Earls Colne: Local government

Pages 98-99

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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In 1274 the earl of Oxford had gallows, and held view of frank- pledge and the assizes of bread and of ale in his manor. (fn. 1) The prior was holding courts leet for his manor by 1441. (fn. 2) On the earl's manor in the 15th century, the annual courts leet heard pleas of assault and bloodshed, including in 1423 rape, and elected two constables and two ale-tasters. Both courts leet and courts baron recorded transfers of copyholds and leases of the demesne, regulated tradesmen and artisans, heard pleas of debts under 40s., and dealt with unscoured ditches, obstructions of the highway, stray ani- mals, and villein tenants who had left the manor without licence. At general courts in 1410 and 1418 defendants pledged their law with 12 and 6 hands respectively. The bailiff accounted for felons' goods in 1415. In 1429 the earl and his tenants agreed on a bylaw against defamation or scandal-spreading. (fn. 3)

Business in 16th- and early 17th-century courts on both manors was similar, although constables were not normally elected on the priory manor. (fn. 4) From 1554 regular orders were made against taking in lodgers and illegal cottage building. A priory manor tenant was presented in 1505 for endangering his neighbours by keep- ing peacocks. The earl's manor court in 1511 forbade tenants to play games after 10 p.m., except at Christmas. (fn. 5) The settlement in 1623 of a dispute between Richard Harlakenden and his tenants over woods and pollingers on their copy- holds, which had reached Star Chamber, was entered on both court rolls. (fn. 6)

From the mid 17th century leet business declined on both manors until it was almost entirely confined to the election of constables and aletasters for Earls Colne manor. Leets ceased to be held on the priory manor c. 1680, except for one leet in 1724. The usual pattern in the 18th century was for a court leet for Earls Colne manor to be followed immediately by a court baron for the priory manor; both dealt exclusively with transfers of copyholds. After 1780 only courts baron were held, until they ceased in 1885. (fn. 7) In the 17th century courts were held at the Bell inn; in 1884 at the George. (fn. 8)

The stocks and pillory on the earl's manor were out of repair in 1426, and the stocks and the cage in 1770. (fn. 9) A cage stood near the church in 1728, another on Colne green c. 1800. (fn. 10)

In 1728 the vicar was said to have attended vestry meetings so seldom that he had not nomi- nated a churchwarden for years. (fn. 11) From the 1740s or earlier the Easter vestry was called the town meeting. Occasional extraordinary meet- ings of 'townsmen' were held at the Blue Boar in the 1740s, and at the Lion in 1764. (fn. 12)

In 1579 a town house was used for the poor and for meetings, but in 1607 it was leased to a tenant. (fn. 13) It may have been Oldhall on Colne green, held by trustees for the poor in 1678, which was converted into a workhouse in 1740. (fn. 14) Inmates span wool from the 1740s until 1805. By 1785 and 1786 others were employed hop- picking and stone-picking. (fn. 15) In the early 19th century the house held c. 21 people, presumably reflecting the accommodation available. In 1805 it comprised a great ward equipped for weaving, a parlour, the governor's chamber, four other rooms, and the old house, and it held 19 cribs or beds. (fn. 16) In 1838 the house was sold to Mary Gee who demolished it. (fn. 17)

Although in 1724 the parish agreed to arrange to send paupers to Halstead workhouse, between 1728 and 1731 19-23 people received 'standing collection', presumably outdoor relief. From 1729 to 1757 or later the overseers retained a surgeon to treat the poor. (fn. 18) From the 1740s to the 1760s outrelief was only given occasionally, usually in times of sickness. By 1772 several pensions of c. 1s. a week were being paid to paupers outside the workhouse, some of them apparently from other parishes. (fn. 19) The number of such pensions rose steadily to 53 in 1801, then fell to 29 in 1809 before reaching a peak of 65 in 1813. By 1824 there were c. 20 outpen- sioners. (fn. 20) Occasional payments were made for clothes and shoes. (fn. 21)

Expenditure on the poor more than doubled between 1776 and 1783-5, from c. £194 to an average of £423. (fn. 22) By 1803 it had increased to c. £625, of which £393 was spent on the work- house and £232 on outrelief; the amount per head of population, c. 13s., was low for the hun- dred. Expenditure rose to £1,464 in 1813, then almost halved to £744 in 1815. It rose sharply to £1,477 in 1817, fell to £603 in 1823, and then rose slowly to £896 in 1834. (fn. 23) Expenditure per head of population, ranging from a high point of £1 8s. in 1813 to a low of c. 10s. in 1823, remained among the lower rates in the hundred and was similar to those of the small towns of Dedham, Wivenhoe, and Coggeshall.


  • 1. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), i. 139.
  • 2. E.R.O., D/DPr 18.
  • 3. Ibid. D/DPr 66-70, esp. 66, rot. 13; 67, rott. 5d., 6, 10, 15; 68, rot. 35; 69, rot. 3.
  • 4. Ibid. D/DPr 21, rott. 1, 9; D/DPr 22, rott. 18, 22. A. D. Mackinnon, 'According to the Custom of the Place I now Live In' (Melbourne Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1994), 187-195, 377-82, discusses the courts and officers in detail.
  • 5. E.R.O., D/DPr 1, rot. 5; D/DPr 20, rot. 1; D/DPr 21, rott. 9, 12, 32-3; D/DPr 22, rot. 5d.; D/DPr 71, rot. 2; D/DPr 76, rot. 13; D/DPr 78, passim.
  • 6. Ibid. D/DPr 21, rot. 33d.; D/DPr 77, rot. 34.
  • 7. Ibid. D/DPr 92; D/DPr 95-8; D/DU 292/12.
  • 8. Diary of Ralph Josselin, 533; Mackinnon, 'According to the Custom', 187; E.C.S. 15 Mar. 1884.
  • 9. E.R.O., D/DPr 68, rot. 4; D/DPr 95.
  • 10. Ibid. D/P 209/1/4; ibid. D/DHw L3.
  • 11. Ibid. D/P 209/1/4.
  • 12. Ibid. D/P 209/12/1-2.
  • 13. Ibid. D/DPr 76, rot. 1; D/DPr 629, after entries for 1615 and 1616, at back of book.
  • 14. Ibid. D/DPr 113; ibid. D/P 209/8; D/P 209/18/1.
  • 15. Ibid. D/P 209/12/1, 3, 5.
  • 16. Ibid. D/P 209/12/6; D/P 209/18/4.
  • 17. Ibid. D/DPr 118; D/DPr 619, p. 84.
  • 18. Ibid. D/P 209/8.
  • 19. Ibid. D/P 209/12/1-2; D/P 209/18/3.
  • 20. Ibid. D/P 209/12/4, 6.
  • 21. Ibid. D/P 209/12/5-6; D/P 209/18/4.
  • 22. Ibid. Q/CR 1/1.
  • 23. Ibid. Q/CR 1/10, 12; 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.