A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.
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In this section
- Local government
- The Reformed Borough.
- Municipal Buildings.
- Seals and Insignia of the Borough.
- Administration of Justice.
- Parish Government and Poor Relief.
- Public Health and Public Services.
BOROUGH TO 1886.When New Woodstock was incorporated in 1453 (fn. 75) the borough and its customs were ancient. The plots laid out at the town's foundation were held by burgage tenure, (fn. 76) and the burgesses from the outset, in addition to their market, probably also had their court or portmoot, frequently recorded in the 13th century. (fn. 77) The town was taxed as a borough in the early 14th century. (fn. 78)
The development of self-government was only gradual, for the vill was merely one of several 'members' of the royal manor of Woodstock, whose bailiff was accountable for the borough's rents, market tolls, and profits of court. (fn. 79) In King John's reign the market and probably the rents were put to farm, yielding between £4 and £6 4s. a year in the period 1204–7; some of the farmers may have been townsmen. (fn. 80) Then for many years the royal manor was held by successive sheriffs of Oxfordshire, (fn. 81) and in 1230, for example, the sheriff as custos answered directly in the Exchequer for the town's rents. (fn. 82) Perhaps from 1236, when Exchequer procedures were revised, and certainly by 1242, the bailiff of Woodstock manor again accounted for the town's issues. (fn. 83) In 1250 the burgesses acquired a toll-free fair (fn. 84) and in 1251 eight men, evidently leading townsmen, were granted the farm of the town for six years. (fn. 85) The farm, by then over £32, included the fair, two mills, and a detached meadow in Oxford which had long been accounted for by Woodstock's bailiff. (fn. 86) Soon afterwards the bailiff of the manor was again accounting for the borough's profits, (fn. 87) and he did so at least until Woodstock manor was granted to Queen Isabella in 1313. (fn. 88) Thereafter the royal manor was farmed, and the town's contribution to that farm ceased to be of direct concern to the Crown or to its officers. The borough's independence may then have developed more easily: in 1319 its fairs were increased in duration, (fn. 89) and in 1322 the 'bailiffs and good men of Woodstock' received a murage grant for three years, (fn. 90) suggesting the existence of a governing body with increasing urban ambitions. Probably by then the burgesses had formed a guild with a common hall and a hierarchy of offices: in 1338 the principal officer, by then called mayor, was using his official seal even to authenticate land transactions outside the borough. (fn. 91) Mayors were recorded regularly thereafter, (fn. 92) and in 1402 the mayor and bailiffs forfeited £5 of felons' goods for allowing an escape. (fn. 93) In Woodstock, as elsewhere, the ruling group may have belonged to a religious guild, since the borough's first charter was granted in the same year as a licence to the chapelwardens of Woodstock which marked the formal constitution of the town's principal chantry, and the new corporation was closely involved with the chapel's administration. (fn. 94)
The charter of 1453 confirmed ancient liberties and customs, and probably much that was then granted had been long enjoyed. New Woodstock was declared a free borough and its inhabitants free burgesses with a guild merchant and the same liberties and customs as New Windsor. Burgesses were to be exempt from tolls throughout the kingdom and from taxes such as pavage and pontage; they might devise their burgages by will and none might be arrested as a villein. They were to choose a mayor and sergeant-at-mace, and the corporation, under the title of the mayor and commonalty, was to have perpetual succession and a common seal, and might plead and be impleaded. It was to have cognizance of most pleas, including those such as novel disseisin instituted by writ, and the borough was given its own commission of the peace, although it could not prosecute felonies without special mandate. County justices and royal officers were excluded from the borough, and residents were not answerable in other courts for things done in the borough. The mayor and commonalty were to have return of writs and all other judicial precepts, and the mayor was to hold the assize of bread and of ale without interference from royal officers. The corporation was to have felons' and fugitives' goods from all inhabitants, wherever arising, and within the borough all fines, forfeitures, and profits such as waifs and strays; half those profits, however, were to be paid to the king. The charter also granted a valuable marsh or meadow called le Pool, the later corporation meadows, for an annual farm of £2 13s. 4d., and two additional fairs. The corporation was exempted from sending representatives to parliament, a privilege willingly eschewed from the mid 16th century. (fn. 95)
The fee farm and the Crown's half share of profits seem to have been paid from the outset to the farmer of Woodstock manor: in 1551 he received the meadow rent of £2 13s. 4d. but the annual share of profits was said to have fallen from £3 to only 13s. 4d. because of the Crown's seizure of chantry and monastic property in the town. (fn. 96) Evidently the profits were taken to include the quitrents set on burgages at the town's foundation and still listed in 1468–9 as 'the king's rents'. (fn. 97) In 1575 the fee farm of £2 13s. 4d. was paid but profits were not mentioned, and although the Crown's right to the half share was acknowledged by the mayor in the 1580s the corporation retained all quitrents and profits in the early 17th century. (fn. 98) In the 1580s the attorney general claimed arrears of £466 13s. 4d. for the fee farm, a calculation based on an annual payment of 5 marks which presumably included 1 mark for the Crown's share of the profits; eventually it was accepted that the corporation had paid the farmer of the royal manor and in 1587 the action was abandoned. (fn. 99) Thereafter the £2 13s. 4d. was regularly paid to the Exchequer through the sheriff. (fn. 1) In 1650 the fee farm was sold to Thomas Butler of Deddington. (fn. 2) If recovered by the Crown at the Restoration it was presumably resold, for after prolonged neglect of the payment arrears were claimed in 1779 by a private owner, Thomas Wyld, and 35 years' arrears were paid in 1787–8. (fn. 3) The payments, sometimes mistakenly thought to have arisen from a grant of tolls, were made until 1832 but have not been traced thereafter. (fn. 4)
The charter of 1453 was confirmed in 1463 and 1487. (fn. 5) Soon afterwards there seems to have been dissension in the borough, for a letter under the privy seal, probably of the 1490s, banned liveries and retainers and the interference in elections of 'gentiles and other foreigners'; it enjoined the corporation to be 'whole and undivided' and to choose men of good disposition and sufficient ability. (fn. 6) The charters of 1453–87 were confirmed in November 1552, (fn. 7) and again in January 1553 after it was affirmed that Henry VII's charter (or perhaps its recent confirmation) had been accidentally lost. (fn. 8) The charter of 1552 survives in the borough muniments, but it was that of 1553 which was confirmed in 1559. (fn. 9)
In 1565, following a plea by the corporation that decreasing use of the royal manor house had brought the borough to poverty and decay, the Crown granted additional markets and fairs and the residue of the Woodstock property of the dissolved chantry of St. Mary, in return for a fee farm rent of £5 6s. 8d., of which £4 was for the property. (fn. 10) The new fee farm rent, treated separately from that for the meadows, was paid regularly, sometimes under the name of the chantry quitrent. (fn. 11) In 1671 the Crown sold the fee farm to David Walter and others, and in 1702 Sir John Walter sold it to Montagu Bertie, earl of Abingdon, from whom it was bought in 1710 by the duke of Marlborough. (fn. 12) The rent (£4 6s. 8d. after the deduction of land tax) was paid throughout the life of the old corporation, and £4 for the property was still paid in 1987. (fn. 13).
In the later 16th century the corporation promoted a bill to make Woodstock a staple town which failed in 1572 but was passed in 1576; (fn. 14) having again attributed the town's decline to the cessation of royal patronage the Act allowed free trading in wool and yarn within the borough. (fn. 15) In 1581 a bill to restrict such trade to inhabitants only, except on market days, was dashed on the third reading. (fn. 16) The borough's privileges under the Act of 1576 were invoked in 1602 in a dispute over wool buying with the Crown patentee Sir Edward Hoby (fn. 17) but otherwise seem to have been of little lasting value. (fn. 18)
In the later 16th century the council defined the constitution more closely in a series of bylaws. (fn. 19) The extent of the franchise was an issue in the 1580s during a prolonged struggle between two factions, one led by Alderman William Skelton, butcher, the other by Alderman George Whitton, comptroller of Woodstock park and lord of Hensington manor. (fn. 20) Whitton's father, Owen, had been prominent in both park and borough in the 1550s, (fn. 21) and George served as mayor in 1571 and 1572 and M.P. from 1572. He provided the drive and funds to establish the new wool market, lending £80 to the corporation, but soon aroused opposition by high-handed and litigious actions. He participated in council business as late as 1580, signing his approval of the new bylaws, (fn. 22) but in 1581, in a dispute over the borough's eastern boundary with Hensington manor, he instigated riots; when his party failed in the mayoral election of 1581 he resigned his aldermanship and was disfranchised. He was accused in Star Chamber of withholding borough funds and property, and countercharged electoral misconduct, monopolization of government by a clique of victuallers, and arbitrary rule by Skelton. By calling the Exchequer's attention to the fee farm he embarrassed both the corporation and Sir Henry Lee, steward of the manor, to whom the farm was then paid and with whom Whitton was also in dispute. (fn. 23) During the quarrel other aldermen were dismissed and disfranchised. (fn. 24) The dispute probably reflected wider issues common in expanding towns in that period: questions over the franchise and the composition of the ruling e´lite may indicate pressure from new men and jealousies between different crafts and trades. In the event a proposed new borough charter in 1584, alleged by Skelton's opponents to threaten the rights of the commonalty in elections and in the corporation meadows, (fn. 25) was not acquired, and further bylaws in the later 16th century made few substantial constitutional changes. (fn. 26) George Whitton never rejoined the council but remained a borough magistrate and indeed by 1598 was a prominent supporter of the ruling group when it evicted the town clerk. (fn. 27)
From 1585 the corporation was closely involved in the establishment of the grammar school, and in 1599 obtained a licence to hold in mortmain lands valued at £100, of which £20 was for the school and the rest for the poor and for disabled soldiers. (fn. 28) A confirmation of the borough's charters in 1603, mentioned in later sources, (fn. 29) has not been traced. Until the Civil War political pressure on the corporation was restricted largely to the informal influence of local gentry at times of parliamentary elections, (fn. 30) but the war and its aftermath led to politically motivated interference with the composition of the council. Notable changes were the removal of the royalist town clerk, Edmund Hiorne, and the appointment as high steward of Lt.-Gen. Charles Fleetwood in 1655, while several dismissals of councillors in the 1650s for non-attendance and 'abuse' probably reflect political differences. (fn. 31) It is not known if a new charter, sought by the council in 1656–7 and intended to include additional fairs and reduce the cognizance of the borough court to sums of £10 or less, was ever granted. (fn. 32)
After the Restoration Woodstock, like other municipal corporations, suffered direct polical interference by the government. The Corporations Act of 1661 excluded from corporate life dissenters and others unwilling to renounce the Covenant or swear oaths of supremacy, allegiance, and non-resistance; in 1662 a purge carried out by commissioners appointed under that Act removed the mayor, the town clerk, and four common councillors, while another alderman resigned allegedly because of ill-health. Fleetwood was replaced by Sir Thomas Spencer of Yarnton in 1661, and Edmund Hiorne was restored as town clerk. (fn. 33)
A charter of 1664 confirmed the new order, nominating the whole council and its officers, requiring all to swear the statutory oaths, and making future appointments of high stewards, recorders, and town clerks subject to the Crown's approval. The charters of 1453 and 1565 were confirmed, and the corporation's right to acquire lands worth £100 restated. Detailed provisions were made concerning the structure of the council and the elections and duties of officers; most confirmed long established practice, but the grant of powers to raise taxes for repairing bridges and streets may have been an innovation. (fn. 34) In 1667–8 a challenge to the new charter by quo warranto, obtained by a faction led by Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon, and Sir William Fleetwood, one of the borough's M.P.s, was successfully defended by Sir Thomas Spencer at his own cost; Clarendon was allegedly disappointed to have been passed over for the high stewardship, but the grounds of his attack on the charter are not known. (fn. 35)
Outside influence on the corporation in creased as political patrons secured the admission to the freeman body and the council of numerous adherents, usually non-resident gentry, the practice reaching peaks during the Exclusion crisis and in the reign of James II. The borough charter was not threatened until January 1688 when the council, persuaded by lack of funds and the fear of losing all chartered privileges, agreed unanimously to surrender it without a struggle. (fn. 36) A charter granted in August 1688 nominated a new council and officers, restricted the franchise for parliamentary elections to the council, reserved the Crown's right to nominate and remove officers, but dispensed officers from the statutory oaths; otherwise it confirmed existing liberties, restricting to residents certain freemen's privileges such as quittance from toll, and granted an additional fair. (fn. 37) The nominated council seems to have excluded two aldermen and demoted another, omitted several councillors listed in April 1688, and appointed over a dozen newcomers, all resident, including at least one known recusant. (fn. 38) The charter was effectively annulled by a royal proclamation in October 1688, and by November the former council and officers had resumed office. (fn. 39)
The charter of 1664 remained the corporation's governing instrument until 1886, for Woodstock, along with over 100 smaller boroughs, was excluded from the provisions of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. Woodstock shared the characteristics of other rotten boroughs: its council, controlled by political patrons, became increasingly unrepresentative of the inhabitants, and its corporate government, through lack of ambition or funds, was severely limited in scope. Corporate property was administered chiefly for the benefit of councillors and funds were provided for feasting and other entertainments but not for public services. (fn. 40) The right to levy rates was not invoked and much local government was left to the vestry and its officers. The corporation's political subservience after the Restoration was reflected in frequent loyal addresses, many of them composed with the approval of the high steward or other influential outsiders. In 1681 the council welcomed the promised annulment of penal laws against dissenters, in 1682 eschewed all forms of association against the established government, and in 1683 congratulated the king on his deliverance from the Rye House plot. (fn. 41) The accessions of James II and Anne were greeted with jubilation, (fn. 42) that of William III with silence. The council condemned the Pretender and his adherents in 1708 and welcomed the suppression of the rebellion of 1745. (fn. 43) It approved the support given by Woodstock's M.P.s to the Regency Bill of 1789, required them to oppose the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1790, and repeatedly expressed hostility to Catholic Emancipation. (fn. 44) In 1793 the council provided ale for the populace on burning the effigy of Thomas Paine. (fn. 45) Most 19th-century addresses expressed conventional reactions to royal and national events, but in 1850 the council was particularly hostile to the pope's appointment of an archbishop of Westminster. (fn. 46)
Divisions over parliamentary representation finally caused a suspension of corporate government in 1831, when the election of F. P. Walesby as recorder on the nomination of the duke of Marlborough as high steward was invalidated by lack of a quorum; (fn. 47) thereafter the factions both for and against the duke's nominee shunned council meetings to prevent a valid election. No chamberlains were appointed, no accounts presented, and no courts held; mayors were elected at meetings attended only by the retiring mayor and the town clerk, and the only recorded council business was the distribution of a charity. In February 1838, on the initiative of the Revd. John Carlyle, master of the grammar school, who by then was owed five years' salary, a writ of mandamus was obtained requiring the council to fulfil its obligations. A quorate council met at once, electing a mayor and chamberlains, two new aldermen, and seven new councillors; Walesby was sworn in as recorder, and the accounts audited. (fn. 48) Although in 1832 Woodstock was merged in a larger singlemember constituency the political hostility between supporters and opponents of the Marlborough interest continued to influence corporate government, provoking competition not only for the mayoralty but for minor offices. (fn. 49)
By the 1860s (fn. 50) prominent inhabitants, mostly Liberals and nonconformists, took no part in corporate affairs but were active in local government, particularly as guardians of the Woodstock poor law union. (fn. 51) Such men argued that the corporation was unrepresentative and that councillors held only a small fraction of the borough's rateable property; the electoral structure gave no choice to the body of inhabitants and at times promoted inexperienced, unsuitable, and even non-alleged that no dissenter had been elected for over 30 years, and that the preference for churchgoers of 'Conservative tendency' excluded such men as the Methodist G. G. Banbury, one of the town's principal property owners, and all the leading glove manufacturers, who were Liberals. The council was criticized for sectarianism in contributing to the maintenance of Woodstock's curate, for using corporate property such as the meadows exclusively for the benefit of its members, and for mismanagement of the grammar school. Certainly the corporation's contribution to local government continued to diminish: most of its judicial activity ceased, several public services were provided by private concerns, others were supervised by the vestry or the poor law guardians. (fn. 52)
In 1866 a group of ratepayers led by John Parker, cabinet maker, John Banbury, draper, and Edwin Hiorns, clerk, petitioned the Privy Council to change the charter so that Woodstock should come under the provisions of the Municipal Corporations Acts of 1835 and later, but after an inquiry no action was taken. Public criticism of the closed corporation and the scandalous behaviour of councillors continued. (fn. 53) In the 1870s the opposition group presented damaging evidence to royal commissioners who in 1880 recommended that Woodstock might usefully retain its municipal institutions but be reformed in keeping with the Municipal Corporations Acts. When in 1881 the Privy Council was again petitioned for a revised charter the 140 signatories included several councillors who favoured election by ratepayers and preferred the retention of the corporation to the establishment of a Local Board. A rearguard action was led by the influential R. B. B. Hawkins, town clerk and former mayor, but an Act of 1883 listed Woodstock among boroughs to be reformed in accordance with the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882. (fn. 54) An Order in Council of 1886 proposed a Scheme for reform, and a charter of April 1886 abolished the old corporation. (fn. 55)
Freemen. The basis of the borough's constitution, derived from that of the medieval guild merchant, was membership or freedom of the guild. In 1584, during a struggle over the franchise, it was noted that the charter of 1453 declared all inhabitants to be free burgesses, (fn. 56) but in practice the commonalty of the borough's corporate title was the freeman body; other inhabitants were regarded with outsiders as foreigners. (fn. 57) The council and officers were drawn from the freemen, and there is no evidence that non-freemen ever voted in local or parliamentary elections. Only freemen and their lawfully hired servants and apprentices were allowed to occupy crafts and trades in the town, (fn. 58) a rule that was largely overlooked by the mid 18th century. (fn. 59) Freemen had privileged access to the borough courts, (fn. 60) the free grammar school, and many of the endowed charities.
The freedom also incurred burdens, and in 1557 it was ordered that none should be admitted unless able to meet the town's charges, summed up in the phrase 'scot and lot'. (fn. 61) Foreign (non-resident) freemen were to leave in the town a 'distrainable pawn', usually 40s., or be disfranchised. (fn. 62) Because admission conferred substantial trading and voting privileges it was closely controlled by the council: orders of 1575 placed fines on the mayor for admitting men without consent and on councillors for failure to attend admissions. (fn. 63) In 1681 it was agreed that freemen must be elected in council but might take their oaths in the town office before the mayor and two magistrates. (fn. 64) A rule of 1733 that freemen should be at least 21 years old probably endorsed long established practice. (fn. 65) Disfranchisement became rare after the disputes of the 1580s, but in 1599 the council disfranchised an evicted town clerk and in 1614 a man who had insulted the mayor. (fn. 66)
The freeman's oath in the mid 16th century included commitments to obey the mayor and aldermen, to defend the borough's liberties, to pay 'without grudging' duties to God and the Crown, and to be 'a quiet man amongst your neighbours, always ready to do good and profitable things amongst them'. (fn. 67) Freemen on admission were probably given a copy of the oath, for in Woodstock, as elsewhere, men claiming freedom through patrimony were said to do so 'by their father's copy'. (fn. 68) In 1732 it was agreed that new freemen should pay for a printed copy of the oath, which by then had been revised and included promises to be faithful to the king, to obey and help the council and officers, to contribute to the corporation's charges and maintain its liberties and customs, and not to support foreigners 'by colour of your freedom'. (fn. 69)
The freedom was acquired by patrimony, as eldest son born after the father became free, by serving a 7-year apprenticeship in a freeman's household, by marriage to a freeman's widow, and by compounding at the invitation of the council. (fn. 70) Men claiming the hereditary qualification were sometimes rejected because born before their father's admission, and unenrolled or improperly qualified apprentices were rejected or charged higher fees. (fn. 71) The standard fee for sons and apprentices remained very low, only 4s. in the 16th century and early 17th. (fn. 72) In addition, by 1580, all new freemen provided a leather bucket for fire fighting, or an equivalent fee, rising from 2s. 6d. in the late 16th century to 5s. by 1835. (fn. 73) Admission fees for sons and apprentices varied over the centuries, but in 1835 were still only £1 15s. 5d., which included the bucket and 5s. instead of a feast or treat at the freeman's house, an obligation evidently established by the early 18th century. (fn. 74) Those claiming freedom through marriage to a freeman's widow paid 20s. from the 16th century to the early 18th; (fn. 75a) the council stressed in 1583 that the deceased freeman must have been resident, and the widow resident at the time of her marriage. (fn. 76a) In 1652 it was added that she must have been paying scot and lot, and in 1705 the council ruled that men marrying widows should be treated as ordinary compounders. (fn. 77a)
For those seeking admission by purchase the council repeatedly set and disregarded a minimum entry fee: the mid-16th century fee of £1 was increased in 1575 to £5. (fn. 78a) The minimum fee, restated as £5 in 1677, was increased in 1733 to £10 and in 1803 to 15 gn. plus officers' fees. (fn. 79a) In the 1580s the £5 fee was paid regularly, but in the early 17th century fees varied widely but rarely exceeded £3. (fn. 80a) Sometimes fees were waived in return for services, as in 1616 and 1662 when entrants agreed to maintain the town's armour, and in 1628 when the bellfounder James Keene paid only 30s. but agreed to cast a new bell. (fn. 81a) From the later 17th century fees of £5 or more became common, particularly for prosperous applicants such as maltsters and apothecaries. (fn. 82a) In 1665 Richard Hinton, later mayor, was charged over £11 and extra officers' fees after attempting to open a shop in the town while not free. (fn. 83a) In the later 17th century and early 18th the council frequently imposed special conditions on compounders, obliging them to reside, to restrict themselves to particular occupations, and in one case to trade only in markets and fairs. (fn. 84a) In the 18th century compounders were expected to entertain the council well, and in 1732 a man admitted for £5 was asked to pay £10 towards a treat. (fn. 85a)
Until the later 17th century the freeman body was composed largely of resident tradesmen and craftsmen, together with those such as high stewards, recorders, and M.P.s whose office required admission. Few local landowners sought admission, with the notable exception of the Whittons, who in any case owned one of the larger houses in the town; by contrast the lawyer Jerome Kyte (d. 1631), although resident and a borough magistrate, was not a freeman. (fn. 86a) In 1519 only 34 freemen, including 18 councillors, were named in a seemingly complete list, and six more were admitted in that year. (fn. 87a) In 1581, including councillors, 58 freemen were named, (fn. 88a) and for mayoral elections in the 1620s between 60 and 75 freemen were present. (fn. 89a) In the early 17th century the freeman body usually comprised between 60 and 70 of the 100–120 male inhabitants listed as suitors to the views of frankpledge. (fn. 90a) Freemen's widows were sometimes listed, (fn. 91a) presumably because they retained some of their husbands' rights, able to occupy trades and perhaps attend the view, although none appear to have voted in mayoral elections.
In 1662 there were 82 councillors and freemen, and 10 foreign freemen; a few councillors were non-resident so just over half the c. 132 listed male inhabitants were freemen. (fn. 92a) Already the foreign freemen included a few local gentry, and thereafter the practice of taking up the freedom purely for electoral advantage added not only a large group of honorary freemen, mostly non-resident gentry, but also men who, while qualified through patrimony or apprenticeship, in the past would have avoided the burdens of freedom because of their poverty or non-residence. By 1681 the freeman body had probably doubled in size to over 200 and by the 1720s was over 350, but two thirds were non-resident and affected town life only during parliamentary contests. (fn. 93a) In 1687 councillors and resident freemen comprised over two thirds (92) of 139 listed adult males but the proportion fell when parliamentary contests became less frequent; in 1703 only 81 of 171 listed inhabitants were freemen. (fn. 94a) By the later 18th century, when the Marlboroughs had secured their hold on the constituency, it was in their interest to keep voters to a minimum, and in the 1760s and 1780s there were only c. 120 freemen, of whom more than a quarter were non-resident. (fn. 95a) Numbers rose to between 150 and 200 with the renewal of parliamentary contests in the early 19th century. In 1831 there were estimated to be 167 freemen, of whom 66 were resident; in 1833 the number of freemen qualified as voters by residence in the enlarged constituency was 76, of whom 52 were said to live in the borough. (fn. 96a)
Attempts to limit the rights of foreign freemen suggest that the council occasionally resented their influence. An order of 1660 requiring them to pay £2 13s. 4d. for the right to vote was probably short-lived or ineffective, but in 1685 their children were denied privileged access to the grammar school and in 1713 their apprentices were denied the right of admission; the patrimonial qualification was confirmed in that year, however, and several non-resident gentry secured the admission of their eldest sons. (fn. 97a) The honorary freemen, who were elected in large batches from 1673, paid only officers' fees (fn. 98a) but also gave treats, since in 1687 it was agreed to devote such contributions towards building a market house. (fn. 99a) From 1703 fees for honorary freedom, sometimes called 'gentlemen's fees', were usually 2 gn. (fn. 1a) By the later 18th century the honorary freedom was rarely used to introduce political partisans. In 1763 Edward, duke of York, received a record of his admission in a silver box and in 1802 Henry Agar, Viscount Clifden, received his in a box of polished steel; in 1779 Sir Joshua Reynolds was made free during a visit to the town. (fn. 2a) Honorary freedom was also used to introduce local worthies, notably in 1787 William Mavor, (fn. 3a) schoolmaster and author, who later became rector and mayor. By the later 18th century outgoing mayors regularly nominated a son as an honorary freeman, and the custom of the 'mayor's child' was soon extended to allow any mayoral nominee. (fn. 4a)
Although unaffected by municipal reform in 1835 the freeman body diminished rapidly after changes in parliamentary voting qualifications in 1832. (fn. 5a) The rump of the old freeman body continued to participate in mayoral elections, but admission by apprenticeship ceased, on the assumption that the qualification was abolished by parliamentary or municipal reform, and very few hereditary freeman were admitted, the last in 1864. (fn. 6a) Instead the council, when it became necessary to fill its ranks, merely elected honorary freemen; the mayor's right to nominate was also preserved. Admission fees were abolished in 1851. (fn. 7a) By the 1870s there were c. 25 honorary freemen and councillors, besides the 'common freemen', survivors of the old freeman body, whose numbers had fallen to fewer than a dozen. They were mostly poor and non-resident, and when attending mayoral elections were given meal tickets. (fn. 8a) Although some surviving councillors were technically common freemen the 'refreshment freemen' were regarded in the 1870s as a separate class, whose continued participation in elections outraged the excluded dissenters and Liberals. After 1886 no reference to common or hereditary freemen has been found.
Council and Officers. The charter of 1453 empowered the corporation to elect a mayor and serjeant-at-mace annually, but made no mention of aldermen or a common council. (fn. 9a) From the first, however, aldermen formed part of the new corporation (fn. 10a) and the office may have succeeded that of bailiff, mentioned in 1402 and 1438 but not later. (fn. 11a) After incorporation witnesses in the portmoot usually included the mayor, 4 aldermen, 2 constables, and the serjeant, and in the 1490s the town clerk and crier were also mentioned. (fn. 12a) Two chamberlains, elected annually in the early 16th century, (fn. 13a) were probably from the outset the town's chief accounting officers.
The constitution confirmed in the charter of 1664 was the result of gradual development. Reference in 1461 to 'the mayor and his brethren and other of the commonalty' (fn. 14a) implies the existence of a ruling e´lite within the freeman body, and by the early 16th century there was a common council comprising the mayor, 4 aldermen, and at least 13 councillors including the town clerk. (fn. 15a) Presumably, as later, councillors were chosen from the freemen and served for life unless they resigned or were dismissed. In the 1530s there were at least 15 councillors besides the mayor and aldermen, (fn. 16a) and in 1580 the number of common councillors was fixed at 20, (fn. 17a) making up a council which included perhaps a third of the freeman body; a quorum of 13, set in 1583, remained unchanged in the 19th century. (fn. 18a) Later 16th-century lists of councillors frequently contained fewer than 20 names, but in 1605 the council was near full strength, with a mayor, 4 aldermen, 2 chamberlains, the town clerk, and 15 common councillors; (fn. 19a) the high steward and recorder, although not listed, were probably regarded as councillors, and the charter of 1664 certainly included them in a council of 25, which was otherwise constructed as in 1605. (fn. 20a) A few early 17th-century council lists contained as many as 24 names, excluding the high steward and recorder. (fn. 21a)
In the 16th century the wider community participated regularly in town government. The ordinary freeman voted not only in mayoral elections, a right maintained until 1886, but also for common councillors. (fn. 22a) In 1504 a group of 40 named persons, presumably the whole freeman body, was associated with the aldermen and constables in a grant of corporate property to the mayor. (fn. 23a) In the 1530s the common council and 'other more of the town' or 'all the commons' attended the accounting day. (fn. 24a) In 1550 a rule concerning mayoral elections was made at a 'convocation of all the inhabitants'. (fn. 25a) Bylaws of 1581 were approved by 35 freemen besides the councillors, and freemen also witnessed the disfranchisement of Alderman George Whitton in that year. (fn. 26a) In 1598 the controversial replacement of a town clerk was made at a 'general court day'. (fn. 27a)
Even so the council steadily increased its powers at the expense of those of the mayor and freemen. In 1550 ordinances were made by 'the twelve', (fn. 28a) possibly an attempted inner council of the kind developed in other towns in that period. In 1575 it was agreed that the mayor should be fined if compounder freemen were admitted without the council's consent, (fn. 29a) and new orders in 1580 reduced the mayor's financial independence and his control of the nomination and dismissal of councillors: future nominations were to be open to any councillor and a list presented to the freemen for final election; dismissals were to be by act of council. (fn. 30a) In 1581 a new order for mayoral elections empowered the council to nominate two candidates from among the aldermen before joining the freemen in the deciding vote. (fn. 31a) George Whitton's complaints that the 1581 election was unconstitutional and the mayoralty restricted to two or three unsuitable persons (fn. 32a) probably related to the new rule; despite his protests over inhabitants' rights Whitton probably had no intention of extending the franchise to non-freemen. The new rule, however, enabled the council to avoid nominating Whitton's favoured candidate and so negated his alleged majority among the 'poorer, meaner' voters. In 1591 the new rule was among those 'disallowed' without explanation, (fn. 33a) but the council continued to control nomination, usually putting up two candidates, (fn. 34a) although in 1788 there were three. (fn. 35a) By contrast the order granting freemen the final choice of common councillors, confirmed in 1591, was soon ignored and elections were confined to the council. (fn. 36a)
The council controlled most aspects of town life, and attendance at its meetings was obligatory under threat of fines or dismissal. (fn. 37a) The council's powers defined in the charter of 1664 included the power to make bylaws and levy taxes, and to elect the whole range of officers, even constables and tithingmen who in practice were usually chosen in courts leet. Some of the charter's provisions were probably innovatory, reflecting the Crown's desire for political safeguards: thus the recorder was included in the council's quorum for many purposes, while the power to nominate councillors or remove certain officers was restricted to the mayor, aldermen, and recorder. (fn. 38a)
Council meetings were held irregularly at the mayor's summons; in some years in the 1650s there was a meeting in most months, (fn. 39a) and in the later 17th century frequently 10 a year but sometimes far fewer. Recorded attendances were usually between 10 and 15, and the quorum rule was often ignored. By the 1820s there were usually between 5 and 8 meetings a year attended by 15 or fewer councillors. (fn. 40a) Repeated orders setting fines for non-attendance had little effect. (fn. 41a) After the disruption of council business in the 1830s, when the quorum rule was invoked, (fn. 42a) meetings were held quarterly. (fn. 43a) From 1838 temporary sub-committees were sometimes appointed, and in 1877 a permanent estates committee was formed. (fn. 44a)
Until the later 17th century, when men began to be excluded on grounds of politics and religion, the council was recruited from the most successful freemen. It provided, in its social and ceremonial role, a reflection of the councillors' status. Precedency was carefully regulated, as in 1581 and 1608 when councillors were listed in the order in which they should sit and be called. (fn. 45a) On Sundays and holy days the mayor processed to church behind the macebearer in the company of gowned councillors; within the church the placing of councillors and their wives was dictated by council seniority. (fn. 46a) Dignity was insisted upon, and besides repeated orders about gowns there were fines set for 'unfitting words' by councillors or insults offered to the mayor and aldermen. (fn. 47a) Much corporate entertainment was reserved for councillors, and ordinary freemen were excluded. (fn. 48a)
In the corporation, as in a medieval guild, there was a theoretical cursus honorum through which men progressed by office-serving from the rank of ordinary freeman to that of councillor and, given wealth or longevity, to the aldermanic bench. In 1580 it was ordered that chamberlains should be chosen from common councillors who had first served as tithingman, churchwarden, and constable, but those offices could be compounded for and a fine of £1 exonerated a man from all three. (fn. 49a) Successful freemen, particularly outsiders who were admitted as compounders or through marriage, tended to move quickly to a conciliar rank appropriate to their wealth and age: thus John Crossley, admitted as a compounder in 1555, became chamberlain in 1557 and mayor in 1558, (fn. 50a) and John Shewsmith, after marriage to a widow, became a councillor within a month of his admission in 1652. (fn. 51a)
From the later 17th century the council became less representative of the resident freemen. Non-resident councillors became common, and the introduction of peers such as Edward Henry Lee, earl of Lichfield, and James Bertie, Lord Norreys, became an accepted method by which patrons controlled the parliamentary seat. Prominent resident councillors such as Richard Hinton and Robert Hix in 1690 stood aside from town government presumably for political reasons. (fn. 52a) In 1674 it was agreed that no outsider should be chosen councillor until there were 17 residents in place and the repetition of that order in 1731 (fn. 53a) marked a belated reaction to Sarah, duchess of Marlborough's political management of the council. In 1727, while the council awaited her nominations for vacancies, there was only one surviving alderman and the corporation was in danger of collapse through inability to fulfil the conditions of its charter. (fn. 54a) Even when the Marlboroughs' control was secure there were rarely more than 17 resident councillors, and in the 1790s the non-residents included the duke, the marquis of Blandford, and several other Spencers. (fn. 55a) Participation by non-residents was so rare that when two Spencers attended an aldermanic election in 1814 there was an effusive vote of thanks. (fn. 56a) Non-residence remained an issue with the council's critics, but there were still six non-residents in the 1870s. (fn. 57a)
The office of mayor, successor to that of bailiff of Woodstock, was established before 1338. (fn. 58a) Few mayors were mentioned before incorporation in 1453, (fn. 59a) and until the 17th century the succession was not fully recorded. (fn. 60a) By the 16th century mayors were chosen from the aldermen by the majority vote of freemen on the Monday before St. Matthew's day (21 Sept.), and were sworn in on the first Monday after Michaelmas. (fn. 61a) Fines for refusal to serve were £2 13s. 4d. in 1550 and £10 in 1581. (fn. 62a) The oath was to be taken before the high steward or his deputy, or before the retiring mayor. (fn. 63a) In the early 17th century the mayor was sworn in at the first portmoot after Michaelmas, usually by the senior alderman. (fn. 64a) The charter of 1664 directed the oath to be taken before the recorder or the retiring mayor, which remained the usual practice. (fn. 65a) The oath used in the 16th and 17th centuries (fn. 66a) included commitments to keep good rule and order, administer justice equitably, avoid corruption and so 'bring the people to quietness by indifferency from time to time'. A revised oath used in the mid 18th century placed greater emphasis on prosecuting offenders and maintaining the town's liberties, and made no reference to corruption. (fn. 67a)
The choice of a mayor from the small group of aldermen, which was evidently the practice from incorporation, meant that men commonly served the office many times. In the later 15th century Robert Austen and John Careless each served at least seven times, and ten recorded mayoralties of John Baron (or Barnes) were scattered over the period 1514–47. William Cornwell and John Fletcher each served at least seven times in the 16th century, and Thomas Painter (d. 1711) was mayor first in 1663 and for the fourteenth time in 1704. G. H. Bobart (d. 1791) and Dr. William Mavor (d. 1837), who was also rector, each served ten times. Service for two years in succession was common, and seems to have been standard practice in the later 16th century and early 17th. (fn. 68a) The death of mayors in office caused uncertainties but usually a new election was held. (fn. 69a) The appointment of an alderman as deputy mayor, which occurred in 1640, was allowed by the charter of 1664. (fn. 70a)
The electoral legislation of 1580 provided for annual contests but mayors were commonly elected unopposed, presumably because it was convenient for aldermen to agree on a rota. Contests were provoked by political interference in the early 18th century, and in the mid 19th were turned into party struggles. (fn. 71a) Some elections raised personal issues and allowed freemen voters to express grievances, albeit to little effect: in 1766 in 'the warmest contest ever remembered' Thomas Grantham was defeated but served the following year; in 1768 G. H. Bobart, lampooned as 'mad, cruel, partial', was elected for the third of his ten mayoralties. (fn. 72a) Such contests chiefly attracted resident voters and in a three-cornered contest in 1788 only 57 votes were cast. (fn. 73a) In the mid 19th century the 'refreshment freemen' were apparently allowed to nominate a mayoral candidate, and on one occasion ignored the council's guidance. (fn. 74a)
The mayor's large powers derived from the borough's charters and the deference owed to him under the freeman's oath and backed by sanctions. As chief magistrate, clerk of the market, and the focus of the corporation's social and ceremonial life the mayor was paramount in his year of office. Without him the council could not meet nor the accounts be audited. He could imprison men for many offences without bail, dispense charitable funds, order casual poorrelief, and even control seating arrangements in the church. (fn. 75b) Until the later 16th century he could admit freemen without consultation and could nominate and dismiss councillors. (fn. 76b) His powers were confirmed by the charter of 1664, which also expressly quit him from jury service outside the borough and empowered him to search for concealed grain and sell it on the open market. (fn. 77b)
The curtailment of mayoral power in the later 16th century was probably provoked by the behaviour of George Whitton, mayor 1571–3, who allegedly enriched himself at the town's expense and withheld corporate funds; Whitton, however, claimed that the mayoralty had cost him at least £100, partly because of his lawsuit on the town's behalf against Sir Thomas Peniston. (fn. 78b) Mayors were not then accountable to the council, but paid the annual farm directly to the Crown out of the variable profits of felons' goods, waifs and strays, market rents, the wool beam, and other issues. In 1580 it was agreed that those profits and the farm should be on the chamberlains' account, leaving the mayor with portmoot profits, his customary share of admission and other fees, and a new annual fee of £10; (fn. 79b) he was to provide feasts at the Lady Day and Michaelmas leets, the chamberlains contributing the wine. (fn. 80b) In 1641 the mayor's allowance was stopped and the leet dinners paid for from the chest. (fn. 81b) By the early 18th century the mayor was apparently providing the feasts from the profits of weighing cheese, but from 1732 was instead given an allowance of 12 gn. (fn. 82b) As a condition of corporation leases he also received poultry and joints of meat at Michaelmas as a contribution to the feast. (fn. 83b) The mayor's allowance was increased in stages to £40 in 1807, when the residual small fees were deflected to the chest. (fn. 84b) At that time the mayor customarily entertained the corporation and local gentry on taking up office. (fn. 85b) In 1839 his allowance was reduced to £20 but in 1845 it was agreed, on condition that he continued his inaugural feast, to add the £20 usually reserved for 'dressing' a buck given by the high steward. (fn. 86b) In 1854 the mayor's allowance was stopped and the corporation paid for dressing the buck on election day. (fn. 87b)
In the 15th century there were five aldermen, including the mayor, and occasionally six. (fn. 88b) A maximum of six, agreed in 1580, was reduced to five in 1583, although there were six aldermen in 1586 until John Phillips was dismissed for failure to attend meetings. (fn. 89b) Under the rules of 1580 aldermen were chosen for life by the council from councillors who had served as chamberlain. (fn. 90b) The charter of 1664 allowed aldermen to be chosen from the inhabitants but they were always elected from the council. From 1664 aldermen were magistrates ex officio, whereas earlier they had usually been named individually in commissions of the peace. (fn. 91b) There was a fine for refusal to serve; (fn. 92b) in 1678 William Metcalfe, a nonconformist unwilling to take the necessary oaths, paid £10, and fines were levied in 1742 and 1797. (fn. 93b) Aldermen could be removed by act of council but after the troubles of the 1580s dismissals were rare; (fn. 94b) resignations were forced in 1662 and 1690 because of political pressure and in 1843 because the council deemed an alderman unfit for the magistracy. (fn. 95b)
The serjeant-at-mace was given prominence in the charter of 1453 as one of two officers to be chosen annually by the commonalty. (fn. 96b) Serjeants were so elected but in practice served for long periods. Thomas Heathen, serjeant 1618–42, was succeeded by his son Thomas (d. 1695); (fn. 97b) Thomas Norris, serjeant 1738–72, was followed by James Prior, 1772–1809. (fn. 98b) The serjeant was an officer of the court, and in the 15th century was usually named after the mayor and aldermen as witness to conveyances in the portmoot. (fn. 99b) He was responsible for serving summonses, making arrests, and maintaining the prison and punitive instruments; (fn. 1b) he was the macebearer on ceremonial occasions. His income came from small fees for summonses and other court business, and by 1580 he had the profits of stallage in the two summer fairs. (fn. 2b) From 1700 the serjeant benefited from a cheap lease of the corporation's house next to the town hall, the Woodstock Arms. (fn. 3b) In the 1830s he received small fees, a wage of £1 10s., and 3 gn. more instead of a feast once given to him by the chamberlains; (fn. 4b) his uniform was always provided by the corporation. (fn. 5b) From 1838 the salary was £5 and the office survived the closure of the borough court. (fn. 6b)
In the early 16th century two chamberlains were elected annually on St. Catherine's day (25 Nov.) after the presentation of accounts. (fn. 7b) In 1580 it was ordered that chamberlains should be councillors who had served the minor offices and should serve no more than two consecutive years. (fn. 8b) In the 17th century a senior or 'town's chamberlain' was elected by the council and a junior chamberlain was nominated by the mayor. (fn. 9b) The charter of 1664 stipulated only that the two chamberlains should be resident councillors. (fn. 10b) In the 19th century it was still usual for the junior chamberlain to serve a second year as the senior. There were no fees for the office but from 1867 a paid assistant was appointed. (fn. 11b)
The earliest recorded town clerk was William Vincent, mentioned in 1498 and presumably the man referred to by the mayor as 'my clerk' in 1499. (fn. 12b) Thomas Nowers, gentleman, who signed entries in the town's ledger in the early 16th century, was evidently town clerk but, perhaps because of his status, was placed on council lists with the aldermen and was sometimes called steward. (fn. 13b) In the 1580s the clerk was placed in seniority among the common councillors but in the 17th century was again listed above them. (fn. 14b)
In 1589 the clerk was ordered to bring in the mayor's book 'fair written' each year at Michaelmas, and to keep the records in the town hall in a chest of two keys, one held by the mayor. (fn. 15b) Edulph Dingley, clerk from 1594, complained in 1598 of wrongful dismissal and forcible eviction from the town clerk's house by the mayor, aided by Cromwell Lee, the high steward's brother, and George Whitton, a borough magistrate; the corporation alleged that both office and house were held at will. Dingley was disfranchised and the clerkship granted for life to Thomas Rawlins at a general court day, (fn. 16b) whereas later clerks were chosen in council. The town clerk's house may have been part of the former chantry house in front of the church, which Rawlins rebuilt and where his son-in-law and successor Edmund Hiorne, town clerk from 1607, provided a town office which was used until 1679. (fn. 17b)
Hiorne, an assiduous clerk to both the corporation and the royal manor, (fn. 18b) became a borough magistrate and a substantial property owner. (fn. 19b) In 1642 he was reprimanded by parliament for his zeal in the royalist cause and by December 1645 had been replaced as clerk by John Williams. (fn. 20b) Although resident and active on the council during the Interregnum (fn. 21b) he did not replace Williams until 1662, and resigned the following year in favour of George Ryves, his granddaughter's husband; he died in 1669. (fn. 22b)
The charter of 1664 confirmed the town clerk as clerk of the peace and allowed the appointment of a deputy. (fn. 23b) From 1663 until 1767, except for the period 1677–81, the clerkship was held by members of the Ryves family, (fn. 24b) of whom the most notable was Edward (d. 1767), who became a wealthy landowner. (fn. 25b) He and his successors, Thomas Walker (d. 1804), Henry North (resigned 1829, d. 1831), his son Henry (d. 1881), and R. B. B. Hawkins (d. 1894) (fn. 26b) were dominant figures in the corporation, as well as being among the town's wealthiest inhabitants. Edward Ryves, the Norths, and Hawkins all lived in large houses in Park Street, and Walker, the duke's agent and town clerk of Oxford, lived at Hensington House.
In the 16th century the town clerk was supported by a variety of fees (fn. 27b) and in the early 17th century was paid a salary, usually £1 6s. 8d. (fn. 28b) In 1662 Edmund Hiorne reckoned that the clerk's income was less than £6. (fn. 29b) In the 19th century the clerk's annual fee was raised in stages from c. £3 to £21, (fn. 30b) but most of his income came from the clerkship to the magistrates, which was separated from the town clerkship in 1857. (fn. 31b)
In common with many other boroughs Woodstock from the later 16th century acquired the services of a high steward, usually an influential local figure whose duties included taking the mayor's oath and delivering a speech at the Michaelmas election. (fn. 32b) John Cupper of Glympton, steward in 1580, was succeeded before 1584 by the prominent courtier Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley (d. 1611). (fn. 33b) Lee seems to have been active in Woodstock affairs, (fn. 34b) and an understeward, one Alcock, was accused by Whitton of being the 'chief stirrer' of disputes within the corporation. (fn. 35b) High stewards, chosen in council, were always borough justices. Lee's successors were Sir Thomas Spencer (1612–22), Philip Herbert, earl of Pembroke (1622–50), Lt.-Gen. Charles Fleetwood (1655–60), Sir Thomas Spencer (1660–85), and Edward Henry Lee, earl of Lichfield (1685–92); (fn. 36b) the Spencers of Yarnton were the town's nearest resident magnates, while the rest were stewards of the royal manor and park. In 1692 the earl of Lichfield was ousted from the high stewardship in favour of John Lovelace, Lord Lovelace, on the grounds that he refused to take the statutory oaths. (fn. 37b) There was a vacancy after Lovelace's death in 1693 until John, duke of Marlborough, was appointed in 1705. Francis, earl of Godolphin (d. 1766), husband of Henrietta, suo jure duchess of Marlborough, was appointed high steward belatedly in 1728 and the office was held by successive dukes of Marlborough. (fn. 38b)
The office benefited both high steward and corporation, offering parliamentary patronage to one, political support and financial aid to the other. In the 17th century the corporation regularly treated its stewards to cakes, sugar, and cheese, usually receiving venison in return. (fn. 39b) Sir Thomas Spencer (d. 1622) gave a charity, and his grandson paid for the defence of the charter of 1664. Lord Lovelace promised much and gave little (fn. 40b) but from the Marlboroughs, not solely because of their high stewardship, the corporation gained large benefits. (fn. 41b)
The town's earliest known recorder, Sir Lawrence Tanfield of Burford, M.P. for Woodstock from 1584, was recorder by 1598 and later chief baron of the Exchequer. (fn. 42b) Many later recorders represented the borough in parliament, including the distinguished parliamentarians Sir James Whitelocke (recorder 1606–21), William Lenthall (1622–60), and Sir Thomas Littleton (1695–1709). (fn. 43b) The recorder's fee of £3 6s. 8d. in 1606 remained unchanged. (fn. 44b) In the early 17th century recorders visited regularly, chiefly for law days, licensing sessions, or royal visits; they were sometimes paid a special fee for legal advice. (fn. 45b) When Woodstock church was damaged by rebel prisoners in 1648 William Lenthall, unable to promise redress from the public purse, offered his recorder's fee for several years. (fn. 46b) The charter of 1664 enlarged the recorder's powers, including him in the council's quorum for the issue of bylaws, the levy of taxes, or the dismissal of councillors. (fn. 47b) Deputy recorders, allowed by the charter, included Richard Croke, who represented Lenthall throughout the Interregnum, (fn. 48b) and Henry Beeston, resident deputy from 1695 until becoming recorder in 1709. (fn. 49b) During the 18th century the recorder's duties decreased and in 1802 Francis Burton resigned only because poor eyesight prevented him attending the leet dinner. (fn. 50b) James Blackstone (recorder 1802–31), living at Hensington House as the duke's agent, usually attended the general sessions. (fn. 51b) The duke's attempt to control the appointment of his successor provoked a constitutional crisis and there was no recorder until 1838; even so the duke recommended the next and last recorder of the old corporation in 1858. (fn. 52b) The office, without duties or fee, was revived briefly in 1912. (fn. 53b)
Two constables and four tithingmen were appointed annually, usually at the October view of frankpledge (fn. 54b) but sometimes in council. (fn. 55b) Constables were mentioned in 1460 (fn. 56b) and the office was presumably of greater antiquity. Constables made presentments at the leet and collected the estreats, (fn. 57b) and they and the tithingmen, with watchmen appointed for fairs and other special occasions, provided the town's policing. (fn. 58b) The constables were responsible for the town's armour (fn. 59b) and the supply of trained soldiers. (fn. 60b) Service as constable and tithingman was part of a freeman's career, and refusal to serve was met by fines or imprisonment. (fn. 61b) Constables' levies, usually two a year and raising c. £14 a year in the late 17th century, (fn. 62b) were used to pay dues to the high constable of Wootton hundred and to the county for musters, maimed soldiers, and a house of correction. (fn. 63b) The council, which approved the constable's accounts, in 1636 made good a shortfall by a levy on those present. (fn. 64b) In the 1870s the corporation still appointed a constable annually, with no salary but a fee of 1s. from each licensee at the brewster sessions. (fn. 65b)
In the 15th century a crier received small fees for proclamations in the portmoot. (fn. 66b) In 1608 the office, combined with that of clerk of Woodstock chapel, was granted for life; in the later 17th century it was still held with that of parish clerk and sexton. (fn. 67b) The corporation also paid a beadle of beggars and provided him with red and blue livery: his duties included whipping vagrants, impounding strays, and minimal scavenging, and in 1654 he was charged also with keeping dogs out of the church and children out of the churchyard in service time. (fn. 68b) A bellman was appointed in the early 18th century to ring the curfew bell and scavenge in Park Street, (fn. 69b) and a separate scavenger for the central streets was appointed from 1715. From 1737 a beadle took over the duties of scavenger and bellman (fn. 70b) and from the later 18th century the combined office of crier and beadle carried a fee of £5 4s. and a small payment instead of the traditional dinner from the chamberlains. (fn. 71b) From 1838 the crier was paid £4 and provided with a uniform. (fn. 72b)
Overseers of the poor, surveyors of the highways, and aletasters are treated elsewhere. (fn. 73b)
Finance and property. In 1517–18 the two chamberlains accounted for an income of only 55s., including 22s. surplus from the previous year; the 26s. from rents and 7s. from admission fees was spent on repairs to corporate property, street cleaning, and punitive instruments. (fn. 74b) For most of the 16th century only the chamberlains' annual surplus and outstanding debts were recorded (fn. 75c) but income evidently increased, particularly after the acquisition of former chantry property in 1565. Even so extraordinary expenses, such as for parliamentary bills and establishing the wool market in the 1570s and the licence to acquire property in 1599, (fn. 76c) could not be met without loans, usually from councillors, and in the later 16th century the borough's debt was between £60 and £80. (fn. 77c)
From 1580, when the chamberlains took over many of the mayor's financial responsibilities, (fn. 78c) most borough revenue was accounted for by the chamberlains. Between 1608 and 1640 annual income was usually between £50 and £60, of which almost half came from rents; (fn. 79c) large increases of income to c. £80 or more in 1612, 1632, 1636, and 1640 reflected the incidence of fines for the renewal of corporation leases. During the Civil War the accounts were disrupted, but from 1646 the chamberlains' income was much larger, usually £95 or more, chiefly because of an increase in the rental to c. £45. Other regular sources of income in the earlier 17th century were admission fees, yielding between £1 and £10 a year, tolls and stallage (£8–£10), and small sums from amercements, felons' goods, waifs, the use of the common seal, and sales of timber from corporation land. The income included c. £13 a year from the school endowment which was paid directly to the schoolmaster, and until 1612 the profits of Whitsun ales (£6–£9), which were passed to the churchwardens; by the 1640s the chamberlains were handling other substantial charitable funds. No regular corporate income was raised by taxation, and rates such as those for the constables were regarded as a parochial concern. (fn. 80c) Loans were raised for emergencies: in 1603 sums between 10s. and £3 were owed to 21 townsmen, in 1616 a chamberlain provided a loan of £24 at the high rate of 10 per cent, and in 1639 an alderman was owed £48. (fn. 81c)
The fixed outgoings, besides the schoolmaster's salary and other charity payments, were the fees of mayor, recorder, and town clerk and the two fee farm rents (£25 in all); (fn. 82c) repairs to corporate property, to streets and bridges, and contributions to church repair were regular items, and in 1612 repairs to the almshouse accounted for a third of total expenditure. Regular gifts to high stewards, recorders, and influential neighbours, corporate dinners and other celebrations, and the entertainment of visiting dignitaries and preachers cost a few pounds each year; during royal visits gratuities to royal officers sometimes cost as much as £8. Legal charges, including the care and transport of prisoners, were regular items, and small sums were spent on the poor and for watchmen during fairs.
For the period 1650–1738 only summary accounts survive. (fn. 83c) At first the income was usually £100–£120, but in 1664–5 £248 was raised and spent, probably in connexion with the borough charter. Thereafter totals varied from just less than £100 to over £300 in 1722 and 1723. When high income was matched by high expenditure it probably, as later, reflected the passage through the accounts of large capital sums such as the corporation's loan charities; in the early 1720s, however, expenditure remained at the usual level of £100–£140, and it seems likely that the high income derived from the fees of honorary freemen. Admission fees perhaps account for the less spectacular increases in income to c. £200 in 1678–9 during the Exclusion crisis and in 1713–14 when there were contested parliamentary elections. (fn. 84c)
Between 1738 and 1832 annual income ranged from as little as £120 to £435 in 1793–4 and an exceptional £600 in 1829–30. (fn. 85c) The chamberlains' regular income rose to £200–£300 as the rent roll increased from c. £85 in 1740 to over £130 in 1830. (fn. 86c) High annual income was usually caused by the temporary acquisition of capital sums, as in 1744–7 when the chamberlains were handling many charitable donations and carrying over a large surplus each year. High figures in 1764–5 reflected the admission of 8 honorary freemen for 10 gn. each, in 1790–1 the acquisition of a loan, and in other years the receipt of renewal fines for leases. In 1829–30 income was inflated by the return of charity loans worth £240 and the sale of £200 stock. Years of low income reveal the limitations of the chamberlains' resources: in 1738 the income of c. £120 comprised largely rent income (c. £75), renewal fines (£12), and small sums for admissions, market tolls, and cheese weighing. Tolls and stallage were later let more profitably (fn. 87c) but in 1795–6 the normal rent income was supplemented only by a few admissions and £10 from the shambles. In a more typical year, 1828–9, the income of £310 comprised rents (£134), admission fees and associated charges (£65 10s.), renewal fines (£62), and timber sales (£20), while the rest was charity income.
Although the 1664 charter empowered the corporation to raise taxes for public purposes there was no attempt to do so, and extraordinary expenses were usually met by loans. In the later 17th century the corporation regularly borrowed to pay off existing debts, (fn. 88c) and even small undertakings such as rebuilding the Woodstock Arms in 1700 required a loan of £40. (fn. 89c) The corporation also regularly lent capital, mostly charitable funds, including £200 to the rector in the 1720s. (fn. 90c) Between 1747 and 1757 the corporation began to buy national lottery tickets in the vain hope of financing a new town hall. (fn. 91c) Loans from councillors continued to be raised in the later 18th century, and from the 1780s the corporation began to invest in government stock and later in the Oxford Canal Company. (fn. 92c) Lack of funds rendered the corporation unwilling or unable to finance the major improvements to the town in the 17th and 18th centuries: a private company installed a water supply in the 1690s, the Marlboroughs paid for paving the streets in 1713 and rebuilding the town hall and shambles in 1766, and the workhouse of 1778 was bought with funds provided by the borough's M.P. The corporation provided a small pest house in 1720, contributed towards a fire engine in 1746–7, and by raising loans was able to participate in the building work of 1766 and the church restoration in 1782–3. (fn. 93c)
The chamberlains' regular expenditure was similar in range to that of the early 17th century, but the mayor's fee increased and more minor officers were paid, raising the wage bill, excluding the schoolmaster, to c. £30 in 1782 and c. £58 by 1830. (fn. 94c) Church and poor rates levied on corporate property cost sometimes £30 a year in the early 19th century; other new commitments from c. 1770 included annual payments for street lighting and a subscription to the Radcliffe Infirmary. Corporate entertainment of visitors decreased but the chamberlains continued to contribute to some public festivities.
After the breakdown of corporate government in the 1830s accounting was reorganized and the grammar school and some other charity accounts separated. (fn. 95c) Admission fees became rare after parliamentary reform in 1832 and the chamberlains' regular income derived mostly from rents, which yielded £160 in 1840–1 and c. £220 in 1886; the remainder came from timber sales, profits from a public weighbridge, hire charges for the town hall, and interest on investments, which in 1856 comprised £500 stock. Loans from councillors continued, notably to finance the purchase of property in 1865, (fn. 96c) and from the 1860s money was raised on mortgage. The chamberlains were in debt in 1879 and a private loan was raised, and in 1882 the loan was repaid and repairs to the town hall financed by mortgaging the meadows. (fn. 97c) Regular expenditure was on salaries, repairs, and the one surviving fee farm rent, and new items included, from 1853, payments to the gas company for street lighting, and in the 1880s payments for watering the streets. Extraordinary expenditure included £100 to a subscription for repaving the streets in 1851–2, £100 for church restoration in 1877, £50 and smaller sums to the National school from 1853, £50 towards the curate's salary in 1871, £32 for five hydrants in 1861, and small contributions to the police station in 1861 (fn. 98c) and the workhouse chapel in 1863. In the mid 19th century the corporation was supplementing the duke's annual gift of a buck to provide a venison feast, (fn. 99c) but after 1855 little was spent on corporate entertainment.
The property which provided the bulk of the corporation's income was mostly acquired in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1453, when it acquired the valuable meadows north of the town, the corporation probably possessed little besides its ancient guild hall; (fn. 1c) the 15th-century rents in its earliest ledger book were mostly from chantry property technically belonging to the churchwardens. (fn. 2c) In 1504 the corporation granted away a house and land in Old Woodstock, (fn. 3c) but in the earlier 16th century was receiving rent from a shop 'under the guild hall' and from Spittle House close in Old Woodstock, persumably former hospital land. (fn. 4c) The corporation also benefited from the ancient annual quitrents imposed on the town's burgages at its foundation, and was owner of the waste, which included the streets and common land: by the mid 16th century it was receiving rents for an encroachment on the common at Town's End and from Butt close, taken from the Common or Back Green. (fn. 5c) In 1551 it acquired a former chantry house north of the church to make an almshouse, and in the same year sold another house perhaps recently acquired. (fn. 6c) Shortly afterwards the corporation owned at least two other houses in the town. (fn. 7c) In 1565 the queen granted to the corporation the residue of the Woodstock property of the former St. Mary's chantry, comprising 4 shops, 13 houses, and rents worth 15s. 8d. (fn. 8c) In 1578 the corporation was granted a house in Park Street and an attached close, later the site of the rectory house, together with land at Hampton Poyle. (fn. 9c) By 1598 the corporation received c. £32 a year, of which £21 10s. was reserved rent on corporation leases, including four houses, Butt close, the meadows, and the woolbeam; £6 6s. came from the separately listed chantry property of 1565, together with 15s. from the 'chantry quitrents' granted in that year; the ancient quitrents yielded 26s. 6d., and the rest came from miscellaneous additions to the rental, including encroachments and the Hampton Poyle estate. (fn. 10c)
By 1598 the freehold of much of the corporation's estate had been granted away, leaving it with residual rents which were later of little value. Of the chantry property of 1565 much was granted to leading townsmen in 1569 on condition of rebuilding, the corporation reserving a rent. (fn. 11c) The corporation complained of losing another house to George Whitton in 1567, and in 1618 it granted three houses to Edmund Hiorne, town clerk, again reserving only the traditional rents. (fn. 12c) Other chantry property may already have been sold, (fn. 13c) for by 1618 the only such property certainly still in hand was the site of the later King's Arms hotel and of a house and wool barn later incorporated in the Woodstock Arms. (fn. 14c) The corporation's other houses in 1618, besides those given for the grammar school, (fn. 15c) were a house near the park gate, sold with the rectory site in 1686, (fn. 16c) the site of nos. 70–4 Oxford Street, apparently sold in the 17th century, and four buildings constructed c. 1600 on waste leased from the corporation. (fn. 17c)
Rentals continued to include charity property and miscellaneous rents for the wool beam and tolls and stallage; (fn. 18c) totals, not always strictly comparable, changed little in the early 17th century but, chiefly through increases in meadow rents, rose to £65 by 1652, c. £85 in the 1730s, and over £110 in the late 18th century and early 19th. The former chantry rents and quitrents were merged with ancient quitrents unless derived from corporation leases. Except for the meadows the council's policy was to grant long leases with low reserved rents which changed little from the 16th century until the 19th, but were backed by substantial renewal fines not reflected by rental totals. By the later 17th century leases were usually for 40 years, renewable at 14-year intervals, a practice confirmed by the council in 1711. (fn. 19c) By then, in addition to the reserved rent, leases included obligations to supply in kind various contributions to the mayor's Michaelmas feast. A lease of ground for a cockpit in 1715 stipulated that councillors should have free entry. (fn. 20c) Rack renting began to replace traditional leases in the late 18th century, at first for new rents such as the shambles stalls and cottages in Common Acre and Brook Hill; by 1828 the traditional reserved rents were only £12 while rack rents, including the meadows, yielded over £110. Quitrents by then yielded over £9 because of additions for encroachments.
The chief additions to the corporation estate after 1618 were the Woodstock Arms acquired in 1699 and the pest house of 1720; (fn. 21c) major leased encroachments included, on the Common Green, parts of the grounds and outbuildings of Woodstock House extended in stages from the mid 17th century, and the cockpit site established in 1715. (fn. 22c) There were encroachments for gardens and cottages on Hoggrove Hill from the mid 17th century, (fn. 23c) on the site of Glyme Cottage (no. 120 Oxford Street) in the 1750s, (fn. 24c) on the later Union Street from the 1760s, and at Brook Hill in the early 19th century. (fn. 25c) The house later the Queen's Own seems to have been sold c. 1818. (fn. 26c) The whole corporation estate was surveyed and the rents reviewed in 1828. (fn. 27c)
Rack renting raised income to £160 in 1840, excluding the charity estates, but there were few entry fines. (fn. 28c) In 1865, having extended its chartered right to hold lands in mortmain, the corporation bought the rear part of nos. 2–8 Park Street for £650. (fn. 29c) Although the acquisition increased the rental to over £210 the corporation was criticized by Liberal opponents for favouring the lessee, an alderman, and for similar laxity in other property dealings. (fn. 30c) The corporation estate remained largely intact until the Second World War, except for the sale of the Woodstock House grounds in 1890–1 (fn. 31c) and the redemption of ancient quitrents in 1936. (fn. 32c) Most of the corporation's houses, notably the King's Arms, the Woodstock Arms, and the former cockpit and pest house, were sold in 1943–4, and the former White Hart in 1968. (fn. 33c) Of its 'historic' property the corporation after 1974 retained only the town hall, the meadows, nos. 2–8 Park Street, and nos. 2–4 Market Street, the site of its medieval guild hall and later shambles, which had been let as houses and shops from 1870. (fn. 34c)
The corporation meadows were granted by the Crown in 1453 as a lake or marsh called le Pool, comprising c. 17 a. on the south bank of the river Glyme; the fee farm rent of £2 13s. 4d. suggests that the land was by then fertile meadow, (fn. 35c) but the site may earlier have been that of a royal fishpond outside the park mentioned in 1279. (fn. 36c) In 1519 the tenants of the Common Pool were compensated for herbage damaged by horses of the king's servants. (fn. 37c) In the mid 16th century the meadows yielded £7 6s. 8d., and by 1598 were let in four portions for £13 6s. 8d. (fn. 38c) In the 17th century long leases of between 10 and 21 years were customary. (fn. 39c) In 1640 the rent on two leases was raised sharply (fn. 40c) and in 1652 the meadows yielded over £36. (fn. 41c) The rent was unchanged until 1736, (fn. 42c) when the meadows were redivided and let in seven divisions for £41 10s. (fn. 43c) In 1759 councillors drew lots for the meadow leases, and councillors continued to monopolize leases until the 1860s when public auctions began. (fn. 44c) Meadow rents were as high as £87 in 1813 but were usually between £70 and £80 until the 1860s. (fn. 45c) A rise to over £100 was followed by enforced reductions after serious flooding in the 1870s and 1880s. (fn. 46c) The rent fell to only £50 by 1930, (fn. 47c) excluding the rent of the gas works site which occupied a small area on the southern edge of the meadows from 1854. (fn. 48c) By the early 20th century the eastern end of the meadows was used as a rubbish tip, (fn. 49c) and in the 1970s that part and the gas works site were built over. (fn. 50c)
In the 17th century and 18th the corporation, sometimes aided by contributions from meadow lessees, (fn. 51c) regularly maintained the 'bays' or sluices in the meadows, repaired the river banks, and cleansed the river, the ditches, and the corporation brook; (fn. 52c) the last, also called the back brook, was the watercourse running round the north-east, east, and south sides of the meadows from the Glyme near Bradshawe's (later Badger's) ford to Woodstock mill. (fn. 53c) In 1756 the duke of Marlborough was permitted to insert a pipe beneath the corporation ditch near Bradshawe's ford to drain water from his land on the north bank into the meadow drains; the lease of land for the meadow pipe was regularly renewed at 1s. a year. (fn. 54c) In 1852 the duke was reminded of his obligation under the first lease to maintain the river bank on the north side of the meadows and also the middle ditch. (fn. 55c) The duke may have acknowledged the obligation, for in 1864 he was asked as a matter of course to cleanse the middle ditch, (fn. 56c) while the corporation then and later seems to have restricted its responsibilities to the corporation brook. (fn. 57c) The floods of the 1870s and 1880s were blamed on the duke's culverts, the regulations of the mill weirs, and the riparian owners of the Glyme above the meadows, who were the duke and Balliol College. (fn. 58c) In the mid 20th century the meadows were neglected, and became marshy and overgrown with brushwood and poplars. (fn. 59c)
The corporation's Hampton Poyle estate was granted in 1578 by Thomas Ridge of Woodstock, innholder, as 15 yards of lot meadow. (fn. 60c) In the 17th century the meadow was usually let on long leases to senior councillors, but in the 1630s the hay was sometimes sold by the year. (fn. 61c) In 1739 the corporation acquired c. 3 a. of land at Islip formerly owned by Alderman John Brotherton of Woodstock (d. 1727) and mortgaged to the corporation from 1714. (fn. 62c) The Hampton Poyle and Islip lands were leased together to local farmers, yielding £7 a year in 1750. (fn. 63c) At inclosure of Hampton Poyle in 1797 the corporation was allotted 41/2 a., and at inclosure of Islip in 1805 c. 4 a.; the pieces lay together on the parish boundary. (fn. 64c) The estate, let for between £14 and £16 in the 19th century, was sold in 1972. (fn. 65c)
The Reformed Borough.
The new municipal borough created in 1886 comprised the old borough and the extended built-up area, taking in c. 51 a. of Wootton parish, which included Old Woodstock, and c. 45 a. of Hensington township in Bladon parish, which included the union workhouse, Hensington House and its grounds, and a few buildings at the south-east corner of the town. (fn. 66c) The corporation's attempts to consolidate the borough into a single civil parish failed, and under the Local Government Act of 1894 the parts of Wootton and Hensington taken into the borough became separate civil parishes called Old Woodstock and Hensington Within. (fn. 67c) Neither had a parish meeting or vestry, but assistant overseers were appointed separately for the three parishes until 1896 when the council secured the right of appointment; thereafter two overseers and an assistant overseer were appointed for the borough. (fn. 68c) Census figures were recorded separately for Old Woodstock and Hensington Within until 1951. Applications by the council in the 1930s and 1940s to extend the borough were refused, and its boundaries were unchanged in 1974. (fn. 69c)
The council comprised the mayor, elected annually, 4 aldermen, of whom two retired every three years, and 12 councillors, of whom a third retired annually; the councillors were elected by resident ratepayers, who were registered on a burgess roll. Statutory officers comprised a town clerk, a borough treasurer, and three auditors, other salaried officers being appointed as required; from 1923 Barclays Bank acted as borough treasurer. (fn. 70c) All powers, responsibilities, and property vested in the guardians of Woodstock union as the rural sanitary authority and in Wootton district highway board were transferred to the new corporation; its work as urban sanitary authority was financed and administered separately from its other business until 1929, when accounts and minutes were merged. (fn. 71c) The corporation's responsibility for the town hall and other corporate property was exercised by an estates committee; a serjeant-at-mace and hall keeper was appointed from 1886. The corporation administered the public library from 1895 until it was taken over by the country council in 1947, regularly issued licences for petroleum storage and for theatres, and until 1902 enforced the provisions of the Elementary Education Acts through a school attendance officer and a committee comprising seven council members. (fn. 72c) In 1896, under the 1894 Local Government Act, the corporation acquired the churchwardens' and overseers' powers to appeal against the county and poor rates. (fn. 73c) Although having no direct responsibility for public transport the corporation negotiated with the G.W.R. in the 1880s and later with the Regional Transport Commission to secure improvements in local services, and in 1889 approved the Woodstock Railway Co.'s plans for the station. (fn. 74c) In the earlier 20th century the council cooperated informally with the St. John's Ambulance Brigade to provide ambulances. (fn. 75d)
As urban sanitary authority the corporation was responsible for water supply, drainage, sanitation, sewage disposal, highway and street maintenance, public lighting, and public health. Bylaws relating to public health and other matters were drafted by committee and enforced by the corporation, which could prosecute and fine offenders. (fn. 76d) Under an agreement of 1873 the borough shared the services of a medical officer of health jointly appointed every three years by a large group of local councils. (fn. 77d) In 1886 the corporation appointed a veterinary inspector for the borough under the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act of 1878. (fn. 78d) The borough surveyor acted as sanitary inspector, inspector of dairies and milkshops, toll collector, rate collector, and rent collector for corporate property; as toll collector he administered the market. (fn. 79d) The transfer to the corporation from Woodstock burial board of responsibility for the cemetery, apparently considered in 1886, was not effected until 1895 under the 1894 Local Government Act. (fn. 80d)
From 1886 a public works committee of seven council members acted on the reports of the medical officer, the borough surveyor, and an inspector of nuisances, and dealt with planning matters, street cleaning, drainage, and repair, precautions against infectious diseases, and regulation of markets and fairs, including fixing tolls and maintaining the public weighbridge; it also negotiated with the Blenheim Estate to provide an adequate water supply, served notices to abate nuisances, and hired a borough scavenger. (fn. 81d) Since no isolation hospital was available the corporation, as sanitary authority, found suitable buildings when required, sometimes by negotiation with the duke; by 1924 there was an arrangement with Abingdon joint hospital board. The council's residual responsibility for health provision was removed in 1948. (fn. 82d)
Responsibility for highways was retained by the corporation under the 1888 Local Government Act; it received annual grants from the county council, which took over the highways in 1910, leaving the corporation responsible for parish roads, for cleaning main roads, and erecting road signs. (fn. 83d) A lighting committee established in 1886 negotiated supplies with private gas and electricity companies, and the corporation remained responsible for most borough lighting until 1974. (fn. 84d) Following the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919 a housing committee was formed to provide council houses which were mostly financed by government loans. From 1928 planning decisions were transferred to the Chipping Norton district and Woodstock joint regional planning committee. (fn. 85d) In 1938 the council briefly took over responsibility for fire fighting from a volunteer brigade, setting up a joint committee with Chipping Norton rural district council, but from 1941 responsibility passed to others. (fn. 86d) In 1974 the council retained some responsibility for sewers and minor roads, sanitation, housing, slum clearance, and local planning; its officers included a town clerk, rating officer, treasurer, surveyor, public health inspector, and medical officer of health, and two auditors. (fn. 87d)
Before the integration of the corporation's finances in 1929 a separate borough fund comprised rents from corporate property, hire charges for the town hall, fees for petroleum licences, and until 1915 sales of copies of the burgess roll. Profits from property sales, invested in consols, were added to the fund; the rental rose from c. £198 in 1888 to £370 in 1929, when the total borough fund was £503. The council's income as urban sanitary authority came chiefly from general district rates assessed annually by the finance committee, and collected by the overseers; other income came from markets and tolls, grants from county or central government, and occasional games licences. In 1888 the rate raised c. £286, in the 1890s usually less than £190, but by 1929 £641. Shortfalls were sometimes made up from the borough fund, leading in 1896 to accusations of illegality and incompetence in fixing the rate, which the council denied. From 1930, under the 1925 Rating and Valuation Act and the 1929 Local Government Act, a single all-purpose general rate was raised by the corporation as rating authority for the borough; the town clerk was appointed rating, valuation, and finance officer and collector. (fn. 88d) Much of the borough's property was sold to repay loans and to buy land for housing in 1943–4, followed by further sales in the late 1960s and early 1970s; by 1970 income came mostly from the general rate, council house rents, and government or county council grants. (fn. 89d)
In 1974 Woodstock became part of West Oxfordshire district; the municipal borough and its constituent civil parishes were abolished and replaced by a successor parish which adopted town status, preserving the privilege of electing local officers of dignity. The council retained as ancient property its regalia, muniments, town hall, and the corporation meadows; on appeal it recovered as ancient property from the district council nos. 2–8 Park Street and nos. 2–4 Market Street. (fn. 90d) In 1988 Woodstock had a mayor, town council, and town clerk, but its powers were those of a parish council; besides its ancient property it owned the community centre, a former drill hall in New Road acquired in 1970. In 1985 Hensington Without parish (493 a.) was added to Woodstock, its parish councillors joining the town council; the parish boundary at the north end of Old Woodstock was adjusted to include a row of houses at Hill Rise, formerly in Wootton parish. (fn. 91d)
The medieval guild hall, on the site of nos. 2–4 Market Street, was perhaps built as a free-standing court house in the town's original large market place, but when first mentioned in the 15th century was evidently flanked by other buildings; (fn. 92d) in the early 16th century the corporation was letting a shop 'under' the guild hall. (fn. 93d) In the 17th century the hall was two-storeyed with an upper and lower (or nether) hall, and a small prison with an entrance porch; (fn. 94d) a clock and bell probably surmounted the building. (fn. 95d) In 1678–9 the town clerk's office was moved from a house in front of the church into the town hall, (fn. 96d) and by 1686 the hall also accomodated the fire engine. (fn. 97d)
In 1713 Sir John Vanbrugh and Henry Joynes discussed plans for rebuilding the hall, (fn. 98d) and Philip Wharton, duke of Wharton, promised £600 for a rebuilding c. 1722. (fn. 99d) Nothing was done until 1757 when the hall 'very ancient and much in decay' (fn. 1d) was demolished and the corporation's records were moved across the road to Mrs. Brotherton's parlour (no. 6 Market Place), which the council rented for meetings for several years. (fn. 2d) It was alleged later that councillors had been let down, having 'flattered themselves' that their M.P.s would pay for a new hall, (fn. 3d) but the death in 1758 of the third duke of Marlborough may have contributed to the setback. In 1764 it was still intended to rebuild a new hall on the site of the old, possibly extending southwards if the adjacent house (later no. 4 Market Place) could be purchased: the duke was to be asked to approve the estimate. (fn. 4d) An undated plan of a hall and council chamber above an arcaded ground floor (60 ft. × 30 ft.), open on the north and west, is probably of that period. (fn. 5d) In 1765, however, the duke approved a more ambitious plan for a larger hall on the site of the market cross, which was then demolished. (fn. 6d)
The new hall, designed by Sir William Chambers, was begun in March 1766 and was in use for meetings in 1767. (fn. 7d) It comprised a hall and council chamber on the first floor, and an arcaded ground floor with, at the east end, a small lock-up with a stone staircase on the north and, probably from the outset, a fire-engine house on the south. (fn. 8d) The materials were stone from Cornbury Park, Stonesfield slates, and imported timber from London; the principal mason was John Hooper, the supervisor George Austen, the duke's foreman, and the building cost over £1,100. (fn. 9d)
From 1857 parts of the hall were rented by the county magistrates, a savings bank, and a clothing club. (fn. 10d) Enclosure of the ground floor was proposed in 1868 and 1876, and the engine house may have been enlarged in 1874. (fn. 11d) In 1895 a retiring room was built on the first floor over part of the stair. (fn. 12d) In 1898 the ground floor was enclosed to create a council chamber or mayor's parlour and a library: the alteration, to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee, was designed by George Castle. (fn. 13d) In 1924 the hall was reroofed with grey slate. (fn. 14d) In 1934 the engine house was converted into a caretaker's office, later used by the town clerk. (fn. 15d) A mezzanine was formed above the lock-up in the 1960s. The arms of the 4th duke of Marlborough on the west front were added in 1768, (fn. 16d) and the borough arms above the west door are of 1898. The drinking fountain on the south front was given by the 7th duke in recognition of the town's assistance during the great fire at Blenheim in 1861. (fn. 17d)
In the early 17th century the High Cross in Market Place was a roofed structure used as a market house: in 1616 the chamberlains paid for releading the cross, painting the posts and rails, and repairing the dial, probably the sundial which surmounted the cross in the 18th century. (fn. 18d) In 1674 the council agreed to demolish the cross and build a new market house, to be paid for by John, Lord Lovelace, (fn. 19d) but the cross survived in 1687 when its materials formed part of the corporation's proposed contribution towards another planned market house. (fn. 20d) In 1695 the contractors for the town's new water supply commissioned John Hoare, a Woodstock carpenter, to demolish the cross and build a cistern raised on piers to form a market house. Although by 1697 a cistern had been provided in Market Place and the area around the market house repaved, (fn. 21d) there seems to have been a change of plan: the cross and market house finally demolished in 1766 comprised a tall cylindrical stone pillar surrounded by a roofed structure which neither supported a cistern nor conformed in other details to the specification of 1695. (fn. 22d) It appears to be of the 17th century or earlier, so the extent of Hoare's rebuilding and the location of his cistern remain uncertain.
In the early 17th century the corporation was maintaining a roofed bench in Market Place called, perhaps in imitation of a similar structure in Oxford, Penniless Bench. (fn. 23d) In 1766 the bench was demolished with the market cross and the materials given to Joseph Chapman of Woodstock, who was commissioned for £150 to build a shambles or market house on the site of the former town hall. (fn. 24d) The building was completed and let to the town's butchers in 1766. (fn. 25d) It was a single-storeyed stone building with an open arcade on the north and west, surmounted by an ornate cupola with a clock and weather vane. (fn. 26d) In 1870 the corporation let the site to Thomas Ward, who demolished the building and built the surviving brick pair of shops, which bear a plaque with his initials. (fn. 27d) The cellar, round arched and lined with limestone rubble, is the full length of and slightly wider than the later building; it was probably the cellar of the medieval guild hall but retains no identifiable early features.
Seals and Insignia of the Borough.
A seal used by the mayor in 1338 has not been identified. (fn. 28d) The charter of 1453 granted the corporation the right to a common seal. (fn. 29d) The earliest seal, used in 1461, was 5 cm. in diameter and bore the borough's arms, crest, and supporters, and the legend, black letter, SIGILLUM COMMUNE COMMUNITATIS VILLE DOMINI REGIS DE WODSTOK; a surviving bronze or latten matrix (fn. 30d), if the original, was recut around the perimeter after 1672. (fn. 31d) In 1777 the corporation also possessed a 'seal of office of the borough' and a silver seal. (fn. 32d) The first was probably the surviving steel matrix (4 cm. in diameter and bearing the borough arms and motto) which was in use by 1730. (fn. 33d) The silver seal was presumably the surviving matrix of silver alloy (also 4 cm. and with a more ornate depiction of the arms and motto). A steel seal engraved for the mayor by Messrs. Lock and Sons in 1793–4 has not been traced. (fn. 34d)
The borough arms, depicted on the earliest seal, recorded by the heralds in the 16th century, and certified in slightly altered form in 1949 (fn. 35d) illustrate the town's name and setting: wood is invoked by the oak tree crest and the supporting woodwoses, stock by the tree stump, and the park by the stags' heads and border of oak leaves, sometimes depicted as oak trees. (fn. 36d) The motto, Ramosa Cornua Cervi (the branching horns of the stag), is from Virgil. (fn. 37d)
The borough's 'great mace', damaged during a royal visit in 1633, (fn. 38d) was altered in 1655; the mayor, George Gregory, contributed £6 and the commonalty £5. (fn. 39d) The mace acquired its surviving form at the Restoration. It is silver gilt, 101.5 cm. long, with an arched crown, orb, and cross, and the arms and initials of Charles II; inscriptions record that it was made during the mayoralty of George Gregory in 1655, altered during that of Thomas Glover in 1660, and repaired and regilded during that of Gamaliel Bobart in 1775.
A mayor's gold chain and enamelled badge with the borough arms were presented by the 9th duke of Marlborough in 1897 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee. (fn. 40d) A mayoress's chain was purchased in 1937, and a deputy mayor's badge presented by Alderman C. W. Banbury in 1959 to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1929 the duke presented the corporation with a set of pewter plates, displayed in the council chamber; inscriptions record the names of aldermen and councillors. (fn. 41d)
In the town hall is a long, apparently medieval, oak chest with later iron fastenings. It seems likely to be the chest used to store the borough records, accessible only in the presence of named keykeepers, who in 1588 were the mayor and town clerk. (fn. 42d) Also preserved are five long staves, bearing the borough arms and various dates from 1718 to 1844; their number suggests that they may have been carried by aldermen. There are also short staffs carried by the four tithingmen.
Administration of Justice.
The grant of wide jurisdiction to the mayor and commonalty in 1453 (fn. 43d) probably confirmed established practice. The borough court or portmoot, meeting on Mondays, was recorded from the 13th century; (fn. 44d) town officers forfeited felons' goods after allowing an escape in 1402, and their responsibility for a prison suggests that they may by then have had criminal jurisdiction. (fn. 45d)
By the mid 13th century 'general' portmoots were held shortly after Michaelmas, and business included land transfers and annual payments of the king's quitrents. (fn. 46d) General portmoots were probably the same as the later law days or views of frankpledge held near Lady Day and Michaelmas. The name portmoot was later applied only to regular sessions of the borough court, which in the 15th century were held fortnightly on Mondays in the presence of the mayor, aldermen, constables, serjeant-at-mace, and other townsmen. (fn. 47d) An action of tres-pass was noted in 1509, (fn. 48d) but most recorded business before the 1580s concerned land transfers. A ledger opened in 1461 to register possessions of Woodstock chapel was used also, at the corporation's behest, to record 'any man's livelihood within and without the town', (fn. 49d) evidently by enrolling conveyances in the portmoot. Enrolment may have been a new departure, since some transactions were recorded retrospectively, (fn. 50d) but transfer of burgages and authentication of deeds in the portmoot were long established. In 1259 a Woodstock house was granted in free alms at a general portmoot before the bailiff of Woodstock and other townsmen. (fn. 51d) Numerous early 15th-century burgage transfers were witnessed by the mayor and leading townsmen, presumably in the portmoot. (fn. 52d)
In the 1460s conveyance by proclamation in the portmoot was said to be customary: the grantee in open court claimed the burgage, asking that the grant be recorded and proclaimed on three successive court days, after which, if no counterclaim prevailed, the court confirmed and enrolled the transfer and issued the grantee with a record of the court proceedings under the corporate seal. (fn. 53d) A common variant was for the grantee, instead of making an oral claim, to produce a deed for thrice proclamation. (fn. 54d) The documents issued to grantees varied from simple Latin memoranda to proclamatory English recitals of the whole transaction. (fn. 55d) By the later 16th century the document was usually called a final concord and was sometimes indented. (fn. 56d) In 1499 a conveyance by proclamation cost 7s. 9d., of which 4s. was for the use of the corporate seal, the rest for the mayor, town clerk, and crier. By the 1630s costs Woodstock deeds, no. 4: mid 13th-cent., not 1310 as in Ballard, Chron. Woodstock, had risen to 42s. because of higher officers' fees and the duplication of indented documents. (fn. 57d)
By charter the court had return of writs, and actions initiated by writ of right were recorded from the early 16th century; final concords enrolled apparently without proclamation in the later 16th century may have been initiated by such writs, as were several later common recoveries. (fn. 58d) Deeds were sometimes enrolled in the portmoot without recourse to proclamation, (fn. 59d) and wills and livery of seisin were also recorded. (fn. 60d) The court was also used to witness leases. (fn. 61d) A few final concords were issued in the later 17th century but land transactions in the portmoot ceased in the early 18th. (fn. 62d)
Court records from the 1580s (fn. 63d) show that the portmoot's business was wide ranging and its procedure swift and flexible. It continued to meet fortnightly and there were usually over 20 courts a year. The regular officers, besides the mayor, were the town clerk, serjeant, and crier. The recorder frequently attended and advised on procedure; (fn. 64d) the presence of William Lenthall at a court in 1633 seems to have enabled the clearance of a backlog of debt actions amounting to over £260. (fn. 65d) It seems unlikely that the high steward attended portmoots, although regularly named in the rubric of court rolls. The lesser officers sometimes acted as attorneys and the court also registered professional attorneys, notably Simon Jeames (d. 1632), the town's schoolmaster. (fn. 66d)
The commonest actions were those of debt and trespass on the case. Most debts and damages in the portmoot were small and the recovery in 1584 of as much as £84 was exceptional; in 1580 it was agreed that actions between freemen for less than 5s. should be settled out of court by the mayor or any alderman. (fn. 67d) Twelveman juries of freemen, frequently councillors, heard depositions and assessed damages, (fn. 68d) but many actions were settled by agreement or arbitration; typical arbiters were a magistrate and the town clerk, with the mayor as umpire, and parties bound themselves in large sums to abide by the decision (fn. 69d) The court also heard actions of dower, in one case ruling in detail on the subdivision of a house where a widow claimed her third. (fn. 70d) Much of the court's business concerned the internal affairs of the corporation, notably the swearing of freemen, the enrolment of apprentices, the registering of guardians of freemens' sons; a few bylaws were made in the portmoot. (fn. 71d)
In the 16th and 17th centuries the court was popular not only with freemen, who were obliged to use it for actions against other freemen, (fn. 72d) but also with outsiders: in some actions both parties were foreigners and in 1589 the court was preferred to others for an arbitration over crops in Souldern field. (fn. 73d) Actions were removed to central courts by writs such as habeas corpus and certiorari, (fn. 74d) and to the vicechancellor's court in Oxford by the 'half seal' of the university. (fn. 75e)
Despite an attempt in 1656–7 to limit its cognizance of pleas to sums of £10 or less (fn. 76e) actions for larger debts were entered in the later 17th century. (fn. 77e) The charter of 1664 confirmed the Monday court as a court of record called le Portmouth, stipulating that the mayor or recorder should be of the quorum. (fn. 78e) As the court's business declined in the later 17th century meetings became less frequent and by the late 18th century were monthly; there were few actions and by the 1820s all were settled out of court, but local tradesmen still found the portmoot useful for recovering small debts. (fn. 79e) The total sued for in 1835–7 was c. £47, and all actions were for debts below £10. (fn. 80e) The last recorded portmoot was in 1847 when an hereditary freeman was sworn. (fn. 81e) A county court for small debts was held monthly in the town hall in the later 19th century. (fn. 82e)
By the 16th century views of frankpledge were held twice yearly, shortly after Lady Day and Michaelmas, (fn. 83e) and all male inhabitants aged 12 and above owed suit. (fn. 84e) The view, sometimes called a court leet, was usually combined with general sessions of the peace, (fn. 85e) and although business was intermingled in the record townsmen were aware of a distinction: in 1621, for example, they held the view without sessions when a magistrate of the quorum refused to attend. (fn. 86e) The two law days, (fn. 87e) as convenient gatherings of townsmen, were sometimes used to issue bylaws, as in 1611 when a market regulation was agreed by the jury with the mayor's consent and 1625 when fines of 5s. were set for leaving rubbish in the streets. (fn. 88e) The business of the leet proper included the fining of non-suitors and presentments by the homage (usually 16 men) of nuisances, encroachments, and breaches of the assize of bread and of ale; in the later 17th century a few presentments concerned unlawful settlement, unlicensed meeting houses, and failure to attend church. (fn. 89e) Most presentments were supplied by officers of the court, who were fined in 1674–5, for example, for failure to bring in their lists. (fn. 90e) The usual officers were 2 constables, 4 tithingmen, and 2 aletasters (later called clerks of the market) appointed annually at the October leet; (fn. 91e) in the early 17th century and intermittently in the 18th and 19th centuries 2 surveyors of the highways were also appointed at the leet. A list of estreats or fines arising from presentments was handed to the constable who delivered the proceeds to the chamberlains; in 1608 the estreats were over £9, but collection was frequently neglected. (fn. 92e) The corporation and its officers were sometimes presented, as in 1634 when the chamberlains were ordered to repair the bridge in Hollow Way and in 1828 when the corporation was fined £50 for neglecting the causeway towards Old Woodstock. (fn. 93e) From the late 17th century the leet was held only once a year in October but it survived until the mid 19th century, and as late as the 1870s its revival was contemplated as a means of controlling nuisances. (fn. 94e)
The mayor was coroner within the borough; the verdict of a coroner's jury was recorded in 1612, and the mayor's right to act as coroner, challenged by quo warranto in 1613 and disputed again in 1735, was presumably upheld since Woodstock retained a separate coroner in the 19th century. (fn. 95e) In the Middle Ages the county justices held sessions of the peace at Woodstock (fn. 96e) and in the 17th century sat there regularly, chiefly for county administrative business such as taxation, impressment, and food shortages, but in 1625 for a quarter sessions, perhaps because of plague in Oxford; an unidentified 'justice's seat' in or near the borough was used by justices in eyre in the 1630s. (fn. 97e) Even so there is no evidence of interference with the chartered privileges of the borough justices, who exercised criminal jurisdiction in the two annual general sessions and in regular petty sessions; their powers, conferred in 1453 and further defined in 1664, were those of country justices except for the prosecution of felonies involving loss of life or limb. (fn. 98e) A commission of the peace of 1612 named the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Treasurer, and a former recorder, Laurence Tanfield, by then Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, together with the mayor, the recorder, one alderman (Thomas Browne), and a resident lawyer, Jerome Kyte; two were a quorum and the mayor was keeper of the rolls. (fn. 99e) In practice most magistrate's work at that period was dealt with by the mayor and Thomas Browne. (fn. 1e) Commissions of the 1620s included more privy councillors and county magnates, the high steward, two former recorders (Tanfield and Sir James Whitelocke), the mayor, the recorder, all the aldermen, the town clerk, Jerome Kyte, and Francis Gregory, a local gentleman; the aldermen were not of the quorum. (fn. 2e) Under the charter of 1664, in force until 1886, the mayor, aldermen, high steward, and recorder were magistrates ex officio, and any two might commit prisoners to the county gaol; for sessions the quorum of two was to include the recorder, and the town clerk was confirmed as clerk of the peace. (fn. 3e) In 1685 the government's anxiety to control boroughs and the magistracy was reflected in a new commission adding magnates such as the earl of Abingdon and political nominees such as Sir Littleton Osbaldeston, Nicholas Baynton, and John Cary. (fn. 4e)
By the early 17th century all except petty crimes were referred to the county magistrates after depositions had been taken in Woodstock. (fn. 5e) Most referred cases were thefts, particularly of livestock, detected regularly in the town's markets and fairs; many of the accused magisfrom distant countries, and the borough magistrates checked their testimony with fellow magistrates as far away as Herefordshire and Kent. (fn. 6e) In 1625 an alleged seditious speech in a Woodstock alehouse was referred to the Oxford sessions and brought to the government's notice. (fn. 7e) In the early 17th century the mayor was expected to attend the Lent and Summer assizes in Oxford, but was usually represented by the town clerk. (fn. 8e)
In petty sessions the mayor and one or two justices dealt summarily with minor offenders and bound other to appear at the borough's general sessions: a man from Broad Campden (Glos.) involved in an affray at Woodstock fair in 1611 was obliged to return months later or forfeit his bond. (fn. 9e) The commonest offences were breaches of the peace, mostly associated with the town's inns and alehouses where illegal gaming and late-night drinking were rife. Most offenders were fined and some of the fines given to the poor: an Oxford bookseller convicted of disorderly drinking was ordered to give 3s. 6d. to the poor to pray for him to 'amend the course of his life'. (fn. 10e) In the early 17th century the justices dealt with paternity suits, taking bonds from the alleged fathers and imposing and regulating alimony payments; a maintenance order was issued by the magistrates in 1738. (fn. 11e) Woodstock attracted many travelling poor, often with forged passports, some acknowledging that they wandered the country from fair to fair. Most were whipped and sent home with passports, and from the 1620s the justices sent some to the house of correction at Witney. (fn. 12e) Whipping was a common punishment for minor pilfering, and ducking of women, common in the early 17th century, was still ordered by magistrates in the 1670s. (fn. 13e) Imprisonment, usually for three days, was ordered for offences such as unlicensed victualling, and men were regularly incarcerated until they found sureties. Felons' goods, the mayor's perquisite until transferred to the chamberlains in 1580, (fn. 14e) continued to provide windfalls which helped to meet the cost of transporting prisoners to Oxford; (fn. 15e) in 1612 the profits from a confiscated dagger were used to pay for treating the victim's wound. (fn. 16e)
In the early 17th century the magistrates licensed innkeepers and victuallers twice yearly near Easter and Michaelmas. (fn. 17e) Between 20 and 30 licensees entered recognizances with sureties to obey the licensing laws; (fn. 18e) a distinction, sometime disputed, (fn. 19e) was made between ancient inns, of which there were five or six, and ordinary alehouses. Suppression of alehouses for unruly conduct and harbouring undesirable visitors was common, but even the town's leaders seem to have objected to the statutory restrictions: the mayor's assurance to the privy council in 1623 that all needless alehouses had been suppressed (fn. 20e) conflicts with the number of licences issued in such a small community; in 1608 an alderman greeted a rule dictating 9 o'clock closure with the boast that at his inn (the Bull) there would be piping and dancing 'at 1 o'clock hereafter'. (fn. 21e) In the early 17th century separate licensing sessions were held at the beginning of Lent to bind victuallers and butchers to observe the statutory restrictions on the dressing and eating of flesh; (fn. 22e) juries presented offenders who, again, included senior councillors. (fn. 23e)
Records of general and petty sessions from the later 17th century relate chiefly to the twice yearly victuallers' recognizances, and even the annual general sessions seem to have dealt with few offenders. (fn. 24e) By the later 18th century licensing sessions were held annually between September and December, and by then there were usually c. 15 victuallers. (fn. 25e) In the 1830s, when general sessions ceased because of the lack of a recorder, it was noted that no 'trials' had been held for 50 years, but the court's business had probably been confined to licensing and minor offences for much longer than that. (fn. 26e) The borough magistrates continued to act in monthly petty sessions until the reform of the corporation in 1886, and although county magistrates were acknowledged to have concurrent jurisdiction within the borough they did not exercise it. Liberal opponents of the corporation criticized the borough magistracy, particularly over licensing matter; there was a scandal in 1875 when police raided a council meeting held in the King's Arms after closing time. (fn. 27e) After 1886 Woodstock formed part of Wootton South petty sessional division, and the mayor and exmayor were county magistrates. (fn. 28e)
There was a 'place of execution of felons', presumably a gallows, outside the southern entrance to the town in 1583. (fn. 29e) In the 16th and 17th centuries the corporation maintained a prison called the little house, probably the same as the prison at the guild hall mentioned in 1610 (fn. 30e) and that at the serjeant's house mentioned in 1631: (fn. 31e) Thomas Heathen, the serjeant, lived next to the guild hall on the site of the later Woodstock Arms, and his house, later acquired by the corporation, included a cellar 'under the town hall'. (fn. 32e) In 1686 the prison was beneath the town hall. (fn. 33e) The charter of 1664 confirmed the corporation's right to a prison in the serjeant's keepership, (fn. 34e) and successive serjeants occupied the Woodstock Arms site. The new town hall of 1766 incorporated a dungeon for short-term imprisonment, which was used until the county police station was opened in 1863. (fn. 35e)
In the 17th century the corporation also maintained a stone-slated cage; (fn. 36e) in 1619 'rogues' escaped from it during a royal visit, and it was still in use in the 1760s. (fn. 37e) A cucking stool, mentioned in 1519 and in the 17th century, (fn. 38e) may have been at Town's End pool, near the junction of Rectory Lane and the Oxford road. Stocks were mentioned in 1519, and stocks, a pillory, and a whipping post stood in Market Place near the High Cross in the early 17th century. (fn. 39e) In 1768 it was agreed to move the stocks and pillory to Horse Fair, (fn. 40e) at that date the eastern section of High Street. In 1779 a whipping post was removed from in front of Mr. Bobart's house (later nos. 2–8 Park Street). (fn. 41e) The stocks, long preserved in the town hall, were re-erected in 1958 in Park Street. (fn. 42e)
Parish Government and Poor Relief.
Woodstock chapelry, which was coextensive with the borough, had a separate vestry which in the 17th century annually appointed two churchwardens who maintained the church and its services out of church rates and the profits of Whitsun ales. (fn. 43e) In the 15th and 16th centuries the corporation audited the churchwardens' accounts and supervised their election. (fn. 44e) By the 18th century it was customary for one warden to be chosen by the rector or his curate, the other by the townspeople, and there were disputes over elections in 1722 and in the 1840s. (fn. 45e) The vestry acquired responsibility for poor relief in the 17th century and retained it until 1835; it was responsible for fire fighting and played some part in street repair in the 18th century and 19th. After the cessation of courts leet the vestry appointed surveyors of the highways and constables until 1886. (fn. 46e)
In the early 17th century the borough chamberlains, besides providing for the poor from charitable funds, made occassional direct payments for clothes, medicine, shrouds, bastard children, and the travelling poor. (fn. 47e) Fines levied in the town's courts were sometimes devoted to poor relief. (fn. 48e) In 1612 the chamberlains gave cash to the 'collectors for the poor', and in 1633 two collectors were appointed at the corporation's audit day. (fn. 49e) In 1639, however, collectors for the poor were appointed in the vestry, and from 1655 the vestry annually elected two overseers of the poor. (fn. 50e) An assertion that Bladon's vestry was responsible for poor relief in the borough until 1694 was incorrect, probably misinterpreting an attempt in that year to secure ecclesiastical separation for Woodstock: (fn. 51e) Woodstock's vestry was supervising overseers' accounts by the 1680s and probably long before. Expenditure in the later 17th century ranged from £18 to £32 a year. (fn. 52e) In 1677 the council was considering schemes to employ the poor in silk winding or cloth and blanket weaving. (fn. 53e)
By the 18th century the corporation's involvement with poor relief was confined to the disposal of charity; of poor relief through the vestry little was recorded until the 1770s besides instances of medical aid and rent supplementation, some settlement problems, and a proposed arrangement in 1736 to place paupers in Kidlington's workhouse. (fn. 54e) In 1776 the overseers spent £166 and in 1783–5 raised an average of £180 a year. Total expenditure, including the constables' payments to the county, rose to £330 in 1803, and by 1813 had more than doubled to £727; except for unaccountable sharp falls in 1816 and 1826 it was usually between £480 and £650 until it rose steeply from 1828 to a peak of £1,020 in 1834. (fn. 55e)
A cost per head of population of 4s. 6d. in 1803 was very low for the area, and although rising to 10s. in 1813–15 and sometimes 12s. in the 1820s costs remained comparatively low. (fn. 56e) Usually there was plentiful employment in gloving and on the Blenheim estate. The poor benefited from the town's many endowned charities and from the generosity of the Marlborough family: the duchess clothed 40 men and 40 women during an election campaign in 1731 and in a time of distress in 1767 Woodstock shared in 100 gn. given to the demesne towns. The 4th duke (1758–1817) made annual distributions of meat and bread, and from 1785 of 20 gn. at New Year; 70 families received bread and meat in 1770 and 142 people dripping in 1807. (fn. 57e) Selfhelp was also promoted and the town's four friendly societies had 294 members in 1803 and 260 or more in 1813–15. (fn. 58e) The glove industry suffered a recession in the 1820s but the rise in poor rates was blamed on the reduced circumstances of the Marlborough household after the death in 1817 of the 4th duke, who had employed between 80 and 100 servants in the palace and more on the estate and had dispensed 'indiscriminate charity'; certainly there was an immediate rise in poor relief expenditure after his death. (fn. 59e)
In 1765 the corporation asked the duke to contribute to a projected workhouse on a site in Back Acre (later Union Street), and there is reference to a possible workhouse in 1767 but none was reported in 1777. (fn. 60e) A sum of £80 given in 1771 for a workhouse or other purposes by the borough's M.P. John Skinner was finally used in 1778 to provide a workhouse next to the corporation's almshouses in Hollow Way, the site of the later Olivet chapel. The house, bought by the corporation for £63 and rebuilt by the local builder John Chapman, comprised a cellared house with four rooms on the ground floor and two large dormitories above. (fn. 61e) In 1779 John Rusher of Eynsham agreed a four-year contract for the workhouse at £140 a year, extended in 1783 for two years at £180. (fn. 62e) James Johnson, farmer of the poor by 1790, (fn. 63e) was dismissed in 1795 for ill-treating inmates, and a management committee took over until the workhouse was again farmed c. 1800. In 1796 the committee borrowed £120 to meet heavy expenditure in that year on furnishing the workhouse and clothing the poor. (fn. 64e) In 1800 the master, presumably on a contract, was allowed an extra £70 in recognition of his good conduct and an unforeseen rise in prices; by contrast the master in 1804 was charged with inhumanity. (fn. 65e) In 1803 £5 10s. was spent on materials to employ the workhouse poor, whose labour yielded the substantial sum of £56. (fn. 66e) A contract of 1811 forbade immoderate labour or corporal punishment, and provided the master with £270 to manage the workhouse, pay all medical expenses except for smallpox, deal with settlement, removal, and bastardy, and pay out-relief at rates fixed by the vestry's supervisory committee. (fn. 67e) In the early 19th century numbers in the workhouse were small, only 20 in 1803 and 11 in 1813–15, while there were 28 able-bodied adults receiving regular out-relief in 1803 and 18 in 1815. (fn. 68e) From 1817 the vestry employed an assistant overseer at £20 a year. (fn. 69e)
In 1831 the vestry resumed direct management of the poor and appointed a workhouse manager whose salary was raised from £20 to £40 in 1832; in 1834 the manager was paid £30 and a resident matron £5. In 1834–5 the vestry agreed to pay for two families to emigrate to America. (fn. 70e) In 1835 Woodstock was made the centre of a poor law union. Expenditure on poor relief fell from £967 in 1834–5 to £694 in 1835–6. (fn. 71e) The old workhouse was sold in 1837 and the poor moved to the union workhouse in Hensington. (fn. 72e) Thereafter the town's poor were the concern of the board of guardians, the vestry merely appointing overseers. (fn. 73e)
The corporation continued to contribute to a coal fund, financed by subscription. In 1800 the council agreed to store coal in the town hall or shambles cellars before it was resold to the poor at low prices; in 1842 a coal magazine was established. In 1828 the corporation agreed to control the fund, and certainly did so from 1840 until 1867; in 1842 the borough's M.P. gave £20 for coal and promised an annual donation while he remained in office. (fn. 74e) In 1841 the corporation gave £10 to an emergency committee for poor relief in Bladon parish, evidently the soup committee disbanded in 1843. (fn. 75f)
Public Health and Public Services.
In the 16th and 17th centuries the corporation paid carters and labourers to cleanse the streets and provided public dunghills on common land; (fn. 76f) the court leet and its officers controlled nuisances such as piling rubbish, casting out fish water, washing animals in public watercourses, and allowing unringed pigs in the streets. (fn. 77f) In 1661 fines were set for those failing to cart dirt from their house frontages; in 1713 the council ordered all householders to clear the street between their houses and the central gutter every Wednesday, and arranged for a weekly collection of rubbish. (fn. 78f) In the early 17th century the chamberlains paid for minimal scavenging by the beadle of beggars and for cleaning gutters and the watercourse in Hollow Way; (fn. 79f) later they paid for scavenging by various officers and for carting rubbish. (fn. 80f) In 1872 the borough was included in Woodstock rural sanitary district, and a scavenger for the town and Old Woodstock was paid for by the corporation and Wootton parish. (fn. 81f) From 1876 the corporation paid regularly for the streets to be watered in summer. (fn. 82f) Lack of main drainage and the pollution of the river were causing concern in the 1870s when Woodstock was one of the least satisfactory places in the sanitary district. (fn. 83f) Cesspits were improved and some surface drainage introduced before the corporation became the sanitary authority for the extended borough in 1886. (fn. 84f) A sewerage system was discussed in the 1870s (fn. 85f) but in the 1930s sewage was still drained to cesspits or to fissures in the limestone bedrock; night soil was carted by the scavenger to the corporation rubbish dump on the meadows, and later to a cesspit in Hensington. (fn. 86f) Construction of main sewerage was interrupted by the Second World War and resumed in 1947. (fn. 87f)
During epidemics in the early 17th century the corporation erected temporary wooden pest houses, of which the materials were afterwards sold, and in 1647 the corporation briefly rented a townsman's house for the use of the sick. (fn. 88f) In 1719 the council agreed to spend up to £60 to turn a house in Back (sometimes Pest House, later Rectory) Lane into an infirmary, and by 1720 the new pest house was let rent-free to a caretaker. (fn. 89f) The house was used regularly for the sick until 1765, (fn. 90f) when it was let to the duke of Marlborough in exchange for the lease of a more suitable, isolated, pest house in Hensington fields. (fn. 91f) The reciprocal leases were renewed until 1881, when the corporation repossessed the Rectory Lane site. (fn. 92f) By 1765 the old pest house had an associated cottage to the east, (fn. 93f) and the duke and later the corporation let the site to two tenants until the cottage was demolished c. 1937; the site was sold in 1943. (fn. 94f) The old pest house, no. 23 Rectory Lane in 1987, retained its 18th-century plan of three square rooms in line on each of two floors, linked by corridors, with a staircase projection on the north. (fn. 95f)
Most references to a pest house between 1765 and 1881 relate to the Hensington building, which was on the eastern boundary of the township and was sometimes said to be at Campsfield. Although described as new in 1765 there was a building on the site in 1750, (fn. 96f) and it may have been rebuilt as a pest house. In 1768 it was agreed that no inoculated person should be placed there without the council's consent. (fn. 97f) In 1800 the duke was allowed to place families from the Blenheim estate in the pest house for inoculation, on condition that they were removed if the house was needed for townspeople, and from 1811 the duke leased part of the building for 3 gn. a year. (fn. 98f) In 1827 the duke's rent was in arrears and he was asked to surrender the house, which was thereafter let to two or three tenants with the proviso that smallpox victims might be placed there when necessary; its use was considered in 1872. (fn. 99f) During a smallpox outbreak in 1893 the corporation applied to recover the building from the duke, who was thanked in 1895 for providing alternative accommodation at Furze Platt in Blenheim Park; later the corporation arranged with local hospital boards to take patients with infectious diseases. (fn. 1f) The pest house survived as cottages in 1987. (fn. 2f)
A burial board formed in 1859 bought land in Hensington Road for a cemetery, of which one third was reserved for nonconformists. The bishop refused to consecrate the Anglican section unless it had a chapel, but the board, on grounds of expense, favoured a lychgate only. A compromise was reached whereby a chapel was built at the nearby workhouse (fn. 3f) and made available for funerals, and the cemetery was consecrated in 1863. (fn. 4f) The corporation, which took over from the burial board in 1895, bought land from the duke of Marlborough to extend the cemetery on the north in 1900; a new cemetery in Green Lane, acquired in 1960–1, was brought into use in 1974. (fn. 5f)
Although Alderman William Metcalfe left £3 in 1608 to build a conduit (fn. 6f) and in 1624 and 1682 the council was considering schemes for piped water supply (fn. 7f) the town seems to have depended on wells until the 1690s. The corporation rebuilt a public draw well and pump in Oxford Street in 1631, and in the 18th century there were two public wells in that street, one near the pool at Town's End. (fn. 8f) In 1695 the corporation agreed that William Yarnold of Oxford and John Wigson of Aylesbury should build a combined market house and cistern on the site of the cross in Market Place, pump water to it from the river Glyme, and supply subscribers at reasonable rents. By 1697 pipes were laid in the principal streets and a cistern supplied from a water wheel installed at Old Woodstock mill; (fn. 9f) the millers were to be paid £5 a year for working the machinery and collecting the rents. (fn. 10f) The cistern, if constructed in Market Place, (fn. 11f) was presumably replaced in 1719 by a new cistern built on corporation land at the junction of Hoggrove Hill and Harrison's Lane. (fn. 12f)
In 1697 John Wigson sold his share of the water undertaking to Fleetwood Dormer, partner in a similar venture at Oxford. (fn. 13f) Dormer later acquired Yarnold's share, and in 1739 his executors sold the water undertaking to William Derry Simmons and James Simmons, Woodstock carpenters. In 1763 W. D. Simmons's nephew George Simmons sold his half share to Joseph Chapman, and in 1782 Jane, relict of James Simmons, sold the other half to Chapman's son John, who by 1784 had acquired the whole. Under John Chapman's will of 1799 the trustees were John Bellenger and H. J. North, the town clerk; in 1805 North became sole owner and in 1808 sold to the duke of Marlborough. (fn. 14f) At that time there were only 43 subscribers in a town of over 200 houses. The duke planned to supply both the palace and town from a single engine at Woodstock mill, but two remained in use. (fn. 15f)
The corporation decided against taking over the water supply in 1856. (fn. 16f) In 1861, after a serious fire at Blenheim Palace, the duke revised and expanded the system, providing a drinking fountain at the town hall, stand pipes for cottagers, and fire hydrants, of which some were bought by the corporation. (fn. 17f) It was probably then that the duke built a turbine driven pumping station at the lower end of Blenheim lake and reservoirs at High Lodge, from which both town and estate were supplied until the 1930s. (fn. 18f) In 1874 the Blenheim water system was in difficulties, but the corporation declined to take charge of the town's supply, despite pressure from the vestry and the duke's offer to repair the mill works and let them at a nominal rent. (fn. 19f) An extension of the water supply into Old Woodstock was proposed in 1886 and it may have been then that the pumps at Woodstock mill were repaired; they remained in use until the 1930s. (fn. 20f) The redundant water tower on Hoggrove Hill, derelict in 1889, was converted into a stable and hayloft in 1891. (fn. 21f) In 1896 the duke was supplying water to 180 houses in the town and there were public taps for which subscribers had keys; wells continued in use but in 1905 were mostly said to be polluted. (fn. 22f) In 1934 Woodstock was linked with the Oxford water supply from the Swinford pumping station on the river Thames at Eynsham. (fn. 23f)
By the 17th century two surveyors of the highways were appointed each year at the view of frankpledge (fn. 24f) and small levies were raised for their ordinary expenses; (fn. 25f) from the mid 19th century surveyors were appointed in the vestry. (fn. 26f) The chamberlains paid directly for some street repairs in the 17th century, notably on the Hollow Way, the wooden bridge over it, and the causeway and footpath leading to Old Woodstock. (fn. 27f) In 1622 part of High Street and Market Place was repaved and new stone central drainage channels inserted; large quantities of stone from the park and elsewhere were used, and gravel was donated by a local landowner. (fn. 28f) The causeway was heavily repaired with stone from the park in 1637. (fn. 29f) In 1675 a man was made a freeman in return for paving the market place. (fn. 30f)
In 1713 the central area was repaved at the duke of Marlborough's expense. (fn. 31f) In the 18th century the trustees of the Woodstock-Rollright turnpike, sometimes with the corporation's help, repaired the main road through the town, (fn. 32f) and later they formally accepted responsibility not only for Oxford Street but also Blackhall (later Brown's) Lane, Market Street, High Street, and Hensington Lane. (fn. 33f) The corporation continued to maintain the wooden bridge over the turnpike until it was removed, probably when Hollow Way was filled in and widened in 1780. (fn. 34f) The corporation also maintained the causeway but by the early 19th century was disputing its responsibility, which was taken over by the country in 1839. (fn. 35f)
In the 18th century the corporation regularly provided small sums for streets and pavements, (fn. 36f) and in 1770 laid out a new road at Common Acre, later Union Street, where it was constructing cottages. (fn. 37f) The extent of its involvement varied: in the early 19th century its street committee seems to have supervised the surveyors (fn. 38f) but at other times the corporation looked to the vestry or the 'parish surveyor' to carry out repairs. (fn. 39f) A plan to repave the town in 1838 may not have been carried through, (fn. 40f) and in 1850 the corporation appointed a committee to undertake major repaving, promising £200 towards a subscription. The work probably included the removal of the old central gutters and the insertion of raised pavements in Yorkshire stone. (fn. 41f) The corporation continued to contribute to repairs and to a town surveyor, (fn. 42f) but the vestry, supervised by the Wootton district highway board, retained oversight of the streets and in 1881 spent c. £44 a year on their repair. (fn. 43f) In 1886 the corporation became the highway authority, and although largely replaced by the county council in 1910 retained some responsibility for minor roads in 1974. (fn. 44f)
In 1768 the duke of Marlborough gave 12 street lamps, for which the corporation provided oil during the winter months. (fn. 45f) In 1802 the corporation's newly formed street committee set up new oil lamps paid for by a subscription. (fn. 46f) A scheme for gas lamps in 1838 probably failed and in 1853 the corporation spent £40 on gas lamps and posts. (fn. 47f) Its expenditure for lighting rose from £40 a year in 1854 to over £60 and a lamplighter's wage by 1885–6, and £100 by 1897. (fn. 48f) Lighting was extended to Old Woodstock in 1887. (fn. 49f)
The Woodstock Gaslight & Coke Co., formed in 1853, built a works on land leased from the corporation for a small reserved rent. (fn. 50f) After several changes of ownership the works passed to the Woodstock Power Syndicate, which tried unsuccessfully to buy the freehold in 1928–9 and 1941. (fn. 51f) From 1935 gas manufacture ceased but the gasholder remained in use. The Southern Gas Board was lessee from 1949. The corporation recovered the site, demolished the derelict buildings in 1962, and later sold the land for houses. (fn. 52f)
The introduction of electricity supply was discussed by the council in 1897–1900. (fn. 53f) Electricity was installed at the union workhouse as early as 1914, but more general provision was made in the 1920s by a small local company, taken over in 1926 by the Woodstock Power Syndicate which in 1930 set up the Woodstock and District Electrical Distribution Co. Some electric street lights were installed in 1922–3 but gas remained dominant for many years. (fn. 54f) In 1949 the Southern Electricity Board took over supply and gradually removed the unsightly network of overhead cables, the last of three large pylons in the town centre being demolished in 1956. (fn. 55f)
By 1580 all new freemen were expected to donate a leather bucket, and in the late 16th century several gave iron hooks for fire fighting. (fn. 56f) The buckets, of which there were 98 in 1641, were painted with the borough arms and hung in the town hall in charge of the crier. They were regularly renewed, and stocks of buckets were sometimes given by townsmen and in 1790 by the Phoenix Fire Office. (fn. 57f) The vestry kept long ladders in the church tower in 1613, and bought more ladders and hooks in 1625 for use of church and town. (fn. 58f) The corporation also paid for ladders, hooks, and poles. (fn. 59f) In 1681 James Bertie, Lord Norreys (later earl of Abingdon), gave a fire engine which was kept beneath the town hall. (fn. 60f) In 1709 the corporation threatened fines for anyone allowing flames to issue from their chimneys. (fn. 61f) In 1746 a new engine was bought with a subscription of £42, to which the corporation gave £20. (fn. 62f) The chamberlains regularly paid for repairs and fire-lighting practice, (fn. 63f) and by the later 18th century there seem to have been two engines, both in the care of John Chapman, carpenter: the corporation provided new pipes and buckets, but the vestry paid 6 gn. to Chapman, who under a renewed 12-year contract in 1777 was to maintain the engine and provide six or more fire plugs in the streets. (fn. 64f) The vestry continued to pay similar wages to firemen in the 19th century. (fn. 65f) The corporation in 1792 was paying a man to maintain the 'borough engines', but such payments were not recorded later; in 1842 the corporation denied any responsibility for engine repairs, but contributed to the installation of hydrants in 1861. (fn. 66f)
There was a fire-engine house in the town hall of 1766. (fn. 67f) In 1829, when the County Fire Office promised a new engine on condition that it was suitably housed, plans were made to keep it in the town hall. (fn. 68f) In 1836 the vestry had another engine house, which it was intending to replace. (fn. 69f) In 1868 the churchwardens transferred the custody of the fire engine to the union overseers, who in 1870 asked to house it in the town hall since the parish engine house was derelict. (fn. 70f) The Woodstock Volunteer Fire Brigade, formed in 1872–3, took over the town hall engine house probably in 1874. (fn. 71f) The corporation made small annual contributions to the brigade and in 1894 ceased to charge for the engine house. (fn. 72f) A subscription was raised for a motor fire engine in 1924. (fn. 73f) The Volunteer Fire Brigade ceased in 1938 and until the National Fire Service was created in 1941 the brigade was controlled by a joint committee of the corporation and Chipping Norton rural district council. (fn. 74f) In 1934 the fire station was removed from the town hall to no. 43 Oxford Street, a corporation property transferred to the country council when it became responsible for the fire service in 1948. The station was enlarged in 1962 by the purchase of a cottage on the north (no. 45). (fn. 75g) In 1970 a new fire station was opened on the former workhouse site at Hensington, (fn. 76g) and the former fire station became a house and shop.
The early policing of the town was carried out by constables, tithingmen, and watchmen supervised by the court leet and the council. (fn. 77g) The county constabulary, formed in 1857, at first rented a station at no. 84 Oxford Street, moving in 1859 to no. 10 Oxford Street, part of the grammar school estate, which the corporation repaired in 1860–1. (fn. 78g) In 1863 a new county police station was built on land bought from the duke of Marlborough in Rectory Lane. It was designed by William Wilkinson and included a lock-up and accommodation for an inspector, 2 married, and 2 single men; the force comprised an inspector and 7 men. (fn. 79g) The station remained in use until 1975 when a new station was opened in Hensington road on the former workhouse site; the old station, renamed Bowley House, was taken over by the local authority and converted to apartments. (fn. 80g)
A proposal to establish a free reading room in the town hall in 1876 was not carried through, (fn. 81g) but when the Woodstock Literary Institute was closed in 1894 the corporation bought the books and fittings and appointed a librarian. (fn. 82g) A free library was set up in the north-west part of the rebuilt ground floor of the town hall in 1898, with fittings given by John Banbury and his sisters in honour of their father, G. G. Banbury, a former mayor (d. 1911). (fn. 83g) In the 1930s the library was at no. 2 Oxford Street but was again in the town hall by 1945. (fn. 84g) The county council took over the library in 1947, and in 1985 it was moved to a new building on Hensington Road. (fn. 85g)