Newcastle-under-Lyme: Manor

Pages 15-16

A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 8. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1963.

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Strictly the borough had little connexion with the manor of Newcastle-under-Lyme. The latter was centred on the castle which lay, not in the borough, but in a detached part of the ancient parish of Stoke. The need to maintain its garrison led to the creation of manorial tenures in Stoke and Wolstanton ancient parishes involving the payment of rent and the performance of castle-guard. The descent of the manor together with particulars of these tenures, in so far as they lay in the ancient parish of Stoke, is treated below (fn. 1) and the subject of castleguard above. (fn. 2) The manorial history of Wolstanton is reserved for treatment under that parish.

That the borough was not included within the manor appears to be confirmed by the reply of Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, to the quo warranto inquiry of 1293 when, while claiming view of frankpledge, free warren, and other manorial incidents in the manor of Newcastle, he expressly claimed nothing from the borough apart from its firma burgi of 40 marks. (fn. 3)

To the question whether the borough was itself a manor it is not easy to give a definite answer. The charter of incorporation of 1590 granted to the mayor, bailiffs, and burgesses view of frankpledge of all the inhabitants of the borough, including those entirely and those not entirely resident. The view was to be held in the Common Hall called the Guildhall twice annually 'in like manner as hath been used from ancient time'. (fn. 4) The existence of leet jurisdiction over a long, though unspecified, period, while it constituted a normal concomitant of the rights and privileges claimed by a lord of the manor, did not of itself indicate manorial status. A further statement in the charter that the burghal lands, privileges, and jurisdictions were to be held by the mayor, bailiffs, and burgesses as of the honor of Tutbury does, however, give a stronger indication of a manorial relationship between the Crown and the borough. (fn. 5)

In the 17th century, when the inhabitants objected to grinding their corn and malt at the castle mills, (fn. 6) the claim of the borough to be a separate manor was brought forward to support their case. In 1608 and 1609 Ralph Sneyd, then the lessee of the castle mills, sued his sister-in-law Ann Sneyd for failing to send her grain to the mills and maintaining in the town a hand grist mill set up by her late husband George Sneyd. The defendant's case was that, while the king was seised of a manor consisting of four several townships, there was another manor, that of the town and borough of Newcastle. The king had no mills in the town manor, and the inhabitants, of whom she was one, were not bound to do suit at the king's mills. The court, however, could find no grounds for the distinction between the manor of Newcastle-under-Lyme and the supposed manor of the town. In its view the manor and the borough were but one manor and the borough parcel of the manor, and in consequence the inhabitants owed suit at the king's mills. (fn. 7)

Again, in the period 1664–79, when William Sneyd, the then farmer of the castle mills, sought redress against the mayor and corporation who had erected a horse mill within the borough for the grinding of grain and malt, (fn. 8) the defendants pleaded that the mills were within the manor of Newcastle and not within the manor of the borough. They contended that the latter was a 'real and absolute manor held immediately of the King's Majesty . . . consisting of divers ancient messuages and burgages, common land, waste ground, chief rents, and other privileges and perquisites, as waifs, estrays, felons' goods, &c. The manor of the borough has its distinct Court Leet and Court Baron and no one in the borough owes suit or service to or appears at any of the courts of the manor of Newcastle.' (fn. 9) Finally William Sneyd withdrew his suit and the Duchy Court in consequence was not obliged to adjudicate on the question of the status of the borough manor. (fn. 10) This seems to be the last occasion on which the claim of the borough to be a separate manor was formally submitted, and indeed by that time its validity or otherwise had ceased to have more than an antiquarian interest. (fn. 11)

In recent times an alleged custom of the manor was the subject of litigation. (fn. 12) Newcastle Corporation, the owners in fee simple of land in Wolstanton, formerly copyhold of the manor, on which they had erected Wolstanton Fire Station, brought an action to restrain the owners of the minerals thereunder (the Duchy of Lancaster) and the lessees of the mining rights (Wolstanton Ltd.) from so working the mines as to cause subsidence and damage to the property. The defendants pleaded that there was a custom or a right by prescription to let down the surface without paying compensation. On appeal the House of Lords held that the usage was unreasonable and therefore could not form the foundation of a custom to be recognized by the courts as valid and that the same principle applied to the claim by prescription.


  • 1. See pp. 184–6.
  • 2. See p. 13.
  • 3. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 718.
  • 4. Pape, Tudor and Stuart Newcastle, 63.
  • 5. Ibid. 64.
  • 6. See p. 48.
  • 7. D.L. 5/24, ff. 760, 790, 791. Subsequently, on the ground of her poverty and advanced age, the court allowed Ann Sneyd to maintain the hand mill for her own use during her lifetime: ibid. f. 895.
  • 8. Pape, Tudor and Stuart Newcastle, 329.
  • 9. D.L. 5/37, f. 433; U.C.N.S., Sneyd MSS. Box S. 92.
  • 10. D.L. 5/39, f. 411; Sneyd MSS. Box S. 92.
  • 11. In 1835 it was stated that the corporation were lords of the manor of Newcastle extending over about 554 acres, which was the area of the ancient borough: Rep. Com. Mun. Corps. H.C. 116, p. 1955 (1835), xxv.
  • 12. Times Law Reports, vol. lvi (1939–40), 794–9, Newcastle-under-Lyme v. Wolstanton Ltd. and Duchy of Lancaster. A similar case, with the like result, occurred in 1844 (Hilton v. Lord Granville): ibid.