Hundred of West Derby: Introduction

A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.

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'Hundred of West Derby: Introduction', A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3, (London, 1907), pp. 1-4. British History Online [accessed 16 June 2024].

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. "Hundred of West Derby: Introduction", A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3, (London, 1907). 1-4. British History Online. Web. 16 June 2024,

In this section





At the time of the Domesday Survey this hundred consisted of the three hundreds of West Derby, Warrington, and Newton. (fn. 1) At what date the last two were united with West Derby to form the present hundred is not known, but it occurred before the reign of Henry II, probably early in that of Henry I. The hundred is bounded on the west by the Irish Sea and River Mersey from the Snoter Stone at Hundred End on the Ribble estuary to Hale Head; thence on the south by the Mersey (fn. 2) to Glazebrook, from which point, north-west to Arley Hall, it is bounded on the east by Salford hundred. From Arley Hall it is for the most part divided from Leyland hundred on the north by the River Douglas until near Rufford Hall, whence the boundary runs through Martin Mere (now drained) in a north-westerly direction to the above-named Snoter Stone. The township of Aspull in Wigan lies in the hundred of Salford.

Around the chief manor of West Derby with its castle, supposed to have been built by Roger of Poitou, lay a number of manors belonging to the demesne of the county. At the Conquest these included, in addition to the chief manor of West Derby, six berewicks embracing the vills of Thingwall, Liverpool, Great Crosby, Aintree with part of Walton, Everton, Garston with Aigburth, and Hale with Halewood, the whole containing four hides or twenty-four carucates of land. (fn. 3) By the end of the twelfth century this demesne had undergone some change by the inclusion of part of Walton, Wavertree, part of Formby, Altcar, Raven Meols, Ainsdale, and Uplitherland, which had been held by thegns before the date of the Domesday Survey; and by the grant of some portions of West Derby, Great Crosby, Walton, Wavertree, Formby, Raven Meols, Ainsdale, and Uplitherland to be held by serjeanty and at fee farm; and Aintree, Garston, and Aigburth in thegnage or free alms; whilst the preconquest thegnlands of Toxteth, Smithdown (or Smeedon) and a portion of Knowsley, called Croxteth, (fn. 4) were afforested and put into the forest created by Roger of Poitou, or by Henry I. (fn. 5) At the same time the whole of the parishes of Childwall, Huyton, Walton, Sefton, and Aughton, all Prescot parish except the vills of Penketh, Windle, and Rainford, and all Halsall parish except the vills of Barton and Halsall, were put within the metes of the forest. (fn. 6)

The demesne land and forest gave to the castle and manor of West Derby an importance, as a centre of administration in Lancashire south of the Ribble, equal to that held by Lancaster, the nominal caput of the county and honour, in the northern part of the county. This importance was increased by the proximity of the port of Liverpool, founded by King John, and the intercourse with Cheshire by sea and by the passage or ferry between Liverpool and Birkenhead. A court leet with view of frankpledge for the hundred of West Derby, called the Wapentake Court, was held every three weeks (fn. 7) before the steward of the hundred, having jurisdiction over the greater part of the hundred, the only exceptions being the demesne lands of the barony of Warrington and lordship of Widnes. (fn. 8) The proceedings consisted of the presentment of minor offences, the breach of by-laws, small personal actions usual to a hundred court, and the recovery of debts amounting to less than 40s. Halmote courts were also held for the demesne manors of West Derby, Wavertree, and Great Crosby. (fn. 9)

The king, or the lord of the honour and county, had his own bailiff of the king's bailiwick of West Derby, who accounted for the perquisites of all county courts and sheriff's tourns held within the hundred, and for wardships, reliefs, and other casual feudal issues. The office of bailiff of the wapentake was quite distinct; this bailiff was the principal officer of the sheriff, and his duties were to guard the peace of the hundred, make attachments, collect the socage and fee-farm rents of the hundred, castle-guard rents, and perquisites of the wapentake courts, levy amercements and take distresses, and render every year an account of the issues of his bailiwick. (fn. 10) From the reign of King Stephen to that of Henry IV the latter office was held by the family of Walton of Walton-on-the-Hill by inheritance. In the fifteenth century the master-forestership of West Derby became hereditary in the Molyneuxes of Sefton, who also held the stewardship. (fn. 11)

In 1825 the hundred court leet continued to be held within a month of Easter and Michaelmas; it had jurisdiction, concurrently with the sessions, in all criminal cases. (fn. 12) The hundred court, held from three weeks to three weeks, had jurisdiction in certain personal actions under 40s. in value. The steward of the hundred, or his deputy, presided at these courts. (fn. 13)

Henry III on 18 October, 1229, granted all the land between Ribble and Mersey, including the vill of West Derby with the wapentake and the forest, the borough of Liverpool, the vill of Salford with the wapentake, and the wapentake of Leyland, to Ranulf, earl of Chester and Lincoln, to hold in fee by rendering yearly at Michaelmas a mewed goshawk or 40s. (fn. 14) The assized rent of the demesne, with the service of the tenants holding in thegnage and at fee farm, and sake fee of the military tenants within the hundred, then amounted to £46 16s. 2d. (fn. 15) Upon the earl's death, in 1232, without issue this fee descended to William de Ferrers, earl of Derby, in right of Agnes his wife, one of the sisters and co-heirs of the earl of Chester. (fn. 16)

In 1226 the earl of Derby had a warrant for an allowance of £100 a year for keeping ward of the castles of Lancaster and West Derby, and of the county. (fn. 17) He appears to have assumed larger judicial powers between Ribble and Mersey than the grant to the earl of Chester conveyed, and also to have infringed the rights and liberties of the men of that region, especially in respect of the forest; in consequence he was temporarily dispossessed of this fee. (fn. 18) The earl died in 1247, (fn. 19) having predeceased his wife but a few weeks. That he was the builder of Liverpool Castle may be inferred from writs of 19 January, 1235, for an aid to be made to him for the strengthening of his castle of Liverpool, (fn. 20) and of 10 November, 1247, directed to the escheator beyond Trent to deliver to William de Ferrers the lands which had been Agnes de Ferrers', and the castles of West Derby and Liverpool. (fn. 21)

In 1251 the new earl had a charter of free warren in all his demesne lands in the manors of Liverpool, West Derby, Everton, Great Crosby, and Wavertree. (fn. 22) The same year he applied for leave to hold pleas of the forest in his forest between Ribble and Mersey, (fn. 23) but there is no evidence that this was granted. In 1253 he was empleaded in the king's court by the men of the hundred for illegally forcing upon them a gryth-serjeant of his own election, whom they by custom ought to elect by the consent, and under the advice, of the sheriff. (fn. 24) Process was terminated by the earl's death in 1254. From this time, until Robert, his son and heir, attained his majority, the land between Ribble and Mersey was committed to Edward the king's son. (fn. 25)

In 1263 Robert de Ferrers took proceedings against a number of people in this hundred for offences in his forest against the deer. (fn. 26) He took an active part in the Barons' rebellion, and was pardoned in 1265 after submission, but rebelled again, and was defeated at the battle of Chesterfield early in 1266. Subsequently he was totally disinherited by Parliament, his lands being taken into the king's hands, (fn. 27) and granted to Edmund, the king's second son, afterwards created earl of Lancaster. (fn. 28) On 30 June, 1267, the king granted to his said son the honour, county, castle and town of Lancaster, and all the king's demesnes in the county, which gift included the hundred of West Derby. (fn. 29)

From this date to the present day the hundred has followed the descent of the honour of Lancaster, subsequently of the duchy of Lancaster, and is now vested in His Majesty King Edward VII, as duke of Lancaster.


  • 1. See vol. i, 283–6. The parishes of Prescot, Warrington, and Leigh practically formed the Domesday hundred of Warrington, and the parishes of Wigan and Winwick that of Newton.
  • 2. In 1896 the boundary of the county was extended to include the whole of the borough of Warrington, the Latchford portion of which lay in Ches.
  • 3. Inq. and Extents (Rec. Soc. Lancs. and Ches.), 25.
  • 4. Coucher of Whalley (Chet. Soc.), i, 372.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Duchy of Lanc. Forest Proc. bdle. 1, No. 17, m. 9.
  • 7. In 5–6 Hen. VIII (1513–14) thirteen courts were held: the first on Tuesday after the feast of St. Michael (4 Oct. 1513), the last on Tuesday in the feast of the Decollation of St. John (29 Aug. 1524); Duchy of Lanc. Court Rolls, bdle. 79, No. 1030.
  • 8. Duchy of Lanc. Court Rolls, bdle. 79, No. 1038. Court Rolls or the wapentake of West Derby from 36 Hen. VIII to 16 Chas. I are preserved in the Muniment-room at Croxteth; CC, bdle. iii.
  • 9. Duchy of Lanc. Court Rolls, bdle. 79, Nos. 1030–1. Several halmote rolls for 17 and 18 Edw. II are preserved in the P.R.O. Rentals and Surveys, No. 379, m. 7; Court Rolls, portf. 183, No. 14, m. 3; printed by the Rec. Soc. Lancs. and Ches. xlii, 96–107, 123–32.
  • 10. Duchy of Lanc. Mins. Accts. bdle. 100, No. 1796, m. 7; Recs. Accts. 11987, No. 728 for 23 Ric. II –1 Hen. IV. The office of the king's bailiwick of West Derby was then worth £10, in farm of the bailiwick, perquisites of county courts £9 4s., of tourns 42s. 8d.; total £21 6s. 8d. The issues of the bailiwick of the wapentake were £19 5s. 5½d.; perquisites £20 18s. 3d.; estrays 6s. 8d.; total £40 10s. 4½d. The issues of the office of master forester of West Derby included for herbage, turbary, pannage, honey, wax, stone, and brushwood sold in Croxteth, Toxteth, and Simonswood, £25 0s. 6d.; swainmotes and woodmotes, 31s. 10d.; total, £26 12s. 4d. The bailiffs seem to have been unfortunate in collecting the dues. William Gregory died in 1424–5 in prison, owing over £80 arrears of his account, and his successors were frequently in trouble for a like cause. Charges of extortion were from time to time made against them, as in the case of William del Burgh in 1343; Assize R. 430, m. 28 d. The misdoings of Henry de Chatherton, who had been bailiff for twenty years, are detailed in Coram Rege R. 454 (1374), m. 13, &c. Among other acts of extortion and concealment of crime he had exacted from 'the commonalty of the wapentake' at every writ of the king for knights' expenses at Parliament 100s. beyond the sum rated and due. He was found guilty, and fined £100; Ibid. R. 455. In 1732 the king leased to David Lawton of Prescot the profits of court of West Derby wapentake for thirty-one years; Duchy of Lanc. Misc. Books, xxvii, 37d.
  • 11. See e.g. Lancs. Inq. p.m. (Rec. Soc. Lancs. and Ches.), iii, 385.
  • 12. Baines' Lancs. Directory, 1825, i, 136; its powers were 'seldom called into exercise except to abate nuisances and appoint the high and petty constables and other municipal officers. Its proceedings had two singular characteristics—the entire absence of fees and lawyers.'
  • 13. Ibid. p. 138; 'No suit can be removed by the defendant, before judgement, without bail to the satisfaction of the court; nor by the losing party, after judgement, without similar security in double the amount of the judgement.'
  • 14. Chart. R. 13 Hen. III, pt. i, m. 3; Cal. pp. 101–2.
  • 15. Pipe R. 10 Hen. III, Lancs. (Rec. Soc. Lancs. and Ches. xlviii, 135–7). The earl had livery by writ dated 19 Oct. 1229; Close R. 1227–31, p. 221.
  • 16. Close R. 1231–4, p. 169. By writ dated 22 Nov. (1232) the castle and vill of West Derby and all the late earl's lands between Ribble and Mersey were accorded to the earl of Derby in right of his wife.
  • 17. Close R. (Rec. Com.), ii, 122b.
  • 18. In 1241–2 the three wapentakes of West Derby, Salford, and Leyland were seized into the king's hand owing to transgressions committed by the earl and his bailiffs, but were again restored on 4 February, 1242, subject to the reservation to the king of all pleas of the crown, all cattle detained against pledge and surety, and attachments belonging to pleas of the crown, with liberty to the sheriff and coroners to have entry to the said wapentakes to make inquiry of all pleas pertaining to the crown and the peace. The earl on his part consented for himself and his heirs to treat the men between Ribble and Mersey in pleas of the forest and all other pleas as they were treated and used in the time of King John, and up to the time when the then king gave the land between Ribble and Mersey to Ranulf, earl of Chester, and that they would have only the liberties and customs in those wapentakes of the men and all others there which they who held those wapentakes before the grant to the earl of Lincoln had and used. Fine R. 26 Hen. III, pt. i, m. 10.
  • 19. Close R. 31 Hen. III, m. 2.
  • 20. Cal. Pat. 1232–47, 89.
  • 21. 'De Castris de Westdereby et Liverpol eidem Willelmo … seisinam habere faciant'; Fine R. 32 Hen. III, pt. i, m. 14.
  • 22. Cal. Chart. R. (Rolls Ser.), 373.
  • 23. Close R. 35 Hen. III, m. 7d.
  • 24. 'It had lately been proved in the king's court before the king himself by a jury taken between them by consent of the parties, that the plaintiffs and their fellows of the hundred had always possessed such liberty that they were accustomed and ought by consent and advice of the sheriff to elect and appoint Grytsergeanz (plural) who should and ought to keep the peace of the lord king, and should answer for them if the peace of the lord king were not well kept;' Cur. Reg. R. 150, m. 3; 151, m. 4d.; 152, m. 9. See also Abbrev. Plac. (Rec. Com.), 142.
  • 25. Close R. 38 Hen. III. Baines, Hist. of Liverpool, 106. An account of the issues between Ribble and Mersey for part of the years 1256–7 is preserved among the Duchy of Lanc. Mins. Accts, bdle. 1094, ro. 11, m. 12 (printed in Inq. and Extents, 205–10).
  • 26. Assize R. 1196, m. 5, 5d.
  • 27. By writ dated 22 May, 1266; Pat. R. 50 Hen. III, m. 15.
  • 28. Ibid. m. 9; Chart R. 50 Hen. III, m. 4. Eleanor, widow of Robert de Ferrers, in 1275 claimed dower in the vills of Liverpool, West Derby, Crosby, &c, against Edmund, the king's brother; Duchy of Lanc. Misc. Books, i.
  • 29. Chart R. 52 Hen. III, m. 4; 13 Edw. I, m. 7.