A History of the County of Essex: Volume 7. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1978.
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THE LIBERTY OF HAVERING-ATTE-BOWER
The manor and liberty of Havering-atte-Bower, in south-west Essex, was conterminous with the ancient parish of Hornchurch. (fn. 1) It stretched north from the Thames marshes for about 8 miles to the wooded village of Haveringatte-Bower, where there was a royal house from the 11th century to the seventeenth. Romford, a market town from the 13th century, was in the centre of the liberty. South of Romford was Hornchurch village, where there was a medieval priory. Havering-atte-Bower village and Romford, both ancient chapelries, became separate parishes in the 1780s and 1849 respectively.
The suburban growth of Romford and Hornchurch began in the 19th century. Among the few older houses still surviving are the mansions of Bower House, at Havering, Langtons and Bretons, both at Hornchurch. The grounds of Gidea Hall, Romford, were developed in 1910 as the Gidea Park garden suburb. Dagnam Park, Romford, was demolished c. 1948, when the London county council built the great Harold Hill estate.
Since the Second World War the Phoenix Timber Co. has developed the east side of Hornchurch marshes, and the Ford Motor Co. has built a foundry on the west side, adjoining its Dagenham works. There is light industry along the Southend Arterial road, and in a few other areas. Romford has become one of the main shopping centres of Greater London. In other respects Hornchurch and Romford are mainly residential. Havering-atte-Bower, which lies in the Green Belt, retains its ancient village green.
The liberty of Havering lost its privileged status in 1892, but the whole area which had comprised it was re-united in 1965, when Romford municipal borough and Hornchurch urban district were merged to form the London borough of Havering.
The manor of Havering belonged to the Crown from the 11th century to the 19th; from the 13th to the later 17th century it normally formed part of the queen's dower. (fn. 2) Havering was in Becontree hundred in 1086. It is usually held to have become a separate liberty by charter of Edward IV in 1465. Even before 1465, however, it was occasionally referred to as a liberty, (fn. 3) and for administrative purposes was sometimes treated separately from Becontree hundred. (fn. 4) Here, as in other royal manors, tenants could invoke the little writ of right close, which initiated procedure in the manor court, often followed by a final concord, for settling proprietory disputes or for agreed conveyances. (fn. 5) That procedure, recorded from the mid 14th century in the surviving manor court rolls, (fn. 6) had been established for contentious cases by 1235, and for all purposes by 1253. (fn. 7) From the late 15th century the court rolls of the manor also include enrolments of common recoveries or real recoveries, initiated like the final concords by the little writ of right close.
Before 1465 three different courts were being held for the manor of Havering. The three-weeken court was a court baron. (fn. 8) The general court, for baron and leet business, met at Easter and Michaelmas. Fines and recoveries might be enrolled either in the three-weeken court or in the general court. The view of frankpledge, usually held on Whit Tuesday, had leet jurisdiction. From c. 1446 the manorial constables, aletasters, woodwards, and other officers were appointed at the view. (fn. 9) The manor had a gaol, at Romford, which was in existence by 1259, and seems to have continued, in various forms, until the 19th century. (fn. 10) Within the manor of Havering were many tenements, some of which came to be styled manors. (fn. 11) By 1274–5 the lords of three of those subordinate manors, Bedfords (in Havering), Dovers, and Suttons (both in Hornchurch), were claiming the view of frankpledge; Bedfords and Suttons also claimed the assize of bread and ale. (fn. 12) In 1285 the lord of Suttons claimed the right of gallows. (fn. 13) The lords of the associated manors of Hornchurch Hall and Suttons continued to hold courts leet and baron at least until the mid 17th century. (fn. 14)
The tenants of the manor of Havering enjoyed quittance from tolls throughout the realm, according to ancient custom, as was confirmed in 1368 and on several later occasions. (fn. 15) Between c. 1230 and 1246 they were accounting directly to the Exchequer for the farm of the manor. (fn. 16) Such privileges often accompanied borough status. Havering did not become a borough, but the charter of 1465 confirmed and extended its exceptional privileges.
It has been plausibly suggested that (Sir) Thomas Urswick, lord of the manor of Marks in Dagenham and Havering, was instrumental in obtaining the charter of 1465, and that the boundary between Dagenham and Havering was at that time altered to include the manor-house of Marks within the liberty. (fn. 17) As a prominent Yorkist, and recorder of London, Urswick was certainly well placed to exert influence; and there is no doubt that in the 15th century the manor of Marks, originally a free tenement of the manor of Barking, was enlarged to include lands in Havering.
The charter of 1465 provided that no tenant of Havering was to be compelled to plead in any court other than that of the manor. (fn. 18) The steward and suitors of the manor court could determine all civil pleas, and the sheriff of Essex was to be excluded except on a writ of error or false judgement. The steward, and one man chosen by the tenants from their own number, were to be justices of the peace, with all the authority of justices elsewhere in the county, save that the king's special mandate was necessary before they determined cases of treason or felony. The tenants were to have an annual fair, with a court of piepowder, though there is no record of the court being held. No royal or other purveyor was to take goods or victuals in the manor without the tenants' consent. The rights to appoint justices and hold fairs were new. The other privileges in the charter already existed before 1465.
The charter of Edward IV was confirmed by Henry VII, Henry VIII, and Mary. (fn. 19) Mary (1554) also provided that in future the deputy steward of the manor should be a justice of the peace, along with the steward and the elected justice. The charter was twice confirmed by Elizabeth I. (fn. 20) Her second charter (1588) constituted a corporation under the name of 'The tenants and inhabitants of the lordship of the manor of Haveringatte-Bower in the county of Essex', with a common seal. (fn. 21) The exemption from purveyances was extended to protect horses and carts. The queen also licensed the tenants to found a hospital for the poor, sick, and aged; but nothing seems to have come of that. The charter was confirmed without further amendments by James I, by Charles I, and by Charles II in 1664. (fn. 22) About 1664 the government considered making Havering a borough, but did not do so, (fn. 23) and the constitution of the liberty was not further changed until the 19th century.
The royal charters always refer to the 'lordship or manor' of Havering, not to the 'liberty'. The latter style, which seems to have arisen by prescription, was often used from the 15th century onwards, and by the 18th century was well established in the official records of Havering. (fn. 24) A common seal was in use by 1573, fifteen years before it was authorized by Elizabeth I. (fn. 25) It was oval, and measured 15/8 in. by 11/8 in. The device was a castle or gatehouse above a ring. The legend, in Roman lettering, read SIGILLVM MANERII DE HAVERYNG ATTEBOWRE. The same seal was still in use in 1622 and 1635. (fn. 26) A later version of it, in use in the 19th century, was almost identical, but measured 1¾ in. by 1¼ in. and, in the legend, used the spelling HAVERING. (fn. 27) No matrix is known to exist.
The charter of 1465 had the effect of creating a court of quarter sessions, the functions of which overlapped with those of the older manor courts. The chief officers of the liberty were the high steward, appointed by the lord of the manor, the deputy steward, the justice of the peace, the coroner, and the high bailiff; the last three were elected in the manor courts. (fn. 28) There is no regular series of Havering quarter sessions records until the 18th century. (fn. 29) From the 15th century, however, the work of the justices occasionally figures in the records of the manor court leet. In 1489, for example, two tenants stood bail in the manor court for a defendant to appear before a justice of the peace when required. (fn. 30) In the same year two men suspected of felony were remanded in custody by the manor court to await 'the sessions of the peace and general court with leet to be held on 1 October'. (fn. 31) This suggests that, then as later, the quarter sessions and the general court were holding joint meetings. A little information on the work of the Havering justices in the 16th and 17th centuries can also be found in government records and private papers. (fn. 32)
In the years after 1465 the tenants of the liberty were jealous of their privileges. In 1467, for example, the homage accused a royal official of delivering a citation from the bishop of London to the vicar of Hornchurch, and in the following year they complained that the bailiff of Waltham Holy Cross was distraining upon some Havering tenants, in both cases contrary to their charter. (fn. 33) This attitude persisted, as in 1560, when the homage, while conceding that the archdeacon of Essex might hold his courts within the manor, stipulated that he should do so only during the pleasure of the manor court. (fn. 34) Havering's exemption from purveyances seems to have been maintained. (fn. 35) The fair granted by the charter of 1465 was held at Romford. (fn. 36)
In relation to the central government Havering's status was similar to that of the hundreds of Essex. From the late 16th century the liberty was a separate unit for tax assessment and for musters. (fn. 37) In 1586, when the county was split into six divisions for administrative purposes, Havering was included in the southern division, along with the hundreds of Becontree, Barstable, and Chafford. (fn. 38) During the Civil War the southern division was placed under a Parliamentary committee meeting at Romford. (fn. 39) From 1644 to 1650 there was a dispute between Havering liberty and Becontree hundred concerning their respective assessments to the county rates. (fn. 40)
After 1465 the manor courts continued along the same lines as before. The threeweeken court, which became known as the court of ancient demesne, dealt increasingly with conveyances by fine and recovery. The officers of the manor court were elected, as before, at the Whitsun leet. From 1481 the court rolls record the election of the justice of the peace for the liberty, the high bailiff, and the clerk of the market, along with a varying number of constables, woodwards, verderers, marshwardens, and aletasters; Hornchurch and Romford each had a high constable. (fn. 41) The appointment of a coroner of the liberty is first recorded in 1489. (fn. 42) After 1617 the surviving series of rolls records only the three-weeken court. There are no regular records of the general court or the Whitsun leet between 1617 and 1730. The main series seems to have been lost before 1824, (fn. 43) but there are a few leet papers for 1670–5. (fn. 44)
The minute books of Havering quarter sessions survive for 1730–1803 and 1835–92. (fn. 45) There are sessions files for 1771–1892, special sessions books 1770–1832, and various other papers. (fn. 46) Some of the records of the liberty have been lost since 1925, including those of the court leet (1830–96), and the court of ancient demesne (1770–1838). (fn. 47) Extracts from the missing sessions minutes for 1803–35 have, however, been preserved. (fn. 48)
Havering court of quarter sessions survived until 1892, when it was merged with the Essex sessions. The court of ancient demesne continued at least until 1891. By the late 18th century it was electing the justice of the peace. (fn. 49) It seems to have been in decline at the beginning of the 19th century, but to have revived in the 1820s and 1830s, when it was dealing with real actions and personal pleas, including debt; judgement could be levied on body, lands, and goods. (fn. 50) The Whitsun court leet was held for the last time in 1894, after which it lapsed for lack of support. (fn. 51) In the 19th century, as in earlier periods, it continued to elect the manorial officers, and also, until 1892, the high bailiff and the coroner of the liberty. (fn. 52) Until 1770 the Easter and Michaelmas quarter sessions were combined with courts leet; in that context the leets were no doubt the relics of the old courts general. After 1770 leets were held only at Whitsun.
The functions of Havering quarter sessions in the 18th and 19th centuries (fn. 53) were like those of the county sessions in miniature. Judicial work was minimal; the area was still largely rural, and there was little crime. (fn. 54) Serious offences, including grand larceny, were normally sent to the assizes. In 1828 legal experts advised the Havering justices to continue sending larceny cases involving more than 5s. in value to the assizes, even though the Larceny Act (1827) had abolished the distinction between grand and petty larceny. (fn. 55)
The administrative work of the justices was more considerable. It included licensing of all kinds, the regulation of highways, apprentices, and Romford market, and the supervision of parish government. (fn. 56) Presentment by grand jury was a normal procedure, mainly concerned with public nuisances. The liberty rate was levied by the high constables of Romford and Hornchurch, and the rating returns were prepared for the different wards by the petty constables. The rate was made in petty sessions, which after 1734 were held twice a year. (fn. 57)
In one respect Havering was very different from the county. The number of justices was never increased after 1554, and the same three men constituted petty sessions as well as quarter sessions. This was inconvenient for administrative purposes (fn. 58) and it sometimes led to difficulties over appeals. In 1845, for example, a highway surveyor appealed from petty sessions to quarter sessions. If that had happened in the county the justices originally involved would not have heard the appeal, but the Havering justices were advised by counsel to let the case go forward.
The existence of a liberty within the county produced conflicts of jurisdiction. Responsibility for the maintenance of bridges on the Havering boundaries was sometimes at issue. (fn. 59) A typical dispute over highway repairs occurred in 1667. (fn. 60) Hornchurch parish had been presented in Essex quarter sessions and fined for failing to repair the road to Upminster. (fn. 61) The sheriff of Essex returned part of the fine to the Hornchurch surveyors, but kept the rest for his fees and court costs. In 1658 and 1663 rating disputes at Romford were taken to the Essex sessions. (fn. 62) At the beginning of the Seven Years War Havering was for a short time making militia returns to the county sessions, but in 1761 refused to continue that practice. (fn. 63) The liberty did, however, contribute towards the building of the county gaol (1775) and the shire hall (1789), both at Chelmsford. (fn. 64) By that time Romford gaol was little used, and the liberty found it convenient to send long-term prisoners to Chelmsford. (fn. 65)
The most serious disputes between the liberty and the county occurred at the end of the 18th century. In 1792 Havering complained that the county had infringed its privileges by proceeding against a Romford constable accused of failing to follow up a case of assault. The county thereupon drew up a list of 14 prosecutions of Havering men at Essex quarter sessions between 1748 and 1787. (fn. 66) There was more trouble in 1801, when ten butchers were prosecuted at Essex quarter sessions for forestalling the market at Romford. (fn. 67) All the defendants refused to accept the jurisdiction of the court. The county was advised by counsel that if no prosecutor appeared a case could be quashed; otherwise it could be removed by writ of certiorari to the King's Bench. (fn. 68) Four of the butchers eventually had their cases removed by that writ. One stood trial and was acquitted and another died. The other four maintained their privileges as inhabitants of the liberty, and their cases were quashed. (fn. 69) In the same year, however, the Essex sessions sentenced one Romford man to imprisonment for coining, and remanded another, accused of grand larceny, to the assizes. (fn. 70) No protest from the liberty about the last two cases has been found. It seems that there was an uneasy compromise between the two benches of quarter sessions at this time.
The legal and administrative changes of the 19th century made it increasingly difficult to justify the existence of a small liberty like Havering. The sale of the manor in 1828 transferred to a private person the right to appoint the high steward, who was ex officio a justice of the peace, and left the Crown with no say in the appointment of the justices of the liberty. (fn. 71) The Hornchurch and Romford Inclosure Act (1811) left little scope for inclosure through the court leet. (fn. 72) Havering's court of ancient demesne also lost one of its functions by the establishment in 1846 of county courts for the recovery of small debts. (fn. 73) In 1836 the liberty became part of Romford poor-law union, which extended from Barking to Wennington. On the establishment of the Essex constabulary in 1840 the liberty was included in the Brentwood district, with police officers at Romford, Hornchurch, and Havering. (fn. 74) Romford local board of health, formed in 1851, became responsible for the urban centre of the liberty.
In spite of these anomalies the liberty survived until the end of the 19th century. It escaped the provisions of the Municipal Corporations Act (1835) and the mandatory provisions of the Municipal Corporations Act (1883). The Act of 1883 did, however, stipulate that at any future date Havering could be united with the county by Order in Council, on application by either authority. (fn. 75)
Under the Local Government Act (1888) Havering was placed for administrative purposes under the newly formed Essex county council. Henry Holmes, the first county councillor for Romford, was also the last elected magistrate of the liberty. (fn. 76) Little remained of the privileges of the liberty except its separate criminal court, and in 1892 Havering was merged, by agreement, with the county. (fn. 77) The offices of clerk of the peace and the high bailiff of the liberty were abolished; the justices were transferred to the Essex bench and the liberty coroner became a county officer.
In the 19th century the court house and gaol of the liberty were on the south side of Romford Market-Place, at the corner of South Street. (fn. 78) There had been a gaol of some kind at Romford since the 13th century. The king's gaol of Havering was mentioned in 1259. (fn. 79) It was probably at Romford, where malefactors were being imprisoned in 1279 and later. (fn. 80) In c. 1355 the cotland tenants of the manor of Havering were responsible for maintaining the gaol and guarding the prisoners by day; the virgators had to provide night guards. (fn. 81) The 'court hall' in Romford Street (probably the Market Place) was mentioned in 1484. (fn. 82) In the mid 16th century the gaol at Romford was called the Round House. (fn. 83) The tenants of the liberty claimed in 1650 that the town gaol ought to be maintained by the government. (fn. 84)
The court house and gaol were rebuilt by the Crown between 1737 and 1740, but in the following years the gaol was often said to be insecure. (fn. 85) In 1747 the liberty quarter sessions set apart one room in the gaol as a house of correction. (fn. 86) The gaol and court house were again repaired by the Crown in 1767–8. (fn. 87) It became increasingly clear, however, that the gaol was inadequate: in 1790 there were no cells, nor any provision for the sick. (fn. 88) An undated drawing, probably of c. 1800, shows the court house as a two-storey building of seven bays, with a roof pediment and a cupola. The central five bays of the lower storey were open and were supported by Doric columns. (fn. 89) By 1815 the gaol and court house were dangerously dilapidated, and quarter sessions resolved to rebuild them. (fn. 90) It was stated about 1816 that the court house was then being rebuilt, with a gaol and cage under it (fn. 91) but it is possible that this work was no more than a major restoration, for rebuilding, met mainly by a liberty rate, was carried out in 1826. (fn. 92) In 1831 the court house was depicted as a tall two-storey building of five bays. (fn. 93) Its position, jutting awkwardly out into the Market Place, suggests that it stood on an ancient site. The liberty quarter sessions continued to meet there until 1870, when they moved to the county court in South Street. (fn. 94) The gaol, comprising four cells on the ground floor of the court house, remained in use until the new police station, also in South Street, was opened in 1894. (fn. 95) Romford gaol seems always to have been very small. In the 19th century long-term prisoners were sent to the county gaol at Chelmsford or the house of correction at Little Ilford. (fn. 96) When the liberty came to an end in 1892 the court house was sold by Mrs. McIntosh, lady of the manor, to Romford local board. (fn. 97) It was used for offices by the board, and its successor the urban district council, until 1931; it was demolished in 1933. (fn. 98)
The gallows of the liberty stood on Romford Common, near the place still known as Gallows Corner. (fn. 99) Occasional executions seem to have been carried out there down to the 17th century. (fn. 100) In 1791 the court leet resolved to remove the gallows to a more convenient part of the common. (fn. 101) The gallows still survived, apparently disused, in 1815. (fn. 102)
Each of the three main centres of the liberty had instruments of punishment. In 1670 the court leet ordered that a cage, stocks, and whipping post be set up at Hornchurch. (fn. 103) The cage, which obstructed the street, was torn down by rioters in 1675, but was replaced, and was not finally removed until c. 1860. (fn. 104) In the 19th century it stood in North Street near the junction with High Street. The stocks still existed in 1732. (fn. 105) At Romford the cage, stocks, and ducking stool, all in the market-place, survived until the early 19th century. (fn. 106) At Havering Green the double stocks and the whipping post still existed in 1976. In 1966, after damage by vandals, Havering borough council replaced most of the woodwork, while preserving the existing ironwork. Most of the cost of those repairs was met by an anonymous local donor. (fn. 107)