East Donyland: Local government

Pages 194-195

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.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



St. John's abbey and its successors held courts leet until 1775, and courts baron until 1924 although the courts were held only every two or three years after 1865. In the late 15th century the court held in the octave of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (24 June), during St. John's fair in Colchester, was called the fair court, but its business and procedure did not differ from those of other courts. (fn. 1) Medieval and early modern courts dealt mainly with such offences as allowing animals to trespass in the abbey's crops, taking timber from the abbey's woods, and leaving ditches unscoured; transfers of land were recorded, pleas of debt heard, complaints made against the aletaster, and brewers regularly amerced for breach of the assize of ale. From the 1460s con- stables and rent-collectors were elected, the latter for particular tenements: in 1471 one was a woman. In 1471 the tenants owed 18s. palfrey silver at the election of a new abbot. Cases of theft were heard in 1478 and of bloodshed in 1493. In 1488 the abbot was presented for not repairing the stocks. Craftsmen and tradesmen were presented in 1490 and 1493 for overcharg- ing, and in 1494 for poor workmanship. Colchester sergeants-at-mace infringed the lib- erties of the manor by making arrests there in 1493 and 1500.

Before 1638 the court forbade the settling of poor strangers on the manor, and in 1639 ordered the ringing of pigs and piglets. (fn. 2) From 1687 to 1729 surviving rolls record only the transfer of copyholds, but in the 1730s un- scoured ditches, unrepaired highways, and nuis- ances were presented, and in 1738 orders were made for commoning on the waste. Thereafter, business was confined to the election of con- stables and drivers, and the transfer of copy- holds. In the 19th century courts were held at the White Lion or Ship inns in Rowhedge. (fn. 3)

No records of vestry government survive. Two overseers of the poor were recorded in 1655 but only one in 1737. (fn. 4) There was a surveyor of the highways in 1608. (fn. 5) In 1650 the inhabitants were presented at quarter sessions for failing to maintain their roads. (fn. 6)

In 1642 the poor seafarers of East Donyland needed help to maintain their poor. (fn. 7) A poor rate in 1737 raised £22 15s., but the overseer spent £23 9s. 6d. (fn. 8) In 1776 expenditure on the poor was £82 11s., but between 1783 and 1785 it aver- aged only £47 3s. 4d. In the earlier 19th century expenditure per head of population was in most years the lowest in the hundred. Total expendi- ture reached £269, roughly 12s. 8d. per head of population in 1813, but fell to £231 or c. 10s. 3d. a head in 1815. The number of people relieved declined in the same period from 32 to 26. Expenditure rose fairly steadily to £383 14s. or 14s. a head in 1819 before falling to £212 10s. or 7s. 6d. a head in 1821. It rose slightly in the 1820s and early 1830s, reaching £403 or 11s. 8d. a head in 1833. (fn. 9)

Daniel Bayley of Newmarket (Cambs.) in 1754 surrendered to the churchwardens and overseers for the use of the poor a house which was apparently used as pauper housing until it was sold in 1838. (fn. 10)


  • 1. Paragraph based on E.R.O., D/DEl M143; D/DHt M145-8.
  • 2. E.R.O., D/DEl M145.
  • 3. Ibid. D/DEl M146-53; ibid. T/B 94, 142/2-4.
  • 4. Ibid. Q/SBa 2/91; ibid. D/DSb T7.
  • 5. Ibid. Q/SR 185/73.
  • 6. Ibid. Q/SBa 2/9.
  • 7. Ibid. Q/SBa 2/45.
  • 8. Ibid. D/DSb T7.
  • 9. Rep. Sel. Cttee. on Poor Rate Returns, 1822-4, H.C. 334, Suppl. App. (1825), iv; ibid. 1825-9, H.C. 83, p. 62 (1830-1), xi; ibid. 1830-4, H.C. 444, p. 60 (1835), xlvii.
  • 10. E.R.O., T/B 142/2, 3; ibid. Q/CR 1/1, 1/10, 1/12; cf. ibid. G/LwM 3, p. 30.