A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 12. Originally published by Boydell & Brewer for Victoria County History, Woodbridge, 2010.
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MANORIAL AND BOROUGH GOVERNMENT
Despite the creation of the town and the granting of liberties to its inhabitants by Cormeilles abbey, the Newent manor court retained a paramount position against the townspeople's wish for greater independence in the late 13th century. Although manor courts were also held for Boulsdon and Kilcot in the late 18th and early 19th century, the courts of the smaller manors of the parish, including that for Okle Clifford held by the prior of Llanthony once a year in 1516, (fn. 1) probably lapsed at an early date when those manors lost their few tenants. For Carswalls no court had probably been held for many years before 1806 when its owner Sir George Pauncefote was concerned to find the Foleys' steward unaware that he had any manorial rights. (fn. 2)
The Middle Ages
It was presumably from the time of the royal grant of a market at Newent in 1253 that Cormeilles abbey allowed its tenants in the principal settlement of the parish separate liberties from those of its tenants elsewhere in the manor. The granting of those liberties appears to have been in piecemeal awards to individuals rather than in a comprehensive charter enfranchising all the townspeople. That procedure resulted in part from the fact that the new market town had as its basis an established village, and probably also reflected the abbey's reluctance to allow the inhabitants too independent a status. In the abbey's records the town is consistently designated 'the market town of Newent'. (fn. 3) The term 'borough' is first found recorded in 1384, (fn. 4) after the abbey had relinquished all rights in the lordship, and the first reference found to the townspeople as 'burgesses' is in 1464. (fn. 5) Some holdings in the town were styled 'burgages' in the 13th century, but later, until the end of the 14th, that term was rarely, if ever, used. (fn. 6)
A rental of the town, compiled within 20 or 30 years after the market grant, lists c.70 holdings, of which 16 are described as burgages and most of the others as cottages. The former were presumably new or newly-enfranchised tenements, while the latter, some of which were held for lives or at will and 30 of which owed agricultural work in the hay harvest, were presumably tenements of earlier, purely manorial, origin. Most of the holdings, both burgages and non-burgages, owed annual rents of 1s. or 2s., (fn. 7) and four burgages granted to new tenants in 1286 owed 2s. (fn. 8) In later grants of houses and building plots, however, the lords required a greater monetary return: among 137 houses listed in the town c.1315, 32, mainly situated on the market or in other central areas, owed rents of between 3s. and 14s. (fn. 9) Some houses in the town remained on tenures for lives until the 1290s or later when they were upgraded by charter to tenure by heredity. (fn. 10) By c.1315 almost all were heritable and held by a form of tenure that was described as 'according to the manner and custom of the town' but also as 'per bill(etum) abbatis mutabilem', suggesting that the terms were changeable at the will of the abbot. The obligations owed to the lord under that tenure were service as catchpoll and ale-taster, custody of prisoners at the tenant's own cost, apprehending thieves and (in some cases) conveying them to the county gaol at Gloucester, suit of court and mill, and payment of fines under the assizes of bread and ale, toll on the brewing of ale, entry fines, heriots, and mortuaries (the last to the abbey in its role as rector of Newent). In addition 30 or so houses were still required to provide a man to work in the hay harvest with a pitchfork or rake. (fn. 11)
Courts In the 1290s the townspeople attempted to assert a degree of independence from the lord and emphasize their separate status within the manor. In 1297 20 townsmen refused their suit to the manor court, known usually as 'the great court', claiming that they should answer only to a separate court held for the market town and at the summons of the town bailiff rather than the hayward of the manor. The steward presiding decided that minor matters between inhabitants of the town might be dealt with in the town court but more serious matters should come before the great court. A jury of suitors, who were probably free tenants from the rural parts of the manor, also gave a judgement asserting the supremacy of the great court: all inhabitants of the town should answer there in all matters affecting the rights of the lord and reply there to anyone who brought suit against them. The dissidents admitted their guilt and were fined, but there was further unrest in the following year when some townsmen refused their obligation to guard prisoners. (fn. 12) Later in 1298 the abbot of Cormeilles granted charters of three tenements in the town and, mindful of recent events, in them reserved his right to call the two courts together in joint session and, if he thought it desirable, overrule in the great court any judgements made in the town court. He also reserved to himself the right to appoint the town officers, specified as a catchpoll, serjeants, and ale-tasters. (fn. 13) In 1307 the great court, as if to emphasize its primacy in manor and town, was styled 'the court of the out-dwellers and in-dwellers (curiam forincecorum et intrinsecorum)'; (fn. 14) by 1322 it had reverted to its former style. (fn. 15)
In the 1360s the town court convened for two or three sessions a year under the style of curia intrinseca. (fn. 16) In the late 15th century, styled variously as the portmoot, 'the little court of the town', or 'the court of the bailiff of the borough and his burgesses', it held one or two sessions a year. Its business, which included hearing pleas of trespass and debt, enforcing the assizes of bread and ale and other regulations on tradesmen, and maintaining the town streets, duplicated in many ways that of the great court and view of frankpledge held for both town and manor, but it never seems to have challenged again the great court, which maintained its supremacy, in particular as the venue for the election of the officers of the town. The last record found of the town court was in 1482 (fn. 17) and it had almost certainly expired by the mid 16th century. A single record survives of a court of pie-powder, convened on a market day (Friday) in 1376 over a matter of two oxen taken as distraint and released from the pound by the owner. (fn. 18)
In the late 13th century the great court (fn. 19) usually met in ordinary session once a month, but, as later, there were probably two or three other sessions when it exercised frankpledge jurisdiction. In the early 15th century there were usually two or three ordinary sessions a year and views of frankpledge in spring and autumn, and by the end of that century only two sessions a year for all of the court's business. That business included civil pleas, tenurial matters such as admissions and payment of entry fees by new heirs or assignees of town houses, grants of customary tenements in the manor, and enforcement of the obligations owed by all classes of tenant, road maintenance, the election of officers for both town and the rural tithings of the manor, and, at its frankpledge sessions, presentments by the officers of tradesmen's offences, bloodshed, and affray. In the early 15th century the court was also collecting annual payments of 4d. each from certain individuals for the right of trading toll-free in the town, (fn. 20) presumably regular market traders who were not eligible by right of holding houses in the town. In 1326 the great court defended its jurisdiction against the Botloe hundred court, where one tenant had impleaded two others, (fn. 21) and in 1415 it took action against a man who entered the manor to make an arrest without warrant. (fn. 22)
Apart from view of frankpledge and assize of bread and ale, the franchises that the abbot of Cormeilles exercised within the manor included infangthief. (fn. 23) That right (to execute justice on thieves taken with the stolen goods) was enforced through the great court in 1319. (fn. 24) According to local tradition the gallows stood at a place called Woeful hill, by the Ross road north of the Conigree, (fn. 25) which, apart from being on the main road out of the town, probably marked the boundary between the Newent manor liberty and Kilcot manor. (fn. 26) In 1287 Newent priory was apparently claiming the right to have its own prison on the manor, (fn. 27) though the duties of the town tenants listed c.1315 show that thieves (at least those not taken with the goods) were expected to be conveyed to the county gaol.
Officers The officers annually elected for Newent town in the great court in the 1320s were a catchpoll and two ale-tasters. The former is clearly the officer who is later styled bailiff of the town. His duties included presenting in the court affrays leading to bloodshed or the raising of the hue and cry and offenders against the assize of bread. In 1366 the court disciplined the bailiff for failing to weigh bread sold in the town and, at the same time, the ale-tasters for failing in their office. In 1344 the town bailiff and ale-tasters were elected at the October frankpledge court by the townspeople, showing a considerable advance in their freedoms since 1298 when the abbot reserved the appointments as his prerogative. By 1423 the court was also electing two carnells to enforce fair trading by butchers, an office that was termed 'victual-taster' in the early 15th century when it also had responsibility for fishmongers. No further record has been found of the office of serjeant mentioned in 1298. (fn. 28) That office was perhaps served by the townspeople by a rota of houses, as may have been the case with the town watchmen mentioned in 1307. (fn. 29) From 1410, however, two constables were elected in the court annually, and by 1527 they had been joined by two men styled serjeants-at-mace.
In the late 13th century the men of Compton, Cugley, Malswick, and Newent tithings made presentments concerning the rural parts of the manor, and by the 1320s they elected a tithingman in the great court for each of their respective tithings. The officer for Newent tithing was elected by, and had responsibility for, the small number of customary tenants who lived within the bounds of that tithing in or adjoining the town. (fn. 30) From the 1440s a fifth tithingman, for Boulsdon, also appeared in the court. He presumably represented only a few tenants within that tithing who owed suit to Newent manor, and his presentment usually stated that all was well (omnia bene). (fn. 31) A bailiff of the manor also occasionally appeared in the court to report on tenurial matters (fn. 32) and is presumably the same officer who accounted annually for the whole manor, both town and rural areas, in the late Middle Ages. (fn. 33)
From the Mid Sixteenth Century
In the late 16th century and the early 17th the Newent manor court continued to meet in two annual sessions in April and October as a joint view of frankpledge and court baron. Tenurial matters, such as grants of copyholds and enforcement of the payment of chief rents by freeholders, provided much of its business. Among its other concerns were nuisances, encroachments on the waste land of the manor, and householders taking in lodgers without giving security against their becoming chargeable to the parish. In 1579 the absence of a pillory and cucking-stool was presented, a lack which had not been remedied 30 years later. The officers for the town, elected at the October court, were the bailiff, two constables, who were now responsible for presenting affrays and bloodshed, two serjeants-atmace, and two carnells. By 1617 there were also two men styled sealers, or searchers, of leather. The five tithingmen continued to be elected for each of the tithings where the manor had tenants. The office of town bailiff had acquired greater stature: his name headed the list of presentments at the court, and some who served were, as well as having property in the town, prominent local landowners, for example Thomas Hooke of Crooke's Farm, in Pauntley, in 1581 and Randall Dobyns of Walden Court in 1622. (fn. 34) In the 1630s the bailiff was ex officio a trustee of the town's almshouse charity. (fn. 35)
No further records of the court have been found until 1777 when one annual session was held in October, as continued to be the case until 1822 or later. The office of town bailiff had lapsed by the early 18th century, and the officers elected by the court in the late 18th century and the early 19th were two constables, who then had responsibility for the whole parish, one man as victual-taster and leathersealer, the five tithingmen, and a hayward. The court dealt with the few small parcels that were still copyhold, but its main concern was unsanctioned encroachment on the greens and roadside waste. (fn. 36) The Foleys' agent, William Deykes, and their steward, Robert Hughes of Cheltenham, both regarded the court as vital in combating encroachments and in fixing its date went to considerable trouble to avoid local fair and market days which might cause poor attendance. (fn. 37)
Among the other manors of the parish, a manor court for Kilcot, which also claimed leet jurisdiction, was held at the Conigree in the early 18th century. (fn. 38) In the late 18th century and the early 19th when J.N. Morse was lord of Kilcot his court was much preoccupied with encroachments on the part of Gorsley common that belonged to the manor. (fn. 39) The Kilcot court convened at the Kilcot inn in the first decade of the 20th century, but whether it had had a continuous existence up to then or was a revival by the antiquarian-minded lord of the manor, Edward Conder, is not known. (fn. 40) For Boulsdon it was said in 1788 that a manor court had been continuously held and had appointed constables for the manor. (fn. 41) Then, and in 1806, encroachments on Clifford's Mesne and other waste of the manor provided the main business. (fn. 42)
The early history of parish government is sparsely documented; many records were probably in a boxful of old papers burnt on the orders of the rector in 1877. (fn. 43) By the late 18th century, when overseers of the poor and surveyors of the highways were being appointed for each of the parish's six tithings, poor relief was centralized and from 1815 road maintenance was also jointly administered. By the early 1830s the officers for the individual tithings were little more than rate collectors.
In 1768 the parish vestry drew up regulations for a workhouse (fn. 44) accommodated in a substantial house at Crown Hill at the north end of the town. (fn. 45) A management committee, comprising the vicar, the churchwardens, an overseer (presumably for the town), and six other inhabitants, was to supervise the workhouse and its master and two of its members to act as inspectors of the house. The vestry ruled in 1770 that no one was to receive weekly pay outside the house, though it continued to authorize one-off payments for nursing care, clothing, and other needs of individual paupers. The ban on out-relief was evidently lifted later under pressure of increasing numbers of poor. Under the system for financing the workhouse in place in 1784 the overseers of the five entirely rural tithings paid two thirds of the produce of their rates to the overseer of the town tithing for the workhouse, while retaining the other third for their casual poor. In 1792 paupers needed the sanction of the overseer of their home tithing before they were given relief by the town overseer.
The master of the workhouse, appointed at a salary of £10 a year in 1768, was required not only to direct the work of the paupers but also to teach their children to read and write and the girls also to sew and knit. In 1771 the vestry contracted with James Bamford of Gloucester to employ the poor for two years at spinning. Spinning and knitting seem to have remained the usual work performed in the house, though in 1819 some children were employed in heading pins. (fn. 46) In 1772 the vestry extended free instruction in reading, spinning, and knitting to children of poor families not in receipt of relief, and it bought 12 new spinning wheels for use in the house. Some able-bodied paupers were sent out of the house to do agricultural labour, which in 1772 included hop picking, and in 1819 some were employed on road repairs. (fn. 47) In 1816 the leading ratepayers agreed to institute the roundsman system of relief, taking turns to provide employment for six-day spells, but that was apparently a temporary expedient at a time of severe distress. Apprenticeships of pauper children to farmers and tradesmen were made regularly in the late 18th century, with as many as 22 placed out in 1788. In 1785 the vestry offered a monopoly of the supply of shoes for the paupers to any shoemaker who would employ two of them. Some apprenticeships were made with charity funds given for that purpose, and various pieces of parish land were also applied in support of the poor rates.
During the late 18th century ratepayers were often reluctant to attend vestry meetings and apply themselves to the task of parish government. In 1773 22 signed an undertaking to attend regularly on pain of a fine, and later there were several similar attempts to enforce attendance. At the close of the year ending Easter 1784, when the cost of relief at £671 had more than doubled since 1776, (fn. 48) the vestry appointed a new management committee to improve the situation: measures to be undertaken and enforced included the badging of the poor, the expulsion of vagrants from the town, a petition to the magistrates against granting licences for alehouses, and the reduction of the constables' expenses while on parish business. From 1798 an assistant overseer, first appointed at a salary of £25, administered all relief and managed the workhouse under the direction of two prominent ratepayers, one as visitor of the house and treasurer and the other as guardian of the poor. Under Joseph Hankins, owner and farmer of the Scarr, who served the former post from 1800 to 1816, that system seems to have been fairly successful in containing the cost of relief. In the year ending Easter 1803, when 108 paupers received permanent relief and 89 occasional relief, £1,247 was spent, (fn. 49) and in the year 1810–11 £1,159; expenditure rose to £1,369 in 1813–14, when 120 (including 68 inmates of the workhouse) received permanent relief and 24 occasional relief, (fn. 50) but it fell in the two next years to just over £1,000. During the next 20 years the cost was usually around £1,200, but a peak of £1,484 was reached in 1830–1. (fn. 51) In the severe winters of 1799–1800 and 1800–1 subscriptions were opened to run soup kitchens and subsidize the price of bread and other provisions to the poor. There were similar schemes in 1814 and 1830. In 1810, to circumvent profiteering by shopkeepers, Hankins bought a quantity of flour for resale to the poor at market price, the vestry agreeing to make up out of the rates any losses he incurred.
In the early years of the 19th century road repairs were managed by surveyors for the tithings, two acting for the town and Kilcot tithings and one each for Compton, Cugley, Malswick, and Boulsdon. In 1815 a general surveyor was appointed at a salary of £40; he was given overall control of repairs throughout the parish and received from the elected surveyors all the rates and money collected as composition for statutory road work. (fn. 52)
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND PUBLIC SERVICES AFTER 1834
From 1835 Newent was the centre of a poor-law union comprising 18 parishes in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, and Worcestershire. (fn. 53) Its workhouse became the union workhouse, though not bought from the parish until 1843, (fn. 54) and the union added a new range to the west side of the building in 1867–8. (fn. 55) The workhouse closed in 1918, (fn. 56) and in 1922 it was conveyed to the county education authority for use as a school. (fn. 57) In 1863 Newent became the centre of a highway board, (fn. 58) whose powers passed in 1899 to Newent Rural District Council. (fn. 59) Other roles that Newent played in the local administration of its north-western area of the county in the 19th and 20th centuries were as the centre of a petty sessional division (fn. 60) and, from 1846 to the late 1940s, of a county court district. (fn. 61)
The Newent rural district, formed in 1895, administered the union's fourteen Gloucestershire parishes and two Worcestershire parishes. (fn. 62) Its council met in the union workhouse but later had offices in Broad Street (fn. 63) and 1951 moved them to the former rectory house. (fn. 64) Its principal projects for Newent town were the provision of mains water in 1910, an improved sewerage scheme of 1965, (fn. 65) and substantial housing estates built between the mid 1950s and early 1970s. (fn. 66) It was dissolved in 1974 when Newent parish became part of the new Forest of Dean District.
The earliest schemes to provide public services for the town were initiated by the parish vestry, where disagreements between town and rural ratepayers sometimes hampered implementation. The Newent parish council formed in 1894 assumed the vestry's powers as the lighting and cemetery authority for the town. (fn. 67) Later it took responsibility for allotments, a recreation ground, and other public areas, (fn. 68) and, in 1914, became owner of Newent market house, where it held its meetings. (fn. 69) In 2007, under the style of Newent Town Council, it retained those responsibilities, apart from lighting, and also carried out street cleaning as agent for the district council. From 1983 a mayor of Newent, a purely honorary office, was elected annually. (fn. 70) In 2000 a separate parish council was established for the new civil parish of Gorsley and Kilcot. (fn. 71)
Newent town drew its water from numerous private wells, the right of access to which was often specified in title deeds and householders' wills. (fn. 72) In the early 1890s Gloucester corporation's plans to extract water locally were opposed by the parish vestry and the Newent union (in its role as a rural sanitary authority) from fear of damage to existing sources of supply. (fn. 73) When the works, comprising a pumping station beside the Ell brook in Oxenhall and a reservoir at Madam's wood at the east boundary of Newent, were opened in 1896 (fn. 74) the newly-formed RDC became interested in tapping the supply but it was several years before a majority of Newent ratepayers agreed on a scheme. There was a complication in that some houses and farms on the Onslows' estate had been provided with a free piped supply under the agreement for building the works. (fn. 75) In 1907 the RDC reached agreement with the corporation for a supply to an area of 250 a. in and around the town. Laying the mains began in 1909 and was completed the following year. Initially most of the town was supplied from standpipes, only c.37 private houses paying to be connected. (fn. 76) Supplies to outlying parts of the parish, financed by the RDC but engineered by the city corporation, were provided after the Second World War, the mains to the Kilcot and Gorsley area being laid in 1954 and 1955. (fn. 77) The control of the supply passed from Gloucester corporation to the North-West Gloucestershire Water Board in 1965 and to the Severn-Trent Water authority in 1974. (fn. 78)
Sewerage and Drainage
In 1866 the parish vestry drew up a scheme for a sewerage system for the town, with the intention of forming a 'special drainage district' under new legislation, but decided it was impractical to implement without a mains water supply to flush the sewers. (fn. 79) Proposals for a special drainage district were revived in 1870 but led to several months of argument over the limits of the area to be rated to the district; a threat from the Home Office to appoint an official to implement a scheme resolved the matter. (fn. 80) The laying of the sewers and the construction of basic outfall works by the Ell brook in Cleeve Lane were completed by 1875. (fn. 81) In 1895 the system was taken over by the RDC, which made improvements to it in 1913. The system long remained inadequate, (fn. 82) however, even after 1938 when a small works was constructed near the railway station just above Ell bridge to serve c.30 houses at the north end of the town. (fn. 83) Modern treatment works completed in 1965 (fn. 84) on the opposite side of Cleeve Lane from the old works were enlarged in 1972. In 1974 the town's sewerage system passed to the Severn-Trent Water authority, which continued for some years to employ the Forest of Dean district council as its agent for maintaining the system. (fn. 85)
Surface drainage was another long-standing concern of the RDC in the 20th century. Peacock's brook tended to flood at the point where it passed through a culvert under Broad Street, and after the Second World War new building in the Culver Street and Watery Lane area threatened further problems in that part of the town. Measures to remedy the situation included improving the section of the brook south of the main street in 1955, the laying of a new drain in Watery Lane in the early 1960s, and the building of another from the main street to Newent Lake in the early 1970s. (fn. 86)
The Newent Gas Light & Coke Co. formed in 1850 opened a small works on the east side of Watery Lane the following year. (fn. 87) The parish vestry appointed lighting inspectors, but a majority of ratepayers did not vote a rate to provide gas lamps in the town until 1852 (fn. 88) and the limits of supply were left undetermined, as rural ratepayers objected to the inclusion of the whole parish. (fn. 89) In 1869 the company made a new contract with the inspectors to light 24 lamps in the town in the winter months. (fn. 90) In 1892, when it became a limited company, it constructed a second gasholder at its works, and a few years later it had 170 private customers in the town. (fn. 91) The vestry's lighting powers passed in 1895 to the parish council; the question of the area of supply was finally resolved at a parish meeting which decided on a radius of 50 chains around the market house. (fn. 92) The gas company was nationalized in 1949 as part of the South-West Gas Board. The Newent works closed c.1956 and from then the town was supplied by mains from Gloucester, though one of the gasholders remained in use until the advent of natural gas in the early 1970s. (fn. 93)
The Shropshire, Worcestershire, & Staffordshire Electric Power Co. acquired powers to serve Newent and adjoining parishes in 1930 (fn. 94) and laid on supplies to the town the following year. (fn. 95) Electricity was brought to the outlying parts of the parish later in the century by the Midland Electricity Board: Brand Green and Pool Hill were connected in 1956 (fn. 96) and Kilcot, Gorsley, and Clifford's Mesne in the early 1960s. (fn. 97)
The town had acquired a fire engine by 1820 when its maintenance was the churchwardens' responsibility. (fn. 98) In 1845 the vestry rented a building to house a new engine bought from the London firm of W.J. Tilley by subscription and set up a management committee. (fn. 99) In 1876 a new committee was formed of representatives of the ratepayers and insurance companies, but the service was still funded by subscription. (fn. 100) In 1885 the engine was operated and hauled to the site of fires by a voluntary brigade of nine men. (fn. 101) In 1893 the parish decided to make it the responsibility of the lighting inspectors and finance it from their rates, (fn. 102) and the parish council ran the service from 1895 (fn. 103) until 1940 when under wartime measures the RDC was charged with maintaining a brigade. (fn. 104) From 1948 the county fire service maintained a station, manned by a part-time crew, in the old cattle market, (fn. 105) and in 1962 a new fire and ambulance station was opened in Bridge Street. (fn. 106)
A burial board for the parish formed in 1863 laid out a cemetery, including twin mortuary chapels and a sexton's lodge, on the west side of Watery Lane. (fn. 107) Management of the cemetery passed to the parish council in 1895. (fn. 108) Newent had no hospital, apart from a temporary building for infectious diseases provided by the RDC in Bury field south of the town and moved to Coldharbour Lane in Oxenhall in 1897. (fn. 109) A new health centre for the town was built in 1974 at the junction of Watery Lane and the main street. (fn. 110) From soon after the formation of the county police force in 1839 a small detachment, comprising in 1851 a sergeant and two constables, was based in the town. The police occupied various rented houses until 1878 when a police station and magistrates' court were built in Court Lane. (fn. 111) That remained in use until 1974 when the police moved to a new station beside the new health centre. (fn. 112) On an adjoining part of the site a new building for the Newent branch of the county library, formerly housed in part of the old rectory, opened in 1987. (fn. 113)