The lowy of Tunbridge: Introduction

Pages 173-176

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 5. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1798.

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Or, as it is now generally called, the lewy, adjoins the hundred of Littlefield towards the north, and on the other sides is incircled by the hundred of Wachlingstone, being about five miles in length from north to south, and about six miles in width from east to west. The whole of it lies within that district of the county, called the Weald of Kent.

It contains within its bounds the boroughs of
3. HILDEN, and

The borough of Hadlow contains part of the parish of Capel, and part of the parish of Hadlow, and the churches of both those parishes.

The borough of Tunbridge Town contains that town and the church; and the boroughs of Hilden and South contain the remaining part of the parish of Tunbridge.

Each of these boroughs has a constable, who has jurisdiction over his respective borough.

THE LOWY OF TUNBRIDGE is called in old Latin deeds, Districtus Leucæ de Tonebridge, and in the book of Domesday, Leuua Ricardæ de Tonebriga.

It was antiently the custom in Normandy, to term the district round an abbey, castle, or chief mansion, leuca or leucata, in English, the lowy, in which the possessor had generally a grant of several peculiar liberties, privileges, and exemptions.

When Richard Fitz-Gislebert, who came into England with the Conqueror, had possessed himself of the manor and castle of Tunbridge, in exchange with the archbishop for other lands in Normandy, he procured a grant of several liberties and exemptions to it, as well as to his adjoining manor of Hadlow, probably the same as those he enjoyed with his possessions there, after the example of which he called this district round his manors and castle, the lowy of Tunbridge, by which name it has been called ever since.

In process of time frequent disputes arose between the earls of Gloucester, successors of Richard de Tonebridge in his lowy, and the archbishops of Canterbury, concerning the extent, limits, and privileges of it, which were adjusted by actual surveys and perambulations, the first of which was made in the 42d vear of king Henry III. by tl tention between archl of Gloucester, by th men, twelve of whor and the other twelve by the earl, to determine it.

After this, disputes again arising, concerning the bounds of the lowy, another perambulation was had in the 8th year of king Edward I. before Stephen de Penchester and Solomon Roffe, justices in eyre, by the view and oaths of a like inquest. But the places, as well as the names of persons mentioned in both these perambulations, being obsolete, and now totally unknown, the insertion of them in this place can give so little information to the reader, that it has been thought proper to omit them both here.

And the inquest found further, "that no man's tenants, excepting the earl's, were within the perambulation; and that the tenants of the archbishop were within the jurisdiction of his own bailiff or ministers."

At which time the earl of Gloucester claimed among others, these liberties within his lowy, viz. a coroner out of his own tenants, or by their election in the court of Tunbridge; that his tenants should not make presentments before any justices in eyre, either of assize or of gaol delivery, but only when they should come into the lowy; which they ought to do before their departure out of Kent, and there to hold their oyer assizes, or gaol delivery for the lowy.

That the ministers of the king, or of the archbishop, should not bear up their rods in the lowy, nor make any summons or distresses for any pleas out of it.

That his tenants should be free of toll over all England; and that when the justices in eyre should come to Canterbury, the earl's steward should go thither with twelve men of the lowy, and in their hearing demand allowance of these liberties, and the justices should at their pleasure assign a day to go to Tunbridge, before their departure out of the shire.

In the 7th year of king Edward I. the earl of Gloucester claimed the above liberties within his lowy, and likewise view of frank-pledge, and assize of bread and beer, within his lands in the parishes of Eltham, Keston, Mereworth, Netelstede, Chekeshall, Tremworth, Hardress, Stelling, Natyngden, Blean, and Sheldewyke, and that his tenants in them should be free of all suit and service in the hundreds of the county, and on a quo warranto in the 21st year, and again in the 29th of the above reign, the liberties and privileges above-mentioned, within the lowy, were allowed and confirmed to him and his heirs. Hugh de Audley, and Margaret his wife, in the 7th year of king Edward III. claimed these liberties within their lowy, and likewise free warren and chase, and to hold pleas of withernam, and that the tenants of the lowy should be free of all toll, passage, murage, pontage, contributions to the repair of highways, &c. throughout England.

These liberties and privileges seem to have been at first extended to the earl's tenants in different parts of this county, at some distance from the lowy, which from thence seem to have been accounted as within the bounds of it; of which there are several examples in the book of Domesday, in which Ricardus de Tonebridge is said to have held lands in sua Leuga, that is, within his lowy, as may be observed in different places throughout this history.

All the above-mentioned liberties, even within the district of the lowy, have been disused time out of mind; nor has there been a bailiff appointed for it within memory: so that now it falls in with the like jurisdiction as other places in this county, which, not being in any hundred, appoint their own constables.