Thame : Local government

Pages 193-199

A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 7, Dorchester and Thame Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.

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Local Government.

Parish government in the Middle Ages was conducted through the threeweekly courts for Moreton, North Weston, Old Thame, and Priestend respectively, and through the fortnightly portmanmoot for New Thame. Views of frankpledge at which each township was represented by its own tithing-men were held monthly. Immediately above these courts was the hundred court of the Bishop of Lincoln for the hundred of Thame. All were subject to the bishop's officers, and the sheriff's officers were excluded as the bishop had return of writs, pleas de vetito namii, and the assize of bread and ale. (fn. 1) The bishop also had a prison at Thame. (fn. 2)

A few rolls survive of the manorial courts or 'halimots'. (fn. 3) Among the offences reported are the usual ones of unrepaired houses, unscoured ditches, and trespass in 'separate' pastures. On one occasion a licence to marry a widow was obtained for 6s. 8d. In the reign of Henry VI nativi living outside the manor were reported on several occasions. (fn. 4)

New Thame began and remained a seignorial borough (fn. 5) and never acquired any corporate privileges. Its chief officer in the medieval period was the Bishop of Lincoln's bailiff, apparently appointed by him. (fn. 6) By the 15th century, if not earlier, there were two bailiffs and two under bailiffs. (fn. 7) New Thame was divided into four quarters and the tithing-men for each quarter made presentments at the view of frankpledge. At the great view on St. Luke's Day (18 Oct.) the bailiff, and sometimes other officers, presented those who had broken the assizes. On one occasion as many as 82 men and women were presented for breaches of the assize of ale, (fn. 8) on another occasion 63, and 10 for breaches of the assize of bread, 16 for selling meat above price and 5 innkeepers for the same. Seven cobblers, 4 bakers, and 4 chandlers were also presented for overcharging. (fn. 9) In addition to these common offences, nuisances on the highway and cases of assault, sometimes with dagger or lance, were presented. The highest total amount received at any view was 73s. 4d. in 1436. (fn. 10) This total included fines and a sum known as 'St. Luke's pennies', so named after the day on which the court was held. These pence were paid by some burgesses (1d. each) for the right to merchandise for a year without payment of toll. The numbers paying fluctuated from year to year and sums received varied between 5s. 7d. in 1439 and 1s. 8d. in 1472. (fn. 11) Among the suitors of the court who made default in their suit were often to be found the abbots of Thame and Notley, the Vicar of Thame, and local gentry such as the Marmions and these too were among those who paid Luke's pence. As in other town courts the inhabitants were commonly presented for raising the hue unjustly, and for allowing unringed pigs to wander in the streets. But the most common presentments were for throwing putrid offal from shops into the streets, for selling bread underweight, for exposing bad meat for sale, and breaking the assize of ale. Bakers, victuallers, and fishmongers in the north quarter figure particularly prominently. (fn. 12) In Henry VII's reign there first appears the presentment of a man for allowing common players of cards and other illicit games to play contrary to the statute and another was presented for keeping suspected men and women in his house. (fn. 13) As at the view of frankpledge the tithing-men of each of the four quarters made presentments. The fortnightly portmanmoot court was competent to hear pleas of detinue, trespass, and breach of contract, but the great majority of pleas recorded on the rolls are for debt. (fn. 14) The slowness and cumbersomeness of the procedure may be seen in a court of 1433. One case concerned a debt for woollen cloth bought three years previously and another for russet cloth bought nine years previously. (fn. 15)

Pleas about tenements do not occur as a rule. These were heard before the royal justices, but on one occasion a fine was paid for permission to acquire more land in the town to enlarge a burgage tenement. The new tenant made fidelity to the bishop and was admitted tenant according to 'the custom of the borough'. She was to hold for ever at a rent of 2d. a year. (fn. 16) As the burgess had the important right of being able to devise as well as sell his burgage freely disputes over burgage property must have arisen frequently. (fn. 17) Disputes over wills would have been heard in the peculiar court. (fn. 18)

A change in procedure had been introduced by Henry VII's reign, which suggests that autocratic control of the town was increasing. The tithing-man for each quarter now presented in company with a burgess. The business of the court, however, was much reduced and courts appear to have been held less frequently. At a court of 17 May 1503 fines amounted to 6d. only compared with sums of round 3s. commonly received in the reign of Henry VI, and no court after this one was held until 22 July. (fn. 19) There is nothing about burgess customary law in the surviving rolls except for one archaic survival. Burgesses often cleared themselves of a charge of debt by resorting to the method of compurgation. There are many cases of a burgess waging his law six-handed or four-handed—i.e. supported by the oaths of five or three of his neighbours. (fn. 20)

No 16th-century portmanmoot records have survived, and it is therefore uncertain when the court finally came to an end, but it is likely that it coincided with the break up of the bishop's manor in 1559. (fn. 21)

Town affairs like those of the parish as a whole were now being largely conducted in the vestry. There the churchwardens were elected and overseers of the poor nominated. In 1560 there is a record of 'highways men' being chosen 'following the consent of the parishioners'. (fn. 22) Three were chosen for New Thame and one each for Old Thame, Priestend, and Moreton. The churchwardens' accounts for this period reveal that their business was not always confined to church affairs. The wardens were usually among the leading men of the town and were also the holders of civil office. It is therefore not surprising to find the warden paying 5s. in 1543 for having the moot-hall clock mended, or that they should have later used the proceeds derived from the sale of church goods for the paving of the town. (fn. 23)

Despite the growing importance of the vestry, however, view of frankpledge courts and manorial courts continued to be held by the bishop's successors to the lordship of the 'liberties'. Some records of courts baron for Old Thame, Priestend, North Weston, and Moreton have survived. (fn. 24) Their main business was the admission of tenants but from time to time they made regulations about the management of the open fields and officers such as fieldsmen, hogsherds, haywards, and mole-catchers were appointed. Records of the view of frankpledge for New Thame or rather for 'New Thame cum membris', as the title had become, also exist for the 17th century. The court, apart from enforcing the tithing system, was mainly concerned with the upkeep of the roads, and the enforcement of sanitary rules about the streets and market-place. At the October court for 1649 nineteen jurors headed by Robert Robotham, an important burgess, and John Bennett were listed. Presentments included killing bulls unbaited (the offenders were mostly men from neighbouring villages), bloodshed, killing sheep and calves in the shambles contrary to the regulations, and emptying paunches in the shambles. The court ordered also that no inhabitant of New Thame should erect any new tenement or take any inmate into his house unless the landlord was prepared to guarantee the parish against any consequent expense. (fn. 25) At this and other views of this period it was repeatedly ordered by the courts that no stalls or booths should be placed on Market Hill, but only on the south-west side beginning from 'the end of the stocks' next the 'Lion' up to the corner of Mr. Powell's house. (fn. 26)

The town officers were elected at the October courts. They appear to have varied and the explanation may be that some were not annual appointments. In 1676 there were 2 sealers of leather, 2 constables, 4 tithing-men, 2 ale-tasters, 2 fleshtasters, and 2 scavengers. (fn. 27) Officers were also elected to the liberties; at Old Thame court, for example, in 1608 2 scourers of watercourses, 2 meat-tasters, and 4 tithing-men were elected. (fn. 28)

Throughout the 18th century and into the 19th the churchwardens, overseers of the poor, the surveyors of highways, and the constables continued to be the main parish officers acting through the vestry. (fn. 29) The first big change took place in 1835 when the Thame Poor Law Union and Board of Guardians came into being. (fn. 30) Although with the decline of the manorial courts, the liberties of New Thame, Old Thame, Priestend, and Moreton practically ceased to be units of local government, separate overseers and waywardens for each continued to be responsible for registration of births, marriages, and deaths, vaccination, poor-rate assessment, and sanitation. (fn. 31) In 1858–9 the parish officers were 2 churchwardens, 3 guardians, 6 overseers (Thame 4, Priestend 2), 10 surveyors (New Thame 2, Old Thame 2, Moreton 2, Priestend 2, Thame Park 1, North Weston 1), 2 petty constables, and 1 high constable. (fn. 32)

After the adoption in 1871 of the Local Government Act of 1858 the Local Board was set up and became automatically the Urban District Council in 1894. (fn. 33) Step by step the U.D.C. acquired the full powers of the parish council. Thus in November 1895 it was given power by the Local Government Board to appoint and revoke the appointment of Assistant Overseers and in March 1896 it was allowed to appoint two trustees for the non-ecclesiastical portion of the Thame charities. (fn. 34) The council numbered fifteen, five members retiring each year. Of the first council five were farmers, four were in trade, and three were professional men. T. S. Sutton, a grocer, was the first chairman and was chairman again four times in the next six years. Henry Birch was chairman from 1878 to 1882 and Samuel Lacey from 1887 to 1893. (fn. 35) Later it became the custom for the chair to be taken by seniority.

Throughout the century the chief concern of the local authorities was the care of the poor; in the second half of the century sanitation became a major consideration, and also the maintenance of the highways and housing.

Poor Relief. The foundation of the Quatremain almshouses, (fn. 36) and the many payments for the support of the poor and sick entered in the churchwardens' accounts are evidence for the care taken of the poor in the medieval period. (fn. 37) The Elizabethan Poor Law Act of 1601, however, opened a new era in poor relief. Eleven leaves of Thame's first rate-book survive. They cover two months in 1604 and six in 1609. There were between 80 and 90 ratepayers paying 2d. to 1s. a month. Total receipts averaged 35s. to 36s., but usually 16 or more persons were behind with their payments. The number of persons receiving relief, which averaged nearly 3½d. a person a week, varied from 28 to 33. The total expended for the year was £23 or £24. (fn. 38)

Voluntary bequests for the relief of the poor continued to be made alongside the official relief. They included seven cottages to be used as poor houses and to be administered by the churchwardens and also funds to provide clothing. (fn. 39) With the building of the County House of Correction in 1720, completed after a bequest of £250 from Francis Clerke of North Weston, (fn. 40) a notable advance was made in dealing with the problem of the able-bodied poor. In 1723, however, the churchwardens and inhabitants of Thame complained that the keeper had ceased to employ the poor and in 1726 £100 was spent in converting part of the House of Correction into a workhouse. (fn. 41) In 1733 the churchwardens petitioned the court again. They charged the deputy keeper of the House of Correction with allowing the prisoners to go at large, letting part of the prison to lodgers, and with other offences. The keeper had lived at Aylesbury for the past three years. (fn. 42) As a result of this complaint the master of the workhouse was appointed keeper of the bridewell also. (fn. 43) The workhouse management was 'contracted out' to a 'sober person' who undertook to employ the poor in spinning and other work. (fn. 44)

In 1776 a determined effort was made to put the care of the poor on a sound basis. Articles of agreement were drawn up between the churchwardens, the four overseers, and twelve inspectors, including the vestry clerk and the keeper of the bridewell: churchwardens and overseers could individually commit to the workhouse but the case was later to come before a full meeting; any person who could contribute to the poor rate could inspect the workhouse and the inmates might lay complaints; the keeper was to be fined 20s. for each case of neglect substantiated before the committee. He was to provide all clothes, schooling for the children, and pay rents, &c. for the poor living outside. He was also to pay all incidental expenses connected with poor strangers except any legal expenses and the cost of their removal. His salary was to be £480 a year and he was to have all the profits arising from work done in the workhouse. Apprenticeships were to be approved by a committee, who allowed an extra 20s. for clothing for each apprentice put out to work. In cases of smallpox the keeper was to provide for 15 inmates only. (fn. 45)

In 1776 £666 was expended on the poor, £26 on the rent of the workhouse, which accommodated 30 and was now said to be too small, and £14 on litigation and resettlement of paupers. (fn. 46) When the new bridewell at Oxford was opened in 1787 the justices closed the Thame one and put it up for sale in 1788. (fn. 47) It was bought by the parish for a workhouse in 1790. (fn. 48)

By 1803 the problem of poor relief had increased alarmingly: £3,762 was raised by a rate of 11s. 6d. in the £ but £4,413 had been expended. The Speenhamland system was in use and 260 persons were given out-relief and 56 in-door relief. In addition to these permanent paupers and their families 140 persons received occasional relief. (fn. 49) The population of Thame in 1801 was 2,293. (fn. 50)

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 was adopted by Thame in 1835 and the first meeting of the guardians took place in September 1835. (fn. 51) Under the Act Thame became one of the three districts of the newly established Poor Law Union which consisted of 27 Oxfordshire and 8 Buckinghamshire parishes. The Thame district comprised Thame, Tetsworth, Emmington, Aston Rowant and Kingston Blount, Sydenham, and Towersey (Bucks.). The population of Thame at that time was 2,885 and that of Thame Union 5,243. (fn. 52) The guardians were mainly occupied in their first year of office with the plans for the new workhouse. It was built on ground adjoining the Prebendal at a total cost of £8,871. It was to have accommodation for 350 but at first be furnished for about 235. (fn. 53) The total cost of the workhouse was £11,438. Between 1840 and 1881 a number of improvements were made. These included the separation of the male and female infirmary wards and the conversion of part of one wing into a chapel. (fn. 54)

The guardians showed marked generosity and humane consideration for the personal dignity and material welfare of those needing relief and for the officers of the institution. For the first Master and Matron they proposed a joint salary of £150, but the Poor Law Commissioners thought this too high. £110 was fixed. In August 1838 it was resolved that allowances to paupers receiving or entitled to relief should be determined according to the circumstances of each case without reference to existing allowances, and the allowance to aged and infirm paupers and widows was increased by 6d. a head a week; in November 1838 the guardians represented to the Poor Law Commission that the price of bread in their Union was 19½d. an 8 lb. 11 oz. loaf, while the general price of labour was 9s. 8d. a week and they requested an order as to the manner in which poor industrious labourers in employment, with large families, were to be dealt with under existing conditions. (fn. 55) In August 1840 they requested that the Local Government Board should allow them to take into the workhouse parts of large families of able-bodied labourers whose earnings were insufficient for supporting their families; but this was regarded by the Board as not being in the best interests of the Union. Women were not to be forced to wear their hair short and inmates were to be free from any distinguishing mark outside the workhouse. The original dietary was improved, women were instructed in knitting, and children's schooling was advanced. (fn. 56)

The suitable employment of able-bodied paupers was all along one of the greatest problems. In accordance with the advice of the Assistant Poor Law Commissioner a mill for grinding corn was adopted, but for six years oakum picking, also advised, was repeatedly rejected as unhealthy and demoralizing. At last in 1843 it was agreed that able-bodied men should pick 4 lb. of oakum a day and women, for whom no other work could be found, 2 lb. a day. (fn. 57)

The extent of the problem in the 1830's and 1840's may be gauged from the following figures. During the first quarter of 1836, before the new workhouse was built, there were permanently relieved 116 aged and infirm, orphans and bastards from Thame itself and 214 from the rest of Thame Union. During the last quarter of 1836 when the new workhouse came into use there were 23 inmates from Thame and 93 from the rest of the district, but by 1838 numbers had risen to 156 and 380 respectively. In 1847 accommodation was provided for an additional 40 and 410 became the official limit. The next year was the most critical. On 5 January there were 398 inmates and the guardians reported there would soon be more applicants than they were empowered to receive. A number of special measures were adopted and parishes were empowered to establish Emigration Funds, Thame itself being sanctioned to raise £50. In July the guardians began to meet fortnightly instead of weekly and by February 1849 the number of inmates had fallen to 260. (fn. 58) The Census of 1851 recorded that out of a total of 201 inmates 56 paupers were from Thame and of these only 21 were adult. The adult paupers for the district were drawn almost entirely from three classes of workers: agricultural labourers (58), lacemakers (20), and servants (20). There were five resident staff in the House. (fn. 59)

The relief of vagrants in the 1840's threatened the efficient conduct of the House and was considered by the guardians to be unjust to the rate-payers, particularly to the Thame rate-payers. No vagrants were relieved before 1841, but in that year the Local Government Board suggested that they be taken in and kept 'six hours next day in working time'. Consequently 961 were relieved in 1844 and numbers had risen by 1847 to 2,790. The Thame guardians accordingly urged that more stringent rules and regulations on 'this important subject' should be adopted. They also made between 1850 and 1853 many strong references to the depressed state of agriculture in the district and the difficulties of ratepayers in meeting expenses. They finally drew up a petition to both Houses of Parliament arguing that present local burdens pressed with undue severity on agricultural interests. (fn. 60)

In the second half of the century the workhouse was apparently well administered and the inmates were well conducted. In 1856 Henry Gibbons of Thame, himself a guardian, inspected the workhouse and commented on it favourably in his diary. (fn. 61) In 1897 the Local Government Board inspector criticized the out-relief policy, observing that 1 in 18 received relief at Thame compared with 1 in 29 in Buckinghamshire, 1 in 28 in Oxfordshire as a whole, and 1 in 28 throughout England. It was answered on behalf of the Thame Guardians that Thame was an agricultural district and had no 'residential' population, and that relief was administered in as kindly a spirit as possible. (fn. 62)

The changed pattern of Poor Relief brought about by pensions, national insurance, and labour exchanges resulted in the abolition of the Unions and of the closing of Thame workhouse in 1935. (fn. 63) The functions of the guardians relating to poor relief passed to Public Assistance Committees set up by county and borough councils.

Highways, Streets, and Lighting. The first evidence for any steps to deal with the paving of the town occurs in 1550 after the Highways Act of Edward VI, when part of the money realized from the sale of church goods was used by the churchwardens and 'other honest men' for this purpose. They spent £37 13s. 3d. in 1550 on paving the market-place round the market cross and in making a new causeway at Town's End. In the next year the wardens spent £48 17s. 2d. for digging and carting stone and gravel, possibly for the roads, and over £3 on paving the space round the common well. Over £33 was spent by the warden of Old Thame on materials and labour for the highway from Crendon Bridge past the Vicarage and up the lane by John Stribblehill's door (the present Thame-Long Crendon road). The highways from Priestend Elm 'along the street by Etherigg's' (the present Lower High Street presumably), and so through 'Alyn's lane' (Southern Road) were also paved. In 1552 the way at Town's End towards London was mended for 10s. (fn. 64) Lee states that the work continued and that a total of at least £120 was spent by 1560. (fn. 65)

The 'highways men' or waywardens of the liberties came under the control of the Bullingdon Highway Board in 1862, but the town waywardens remained under the vestry until 1871, when the Thame Board of Health was instituted and took over the care of the roads. (fn. 66) The board was itself superseded by the Urban District Council in 1894. (fn. 67) At first the council was anxious to retain responsibility for all roads, but expense led them to ask the County to define as much road as possible as 'main' road so that it might become the County's responsibility. The Kingsey limestone pit was finally closed in 1890 and thenceforward flints and granite were regularly imported for road-making, and in 1894 steam rolling was first used. The stone sets of the High Street pavements were replaced with Victoria stone in 1888 and the north side of Upper High Street was finished in 1890 by S. Lacey at his own expense. The removal of the cattle market to North Street in 1951 was followed by the transference of the traders' stalls from Cornmarket to the old cattle market. (fn. 68)

The streets were first lit by gas in 1842, but this must have been an experiment for it was not until 1849, when W. Jacques persuaded 'the respectable inhabitants' to agree to a 2d. rate to defray the cost, that the lighting became permanent. (fn. 69) Electricity was introduced in 1926 being taken in bulk from Aylesbury at the Thame boundary. (fn. 70) The town had already been linked with Aylesbury trunk telephone in 1909. (fn. 71)

Sanitation. The surviving 17th-century rolls of the view of frankpledge for New Thame show that the court's main business was the enforcement of sanitary regulations. (fn. 72)

Regulations about keeping the streets clean and free of obstacles were strict. Any inhabitant who had been warned by the scavengers to put in order the gutter running from his house to the main channels must do so before mid-summer on pain of a fine of £5 10s. This order, however, was made at an October court. Each house-owner was to mend the part of the main water-course in the middle of the street which was before his own house, cleanse the gutters and keep clean the ground between his house and the main water-course; no one was to allow any dunghills, heaps of stones or timber, &c. to be on the street above ten days; everyone dwelling in Sheep and Hog streets was to move dirt from his door every Wednesday; no garbage or entrails were to be emptied into the street; no one was to winnow any grain in the main street, and no one was to dig gravel in the highway at Town's End any nearer the town than the existing pits. The scavengers were to give warning every ten days about clearing the streets. The market cross was to be cleaned every week; no one was to throw filth into either of the two ponds at Town's End (Whitehound's Pond and Butts Pond) or in the ditches in Rookes Lane or adjoining ditches. Another court ordered that no skins or other noisome objects should be left on 'the kerb or on the common pump' in the shambles.

Modern advances in public sanitation were not introduced at Thame until after the adoption of the Local Government Act of 1858. This was the outcome of a medical report by Dr. Buchanan of the Privy Council Medical Department and the violent local controversy which followed. (fn. 73)

In 1871 there were 16 deaths from scarlatina and Dr. Lee of Thame called in Dr. Buchanan. The latter found scarlatina decreasing, but reported most scathingly upon the sanitation of the town: there was no place either at the workhouse or elsewhere to which contagious sickness could be removed and there was almost no sanitary government in Thame. The guardians of the Thame Union, as the nuisance authority, employed relieving officers as sanitary inspectors, and they had from time to time dealt with such nuisances as were brought to their notice, but the power to disinfect vested in the guardians had not been used. By the Sewage Utilization Act 1868 the vestry was the sewer authority of the town, but there were no sewers, no provision for excrement or refuse removal, and all manner of nuisances arose from want of these. Dr. Buchanan made many inquiries; but of those questioned 'none had heard of a vestry'; furthermore, the vicar was ill and could not be seen, and the parish clerk could not be discovered. (fn. 74)

Down both sides of the broad main street and in some bystreets ran roughly constructed open gutters, which received all manner of liquid house slop and other filth, notably washings from slaughter houses near the market. The gullies led into various ditches some of which ran into the Thame but most were stagnant. The middle 30 ft. of the main street was under the jurisdiction of the Highway Board, but the channels were vested in the waywardens who appeared to have no power of regulating what should enter into them. Dr. Buchanan concluded that unless the inhabitants speedily made a beginning of proper sanitary government it would be necessary to ask the Secretary of State to compel them.

In defence of the town Dr. Reynolds of Thame maintained that the health of the town was better than that of any other of equal size in the kingdom and if drainage was so imperfect typhoid would have resulted. Letters appeared in The Lancet and Public Opinion.

The Local Board of Health, just elected, ordered wells to be cleaned, and some to be covered and fitted with pumps. (fn. 75) In one month 89 notices to abate nuisances were served, 36 complied with and legal proceedings ordered against defaulters. But the Local Government Board wanted a proper system of sewers and a careful examination of the watersupply. These projects were delayed until 1893–5 when the Local Government Board and the Thames Conservancy threatened penalties for river pollution. Catch-pits at Cuttlebrook Ford proved so inadequate that under-draining with a sewage farm and pumping station had to be adopted. In 1898 Messrs. Taylor & Sons drew up the scheme, which cost £7,271, and John Jackson of Plaistow did the work. By 1900 the pumping machinery was installed and most of the houses were connected with the sewers. But a new difficulty arose—rain water failed to flush the sewers and distribute the sewage over the farm. A new water-supply had to be provided. (fn. 76)

Waterworks. Apart from the flushing of the sewers the quality of the drinking water had long caused anxiety because it was obtained from some 150 shallow wells, 10–30 ft. deep and easily contaminated. The first boring at Horsenden Hill which would give sufficient fall without the use of a watertower failed to tap the Lower Greensand. A second boring to reach the Portland Beds along the Kingsey Road found a plentiful supply of uncontaminated water of moderate hardness at Pillmore Arch in Towersey (Bucks.), and a water tower, holding 60,000 gallons, was built off Park Street in 1905. Public pumps were then removed. (fn. 77)

Fire Service. An adequate water-supply solved the chief Fire Service difficulty. The first fire-engine had been provided in 1817 by public subscription, (fn. 78) but not until 1878 was a proper brigade formed under H. H. Smith. This was voluntary, but the Town Surveyor took charge and council employees were expected to assist when the voluntary force, for any reason, was not available. (fn. 79) In 1881 the brigade won first prize in competition at Aylesbury. (fn. 80)

To provide enough water the open drains at the sides of the High Street were dammed with boards specially kept at the engine-house and the pumps in the houses were worked until enough water had accumulated. By 1880 an underground drain had been made from the Whitehound Pond to a storage tank at the junction of Upper High Street and North Street. (fn. 81) The modern fire station at Nelson Street was built in 1937. (fn. 82)

Market Authority. The council's desire to become the market authority was closely connected with the sanitation of the town. As early as 1881 the council had unsuccessfully tried to obtain a lease of the tolls from Lord Abingdon so that it could control the Market, (fn. 83) but it was only in 1927 that Lord Bertie sold the market rights to the council for £1,000. (fn. 84)

The acquisition of the market rights meant that the council could levy a toll for the sale of goods and charge stallage for the erection of stalls. (fn. 85) In 1760 the tolls were leased by the Earl of Abingdon for £25 16s. and this was still their value in 1899. (fn. 86) In 1935 the Urban District Council extended the right to charge stallage to the parking of motor-cars in the market place on market days. (fn. 87)

In 1939 the decision was taken to remove the cattle market from the open street. Improvements were necessary and the Government had powers to close street cattle markets, but owing to the war and consequent restrictions permission for the new buildings in North Street was not obtained until 1950 and then a loan of £34,997 was granted. A further £1,566 was loaned in 1953 for a poultry shed. (fn. 88)

Housing. Since 1918 the borrowing powers conferred by the various Housing Acts have made the provision and maintenance of houses one of the chief services. Town planning is, however, regulated by the County Development Committee. About a third of the town's houses are now council houses. Earlier loans, as those for sewerage and water, have been repaid, but in the list of balances of loans since 1941, outstanding on 31 March 1957, housing came easily first. They were as follows: waterworks, £13,166; sewerage, £5,561; markets, £28,616; allotments, £594; and housing, £297,778. (fn. 89)

The council is also responsible for the town's recreation grounds. In 1895 the trustees of the recreation ground in Southern Road, which was held on lease from the Hon. Francis Bertie, handed over the ground to the council and in 1951 the council accepted Elms Park as a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Purser, to be maintained as a park and recreation ground. (fn. 90)

The town has no powers of educational administration and is too small to adopt the Library Act of 1892, but the general district rate of 1s. 2d. in the £ in 1872 has risen to 26s. in the pound. (fn. 91)

Police. The election of petty constables by Courts Leet was discontinued by Act of Parliament in 1842. Instead they were appointed by special sessions of justices from lists submitted by overseers in consultation with the vestry.

In 1852, in accordance with the Superintending Constables Act 1850, Robert Hitchman of the Metropolitan Police was appointed Superintending Constable of the Bullingdon Petty Sessional Division and as such superintended the petty constables at Thame. He resided at Wheatley and provided his own horse and light cart for conveying prisoners. He was also Inspector of Weights and Measures. (fn. 92)

Since 1787 Thame had been without a lock-up, (fn. 93) and after 1835 the refractory ward at the workhouse had sometimes been used for detaining prisoners, but the guardians forbade this in 1841. (fn. 94) However, in 1854 a police station was built at Thame on the present site by Giles Holland, the local builder, at a total cost of £654, shared equally by Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. The Superintending Constable was paid a salary of £10 a year with free residence and freedom from taxes, the two counties again sharing the cost. (fn. 95)

In 1857 Oxfordshire adopted the County Police Act and Thame was included in the 'A' Division, comprising Headquarters, Bullingdon, Henley, and Watlington. (fn. 96) One piece of evidence given to the Select Committee investigating the need for that Act asserted that the Thame petty constables drove vagrants over the border into Buckinghamshire to get rid of them. (fn. 97)

Not until 1859, however, was it resolved that the Chief Constable of Oxfordshire should arrange with the Chief Constable of Buckinghamshire that the keeper of the lock-up at Thame be superseded by one of the Oxfordshire police. (fn. 98) In 1865 the Buckinghamshire moiety of the lock-up house or branch police station at Thame was purchased by Oxfordshire for £200. In 1869 the establishment was one sergeant and three men. In 1959 it was one inspector and three men. (fn. 99)

After the County Court Act (1846) Thame became the head of a County Court district. Sittings were sometimes monthly, sometimes bi-monthly, being held in the Spread Eagle Assembly room until 1861 when the present County Court was built. (fn. 100)

Thame has all along been in the Petty Sessional Division of Bullingdon and today (1959) Petty Sessions are held at the County Hall, Oxford on alternate Thursdays and at Thame County Court on the second and last Tuesday in every month. (fn. 101)


  • 1. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 820.
  • 2. See above, p. 115.
  • 3. e.g. there are records of courts in the years 4, 8, 23, 29 Hen. VI and 20 Edw. IV: d.d. Bertie c 16 (uncat.).
  • 4. e.g. d.d. Bertie ct. 5 June 1451.
  • 5. See above, p. 178.
  • 6. There is no evidence on the surviving rolls for any election of bailiffs by the court. The earliest known bailiff is John le Brun (occ. 1275–1300): Rousham Arch. N 7.
  • 7. Ibid. N 345, N 347.
  • 8. d.d. Bertie c 16 (uncat.): Oct. 1433.
  • 9. Ibid. Oct. 1461. In a court of 1502 7 bakers of white bread were presented besides the more usual traders.
  • 10. d.d. Bertie c 16 (uncat.).
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Ibid. ct. roll 1501–2.
  • 14. e.g. in a court of 1433–4 there were 9 pleas of debt and no other business; in a court of 1461–2 there were 11 pleas of debt and 1 of detinue (ibid.).
  • 15. Ibid. Oct. 1433.
  • 16. Ibid. Oct. 1437.
  • 17. For fines see Oxon. Fines, 6, 184, 205.
  • 18. It was argued, for example, as late as 1733 that a will was invalid as it had been proved in the archdeacon's court which did not have jurisdiction in Thame: Oxf. Archd. Oxon. c 164, f. 129. For the peculiar jurisdiction in general see below, p. 201.
  • 19. d.d. Bertie c 16 (uncat.).
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. See above, p. 171.
  • 22. Lee, Thame, 533–4.
  • 23. Lupton, Extracts, 15; see below.
  • 24. North Weston 1520–61: d.d. Bertie c 13; Priestend 1595–1846: ibid. b 1, b 3, c 5, c 13, c 14, c 15; Old Thame 1560–1702: ibid. b 1, c 154.
  • 25. MS. Top. Gen. c 3: Oct. 1649.
  • 26. Ibid. Thame cts. passim.
  • 27. Ibid. Oct. 1676.
  • 28. Ibid.
  • 29. Chwdns' accts. and vestry mins. 1765–1840; 1841–95: d.d. Par. Thame c 4.
  • 30. O.R.O. Th. Union mins. 18 Sept. 1835.
  • 31. Ibid. 1836, 1841, 1862, 1875.
  • 32. Thame Gazette, 13 Apr. 1858, 12 Apr. 1859.
  • 33. U.D.C. Th. Dist. Loc. Bd. Min. Bk. 15 Sept. 1871.
  • 34. Ibid. 12 Nov. 1895; 20 Mar. 1896.
  • 35. Ibid. U.D.C. mins. passim.
  • 36. See below, p. 217.
  • 37. Lupton, Extracts, 20, 21, 22.
  • 38. MS. Top. Oxon. c 5.
  • 39. See below, p. 218.
  • 40. d.d. Bertie b 5: abstract of title, p. 2.
  • 41. O.R.O. Cal. Q. Sess. viii, p. 113.
  • 42. Ibid. p. 133.
  • 43. Ibid. pp. 134–5.
  • 44. Oxf. Jnl. 5 Feb. 1763.
  • 45. d.d. Hobbs c 21: agreement with workhouse keeper.
  • 46. Ibid.
  • 47. O.R.O. QSM. 11/2: Trin. Sess. 1788.
  • 48. d.d. Par. Thame c 4.
  • 49. Poor Abstract, pp. 404–5.
  • 50. Census.
  • 51. O.R.O. Th. Union Min. Bk. 1835–7.
  • 52. Census, 1841.
  • 53. O.R.O. Th. Union Min. Bk. 1835–7.
  • 54. Ibid. 1840–2, &c.
  • 55. Ibid. 1835–7, 1836–40.
  • 56. Ibid. 1837–40.
  • 57. Ibid. 1842–4.
  • 58. Ibid. 1835–7, &c. to 1847–50.
  • 59. H.O. 107/1726/2.
  • 60. O.R.O. Th. Union Min. Bk. 1850–3.
  • 61. Brown and Guest, Thame, 213. Cf. report of Thame Board in Thame Gazette, 18 Aug. 1896.
  • 62. Thame Gaz. 27 Apr. 1897.
  • 63. Brown and Guest, Thame, 270.
  • 64. Lupton, Extracts, 18, 21, 22, 23, 25.
  • 65. Lee, Thame, 522–3.
  • 66. U.D.C. Th. Dist. Loc. Bd. Min. Bk. Oct. 1871. There are Local Bd. and U.D.C. mins. for Sept. 1871–1959. A draft of mins. for Oct. 1878–Dec. 1888 is at the O.R.O.
  • 67. U.D.C. mins. 1888–1959.
  • 68. Inf. the Clerk, U.D.C.
  • 69. Seymour Diary, cited Brown and Guest, Thame, 193. For later developments see U.D.C. mins. passim.
  • 70. U.D.C. mins. 1926.
  • 71. Ibid. 1909.
  • 72. MS. Top. Gen. c 43–45.
  • 73. Thame Gazette, 20 June 1871, July 1871.
  • 74. Ibid.
  • 75. U.D.C. Th. Dist. Loc. Bd. Min. Bk. 1871.
  • 76. Ibid.
  • 77. U.D.C. min. bk.
  • 78. List of subscribers printed by J. H. Marshall, Aylesbury (1818).
  • 79. U.D.C. min. bk.
  • 80. Thame Gazette, 1881.
  • 81. U.D.C. min. bk.
  • 82. Ibid.
  • 83. Ibid.
  • 84. Ibid.
  • 85. Ibid.
  • 86. d.d. Bertie b 5 (uncat.).
  • 87. U.D.C. mins.
  • 88. Ibid.
  • 89. Ibid.
  • 90. Ibid.
  • 91. Ibid.
  • 92. O.R.O. List and Rules of Superintending constables for Petty Sessional Division. (Oxon. 1852), 40.
  • 93. O.R.O. QSM. 11/2: Trin. Sess. 1788. For the bridewell see ibid. Cal. Q. Sess. viii. 109, 184, 233, 238–40. For the bishop's medieval prison see above, p. 115.
  • 94. Th. Union min. bk. May 1841.
  • 95. O.R.O. QSM. 11/16, Epiph. Sess. 1855.
  • 96. Ibid. Cal. Q. Sess. 1854–9, p. 223.
  • 97. First Report from the select cttee. on Police with mins. of Evidence, 1853.
  • 98. O.R.O. Oxon. Co. Police mins. 17 Sept. 1859. There are Police minute bks. from 1856.
  • 99. Ibid. 18 Feb. 1865.
  • 100. Kelly, Dir. Oxon. (1869); Thame Gazette, passim.
  • 101. Inf. the Clerk, U.D.C.