The Memoranda of John Wood, Town Clerk: Introduction

Pages 112-115

Cardiff Records: Volume 2. Originally published by Cardiff Records Committee, Cardiff, 1900.

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Town Clerk Wood's Memoranda.

PROMINENT among the citizens of Cardiff in his day was Mr. John Wood, Town Clerk of Cardiff in the years 1818–1825, who filled that important office with energy and judgment at a critical period in the history of the Borough. The old order was changing, giving place to an entirely new state of municipal affairs. There was a slow transition from the preponderance of Castle influence in the government of the Town, to the ascendancy of the people. In some respects, no doubt, Cardiff's emancipation from feudal leading-strings was to her material advantage; but it would be possible to show that the power of the Lord of Cardiff Castle has on the whole been wielded in the interests of the Burgesses. However this may be, Mr. Town Clerk Wood's sympathies seem to have been on the side of democracy, and he employed his very considerable talent and energies in counteracting the then existing tendency of Cardiff local administration to degenerate into a mere department of the Castle. There is no doubt that, from the reign of Anne to that of George the Fourth, the vitality of the Corporation lay dormant, while the Lords were unceasingly strengthening the ties which bound the Town to the Castle. The Council Chamber in the Guildhall became an office for the transaction of Castle business, and the rarely-held Meetings were occupied with little more than the formal installation of Bailiffs and Aldermen who were nominees of the Lord and devoted in his service. Gradually, however, a new spirit arose among the inhabitants of this and other towns; and a popular movement set in towards a more effective representation of the Freemen on the Councils of the Boroughs, which, after a long contest, resulted in the Municipal Reform Act of 1835. In Town Clerk Wood's Memoranda we are admitted to view the inner workings of this movement at Cardiff. We see weighty questions of municipal law submitted to learned Counsel on behalf of the unemancipated townsmen, and note the strenuous opposition offered by the Castle party to the progress of the new ideals.

The first Case sets out the most material parts of all the Charters, and asks Counsel's opinion as to the power and authority of the Constable of Cardiff Castle and his Deputy. It will be well to set down here the actual historical facts of the matter.

During the Marcher Lordship of Glamorgan and Morganwg the Constable of the Castle of Cardiff was appointed by the Lord, to hold office during the Lord's pleasure. His office was in the nature of a military governorship of the Town and Castle. He was Mayor of the Town, and presided over the Town Court, though the civil government of the Town was in the hands of the Bailiffs. This state of things continued during the time when the Lordship was vested in the Crown. But after the Royal grant of the Lordship of Cardiff Castle and its dependencies to Sir William Herbert, afterwards Earl of Pembroke, the Lord himself was Constable of the Castle for the King, and appointed a Deputy Constable to perform the active duties incident to that office. In the eighteenth century this Deputy came to be regarded as being the Constable, and himself appointed a Deputy; the latter being in strict right no proper officer at all. Down to the date of the Municipal Reform Act, 1835, the Corporation officials were sworn into their several offices before the so-called Constable, who was in reality the Deputy-Constable; or before the so-called Deputy-Constable, who was no proper officer at all. It would seem that since 1551 the office of Constable of Cardiff Castle is hereditary in the descendants of the grantee of the Lordship of Cardiff Castle. Since 1835, however, the office has been in abeyance, and the title disused.

Counsel Mr. John Richardson, of the Middle Temple, rightly lays down that the Constable of Cardiff Castle could not lawfully appoint a Deputy to exercise the functions of a Justice of the Peace, which by the Charter of James I. are assigned to the Constable. But both he and Counsel Mr. Henry Alworth Merewether, of Chancery Lane, make the mistake of failing to distinguish between the offices of Constable and Deputy-Constable; they being under the impression that the Lord of Cardiff Castle had the appointment of the Constable, whereas the Lord himself was in reality the Constable, as plainly appears by the Particulars for the Grant of 1551, and still more by the Survey of 1666. (Herein note the difference between the Lordship of Glamorgan and the Lordship of Cardiff Castle.)

Mr. Wood next directs himself to the question of the office of Town Clerk. He complains that by some means or other the Lord had, for the previous 100 years at least, claimed and exercised the right to appoint this officer; though on what basis the claim rested, was not known. He himself, he says, was appointed by the Lord, under his Lordship's seal, to exercise the duties by himself or his deputy, quam diu se bene gesserit. He asks, whether the Lord can maintain this right of appointment, and whether the Town Clerk can lawfully appoint a Deputy Town Clerk. Also whether the present Town Clerk had, by accepting the office of Alderman, vacated the Town Clerkship.

Mr. Richardson gives a general affirmative reply to the first two queries, and a general negative to the last. It appeared, however, to be doubtful whether the office of Town Clerk existed before the Charter of James I.

Although no mention of such an officer has yet been found in documents of earlier date, the office of Town Clerk is a very ancient one.

Case II. deals with the election of Capital Burgesses and Aldermen of the Borough, and gives extracts from the Town Book of 1688–1710, which has for some years been lost. Counsel Mr. Henry A. Mereweather gives as his opinion that the Burgesses at large had the right to elect Capital Burgesses, and that Aldermen could be chosen from the ranks of the simple Burgesses. He also pronounces on the question of the Constable. Mr. Wood instructed him that the inhabitants of Cardiff desired to throw the Borough open, and that the Lord was keeping back the Charter and records.

In Case III. submitted to Mr. Mereweather, the Town Clerk asks for on opinion concerning the Bailiff's practice of swearing Freemen outside a Court of Record, as for instance, in public houses. Counsel considers this illegal, and also the admission of honorary Freemen. The fees levied on the marriage of Freemen's daughters, and the charge for wine at admission to the freedom, he regards as equally unlawful. He condemns the prohibition of non-Burgesses to open shops in the Borough, as being in restraint of trade and therefore void; and says the Corporation can compel the return of the public records by Writ of Mandamus. Counsel expresses the opinion that every resiant householder in the Borough is a legal Burgess, and recommends resistance to the claims of non-resident Burgesses to vote.

Case IV. submits the claim of mere householders to enjoy all the privileges of the freedom, and incidentally raises the question of the legal force of King James the Second's Charter. Mr. Merewether regards this Charter as illegal and void, but adduces no cogent argument for this opinion.

Case V. has to do particularly with the right of the inhabitants to hold stalls in the market, free of toll. Mr. Wood instances the case of a Cardiff hatter whose goods were seized by the Collector, in default of payment of a toll of fourpence for pickage, instead of the penny immemorially paid to the Serjeants-at-Mace. Counsel supports the Town Clerk in his view of the illegality of the new demand, and grounds his opinion on the wording of the ancient Charters.

It will, of course, be borne in mind that most of the points raised by Town Clerk Wood have been rendered obsolete by the Municipal Reform Acts.