A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 11, Bisley and Longtree Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.
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About 1200 William de Breuse granted a charter to the inhabitants of the town; the provisions are not known but they evidently included the creation of burgage tenure among other franchises. William's son and grandson both confirmed the charter to the 'burgesses of Tetbury'. (fn. 1) In 1268 the burgesses had a further grant from Maud Longespee of the laws of Breteuil to hold as fully as the burgesses of Hereford. (fn. 2) The borough and the market were administered by a bailiff elected annually, (fn. 3) whose office is recorded from 1398. (fn. 4) The bailiff is said to have acted as preserver of the peace, (fn. 5) but the phrase suggests wider franchises than he or the burgess community ever exercised; the control of the court and of the revenues from the town remained firmly in the hands of the lord and his steward. The term borough was little used of Tetbury until the late 16th century, although that was in part because the borough was not coextensive with the manor; the manor also included an area outside the town which a separate 'foreign' jury represented in the court. (fn. 6) The 'town' jury in the court presented three names to the steward at Michaelmas for his choice of bailiff and at the same time appointed lesser officers for the town and market: they were two constables, two wardsmen as their assistants, two carnalls or meat-inspectors, two aletasters to enforce the assizes, and a sealer or searcher of leather. (fn. 7) Through the court the lord exercised his right to view of frankpledge recorded from 1287 (fn. 8) and he also had the right to felons' goods and waifs and strays. In 1616 Elizabeth Berkeley secured a confirmation of those liberties on her son's behalf, (fn. 9) and they were defended against claims of the lord of the hundred in 1688. (fn. 10)
Impetus to seek greater control of their affairs came from Sir William Romney's bequest to the townsfolk of the remaining term of his lease of the markets and fairs in 1611. Various charities were charged on the profits of the lease but the residue was assigned to the bailiff for the general benefit of the town, and the thriving state of the market had produced a balance of several hundred pounds in the burgesses' favour by 1622. A Chancery decree, sought then to regulate the bailiff's management of the fund, constituted the body known as the Thirteen by empowering 12 chief townsmen to assist the bailiff in the trust and provide a pool from which the nominees for the office could be elected; it also created a body called the Twenty Four from whom the numbers of the Thirteen were to be replenished. Shortly afterwards further action was taken by the townsfolk to enforce proper accounting by the bailiff and the examination of his accounts by the Thirteen.
After the expiry of the original lease a new one was acquired by John Smith, the steward, who sold it to the townspeople, (fn. 11) and the continuing profitability of the lease enabled them in 1633 to buy the manor and borough, the advowson, and the commons from Lord Berkeley for £804. A deed, usually known as the tripartite deed, drawn up in February 1633 by four trustees, the Thirteen and Twenty Four, and the commonalty, became the governing instrument of the town. The four trustees were to hold the premises during an interim period while the cost of the purchase was met, and to that purpose were applied the market tolls (the charities being temporarily suspended), bequests to the town by William Langston and John Maltby, the profits from the sale of the common called South Hayes in which the commoners gave up their rights, and the profits of North Hayes; North Hayes was to be ploughed and the common rights there temporarily suspended. Following that period the trust property was to be held for the general good of the town by 7 feoffees whose numbers were to be renewed when they fell to 3. The bailiff was to submit his accounts for the trust to the feoffees. The cost of the purchase was evidently soon met, for in 1640 the townsfolk were able to raise £1,400 to buy the freehold of the markets and fairs, which had been acquired by John Smith from the Berkeleys. (fn. 12)
The spirit of co-operation that was required to carry through these ventures did not long survive. Suspicion of the feoffees soon became evident among the townspeople who sought to secure closer control over them through the manor court and by litigation. The town jury's insistence in 1656 that the tripartite deed should be read out at every court apparently marked the beginning of dissatisfaction, and in the following years the jury pressed the feoffees to renew the numbers of the Thirteen and Twenty Four, whose roles had been left vague by the deed and who were apparently in danger of falling into abeyance. (fn. 13) In 1670, however, it was the feoffees who obtained a Chancery decree to regulate the town's affairs, but they were accused of acting without the knowledge or consent of the bulk of the inhabitants. (fn. 14) In 1700 a request by the inhabitants that the feoffees renew the Thirteen and Twenty Four and exclude corrupt and partial men from their own numbers (fn. 15) apparently met with little response, for later that year a suit alleging mismanagement and arbitrary actions by the feoffees was made in the name of c. 170 inhabitants. (fn. 16)
Further disputes arose in 1739 when Francis Savage and Samuel Saunders, the only surviving feoffees, made a new feoffment, acting it was said without the townspeople's consent and replenishing their number with men who had promised support for their controversial proposal to sell the advowson. Their opponents began a suit in Chancery the following year, alleging in addition misapplication of funds and neglect of trust property. (fn. 17) The suit was not concluded until 1759 by which time four of the original six defendants had died. An order for the appointment of new trustees and the settling of the accounts was made, (fn. 18) and later the government of the town was carried on in comparative harmony, although in 1824 some inhabitants took action for the better regulation of the charities charged on the estate and secured a Scheme from Chancery in 1830. (fn. 19)
The mid-18th-century suit established the Thirteen in consultative and supervisory powers which they had exercised only intermittently; thereafter they approved the feoffees' accounts each year, elected new feoffees when a vacancy occurred, and were consulted by the feoffees on all important matters of policy. (fn. 20) The jury at the Michaelmas meetings of the manor court also continued to keep a watchful eye on the feoffees, frequently urging them to action on matters affecting the trust property. The court also filled vacancies in the Thirteen, the Twenty Four having apparently lapsed. The court's influence was declining, however, and the jury's complaint in the 1790s that the feoffees ignored its presentments later became a standard one. (fn. 21) Some at least of the decisions about the regulation of town and market were taken in open court in the 17th century but by the 19th all such matters were decided by the feoffees at their regular meetings. Nevertheless the manor court survived long enough to censure in its turn the urban district council for neglect of its duties. (fn. 22) From 1881, however, the court met only triennially, and it lapsed in 1896 to be only temporarily revived in 1912. (fn. 23)
The office of bailiff inevitably suffered a decline in importance after the establishment of the feoffees. He was still conducting and accounting for the day to day administration of the manor and trust estate at the beginning of the 18th century (fn. 24) but from 1714 the accounts were kept in the name of the feoffees instead of his. (fn. 25) The bailiff continued to be elected until the 20th century (fn. 26) but the more important executive functions required by the feoffees had for many years been carried out by the town clerk (later called clerk to the feoffees), an office recorded from 1792 and filled by local solicitors. (fn. 27) The various lesser officers mentioned above continued to be elected in the court until c. 1850, (fn. 28) although the duties of the constables appear to have been performed in part by a uniformed functionary, the beadle and cryer. (fn. 29) A building called the dungeon stood under the market-house from the early 17th century and was presumably the town lock-up. (fn. 30)
The powers of the town feoffees suffered their first limitation in 1817 when commissioners for paving, lighting, and cleaning the streets were appointed by Act of Parliament; (fn. 31) the feoffees ceded their right of soil to the commissioners and aided their work with grants. The feoffees' continuing obligation to use their surplus funds to the general advantage of the town was confirmed by the Scheme of 1830, and £70 a year from the profits they received from the sale of the advowson in 1840 was directed specifically to aid the work of the commissioners. Financial co-operation with the commissioners and the bodies who succeeded to the administration of the town thus remained an important part of the feoffees' duties. (fn. 32) Otherwise their responsibilities became limited mainly to their charitable obligations and management of their property. Most of the property had been sold by 1974 and the feoffees' income came mainly from stock, but they still owned the town hall and the town's open spaces; the Thirteen still met to perform its historic role of supplying new feoffees and auditing the accounts. (fn. 33)
The powers of the street commissioners, who later acted as an urban sanitary authority, passed in 1874 to a local board, which in turn was succeeded by an urban district council in 1894. (fn. 34) The urban district council was abolished in 1935 (fn. 35) and the town became part of the Tetbury rural district.
The feoffees' jurisdiction had extended only to the town and the small part of the rural area of the parish that belonged to the manor. Nevertheless they held the advowson in trust for the whole parish, and the chief inhabitants of the outlying hamlets were sometimes represented among their number. (fn. 36) Of the outlying manors, only for Charlton is a manor court recorded. It claimed view of frankpledge in the early 17th century and continued to meet until at least 1842, (fn. 37) presumably also exercising jurisdiction over the vestigial Upton manor. If a court for Doughton manor was held it evidently lapsed with the enfranchisement of the tenant land in the early 17th century, for no record of one could be found in 1760 when the rights of the lord were questioned. (fn. 38) The prioress of Acornbury held a court and view of frankpledge for her possessions in the town, and rolls survive for several years between 1448 and 1522. (fn. 39)
Two churchwardens were recorded from the mid 16th century, (fn. 40) inheriting one aspect of their duties from the proctors of the goods and fabric of the parish church who were recorded from 1368. (fn. 41) The responsibilities of the parish vestry were limited by the feoffees' activities mainly to poor-relief, (fn. 42) and the general supervision of that appears to have been in the hands of a small committee of the vestry, for a body called the parish paymasters was recorded from 1790 and presumably had the same function as the 9 men called the guardians of the poor in 1814. (fn. 43) A select vestry was appointed under the Act of 1819. (fn. 44) The administration of relief was in the hands of four overseers until 1754, from which year there were two with a salaried assistant. There were two surveyors of the highway for the whole parish. (fn. 45)
The parish had a workhouse by 1741 (fn. 46) and it was rebuilt in 1790. (fn. 47) A master for the house, capable of employing the poor in spinning, was sought in 1760, (fn. 48) and the inmates, who generally numbered 50-60 in the early 19th century, (fn. 49) were farmed by a local worsted maker in 1814 and 1822. (fn. 50) A pesthouse was recorded in 1742 and a surgeon-apothecary retained from 1747; (fn. 51) in 1813 the vestry decided to make an annual subscription to Gloucester Infirmary. (fn. 52) The parish had relatively few poor industrial workers and does not appear to have suffered unduly from the burden of poor-relief even in the early 19th century, when expenditure remained well below that of the larger among the clothing parishes to the north. (fn. 53) There was, however, considerable unemployment for a short period in the early 1820s and the contractor who took the poor at farm in 1821 apparently became insolvent; (fn. 54) in the following year the poor were put on road work. (fn. 55) The parish became the centre of the Tetbury union in 1836. (fn. 56) The parish workhouse, on the east side of Gumstool Hill, became the union workhouse, and was rebuilt during 1905-6. (fn. 57) It later became the Cotswold Hospital.
Tetbury town suffered from a lack of water, particularly in the summer months (fn. 58) when the two streams bounding it tended to dry up. The deficiency was evident from 1248 when the abbot of Kingswood granted the townspeople right of access with their water-carts through his Grange estate, (fn. 59) and it was said that in the early 18th century the inhabitants sometimes had to buy water at up to 10d. a hogshead. (fn. 60) Consequently right of access to the various public wells lying outside the town was jealously guarded and reaffirmed each year by the manor court. (fn. 61) In the mid 19th century there were 9 outlying wells, of which Magdalen Meadow well, north-east of the town, (fn. 62) had been granted to the townsfolk by John Limerick in 1496. (fn. 63) In the early 17th century there was a system of pipes to convey water to the Chipping from Magdalen Meadow well and Field well near by but it had fallen into disuse by 1690 when the manor court pointed out the vulnerability of the town in the event of fire. (fn. 64) A contractor agreed with the feoffees for piping water from Wor well in 1721, (fn. 65) but it was not until 1749 that any improvement was achieved, when the vicar John Wight paid for placing a pump over an old well at the great market-house. Later several new private wells were sunk. (fn. 66) In the mid 19th century the feoffees set aside funds for improving the supply and maintaining the existing sources (fn. 67) and there were at least two abortive supply schemes. (fn. 68) In 1878 the feoffees handed over the care of the wells and pumps to the local board, later assisting the work with an annual grant, and in 1893 they helped to finance the board's scheme to sink two boreholes and build a pumping station in Blind Lane. (fn. 69) That system, which passed to the U.D.C., afterwards provided the bulk of the town's water. (fn. 70)
The care of the streets of the town was formerly in the hands of the feoffees, who also administered a fund of £100 left by John Wight (d. 1777) for the removal of encroachments. (fn. 71) Those duties passed in 1817 to the street commissioners, whom the feoffees assisted financially, for example in the purchase of a scavenger's cart in 1854. (fn. 72) A gas company formed in 1836 with works at Comber's Mead provided street lighting. (fn. 73) The feoffees were considering a sewerage scheme in 1853, and a sewer authority formed with their support in 1868 installed a system. (fn. 74) Electricity was laid on to the town in 1924 by the Western Electricity Distributing Corporation. (fn. 75) There was a public fire-engine by 1690 (fn. 76) and the feoffees were urged to replace it in 1735. (fn. 77) The local board bought a new engine in 1881. (fn. 78) A dispensary was established in the town in 1818, (fn. 79) and a cottage hospital, just over the parish boundary on the Malmesbury road, was opened in 1868. (fn. 80)