Dedham: Local government

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2001.

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'Dedham: Local government', A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe, (London, 2001), pp. 177-179. British History Online [accessed 21 June 2024].

. "Dedham: Local government", in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe, (London, 2001) 177-179. British History Online, accessed June 21, 2024,

. "Dedham: Local government", A History of the County of Essex: Volume 10, Lexden Hundred (Part) Including Dedham, Earls Colne and Wivenhoe, (London, 2001). 177-179. British History Online. Web. 21 June 2024,


The lords of Dedham Hall were granted free warren in 1345 and 1384. (fn. 1) They were holding courts by 1329 and courts leet by 1397. (fn. 2) Breaches of the peace were reported to the leet in 1428 when the assizes of bread and of ale were enforced, and two con-stables and twoaletasters elected. (fn. 3)

In the 17th century the court leet of Dedham Hall was the main village court, dealing with nuisances, the maintenance of ditches, field boundaries, roads and pathways, encroachments on the manorial waste, and illegal grazing on the common pastures. (fn. 4) In 1666 the court also enforced the assizes of bread and of ale, (fn. 5) and in 1692 the jurors presented a list of 17 ancient customs, governing such varied matters as live stock commoning, obstructing streets, and keep ing ferrets. (fn. 6) No leets were recorded after 1727 until 1804 when the court was briefly revived to deal with nuisances including heaps of rubbish, timber, and chalk in the streets, an illegal slaughter house, and wandering livestock. (fn. 7) Courts baron continued until 1914, although by the 20th century most business took place out of court. Many copyhold enfranchisements were recorded between 1903 and 1912; the court baron last met in 1914. (fn. 8)

A single steward administered Dedham and Langham in 1503, (fn. 9) and Dedham, Langham, and Stratford St. Mary in 1534. (fn. 10) A bailiff of Dedham and Langham was recorded in 1558. (fn. 11)

The reeve and constables of Dedham who refused to appear before the Quarter Sessions in the 1570s (fn. 12) were presumably from Dedham Hall manor where two constables were recorded in the 17th century. That manor's courts elected two aletasters and two leather sealers in the later 17th century, (fn. 13) and a driver of the commons from 1696. (fn. 14) The leather sealers were last recorded in 1705, (fn. 15) the two constables, two ale tasters, and one commondriver as late as 1804. (fn. 16) In 1634 the constables appointed three night watchmen. (fn. 17) 'Lewd fellows' were placed in the stocks c. 1603. (fn. 18) The manorial pound recorded in 1650 was probably on the corner of Man ningtree Road, (fn. 19) and the town cage stood on a triangle of land near the junction of Penny Pot Lane and High Street. (fn. 20)

The lord of Netherhall had a court by 1393 when it heard pleas of trespass. (fn. 21) In 1399 the court was chiefly concerned with trespasses on the lord's land, but it also detected the transfer of bondland without licence. (fn. 22) Childwite was paid by single mothers in the 15th century. (fn. 23) Courts leet were recorded between 1428 and and 1457, (fn. 24) but had lapsed by 1672. (fn. 25) Courts baron continued until 1924, but from c. 1850 most business, including the enfranchisement of most copyholds between 1894 and 1903, was con ducted out of court. Some manorialincidents were not extinguished until 1951. (fn. 26) Eighteenth- century courts were opened in the manor's court house on Princel Green, now probably Nos. 1-4 Little Garth cottages, and then adjourned to an inn; (fn. 27) between 1896 and 1907 they were held at the Marlborough Head. (fn. 28)

Courts baron for the small manor of Faites and Wades were recorded from 1360; they regu lated land transfers andagriculture. (fn. 29) Ordinances made between 1561 and 1702 controlledsand and gravel digging, and access to a lane on the manor. (fn. 30) The pound was recorded in 1573. (fn. 31) Courts were infrequent in the 18th century, and they ceased after 1841, although business transacted out of court was entered on the court books until 1921. (fn. 32)

In the 1580s the vicar and lecturer agreed with the inhabitants a set of orders for the town. As well as regulating religious observances, they provided that the ministers and vestrymen should visit monthly the houses of the poor and places frequented by the disorderly, and that only householders and those retained by them might stay in Dedham. (fn. 33) In 1645 the church wardens and constables chose four surveyors of the highways. (fn. 34) In the early 19th century the parish vestry nominated four overseers of the poor. (fn. 35)

The 19th-century vestry was composed of principal inhabitants who generally served for life; vacancies were filled by cooption. Parish officers were elected annually on Easter Monday, and monthly meetings were held either in the church vestry or at inns including the Marlborough Head, Sun, and Compasses. (fn. 36)

Two police officers were recorded in 1841, but generally there was one police constable in the later 19th century. There was a police station in High Street by 1890. (fn. 37)

The workhouse or poorhouse recorded in 1671 may have been the cottage held by the churchwardens in 1672. (fn. 38) It may have become the three timber framed cottages on Dedham Heath, which the parish held in 1838 and which were called a workhouse at their sale in 1840. (fn. 39)

A house on Crown Street was adapted as a new workhouse in 1725. The accommodation was increased after 1730 using land, buildings, and money given by John Freeman. (fn. 40) In 1775 the new master was to maintain paupers at 1s. per head; (fn. 41) he put them to work on the 20 spinning wheels and 4 looms in the weaving room and another workshop in the house. (fn. 42) In 1781 the parish experimented with leasing its poor, (fn. 43) but by 1804 there was a salaried governor. By 1807 the workhouse ran a sack manufactory and the following year had a starching room and setting shop as well as spinning rooms. (fn. 44) Medical assistance for the poor was provided from 1775, and a salaried doctor employed from 1801. (fn. 45)

In addition to the 20-30 inmates of the work house in the early 19th century, 50-70 people received outdoor relief. (fn. 46) Until 1801 such relief was in bread and meal; thereafter it was in money, although tea and coal were still given to the old and widowed, and clothing, furniture, accommodation, and loans were sometimes pro vided. The Speenhamland system was occasionally employed, and in 1808 the overseers themselves used subsidized pauper labour. (fn. 47) In 1834 thirty-four Dedham men who had been refused outdoor relief marched to Colchester, where they were summarily dismissed by the justices. (fn. 48)

The £464 spent on the poor in 1776 was by far the highest amount in the Colchester division of Lexden Hundred, and the average spent on the poor between 1783 and 1785, £458 7s. 10d., was second only to Great Horkesley. (fn. 49) A very large sum, £2,701, was expended in 1801, but relief fell the following year to £1,300. It then rose gradually during the second decade of the century until between 1816 and 1819 it again exceeded £2000. (fn. 50) Between 1820 and 1835 it averaged c. £1600. (fn. 51) Nonetheless, expenditure per head of population was considerably lower than in many neighbouring parishes, which may explain the nearly £100 voluntarily subscribed for the poor in 1820. (fn. 52)

The workhouse closed in 1835 and was sold in 1838 to Whitmore Baker, from whom it was later named Whitmore Place. (fn. 53) Converted into tenements by 1841, it was in poor condition by 1937. Proposed demolition in the 1960s was successfully opposed by the parish council. It was restored and divided into four dwellings c. 1970. (fn. 54)

Buildings of the 16th century and later are arranged around a courtyard open on one side to Crown Street. Many red brick alterations and additions were made to the timber framed fabric in the 18th century, most of them c. 1725-30 when the property was converted to a work house. The western range is a 2½-storeyed, three bayed lobby entry house of the later 16th century to which red brick fronts were added on all but the west in the 18th century. The north and east fronts were brick faced perhaps c. 1725-30 when the house probably became the main accommodation for the poor. The inserted flat arch over the entrance door is a rustic version of the moulded and rubbed brickwork decorat ing the building on the south of the courtyard, apparently the workhouse master's house and offices. That is of two parallel ranges with brick facades of c. 1725-30 in two colours and with classical details. The north block has a three bayed north facade and a shaped east gable. The south block, which has a 1725 datestone, has alternating pediments to firstfloor windows on the south. Probably c. 1838 the facades of the south part were raised to a straight parapet and the ground floor was rendered and rusticated. The north range, apparently used as the sack factory, originated as a nondomestic 5 bayed timber framed building of the 16th century or earlier. Several modifications have been made to it, probably c. 1725-30. They include the casing of the south wall, underbuilding on the east wall, the addition of a north-east large stack with tabled offsets and a north outshut, and the inser tion of windows with ovolo mouldings under the eaves. The floor and the internal jetty in the westernmost bay were introduced c. 1970.

A pest house north of Coopers Lane housed smallpox victims in 1749-50, but had presumably closed by 1770 when one was required. The house had apparently reopened by 1804, but was later demolished. (fn. 55)


  • 1. Cal. Chart R. 1341-1417, 37, 296.
  • 2. P.R.O., C 135/15, no. 24; Feet of F. Essex, iii. 227.
  • 3. Magdalen College archives, Oxford, Fastolf papers 5. This court roll probably relates to Dedham Hall rather than to Fastolf's other manor of Overhall and Netherhall. cf. C. M. Woolgar, Catalogue of Estate Archives of St. Mary Magdalen College, Oxford, 96-8; above, this par., Manors.
  • 4. E.R.O., D/DU 457/1/2, ff. 32 and v., 35 and v., 64, 105-06, 135v., 155, 281v.-83v., 311v.-12.
  • 5. E.R.O., D/DU 457/1/1, ff. 49, 55v.
  • 6. Ibid. D/DHt M33, ff. 234v.-35.
  • 7. Ibid. D/DEt M47, p. 1; M48, pp. 1, 154, 182; D/DHt M36, M39-41.
  • 8. Ibid. D/DEt M49, pp. 1-3, 15, 175-8, 229-30, 293, 325; D/DEt M50-1.
  • 9. Cal. Pat. 1494-1509, 319.
  • 10. L. & P. Hen. VIII, vii, p. 146.
  • 11. Cal. Pat. 1557-8, 311.
  • 12. E.R.O., Q/SR 41/82; 48/57; 53/45, 49.
  • 13. Ibid. Q/SR 333/68; 351/96; ibid. D/DU 457/1/1, ff. 35v., 48-9, 55v.; D/DU 457/1/2, ff. 105, 106v., 135, 155, 237v.; D/DHt M33, f. 324; ibid. TS. cat. of P.R.O., ASSI 35/112/9, no. 31; ASSI 35/112/10, no. 26.
  • 14. Ibid. D/DHt M33, f. 330.
  • 15. Ibid. D/DHt M33, f. 379.
  • 16. Ibid. D/DEt M47, p. 1; D/DEt M48, p. 154.
  • 17. Ibid. Q/SR 286/24.
  • 18. Ibid. Q/SR 165/16, 79, 95-7; Q/SR 166/33.
  • 19. Ibid. D/DR M43, f. 10; ibid. T/A 54, p. 13; ibid. sale cat. C536.
  • 20. E.C.C., SMR 18406.
  • 21. E.R.O., D/DEl M254.
  • 22. P.R.O., DL 30/58/729, rott. 1-2.
  • 23. Ibid. rott. 2, 7d., 12.
  • 24. Cal. Pat. 1422-9, 483; 1446-52, 314; 1452-61, 386.
  • 25. Court bks. of Overhall and Netherhall (private pos- session, c/o Manning & Co. 118 Seymour Place, London W1), vols. 1-8, 11A-18, 20-22, passim; E.R.O., D/DBm M320.
  • 26. E.R.O., D/DBm M377, M379, M382, M384, M368-9; Court bks. of Overhall and Netherhall, vols. 15, 21, 22, passim.
  • 27. E.R.O., T/P 195/11; above, this par., Manors.
  • 28. E.R.O., D/DBm M377-8.
  • 29. Faites in Dedham and Lawford (1360-1561) and Faites and Wades (from 1561): E.R.O., D/DC 14/14, passim; D/DC 14/15, rot. 1.
  • 30. Ibid. D/DC 14/14, rot. 1; D/DC 14/17, rot. 2d.; D/DC 14/28.
  • 31. Ibid. D/DC 14/14, rot. 31d.
  • 32. Ibid. D/DC 14/17, rott. 3-6; ibid. D/DC 36/1, p. 6; D/DC 36/2, pp. 3, 5, 17, 43.
  • 33. Presbyterian Movement in Reign of Queen Eliz. (Cam- den 3rd ser. viii), 99-100; Hunt, Puritan Moment, 71, 82-3, 143; Pennie, 'Evolution of Puritan Mentality', 132-3; below, this par., Ch.
  • 34. E.R.O., Q/SR 329/23.
  • 35. O. C. Gross, 'Poor Relief in Dedham, 1800-1824' (Brentwood Coll. of Educ., dissertation, 1975), 21, 24, 32, 34, 43-6.
  • 36. Gross, 'Poor Relief in Dedham', 18-21.
  • 37. P.R.O., HO 107/334/4; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1890).
  • 38. E.R.O., D/DU 457/1/1, f. 106; Q/SR 474/58; Court bks. Overhall and Netherhall, rental bound between vols. 1 and 2, p. 3.
  • 39. E.R.O., sale cat. B1345; ibid. D/CT 113; Court bks. of Overhall and Netherhall, vol. 17, pp. 1-4.
  • 40. E.R.O., D/P 26/25/72; Gross, 'Poor Relief in Dedham', 42; Rendall, Dedham Described, 8, 11.
  • 41. Gross, 'Poor Relief in Dedham', 42.
  • 42. E.R.O., D/P 26/18/2.
  • 43. Gross, 'Poor Relief in Dedham', 22.
  • 44. E.R.O., D/P 26/13/11; Gross, 'Poor Relief in Dedham', 21, 24, 32, 34, 43-6.
  • 45. Gross, 'Poor Relief in Dedham', 71-2.
  • 46. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/10; Gross, 'Poor Relief in Dedham', 52-3.
  • 47. Gross, 'Poor Relief in Dedham', 14-16, 59-65.
  • 48. A. F. J. Brown, Chartism in Essex and Suffolk, 28.
  • 49. E.R.O., Q/CR 1/1.
  • 50. Ibid. Q/CR 1/9/16; 1/10; 1/12; Gross, 'Poor Relief in Dedham', 10, 12, appendices.
  • 51. Rep. Sel. Cttee. on Poor Rate Returns 1822-4, H.C. 334, Suppl. App. p. 81 (1825), lv; ibid. 1825-9, H.C. 83, pp. 61-2 (1830-1), xi; ibid. 1830-4, H.C. 444, p. 60 (1835), xlvii; 2nd Ann. Rep. Poor Law Com. H.C. 595, pp. 108-11 (1896), xxix, pt. II.
  • 52. Ipswich Jnl. 29 Jan. 1820.
  • 53. Rendall, Dedham Described, 11-12.
  • 54. E.R.O., D/P 26/30/6, pp. 119, 146, 163, 262, 285; ibid. sale cat. B1345; P.R.O., HO 107/334/4; Eve. Gaz. 15 Sept. 1971.
  • 55. Rendall, Dedham Described, 42; J. R. Smith, Speckled Monster, 183; Gross, 'Poor Relief in Dedham', 74; E.R.O., D/P 26/12/3.