The Corporation
Chamberlains and auditors

Sponsor

Institute of Historical Research

Publication

Author

Eneas Mackenzie

Year published

1827

Pages

636-641

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'The Corporation: Chamberlains and auditors', Historical Account of Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Including the Borough of Gateshead (1827), pp. 636-641. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=43396 Date accessed: 24 July 2014.


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THE CHAMBERLAINS.

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 chamber-clerk's office.

AUDITORS.

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.

Footnotes

1 Sir Cuthbert Heron also returned public thanks to Joseph Forster, Esq. mayor, for his becoming conduct to the auditors. In consequence of this dispute, the election of the corporation officers did not take place until about nine o'clock at night, a delay unprecedented.
These discussions naturally generated some degree of warmth and asperity between the parties. After the Easter guild in 1811 had closed, Major Anderson resented the sarcasms of the town-clerk by a personal assault. In consequence of this irregularity, the common council was summoned, and deliberated for three days on the propriety and legality of disfranchising the major; but it appears that Counsellor Losh, in a learned and eloquent speech, maintained the inviolability of the burgess franchise, and defined the nature and powers of the court of common council. The result is important, as it proved the inability of that court to disfranchise any individual. The major, however, was prosecuted at the expense of the corportion, and, being found guilty of the assault at the ensuing assizes, was sentenced to three months' imprisonment in the King's Bench prison. This disagreeable occurrence was generally regretted, as the major had warmly defended the interests of the burgesses, and uniformly evinced a disposition to employ his fortune in increasing the beauty and convenience of the town; and it was justly apprehended he would now abandon those schemes of public utility which he had long cherished.
2 Mr. Joseph Clark shortly after turned round upon his friends and admirers, contending that the burgesses had no right to know the particulars "of issues, profits, and commodities, belonging to the body corporate!" and in consequence of his persuasions, the auditors refused to give their stewards a copy of the annual accounts in 1816 and 1817. Tim Tunbelly, in speaking of this gentleman's former eminent services connected with the expenditure of the corporation, adds, in a note, "But no sooner was the plate received, than he turned his back on his brethren, left off attending the court of guild!—advocated the withholding of the corporation accounts!!—forgot the hospitals and their inmates!!!—and, last of all, defended the magistrates in their secret services !!!! All this, however, was for very weighty reasons. He opened shop as a stationer, and, as Dan Dixon said, got a wafer put into his mouth—in short, he took the corporation sacrament."
3 In Tim Tunbelly's 24th Letter, the writer, when complaining of this mode of lumping large sums together, asks, "What sort of fellows are the auditors? One would think they must audit in the dark, or with their eyes shut." Now, some of the free burgesses think, contrary to this critic, that an auditor has no occasion for eyes; for about 12 years ago, the free incorporated Company of Tailors sent a blind man to examine the corporation accounts. Quere, Did the wits of this company intend, by this election, to ridicule the other companies for their injudicious choice of auditors?