A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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In the late 13th century view of frankpledge was claimed for both Chamberlains and Brays manors, which were each admitted to hold it by prescription in 1299. Brays had been withdrawn from the sheriff's tourn by 1279 under the liberty of Ely. (fn. 1) Court rolls survive for Chamberlains manor from 1328 to c. 1675, (fn. 2) for Brays only from 1401 to 1421. (fn. 3) The Chamberlains court, besides handling tenurial business and enforcing agricultural rules, regularly dealt at its leet sessions with cases of assault and bloodshed, and occasionally as in 1376, 1383, and 1414 of hamsocn, (fn. 4) and enforced membership of tithings until the late 15th century. Its hearing of minor civil pleas of debt and trespass, sometimes as in 1382 settled by arbitration, (fn. 5) declined considerably from the 1420s. It also enforced the assize of ale, appointing aletasters as late as 1604. (fn. 6) In 1367 the Chamberlains court forbade villagers to sit drinking in taverns after curfew was rung. (fn. 7) In 1505 one alehouse keeper was accused of keeping his house open late to let men play at dice. (fn. 8)
Constables, mentioned from the 1360s, (fn. 9) were chosen in both courts separately from the early 15th century, (fn. 10) and by the Chamberlains court often from the late 16th. (fn. 11) They sometimes tried, as in 1344 and 1421, to enforce the duty of keeping watch according to the Statute of Winchester. (fn. 12) Following the late medieval depopulation orders were issued in 1533 that tenants should perform the watch when their turn came, even for those messuages with no house standing. (fn. 13) In 1549 Richard Kirkby was attacked because he would neither join in keeping the common watch nor pay scot and lot for his many decayed messuages on Brays. (fn. 14) In the 1510s his father Robert Kirkby had abused his power of impounding cattle by exercising it outside his own fee. (fn. 15) Previously the two courts had probably co-operated, sharing fines for breaking bylaws equally: (fn. 16) orders on agrarian practices, made on both manors from c. 1410 by the assent or consent of lord and tenants, (fn. 17) had sometimes been declared in each almost simultaneously. (fn. 18) When disputes arose over their precedence the Chamberlains jury in 1526 averred that each lord was equally chief lord of the vill, and equally entitled to exercise jurisdiction and punish any default duly presented throughout the whole of it. (fn. 19)
Much of the court's time in the 15th century was taken up with fining men whom the haywards presented for letting their beasts stray from the commons and fens into the sown fields. In the late 14th century the Chamberlains court usually met twice a year, including an autumn leet session, which alone was regularly held in the 15th. After 1560 it began to meet at longer intervals of three or four years. Although it still occasionally made agrarian bylaws and enforced rules on drainage into the late 1620s, (fn. 20) thereafter it concerned itself mainly with transfers of copyholds. (fn. 21) A Brays court book for 1822-1923 (fn. 22) and a Chamberlains minute book for 1849-1938 (fn. 23) are restricted to tenurial business.
In the 16th century the Chamberlains court sometimes dealt with the management and support of the poor. To the poor men's box, mentioned from the 1550s, (fn. 24) it allotted in the 1590s half the fines imposed for breaking bylaws. In 1590 at the villagers' request it assigned ½-rood plots on the green to two poor women for their lives, (fn. 25) and in 1604 forbade the taking in of strangers without security that they would not become chargeable. (fn. 26) In the 1660s the parish arranged that 18 cottages recently built for aged poor people be demolished when their occupants died. (fn. 27) From the 1740s to 1813 the vestry, besides appointing the usual parish officers, hired and paid the village herdsman, sometimes also a hayward, and in 1735 a street sweeper, and less often the ordermakers for the commons, chosen from the principal farmers. (fn. 28) The parish expenditure on the poor, probably only c. £45 yearly c. 1785, had trebled to £145 by 1803, (fn. 29) and doubled again to £283 in 1813, though falling to £190 by 1815. Some 15 people, as in 1803, were permanently assisted. (fn. 30) The amount spent on poor relief, save for a rise to £350 in 1819, usually ranged between £200 and £230 until 1825, thereafter rising again to over £300 into the early 1830s. (fn. 31)