fontmell. The first book commences with the court held in October, 1698; the 4th book ends with the record of the court held on the 9th, November, 1894. Thus, almost 200 years of village management is recorded for history.

The court books for years preceding 1698 are held at the Wiltshire & Swindon records office and form part of the Arundell archive, which contains records going back into medieval times.
Unfortunately, before April, 1733, they are written in latin and therefore not easy to decipher. After that date they were written in English and a typical entry in April, 1788, was as follows:-
‘They presented that a bridge near William Alexander’s Mill called Middle Mill, is very much out of repair and dangerous to passengers going that way. William Alexander was ordered to repair it within one month – Penalty 6s 8d’.
The manor court was mainly administrative; it supervised the agricultural organisation and social life within the manor and continually interpreted its customs. By right, the Lord held a court in his, or her, manor and attendance was one of the chief obligations of the tenants there. The offences, which were dealt with by the manor court, were mainly concerned with tenure, services and dues within the manor.
The offences reported to each court by the Lord’s official representative, sometimes called the Steward, or  Bailiff, were recorded in court rolls and/or court books. Also recorded could be other details of manorial life, such as the services due from the peasants within the manor, payments of relief, Heriot (Death tax) and Merchet (Marriage tax). Sometimes the Lord’s rights over the villagers and their tenements were also recorded.
Each county was divided into ‘Hundreds’, which were made up of groups of parishes. In those days the parishes were further sub-divided into smaller areas within the parish, usually centred on a settlement. These smaller areas were defined as ‘Tithings’ and were the responsibility of a designated ‘Tithingman’.
More serious misdemeanours in the manor came within the jurisdiction of the Hundred Court. These higher courts were sometimes combined with other jurisdictions, such as the Lord’s right to take a local ‘View of Frankpledge’, an ancient Saxon presentment, by tithings, for maintenance of law and order.
The manor courts were usually held every few weeks, though this did vary from manor to manor. The higher hundred courts with View of Frankpledge might be held twice a year, for example in about April and October, as in the Hundred of Sixpenny.
Even today the village of Handley is referred to as Sixpenny Handley, which derives from the Saxon words ‘Sexpena’ and ‘Hanlega’. These were originally the names of two separate hundreds which, probably in the 14th century, were united as the hundred of Sixpenny Handley. Probably due to the geographic and topographic situation of the two hundreds, the unification eventually broke down and they once again became completely separate, not only geographically but also politically.
Strictly, the name Sixpenny should be disregarded as a prefix to the name of Sixpenny Handley, since it is, or was, the name of the old hundred, now separate and situated some miles to the west of Handley village.
The Hundred of Sixpenny consisted of 11 Tithings, which were east & west Iwerne Minster, east & west Fontmell Magna, east & west Compton Abbas, east & west Melbury Abbas, east & west Orchard and Hartgrove.

Manor Farm, Compton Abbas

 Manor Farm. Where the ancient courts were held.

The manor courts were held at Manor Farm in the parish of Fontmell and all of the required persons would be summoned to attendance there, or face the consequence of a financial penalty. What follows is the court title and the list of personnel summoned and appointed to the court in April, 1733:-

The Hundred of Sixpenny and Manor of Fontmell

The court leet and view of frankpledge with the court baron of the Right Honourable Henry Lord Arundell Baron of Wardour, there held the twenty third day of April in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and thirty three, before William Goddard, gentleman steward thereof. 

Bailiff of the hundred – Thomas Coombes. Appointed.
Bailiff of the Manor – William Collins.  Appointed.
Constable – Peter Bennett not coming to execute his office, is excused being sick.
East Iwerne – Robert DominyTythingman there, comes with a full resian roll of his tything and gave to the Lord a certain rent due on this day of 7 shillings, and he is sworn to present.
West Iwerne – Samuel Young. (Same statement used for this man and all the following list, only the amounts of rent varied)
East Fontmell – George Vincent.
West Fontmell – Thomas Hascoll
East Compton – Edmund Lush.
West Compton – James Still
East Melbury – John Hayter.
West Melbury – John Gumbleton.
East Orchard – John Collins.
West Orchard – John Toomer.
Hartgrove – John Bennett.

 Officers for the hundred

John Collins and Samuel Young – both sworn.

 Jurors for the King

John Collins
James Still
Samuel Young
John Gumbleton
Robert Dominy
John Hayte
John Barnes
John Lush
Edmund Lush
Thomas Coombes
Edward Follett
William Collins

All sworn in.

Officers for the Homage

John Sharpe and Edward Farr – both sworn

Homagers (for the manor)

John Sharpe
Edward Farr
John Bennett
John Still
Thomas Coombes
George Vincent

All sworn in

The jurors aforesaid on their oaths present that they are residents within the jurisdiction of this View of Frankpledge and owe suit of court and on this day, having made default, therefore everyone of them is amerced 3d.

Then  the Tythingmen are appointed/re-appointed. The following are typical extracts:-
(Please note that I have given present day monetary equivalents in brackets. e.g., (£245).

East Fontmell – Also they present William Foot to serve the office of Tythingman there for the year next ensuing, and he is sworn.
West Fontmell – William Collins
Hartgrove – They present Robert Sharpe to the office of Tythingman there for the year next ensuing for John Lush’s living, and the owners of the other part of the said living to pay their respective proportions of the charges thereof, and the said Robert Sharpe is sworn.

There then followed other presentments. Richard Hiscock was appointed Hayward of the tithing of East Orchard. The following is a very typical presentment regarding a copyhold tenement; it reads as follows:-

Also they present that Editha Goffe, who held of the Lord for the term of her widowhood, according to the custom of this manor, a tenement with appurtenances lying in West Orchard within this manor, died since the last court, whereby heriot is due to the Lord. And that Thomas Goffe, the son of John Goffe, is next tenant thereof, for the term of his life, who not coming to make his claim thereto, therefore __  days are allowed him until the next court.

Many such claims and settlements are recorded through the years; as well as many other manorial issues, such as those that follow, representing just a few examples:-

October, 1737.
John Lawrence appeared and claimed for his lifetime a tenement & Mill with appurtenances, by copy of a court roll dated 26th, October, 1713, late in the tenure of John Lawrence his father deceased. Did his fealty and was granted the same. 

April, 1755.
It was reported that the stocks in West, or Great, Fontmell are very much out of repair and it was ordered that the same be amended by the Tythingman in 3 weeks time, under penalty of 6s 8d (£245).

October, 1755.
It was reported that the gate between Bedchester and Penn Hill was very much out of repair and that it ought to be repaired by William Monkton, John Foot and George Vincent within one month, under penalty of 3s 4d.

April, 1773.
William Monk was presented for making an incroachment on the wastelands of this manor, by inclosing part thereof into his garden. Ordered that he pulls down the pales by which the same is now inclosed and removeth the same to its usual boundaries in one month’s time – under penalty of £5.

April, 1806.
It was reported that a bridge late called Legg’s Bridge, leading from Sutton to Fontmell is fallen down or taken away. The Waywardens were ordered to put up a new one within a month – on penalty £5 (£140).

October, 1807.
It was reported that the wastelands of the manor are much impoverished by cattle being allowed to feed thereon. It was ordered that no cows or horses be allowed on penalty of being impounded, and that the Hayward be allowed to charge 6d(£4.03) for his fee.

In 1809, Lord Arundell sold the Manor to Sir Richard Glyn.

October, 1812.
It was reported that there should of right be a pair of stocks within the parish of Fontmell Magna for punishing the disorderly, and that the same should be erected at the expense of the Lord of the manor. The parish officers ordered that the Lord of the manor find rough timber and the parish officers find iron and provide labour so that the stocks be fit for the reception of the disorderly within one month – under penalty of £20 (£440) to be paid by the person making default.

April, 1862.
It was reported that the place used as a killing house at Bedchester, near the public house called ‘The Old Elm’ and close to the highway, is not a fit place for such a purpose.

May, 1872.
It was reported that Giddy Bridge in a footway leading from the turnpike road near Fontmell Farm, across the brook towards Middle Mill, is in a dilapidated state.

April, 1875.
It was reported that the sheep washing place in Fontmell required certain repair, which had hitherto been done by the Lord of the manor and that the right to wash sheep is granted to the tenants of the manor first and those in the hundred of Sixpenny thereafter, and that no person has a right to usurp the sole use of the said washing place.

Very much local history detail can be learned from the court books and the proceedings recorded therein, as well as family history. They are a goldmine of historical information.

Author: Dave Hardiman