A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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Bedford is a borough by prescription, none of the charters granted fixing the municipal constitution, which must therefore be determined by ancient usage. The persons incorporated by the different charters have been variously styled the burgesses of Bedford (in the charter of confirmation of Henry II), the mayor and bailiff of the town of Bedford, the mayor and commonalty of Bedford and the men of Bedford.
In the Great Survey of 1086 Bedford is entered apart from the rest of the county; it does not appear under royal demesne, but it is styled a vill for purposes of assessment. (fn. 1) No mention of burgesses occurs under Bedford itself, but a later section of the Survey is devoted to those 'Burgesses of Bedford' who owned land in different parts of the county. Of the various charters granted the earliest in the possession of the corporation is a confirmatory one of Henry II. In it he confirms to his burgesses of Bedford all their liberties and free customs which they had in the time of Henry his grandfather, as recognized in the county court of Bedford as the burgesses of Oxford had them, to be enjoyed within the borough and without, by land and by water and in all places. (fn. 2)
In 1189 Richard I granted the burgesses a further charter, (fn. 3) which, though no longer preserved among the corporation records, (fn. 4) is recited at length in a patent of 1401. This charter, which confirms that of Henry II, enumerates among the privileges of the borough a gild merchant, quittance of toll, pontage, lastage, stallage and passage 'bilande and bistrande' throughout England and Normandy. The burgesses were not to be impleaded without the borough, and were to have all customs in common with the citizens of Oxford. (fn. 5) It was confirmed by Henry III in 1227, (fn. 6) and it is quoted in the Quo Warranto proceedings of 1330. (fn. 7) The borough charter was inspected and confirmed in 1395 by Richard II, (fn. 8) whose confirmation was recited in a charter of Henry IV in February 1401. (fn. 9) This charter begins by stating that, the mayor and burgesses having manfully resisted malefactors in certain counties of the realm of England, (fn. 10) the king had been pleased to grant them this confirmation of their liberties with a further extension of them. The chief additions were as follows: No burgess was to be impleaded without the borough for lands within the borough. Such pleas were to be conducted before the mayor and bailiffs of Bedford with a jury of fellow-burgesses. They were to have freedom from toll throughout the kingdom, and their gild rights were strictly guarded. The Husting Court was to be held once a week within the borough and view of frankpledge twice yearly. (fn. 11)
This charter was confirmed by Henry VI in 1423 (fn. 12) and by Edward IV in 1462–3. (fn. 13) In 1664 a charter was granted to Bedford by Charles II, which was regarded as the governing charter before the Municipal Reform Act of 1835. It is confirmatory in character, referring to charters of Richard I, Henry III, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry VI, Edward IV, Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary and Elizabeth. In addition it ordains, as is usual in charters of this date, that the mayor and all other officers of the borough shall take the Oath of Supremacy before entering upon office, and further that neither recorder nor town clerk is to be appointed until approved by the king. (fn. 14) As in the case of other boroughs, Bedford yielded up its charter to Charles II in 1683–4, (fn. 15) who renewed it by letters patent in 1684–5. By this charter Bedford was declared to be a free borough, and the mayor, bailiff, burgesses and commonalty to be a body corporate. The corporation was to comprise a mayor, seven aldermen and nine common councillors, and to have a recorder, a steward, a common clerk, two bailiffs, a coroner and two chamberlains. The recorder, steward and common clerk were to have deputies, and the corporation was empowered to make laws and statutes. (fn. 16)
The burgesses held Bedford of the Crown at a feefarm rent, which from the 12th to the 15th century was £40. (fn. 17) This fee-farm rent was from time to time granted out by the Crown; in 1275 Queen Eleanor held it as part of her dower, (fn. 18) and in 1302 Ralph Pipard received a life grant. (fn. 19) In 1327 Queen Isabella obtained a life grant of £30 of the yearly farm of Bedford besides other revenues, her dowry being thus increased on account of 'her services in the matter of the treaty of France, and in suppressing the Despenser rebellions.' (fn. 20) Anne wife of Richard II derived £32 of her dower from this source in 1382, (fn. 21) as did also the queen consort of Henry IV. (fn. 22) In 1447 Bedford Borough obtained remission of £22 granted on the full fee-farm rent (which was at this date declared to be £46) for sixty years. (fn. 23) In 1504 towards the close of the period this remission, which in the later document is stated to be £26, was made permanent. (fn. 24) This reduction of the fee farm is mentioned in confirmatory charters of Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth and James I. In 1471 George Duke of Clarence obtained a grant of £20 of the rent, (fn. 25) and in 1484 the Abbot and convent of St. Albans received 20 marks annuity from the same source. (fn. 26)
The fee-farm rent was collected by the bailiff and burgesses themselves, and paid by them into the Exchequer. (fn. 27) The amount was collected from the tolls and profits of markets and fairs, and also from a house tax levied on burgesses, known as hagable rent. (fn. 28) It was apparently levied on house property and payable by all who were at scot and lot in the vill, for in 1223 Simon de London and twenty-one others were summoned to show why they had not assisted in payment of the farm of the town. They said they were accustomed to give one mark and no more, except in the case of an aid on the 'vill,' when they gave freely, claiming exemption as holding of the prebend of Lincoln in free alms. (fn. 29) At the time of the complaint of poverty made by the burgesses in 1441 they declared that the only certain rent for providing the fee farm to the use of the mayor and burgesses was £25 11s. 10d. from certain hagable tenements (in quodam hagabili), of which tenements so specified in a hagable roll of 6 & 7 Edward III (fn. 30) 100 messuages, before well built and inhabited, were then wasted and destroyed, and 180 messuages belonging to the said 'hagabili' were also left desolate. (fn. 31) In 1664 the chamberlain of the borough was ordered to demand ten years' arrears of hagable rents. (fn. 32) The rents were fixed by the court leet, and a hagable roll for the borough exists for the year 1681. (fn. 33) In 1835 the hagable rents paid to the corporation amounted to £4 13s. 4d. (fn. 34)
In mediaeval times, when a community was about to acquire the franchise of a borough, it was customary to seek affiliation with some town whose franchise was well established, and whose customs and privileges would form a reliable precedent in an age when even chartered rights were liable to encroachments from a strong central power. Bedford, as seen above, was in this way affiliated to the town of Oxford, whose customs were in turn modelled on those of London. (fn. 35) For this reason the liberties and customs of London as well as of Oxford are occasionally found claimed by this town. In 1165–6, probably the date of the confirmation of their charter by Henry II, an entry occurs in the Pipe Rolls of 40 marks paid by the burgesses for a grant of privileges according to the liberty of Oxford. (fn. 36) The confirmatory charter of Richard I, recited in a Patent Roll of Henry IV, mentions the special privilege shared with the citizens of Oxford, 'of making with them their merchandise in common in London, and without it and in all other places,' and goes on to state that when there is any doubt as to custom or judgement messengers are to be dispatched to Oxford, and what the citizens shall adjudge is to hold good. (fn. 37) In 1395 the burgesses of Bedford claimed to hold the same customs as did the city of London. (fn. 38) The mayor and corporation of Bedford in 1556–7 sent certain questions to the city of Oxford, which, together with the answer returned, are still preserved among the borough archives. These questions deal mainly with the constitution of the corporation, as to the duties and position of the various officials. The right of the mayor and council to disfranchise in case of serious transgression was affirmed; the bailiff's duties were defined and limited (he was not to imprison a man doing no felony, murder or breach of the peace without a warrant from the mayor or a justice of the peace); the mayor alone was to appoint court days, though the bailiff might keep the courts without him. In 1708 the question of the affiliation of Bedford borough with Oxford appears to have been brought forward, and a minute in the Council Hall book for November of that year declares that these 'Questions and Answers to and from Oxford' are to be taken from the evidence house and brought before the next meeting. (fn. 39)
The confirmatory charter of Richard I mentions among the customs of the borough a gild merchant whose members only were allowed to trade within the town. (fn. 40) This gild merchant was confirmed by Henry III in 1227. (fn. 41) On the occasion of the Quo Warranto proceedings in 1330 the mayor and commonalty were summoned to show what persons were admitted to the gild and what profits were attached thereto. In reply they said that both burgesses 'and any others residing in that town from the time at which they took the oath to conserve the liberties of that town and the king's peace, and to maintain other things touching the said town and gild, are received into the gild in such manner that thenceforth they may sell any of their merchandise at retail.' Richard de Aldeburgh, on behalf of the king, adjudged that there was nothing in the charters which justified the admission of other than burgesses to the privileges of the gild merchant. (fn. 42) During the 17th century freemanship of the borough implied membership of the gild. An entry in the minutes of the Common Hall dated 1648 reads: 'No person not of this Town Guild, that is a foreigner, shall exercise any art, craft, mystery or manual occupation, or sell by retail or keep shop. … The ordinance not to be construed to abridge any foreigner from lawful liberty of selling at fairs, or any foreign butcher in open market, or at Christmas, or within two days, or during the time known as Twelve Days.' (fn. 43) The views of frankpledge held shortly after this entry contain numerous examples of infraction of this law. In 1649 a shoemaker, a grocer, a tobacco-vendor, a weaver, a bell-maker, a collar-maker and various other artificers were charged with being foreigners, the fines imposed being exceedingly heavy. In 1651, when the list of these offenders is again a long one, two tailors were fined £280 for having traded for eighty-four days in the town. (fn. 44) In 1659 Thomas Bowskell, having served seven years as apprentice to William Lane, a tobacco-pipe maker, who was an inhabitant of the town, though a foreigner, and not of the town gild, claimed his freedom. The corporation decided that, strictly speaking, Thomas Bowskell was not eligible, but, considering his petition reasonable, admitted him to the freedom of the borough, and so to the gild, on payment of 40s. (fn. 45)
It now remains to discuss the elements of which the corporation was composed and the jurisdiction which was exercised. Those who claimed privileges within the borough were the burgesses and the freemen.
The burgesses of Bedford were admitted to the full privileges of the borough by hereditary and elective right. The earliest reference to a Bedford burgess has been found in the Great Survey; the charter of Henry II is granted to his burgesses of Bedford and subsequent mention of them is frequent. In the Quo Warranto proceedings of 1330 the burgesses alone were declared to have the right of admission to the gild merchant, with all the privileges it entailed of free trading. (fn. 46) The 'Black Book' of Bedford, which was compiled about 1563 with the object of fixing the constitution of the borough, thus enunciates the law regarding the admission of burgesses: 'That evry Burgesse inhabytynge withyn the seyd town shall present the name of such man-chyld as God shall send him at the next lete holden after the byrthe of the same chyld and that the Steward after such presentment made shall recorde the same in thys boke. And that evry such burgesse child as shalbe borne after the makynge of this constitucon and not recorded as aforeseyd shall lose the benefytt of hys fredome any custome heretofore used to the contrarye notwithstandyng. And the lyke order of inrolment to be of Burgesses newlye to be elected and Sworne payeing to the Steward 16d., Chamberlain 8d., and Serjants 16d.' (fn. 47) The admission of an hereditary burgess took place on his coming of age; thus in 1696 the minutes of the Council Hall state that Thomas Battison, eldest son of Alderman Battison, is to be admitted and sworn a burgess on the attainment of his majority, which admission is duly recorded six years later in 1704. (fn. 48)
The election of burgesses other than by hereditary right is of later date, and was effected by the common council on the payment of certain fees without (until the last century) any restriction as to number and qualification. In the 17th and 18th centuries these honorary elections are very frequent. The fees paid were heavy, and formed an important source of municipal income, and the general object of those seeking admission was to secure the right of pursuing their profession or trade within the borough. In 1709 Alexander Read and Edmund Paxton, surgeons and apothecaries, petitioned for admission in order that they might follow their profession, and were finally admitted on payment of £5 each for their burgess-ship, and £5 apiece for ten days' forfeiture for infraction of the by-laws against non-free trading. In September 1711 William Devereux, brazier, was admitted a burgess on payment of £10 and the usual fees, with the proviso that he must reside before Lady Day next or be disfranchised. Sometimes election was sought from political motives; thus in 1802 twelve admissions were made 'agreeable to the Request of His Grace, John Duke of Bedford.' (fn. 49)
The principal privilege attached to the burgessship was, as has been seen, that of free trading, but there were various others, such as the early freedom from extra-burghal jurisdiction, certain rights of common and in the 18th century freedom from impressment. (fn. 50) At the beginning of the 19th century there was a great difficulty in filling up the ranks of the burgesses, from whom alone the common councillors and chief officers of the corporation could be drawn. When offered to persons living in the town it was declined, and in 1802 a burgess refused to serve as mayor after election, because he considered the council composed of persons with whom he thought it below him to associate. (fn. 51) The number of burgesses was in 1835 limited by practice to forty.
Freeman of the borough were created by birth, apprenticeship, purchase and gift. The distinction between a burgess and a freeman lay in the ineligibility of the latter to become a member of the common council or to accept any of the higher municipal offices. (fn. 52) The privileges attached to freedom, which include a vote in the election of superior corporate officers, have been enumerated in the various charters which have been granted to the borough. Some of these, such as the exclusive right of trading within the town, are now obsolete, but the right of common over 32 acres within the borough is still confined to resident freemen on payment of a small annual sum. (fn. 53)
With regard to birth qualification for admission, the freedom of the borough was bestowed on the eldest son of a freeman, having attained the age of twenty-one. (fn. 54) Seven years' apprenticeship to a freeman of Bedford qualified an applicant for the freedom of the town. During the 17th and 18th centuries this qualification was very stringently insisted on, and in 1679 it was ordained that all members of the corporation who had apprentices were to cause them to be enrolled on forfeit of £5. All apprentices in future were to be registered within one month of their indentures, and any master taking an apprentice not intending him to serve seven years was to pay £50 or be disfranchised. (fn. 55) This ordinance was re-enforced in 1698, it having been found that fraudulent indentures were drawn up or ante-dated. It was then further enacted that enrolment to be valid must be entered on the Town Books before the mayor. Amongst by-laws drawn up for the borough in 1710 it is stated that an apprentice is not to become a freeman unless he work for the sole benefit of, and live with, his master. Numerous instances occur of the admittance of resident apprentices to the freedom of Bedford, and occasionally of non-resident; thus in 1747 Edward Sikelthorpe, plumber and glazier of Dunstable, who had served seven years' apprenticeship to Marmaduke West of Biggleswade, a freeman of Bedford, was admitted on payment of the usual fines. Among the corporation records are preserved the books of the enrolment of apprentices' indentures dating from 1558. (fn. 56) Very often the freedom of the town was purchased for purposes of trade. In 1703 John Trusse paid £10 and the usual fees to be admitted a freeman in order to follow basket making 'and no other trade.' In 1705 John Pulley, a haberdasher, and Thomas Faldo, a watchmaker, paid £100 fine each in order to follow their respective trades.
In 1807 the minutes of the Council Hall contain an entry 'that the thanks of the Corporation be given to Messrs. Pheasant, Sheppard and Clements for the very handsome manner in which they have lately served the Corporation by consenting to their disfranchisement in order to give evidence in the cause of this corporation at the suit of Mr. Monkhouse.' The following year they were restored to the franchise without fee. (fn. 57)
The executive functions of the corporation previous to 1835 were vested in a mayor, aldermen, two bailiffs, a recorder, a town clerk, the deputyrecorder and various minor officers. The mayor, whose office has existed certainly since the 13th century, (fn. 58) is elected annually at a common hall of freemen from two burgesses nominated by the court of aldermen and common councilmen. He presides at all corporation meetings and has a casting vote in the deliberations of the common council and court of aldermen. A fine was imposed on those refusing to accept office after election, which in 1649 was fixed at 100 marks, Robert Bamforth having a special act sparing him from the office of mayor by reason of his great age and debility of body. (fn. 59) In 1695 Robert Thomas, who was chosen mayor, refused to serve and was fined £50 and disfranchised. A notable contest for the office took place in 1769 when Mr. Cawne was elected in opposition to the interest of the Duke of Bedford. It is said many thousands were offered and refused to influence this election. (fn. 60) Francis Green was fined 100 marks for refusing to serve in 1800, and there appears to have been great reluctance to accept office at this time, for in 1806 the fine was raised to £150, two instances of its infliction occurring between that date and 1835. The election of the mayor was celebrated by a yearly dinner to the officers of the corporation, which in 1659 was, according to a minute of the Council Hall, not to exceed 30s. (fn. 61) Entries relating to civic banquets and 'drinkings' are of frequent occurrence in the books of the Council Hall, and Bedford appears to have acquired a reputation in this respect, for Goldsmith in 'She Stoops to Conquer' (written in 1771) makes Marlow say, 'What's here? For the first course; for the second course; for the dessert. The devil, Sir, do you think we have brought down the whole Joiners' Company, or the Corporation of Bedford, to eat up such a supper?' (fn. 62)
At the present day the aldermen are those burgesses who have served the office of mayor, but it seems possible that the title is of earlier date and preceded that of mayor as applied to the chief magistrate of the borough. Thus in 1246–7 the 'Villa de Bedford' came to the eyre by Simon Barscot 'alderman,' two bailiffs and twelve jurors. (fn. 63) Again in 1276 a question arose as to whether writs of the nature of mort d'ancestor ran in the town when the alderman of the town and all the bailiffs came. (fn. 64) The aldermen of Bedford are members of the common council and of the court of aldermen, but have no separate functions. (fn. 65)
Among the most ancient officers of the borough were the two bailiffs; in early times they were elected by the whole vill, for in a case arising from their negligence in 1276 it was declared that as the bailiffs were elected by the whole vill the whole vill must suffer. (fn. 66) Among their duties at this time was the collection of the fee-farm rent and its payment into the Exchequer. The bailiffs, whose office disappeared in the last century, were elected annually; they formed a constituent part of the common council and court of aldermen, and together with the mayor were returning officers for the borough. (fn. 67)
The recorder previous to the Reform Act of 1835 was appointed by the common council (ratified after 1664 by the Crown). (fn. 68) Subsequent to 1835 the appointment has been made by the Crown. The recorder now presides, and is sole judge at quarter sessions. The office was held in the 17th century by the Earl of Bolingbroke and the Earl of Ailesbury, whilst during the 18th century the Dukes of Bedford were almost always recorders. The present recorder is H. D. Bonsey.
The town clerk was formerly elected from burgesses by freemen assembled at a common hall, when the nomination had to be made by the recorder. (fn. 69) The election is now by the majority of votes at a meeting of the town council. (fn. 70) Of recent years a lawyer has been elected to this office, and his duties are to act as legal adviser to the corporation and as chief executive officer and guardian of the borough records. In the 18th century the duties were nominal, and the office was occasionally held by the Dukes of Bedford, who used it as a means of exerting political influence.
Others officers of the corporation were the steward of the court leet, whose office was often absorbed in that of town clerk, the chamberlains who kept the accounts of the corporation audited by the common council, (fn. 71) serjeants-at-mace, town crier and beadle. Amongst officers now obsolete may be named the hall-keeper, part of whose duty appears to have been the guarding of the meetings of the common council from eavesdroppers, for in 1684 it was ordained that 'if any of the door-keepers do disclose any debates of Council or suffer anyone to listen during the sitting of the Council they shall forfeit 40s. to the use of the Chamber.' (fn. 72)
Ale tasters, fish and flesh searchers, wood and chimney searchers and fieldmen (fn. 73) were appointed separately for the north and south parts of the town in the 16th century. They were elected at the view of frankpledge and sworn in at the court of pleas. (fn. 74) Bucket-keepers, whose duty it was to see that the inhabitants had leather buckets in case of fire, were elected in a similar manner. (fn. 75)
At the time of the municipal reform of 1835 the jurisdiction of the corporation was obsolete. The local courts were the court of pleas, the courts leet with view of frankpledge and the court of quarter sessions. The court of pleas, of which records are preserved from the time of Henry VIII, was a civil court, formerly held before the mayor and bailiffs, and having extensive powers where action arose within the borough. No record of the court has been preserved later than 1789, and for many years previous to this date very little business had been transacted. (fn. 76)
An opinion of Sir John Campbell, afterwards Lord Chancellor, obtained by the council after the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act, was to the effect that the court might have been revived. (fn. 77) Courts leet were held by the corporation at Easter and Michaelmas. For its jurisdictional purposes the town was divided into twelve wards. The minor officers of the corporation were elected at the leet and also examinations made into the various claims for admission to the freedom of the borough. Entries of this court dated from 1558 to 1687 are preserved in the borough archives.
The quarter sessions took cognizance of all offences save capital crimes, and record of proceedings of the quarter sessions of the borough commences in 1558. The sessions were discontinued after the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, but a grant of a separate court of sessions for the borough was made in 1846.
Bedford returned two members to Parliament from the 13th until the 19th century, the earliest writs extant being for 1295, when John Cullebere and Simon de Holand represented the borough. (fn. 78) During the 17th and following centuries the election of members appears to have been carried out with an unusual amount of corruption, and cases of contested elections are frequent. In 1640, and again in 1660, disputes arose owing to double indentures of returns made to the sheriff. (fn. 79) In 1690 Sir William Franklin petitioned Parliament saying he was duly chosen by the proper officers of the borough and town of Bedford, but that Mr. Christy and Mr. Hillersdon were returned and a plea of double returns set up to nullify his election. The question was referred to the Committee of Privileges and Elections, and the verdict was given against Sir William Franklin, the Mayor and under-Sheriff of Bedford being taken into custody for their misdemeanour touching the returns, which they had tampered with. The mayor was ordered to attend at the bar of the House, and upon his humble acknowledgement was discharged on payment of his fees. (fn. 80) Samuel Rolt petitioned that he was a candidate for the borough in 1705, but by bribery and menaces Sir Philip Monoux and William Farrar produced a considerable majority over the petitioner and were returned. (fn. 81) Another 'practice which was then thought fair in political warfare' was the wholesale creation of freemen by the corporation, thus securing votes for the candidate whom they favoured. The historic example of this is the admission in 1769 of more than 500 into the freedom of the borough. They are known as 'guinea pigs,' from the fact that this sum was paid for each admission. (fn. 82) Fifty freemen were admitted each year from 1770 to 1787, and between 1789 and 1791 350 political adherents of the Duke of Bedford received the freedom of the borough. (fn. 83)
The connexion of the Russell family with the borough during the last half of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century does much to illustrate the history of its representation in Parliament. In 1747 the Duke of Bedford, then recorder, met the members of the Bedford Corporation in London 'to settle the point for future elections,' and in that year there was a large admission of freemen. In the election which followed Messrs. Gore and Offley (presumably the duke's nominees, for they received appointments under the Crown when he was in office) were elected members for the borough. In the elections of 1761 and 1768 Richard Vernon, a political adherent of the duke, was returned as one of the members. In 1769 a vigorous attack on the duke's influence in Bedford was made by Alderman Sanbridge of London, Mr. Horne (better known later as Horne Took) and Sir Robert Barnard of Huntingdonshire. They gained over to their views the Mayor of Bedford (Mr. Cawne) and prevailed on him to agree to the election of 500 new freemen, and these in the autumn of 1769 secured the election of the municipal officers for the following year. In 1771 the duke died, leaving a son under age, and was succeeded in the recordership by Sir Robert Barnard. In the next election (1774) John Howard and Samuel Whitbread stood against the corporation nominees, Sir William Wake and Robert Sparrow, who headed the poll, and were popularly supposed to have bought their seats. (fn. 84) The defeated candidates petitioned, and the result of an official inquiry was to place Samuel Whitbread's name at the head of the poll, Sir William Wake coming second. The same two members were returned in 1780. Samuel Whitbread was returned together with William Colhoun, unquestionably a partisan of the duke, who was now of age, and who in 1789 succeeded Sir Robert Barnard as recorder. In 1790 and 1796 Samuel Whitbread and William Colhoun were returned, and it was generally supposed that a compact was made between the Russells and the Whitbreads to share the representation equally between them, both families being of the same political opinions. Lord George William Russell was returned in 1812, 1818, 1820 and 1826. (fn. 85)
Sir Robert Barnard's tenure of the recordership is an instance of the corrupt state of politics at that time. In 1780 the corporation was £300 in debt, secured by a mortgage on their property. They applied to and received a loan of £950 from their recorder, by which means the old debt was paid off and the mortgage securities assigned to Sir Robert. During his lifetime no interest was paid, and after his death a receipt, dated 1789, was found by which his executors acknowledged £1,274 in full discharge of the debt, paid by William Colhoun on behalf of the borough. The corporation paid nothing, and no record of the transaction appears in their books. During this time Mr. Colhoun, who deposited the mortgage indentures with Mr. Monkhouse as security, was continually returned as member in the corporation interest, but when he was unseated, in 1803, a claim was immediately made to the corporation for the debt with interest. Litigation ensued, and the case was carried into Chancery, judgement being eventually given against the borough, who had to pay the debt with interest attached. Evidently the debt and party interest had been transferred together, and as long as Mr. Colhoun was returned as member the money was not asked for. (fn. 86) In 1838 the yearly admission of freemen had dwindled to an average of 42/3. A by-election in favour of Captain Polhill in 1832 was demanded on the ground that the voting list contained disqualified persons, and that the return of Mr. Whitbread and Mr. Crawley was null and void. The interest felt in the election is instanced by the fact brought forward that parish relief disqualified for registration as a voter, and that poor voters refused to accept any relief during cholera, which appears to have devastated the town, for fear of losing their votes at the next election. Under the circumstances such relief was declared not to disqualify. (fn. 87)
The right to hold a market was a very early municipal privilege. The tolls of these markets, which are not mentioned in Domesday, assisted in providing the fee-farm rents by which the borough was held of the Crown, and in 1225 the king, hearing that Shefford market was detrimental to the Bedford market, ordered inquiries to be made in order that the former might, if necessary, be suppressed. (fn. 88) In 1338 complaints were made to the Crown that the men of the borough of Bedford hindered merchants, alien as well as denizen, from selling their goods; the king ordered Richard Fitz Ralph to make inquiry into the matter, and if necessary punish the delinquents. (fn. 89) The mayor and burgesses received a charter in 1395–6 which confirmed to them exemption from the presence of the king's clerk of the market in the borough. Cases of serious complaint against the borough officials were to be made direct to the Crown, who would cause due inquiry to be made and fines inflicted where deserved. (fn. 90) In the middle of the 15th century the market had fallen into decay, the tolls having sunk in value to 20s. 4d. (fn. 91) Under Queen Mary the mayor and bailiffs received a grant of a second weekly market to be held in the market-place in St. Mary's parish on the south side of the river. (fn. 92) In the 17th century the market days were Tuesdays and Saturdays. (fn. 93) The Tuesday market, which was held on the south side of the town, and was mainly a pig market, was altered to Monday some time before 1813. The Saturday market for corn was held on the north side of the town. (fn. 94) The Monday market is now discontinued, the Saturday market alone being held for corn, cattle and general produce. A fixed scale of tolls is drawn up for piccage, stallage, &c., in pursuance of the Markets and Fairs Clauses Act of 1847. (fn. 95) Two fairs are mentioned in the governing charter of 1684, one held on 10 April on the south side of the bridge and one on the Thursday after 29 September on the north side. (fn. 96)
Lysons mentions six fairs, held respectively on the first Tuesday in Lent, 21 April, Old Midsummer Day, 21 August, 12 October and 19 December. (fn. 97) Three fairs are now held: on 21 April, the first Tuesday in July and 12 October. Those in April and October are principally cattle fairs, but are also pleasure fairs. The July fair is a wool fair.