A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Wellington, as a royal demesne manor, (fn. 1) had exemption from suit of Bradford hundred great court and was separately represented at the eyre of 1203. (fn. 2) After 1210 the manor was in private hands but the exemption was preserved: in 1255 Wellington was a free manor and its steward merely attended twice a year at the hundred court. (fn. 3) Wellington's separate great and little courts were mentioned in 1345 and 1481. By 1680 they had coalesced as the 'view of frankpledge with the court baron' and so continued until 1840 or later. Apley, Arleston, Dothill, and Wellington townships presented at the great court in 1345 and 1481. By 1680 the court was held annually in October and sometimes, until 1704 or later, there was also an April session. From 1802 courts sat annually in October or November. In 1687 an adjourned session was held at the market hall, and the lord's right to hold manor courts there was reserved in 1739. (fn. 4) The hall was demolished c. 1800 (fn. 5) and by 1824 the court always adjourned to the Talbot. (fn. 6) There are rolls for 1345-6, 1481, 1680, 1686-1704, 1745-6, 1752-7, and (with a few years missing) 1787- 1840, and estreats of fines for 1723-9, 1755-6, 1773-4, 1776-7, and (with numerous gaps) 1787- 1822. (fn. 7)
Wellington never became a corporate borough, and the lord's steward presided at its manor courts. There was by 1346 a distinct class of burgesses, presumably holders of burgages (mentioned by 1301) (fn. 8) and thus to some extent hereditary. Burgages were still so called in 1674. (fn. 9) By custom only burgesses were free to carry on a trade. In the Middle Ages residents who were not burgesses could purchase that freedom from the lord on an annual basis as tensers, and 'taintership money' was still demanded of them in the 1680s and 1750s. Non-burgesses in 1346 could buy the same right for life. From 1826 men setting up new businesses were amerced in nominal sums by the manor court, but paid less if they had served an apprenticeship within the manor.
By the late 17th century the court's verdicts, orders, and elections were made by the 12 jurors or homage, many of whom had earlier served as manorial officers. They were drawn from various occupations and economic levels (fn. 10) and the jury's composition varied from year to year. It was nevertheless controlled by a handful of regular attenders, who included some of the town's wealthiest men. Since they were not necessarily the Foresters' tenants (fn. 11) it is unlikely that the lord could exert much pressure on the court. In the mid and late 18th century there might be as many as 14 jurors, and by 1752 the position of foreman was recognized. There were up to 22 jurors in the 1830s and the average was then 15. Membership was less varied by then, however, and regular attendance more usual.
The highest appointment made by the jury was that of bailiff, an office that existed by 1315. (fn. 12) In 1345 there were two bailiffs for the 'town and liberty', elected and sworn annually at a great court; it is not known whether their bailiwicks were separate. There was only one bailiff in 1481, drawn from the jury and similarly sworn (and presumably elected). In the late 17th century the bailiff was drawn from the same men as were juries, but some had yet to be jurors themselves. Usually, however, they had served at least one of the lower manorial offices, especially that of constable. In the 1830s the bailiff had usually served as a juror but not in any other office, and by 1835 he was unofficially styled mayor. (fn. 13)
There were two constables by 1481, drawn from the jury, and in the late 17th century most were potential jurors and even bailiffs. In the 1830s, however, they were unlikely to be jurors. From 1837 a third constable was also elected. The manorial constables disappeared after the formation of the county constabulary in 1840. (fn. 14)
Two aletasters (called clerks of the market by 1787) were elected annually by 1345 and still in 1840. Until the late 17th century, or later, they were potential jurors, though often younger than the constables.
In 1481, but not in 1345 or the late 17th century, a body of 'fivemen' (quinque homines) was drawn from the jury. Its role is not known.
In the late 17th century there were three, sometimes two, street surveyors for the town. They disposed of occasional rates for street repairs and were usually senior jurors. The office had disappeared by 1745.
The other elective offices created after 1481 were of lower standing; the holders were not usually potential jurors. There were two leather inspectors and sealers by the late 17th century and until 1811. Two, sometimes three, swine ringers and yokers were elected in the late 17th century, but were reduced to one by 1787. The office remained in 1840. Until the open fields were inclosed in 1702 (fn. 15) a hayward was elected. There were also two street scavengers for the town by the late 17th century and still in 1840.
The manor had a common crier by 1697 and still in 1905 (fn. 16) but it was not an elective office. In 1815 he collected the court's fines for the constables and received an allowance for each court attended. (fn. 17) He still appeared in uniform in the 1870s, ending his announcements with 'God save the queen and the lord of the manor!' (fn. 18)
In 1680 there were shooting butts and a common pound. In 1842 the pound lay on the east side of King Street. (fn. 19) The county magistrates provided a lock-up in 1779. (fn. 20) It was rebuilt c. 1831 (fn. 21) and in 1842 stood in the churchyard. (fn. 22) In 1853, after the county police station opened, (fn. 23) it was offered to the parish. (fn. 24) Stocks were mentioned in 1818. (fn. 25) From the 18th century, copyhold tenures and open-field agriculture having ceased, the court's concerns were mostly with stray animals, obstructions to roads and watercourses, and regulation of the town's streets and pavements. By the 1840s, however, its sanitary work was far from effective. (fn. 26) After 1854, when responsibility for the town's sanitary condition passed to improvement commissioners, (fn. 27) the court probably ceased to meet.
In Aston township before c. 1588 the Grey estate owed suit to Charlton Castle manor court (fn. 28) and the Newport estate to that of Eyton on Severn. (fn. 29) From c. 1588 Aston was all subject to Eyton. (fn. 30) In 1810 it remained subject to Eyton's court leet and court baron, which still appointed a constable for Aston. (fn. 31) Walcot township, before the suppression of Haughmond abbey in 1539, seems to have been subject to a joint court or courts held at Haughmond, Uffington, Downton, and Walcot interchangeably. (fn. 32) As late as 1563 Walcot presented, unusually, at the court leet and court baron for Uffington 'with the members' (also called Haughmond 'with the members'). (fn. 33) By then, however, the redistribution of Haughmond abbey's former estates had been accompanied by a revision of manorial jurisdictions, for by 1549 Walcot usually presented at the court leet and court baron for Uckington, Norton, and Walcot, which was held at those places interchangeably until 1560 or later. By 1563 the same court was usually described as of Uckington 'with the members'. By 1575 and until 1833, or later, it regularly appointed a constable for Walcot and heard the township's presentments. There were stocks and a pound in 1583. (fn. 34)
By 1600 Little Dawley and Malinslee (in Dawley) were under separate courts baron, (fn. 35) leaving Leegomery, Wappenshall, and Ketley with one court baron, of which records from the 17th to the 19th century are preserved. (fn. 36) It met at Leegomery House in the mid 17th century (fn. 37) and a pound lay nearby in 1723. (fn. 38) Leegomery manor was in the leet jurisdiction of Bradford hundred in 1255 (fn. 39) and 1592. (fn. 40)
By 1748 there was a parish workhouse in the town, farmed by Thomas Hazlehurst, (fn. 41) a tailor, (fn. 42) described in 1753 as manager. (fn. 43) The overseers paid him a fixed quarterly sum to cover inmates' food, clothes, medical care, and burial. He provided work and presumably sold the products, perhaps as part of his tailoring business, and paid for the apprenticing of children. From 1748 paupers from Newport were also admitted, (fn. 44) and from Berrington temporarily 1750-1. (fn. 45) By 1797 parish relief was controlled by a vestry committee or board, which employed a salaried workhouse governor and matron and sat fortnightly to receive applications for relief and examine the overseers' accounts. Two of the board, chosen in rotation, visited the house several times during the fortnight and reported at its end to their colleagues. In 1834 relief was still supervised by a select vestry; rating was left to the overseers and a professional valuation. (fn. 46)
In November 1797 the house contained 10 men, 14 women, and 20 children. There were also 40 children put out to nurse and 57 paupers on weekly out-relief. Numbers receiving indoor relief fluctuated rapidly. There were 186 in April 1801, but only 39 in October 1802. Of the paupers on out-relief a few were fed at the house. (fn. 47) Poor relief cost £1,503 in 1803. (fn. 48) In 1817, with pits and ironworks closed, (fn. 49) the sum was £7,916. (fn. 50) In the emergency the parish put 100-150 unemployed men to road work, as in Madeley, (fn. 51) and paid them wages. In the period 1819-22 some paupers were being paid by the parish as out-workers, sewing footwear. (fn. 52) After 1817 expenditure on the poor fell and in 1826 only £1,616 was spent. (fn. 53) There was a sharp rise between 1829 and 1831, when £3,059 was paid, then a gradual fall (fn. 54) as full employment returned. In 1834 the workhouse had c. 40 residents, none of them able-bodied, and it seems that most of the men on out-relief were colliers. (fn. 55) The parish was in Wellington poor-law union 1836-1930. (fn. 56)
In 1797 (fn. 57) the workhouse moved from Street Lane (fn. 58) to the south side of Walker Street. (fn. 59) The guardians kept and enlarged the Walker Street premises for adults and used the former Ercall Magna parish workhouse, at Waters Upton, for children. The guardians also rented the former Wrockwardine parish workhouse 1838-41. (fn. 60) In 1851 the main workhouse could accommodate 160 residents and there was room for c. 100 children at Waters Upton. (fn. 61) In 1876 those houses were replaced by a new building (fn. 62) south-west of the town on the north side of Street Lane. (fn. 63) It had accommodation for 350 in 1885. (fn. 64) In 1930 ownership passed to the county council (fn. 65) and by 1948 the institution was occupied mainly by the sick. In that year, as Wrekin Hospital, it was vested in the minister of Health. (fn. 66) Some non-sick residents remained, however, and the hospital was therefore administered by both the county council and the Birmingham Regional Hospital Board until 1950, when the non-sick were taken elsewhere and the council's involvement ceased. (fn. 67)
Until 1897 the union's offices were the parish offices, Walker Street, (fn. 68) presumably inherited in 1836. The guardians met there (fn. 69) until 1883 and then at the improvement commissioners' new board room. (fn. 70) The board room at the workhouse of 1876 was not used because of its distance from the town. (fn. 71) The guardians bought Edgbaston House, Walker Street, in 1897 (fn. 72) and moved their offices and board room to it. (fn. 73) The Wellington area guardians committee was meeting there in 1937. (fn. 74) In 1982 Edgbaston House was occupied by a firm of solicitors, of whom one was superintendent registrar of marriages for Wellington district.
Under the Lighting and Watching Act, 1833, (fn. 75) the parish chose to elect gas lighting inspectors for the town and under the Highway Act, 1835, (fn. 76) chose to elect a board, whose district comprised Wellington, Watling Street, and Arleston townships. (fn. 77) By the 1840s the open vestry was concerned almost exclusively with ecclesiastical administration, (fn. 78) its other rates and responsibilities having been delegated to its own committees or taken over by other authorities.
In 1854 the Wellington (Salop) Improvement Act appointed 15 commissioners (thereafter to be elected by the ratepayers) with extensive powers within the improvement district, including those previously exercised by the highway board and the parish lighting inspectors. For most purposes the improvement district comprised the eastern part of Wellington township, with small adjacent parts of Watling Street and Arleston townships. (fn. 79)
In 1856 the commissioners' office was in New Street but by 1870 was in Walker Street, (fn. 80) where brick-built offices, including a board room, opened in 1883. (fn. 81) Wellington urban district council, which in 1894 replaced the commissioners (the urban sanitary authority under the Act of 1872), inherited the improvement commissioners' offices (fn. 82) and met there (except 1955-9) (fn. 83) until the urban district was abolished in 1974 and merged in Wrekin district. (fn. 84) In 1900 the U.D.C. was allegedly controlled by Wesleyans. (fn. 85) By the 1960s Conservatives and Independents predominated. (fn. 86)
The part of the parish outside the improvement area was added to the Wrekin highway district in 1865; that district was adjusted to coincide with Wellington rural sanitary district, formed in 1872, to which its powers were transferred in 1882. (fn. 87) In 1974 Wellington rural district was merged in Wrekin district. (fn. 88)
The commissioners' common seal was circular, 45 mm. in diameter, and depicted the Wrekin with INCORPORATED 1854 at the base. It was inscribed (roman) at the circumference: WELLINGTON IMPROVEMENT COMMISSIONERS. (fn. 89) The council's first common seal was circular, 50 mm. in diameter, and consisted of an inscription (black letter) across the face: THE SEAL OF THE URBAN DISTRICT COUNCIL OF WELLINGTON, SALOP. (fn. 90) A new seal incorporating the council's arms was provided in 1951. (fn. 91) The arms granted that year included a crest (on a wreath of the colours in front of a portcullis chained sable a bugle horn stringed or) and the motto Deo adjuvante. (fn. 92) A chairman's jewel depicting the arms was presented by the retiring clerk in 1951 (fn. 93) and the council provided a silver gilt chain for it in 1951. (fn. 94)