The eight chamberlains are elected on Michaelmas Monday, with the other corporate officers; but they are actually appointed some weeks before that time. The
practice is to allow the new mayor to appoint four, the old mayor one, the senior
alderman one, and the two members for the town each one, This, however, is contrary to the directions given in the charter of James, sec. 3. They are paid £15 each
for the year, besides perquisites: and two attend every week in rotation in the
The duty of these officers of the corporation, as set forth in the charter of King
James I. is, to examine all the acts of the chamberlains, for the time being, concerning the rents, revenues, and profits of the town, and to make thereon a satisfactory report to the mayor and burgesses. They are to be 24 in number, two being
elected from each of the twelve Mysteries of the town, viz. Merchants of woollen
cloth, called Drapers, Mercers, Skinners, Taylors, Boothmen, Bakers, Tanners, Cordwainers, Saddlers, Butchers, Smiths, and Fullers.
"According to the historians of the town, this number is now reduced to nine.
The Merchants' Company, however, consists of the three Mysteries reported to be
extinct, viz. Drapers, Mercers, and Boothmen: and, on this account, we find six of
the 24 auditors appointed by them alone. This, at first sight, would appear a measure of sound policy, had we reason to suppose, that hereby it was intended to appoint to a business of considerable magnitude only the ablest accountants; but, when
we consider the mode of chusing the persons to fill this once important public office,
we are apprehensive this is not the precise object of the election. On a Sunday
afternoon, previous to the audit, and immediately after divine service, the beagle of
the Merchants' Company, with another of the fraternity, repair to St. George's porch,
in St. Nicholas' church, and, in a manner best known to themselves (few others ever
attending), proceed to nominate the said six auditors. In general, nothing more is
required of them than their presence at stated times, or at that part of their business
to which, as auditors, most of their time is devoted.
"The original sum allowed by charter for auditing the accounts was 13s. 4d. per
day, and no more, to be paid them out of the rents and revenues of the town, and
amongst them equally to be divided and distributed. This was for doing their business by the day; from which it would appear that more time was then deemed necessary for enabling the auditors to report to their brother burgesses a regular and
satisfactory account of the issues of the public money."
The following is the oath taken by the auditors:—
"You shall duly here reasonably attend the accounts of the chamberlains of this town of Newcastle upon
Tyne, for the present year, touching all manner of issues, profits, and commodities belonging to the mayor
and burgesses of the said town, as hath been accustomed, and no allowance make but to such as are and shall
be made and allowed by the mayor and the rest of the common council of the same town, or the most of
them;—Whereby the said mayor and burgesses may be duly assured and satisfied of the said issues and
profits in every respect.—So help you God."
The salary of the auditors has been lately raised, and a sum allotted for dinner, &c.
the whole, last year, amounting to £47, 17s. which is certainly a very inadequate recompence to men who discharge their duty conscientiously. During many years,
the auditors merely signed the chamber-clerk's general account, as entered into the
book, without examining either bills or receipts. In consequence of this neglect of
duty in the auditors, negligence and corruption began to creep into the revenue department of the corporation, until at length a spirit of dissatisfaction spread through
the whole body of burgesses; and, in 1809, most of the Mysteries, by tacit consent,
chose such men to be auditors as appeared willing and qualified to fulfil their oath.
The first business of these auditors, after being sworn on August 25, was to secure a
constant and regular attendance. It was therefore resolved, and carried by a majority
of two to one, "That every person be there present, at nine o'clock, every Wednesday and Friday morning, till Michaelmas ensuing, or be fined one shilling each for
every time of absence."
The auditors commenced by asking several questions relative to the property of
the mayor and burgesses, and by pointing out several instances of great neglect and
unjustifiable conduct on the part of those who managed the affairs of St. Mary's
Hospital. In proceeding, the water-bailiff's accounts were found nearly two years in
arrear; and rents remained due for different periods, some for 18 years, others for 70
years! The arrears due to the corporation were, in consequence, found to be enormous; and notwithstanding the system of borrowing money was pursued, yet many
bills were unpaid the preceding year. It also appeared that the accounts in former
years had never been closed; on which it was resolved, "That the whole accounts be
laid before us this year, or we will not sign the book." The better to enable the
chamber-clerk to do this, it was farther resolved, "That all arrears be called on by
public advertisement; and that all debts due from the corporation be laid before us."
The chamber-clerk being obliged to produce his ledger, "very unpleasant erasures
appeared." Many questions were put to the town-clerk respecting his law bills; and
as several seemingly extravagant charges, for works done at the expense of the burgesses, were produced, the auditors resolved, "That the present mode of carrying on
the public works is an extravagant waste of the public money; and it is therefore
desirable, that, in future, all the town's works be let by proposal, and executed under
the direction of an architect, and a committee selected from the companies, to act in
concert with the mayor: and that no undertaking, exceeding the value of fifty
pounds, be begun but with their approbation. Such committee to be called, The
Committee of Works." The auditors also resolved, "That the property of the burgesses ought to have, at this time, one general survey and valuation, and all that is at
the disposal of the corporation to be let by themselves, in a just and honourable way."
And further, "That a public audit be held twice every year—to hold two days at
each time—where all persons holding any of the lands, dues, &c. belonging to the
corporation, should be required to attend and make their regular payments." The
auditors complained of the property of the burgesses being, in general, let much
under its value; of the amount of the candle and stationary bills; and of the paying
money to annuitants, without knowing whether they were really living.
On September 29, the proceedings of the auditors were prevented by an order of
the common council, prohibiting the chamber-clerk from producing the papers relative to arrears due that year. Notice of this interference was immediately published
by a bill being posted through the town, of which the following is a copy:—
"Corporation Audit.—We, the undersigned, being auditors of the accounts of the corporation, met this
morning, when the report of the common council, held yesterday, was laid before us by Mr. Clayton, chamber-clerk, who said he had been reprimanded by the mayor and common council, for having promised to lay
the full account of arrears, due to the corporation, before us, though fully prepared to do it. In consequence
of this proceeding, on the part of the mayor and common council, the auditors resolved, for the present, not
to proceed with the accounts until they are favoured with the opinion of their brother burgesses, which they
are anxious to obtain on Monday next, when they hope to meet them in the court, previous to their going to
the place of election. Sir Cuthbert Heron, Bart. John Hodgson, Robert Chapman, George Thompson, John
Angus, John Anderson, Robert Forster, John Greene, Robert Wilson, clerk, Edward Story John Shipley,
Jacob Atkinson, Samuel Jopling, William Watson, Robert Craike, Thomas Walton, William Halliday, John
Hall, John Hair, Joseph Clark; being all that were present.—Newcastle, Sept. 29, 1809."
The stewards of the companies being convened, in order to receive the report of
the auditors, it was resolved to take the opinion of the companies on the morning of
Michaelmas Monday, October 2. The assembled companies unanimously approved
of the conduct of the auditors, and resolved to support them. It was therefore
agreed, that a deputation from the stewards should wait upon the common council
with the auditors; and the following request was forwarded to the Mayor's Chamber,
where the common council were sitting:—"At a meeting of the auditors and stewards of the incorporated companies of Newcastle, held this morning, in the Merchants'
Court, it was agreed to request the common council to give an audience to the following persons, relative to particular business:—Sir Cuthbert Heron, Bart. Mr. Joseph Clark, Mr. Robert Chapman, Mr. John Hair, and Mr. Jacob Atkinson, auditors;—Mr. Thomas Wardle, Mr. Robert Nichols, Mr. Dev. Lisle, jun. Mr. James
Malliard, and Mr. Joseph Gray, stewards." This deputation having obtained an
audience, Mr. Joseph Clark addressed the council, when they replied that the explanation given should be taken into immediate consideration.
After waiting for some time, the following was received as the result of the council's deliberations:—"Resolved, That it be left to the decision of the recorder, and
any counsel the auditors may think proper to associate with him, to point out what
is the duty and rights of the auditors and of the common council respectively, relating to the accounts of the corporate body; and that, in future, the conduct of both
parties, as to such accounts, shall be regulated by the joint opinion of the gentlemen
above appointed. And that what remains of the accounts of this present year unaudited, shall be subject to the examination of the present auditors, or those of the
next year, as the gentlemen appointed shall think most proper." The auditors immediately sent the following answer:—"Your auditors are perfectly satisfied they know
their duty, and the obligations of their oath, and have only to lament the interference which prevents their compliance therewith."
The council seemed to object particularly to the publication of the arrear account;
though the auditors declared they did not wish that the names of persons in arrear
should appear in the newspapers. During these discussions, the court remained excessively crowded, and the utmost anxiety was evinced for the result. At length,
the auditors were requested to attend the council, when the following proposition
was read:—"Mr. Mayor proposed, for the consideration of the common council,
Whether the account of arrears due to the corporation, prepared for the auditors by
the chamber-clerk, ought not to be exhibited to them by him; provided it remains
in his possession, and the auditors give an assurance to the common council that it
shall not be published; nor shall any use be made of it, without the direction
of the common council."
The clause, "it shall not be published," being satisfactorily explained, the auditors
obtained the remaining books and accounts; and being assisted by the judicious arrangements previously made by Mr. Robert Clayton and Mr. William Armstrong,
the business was soon closed, and the report of the auditors was read to the magistrates and burgesses. The auditors, on this occasion, received the thanks of the
court, for their firmness, judgment, and independence;. (fn. 1) and the stewards of the incorporated companies, at a public meeting held shortly after, resolved to open a subscription for the purchasing a piece of plate, to be presented to Mr. Joseph Clark,
"as a testimony of their high sense of the services rendered to the burgesses by his
unremitted attention to their general interests; and particularly in the ability, the
firmness, and gentleman-like conduct he displayed in the execution of the important
office of an auditor, during the investigation of the state of the revenues of the
town." The subscription was soon filled up; and at another meeting, held December 13, 1809, a silver cup, bearing a suitable inscription, with other articles of plate,
to the value of £90, were presented to this patriotic burgess.. (fn. 2)
Only a very few copies of the corporation accounts are printed annually, from a
statement given to the stewards by their auditors, one of which is presented to each
company. During many years, the auditors placed large sums under one head,
without any proper explanation.. (fn. 3) These sweeping items might all be very well
when particularised; yet they were always suspicious and unsatisfactory. However,
in 1823, the accounts were published in a pamphlet form, and all the details clearly
arranged under distinct heads. This frank, open manner of procedure, has gratified
both the burgesses and their officers, particularly the present chamber-clerk, whose
conduct has secured him the esteem of all parties. The magistrates have also acknowledged the beneficial results of the investigations relative to the corporation accounts,
and approved of the calm and temperate proceedings of the burgesses. Certainly,
the managers of all large bodies are inclined to sink into supineness. Under such
circumstances, it is the duty of the governed to exercise their rights, and to correct
irregularities; but if they also neglect their duty, both parties are blameable.