Beverley, 1700-1835: Town Government

A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.

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A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave, 'Beverley, 1700-1835: Town Government', in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) pp. 121-126. British History Online [accessed 25 May 2024].

A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave. "Beverley, 1700-1835: Town Government", in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) 121-126. British History Online, accessed May 25, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Brown, L M. Forster, G C F. Hall, I. Horrox, R E. Kent, G H R. Neave, D. "Beverley, 1700-1835: Town Government", A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989). 121-126. British History Online. Web. 25 May 2024,

Town Government

The structure of the government of the town as laid down by the charter of 1685 remained unchanged until 1835. The social composition of the corporation, comprising the mayor, 12 aldermen, and 13 capital burgesses, did, however, alter significantly. The corporation was a self-perpetuating oligarchy with the aldermen electing the members of their own bench for life, and also nominating the 26 candidates for election as capital burgesses each year. During the period 17001828 only 73 aldermen were appointed and accepted office and they were increasingly drawn from the gentry and professional classes, in contrast with the late 17th century, when the aldermen were mostly tradesmen. (fn. 1) The rise in the social status of the corporation was most marked after 1800, but already in the 18th century lawyers and medical men had begun to play a major role in the management of the town. In 1724-5, for example, the mayor and aldermen included an apothecary, 3 attorneys, and 8 tradesmen, of whom 4 were mercers or grocers, 2 woollen drapers, one a maltster, and one a tanner. In 1831 they comprised 4 gentlemen, 5 attorneys, 2 medical men, a banker, and only one tradesman, a wine and spirit merchant. (fn. 2) At the inquiry into the corporation in 1833 it was intimated that the practice was by then never to elect anyone engaged in trade as an alderman. (fn. 3) There was a less obvious change in the social and economic status of the capital burgesses, though even in that group the lesser tradesmen were fewer by the early 19th century. In 1724-5 the 13 capital burgesses included a shoemaker, a fellmonger, a woollen draper, an innkeeper, a grocer, a tanner, and an apothecary; in 1831 their ranks were filled by a gentleman, a corn-factor, 2 surgeons, 2 grocers, 2 builders, a brickmaker, a hatter, a cooper, a tallow-chandler, and a porter merchant. (fn. 4)

The mayor was chosen from among the aldermen at an annual election involving all the freemen. It is not clear how often there was a poll before 1800, but there commonly was by the early 19th century and the election became increasingly a political event. Canvassing, the use of posters, and the treating of voters were all features of the mayor-choosing by the 1820s. The 1824 election between a Tory surgeon, John Williams, and a Whig attorney, Henry Shepherd, was particularly bitterly fought on party lines, (fn. 5) and as much as 12s. was paid for votes in addition to the travelling expenses of out-voters. (fn. 6)

Treating was also a feature of the annual election by the freemen of the capital burgesses, which took place on the same day as the mayor-choosing. (fn. 7) Although the aldermen controlled the choice of capital burgesses, those elected sometimes acted in opposition to the aldermen: such was the case, for example, when the chamber clerk was appointed in 1802 and 1808 and the master of the grammar school in 1828. (fn. 8) Some of the capital burgesses served for several consecutive terms and it was from their ranks that the aldermen were usually selected in the earlier part of the period. (fn. 9)

Until the 19th century the finances of the corporation were handled by two receivers, selected annually from the capital burgesses. (fn. 10) One was responsible for the corporation account and the other for the minster funds. The two accounts were made up together until 1729-30, when separate volumes evidently began to be used. (fn. 11) In 1809 the chamber clerk was appointed sole receiver, with an additional salary of £50. (fn. 12)

The minster funds arose from property granted to the town in the 16th century for the repair of that church. In 1706-7 rents totalling £160 were received from property in Beverley, including 58 houses, 15 closes, and 6 shops, and land at Etton; by 1728-9 the figure had risen to £234. The rest of the total income of £222 in the earlier year was made up of debts received, fines for leases, and the £37 paid by the Crown as stipends for the minster staff. (fn. 13) Expenditure in the early 18th century included the payment of £66 to the incumbent and his assistant, building costs, the expenses of the churchwardens, and the running costs of the church, including some salaries. (fn. 14) In 1717 the first of the two major restorations of the period began with funds largely raised by appeal, and from about that date sums were transferred from the minster account to the restoration account, which was evidently also controlled by the corporation. A balance of £154 was, for example, transferred c. 1730 and the minster receiver then also met restoration expenditure of a further £28. By the end of the restoration work, in the early 1730s, some £7,500 had been spent, (fn. 15) and it was presumably the corporation's handling of those large sums which was criticized by John Moyser in 1720 and investigated by the archbishop of York the following year. (fn. 16) Corporation involvement in the finances of the minster was increased with the appointment of the mayor and recorder as two of the trustees of the minster New Fund in 1766. (fn. 17) The corporation's direct concern with the minster extended also to the appointment and control of the behaviour of its staff and to the oversight of the churchwardens' expenditure. (fn. 18)

The corporation's own income (fn. 19) rose from £331 in 1710-11 to £760 in 1760-1 and c. £1,660 in 1831-2. (fn. 20) It came chiefly from rents, the sale of freedoms, and tolls. In 1706-7 rents totalling £177 were received from property in Beverley, including 36 houses, 18 closes, 2 mills, and a limekiln, and from lands at Hornsea and Weel and others at Guilden Morden and Over (both Cambs.). The lands outside the town contributed almost half of the value of the total rental and were mostly held by the corporation in trust for various charities. The income from rents rose steadily during the century, from £290 in 1740-1 to £400 in 1770-1 and £549 in 1790-1. (fn. 21) Financial difficulties forced the sale of property worth £1,690 in 1799 but rents still produced £756 in 1805-6. (fn. 22) Further sales of houses took place in 1809 but the money raised was used chiefly to buy land in Beverley Parks and the sum of £885 received from rents in 1831-2 was 53 per cent of the total income, much the same as it had been during the previous 100 years. (fn. 23)

Admission fees and the sale of freedoms were together the second largest source of income. Receipts rose from £85 in 1700-1 to £125 in 1740-1, an average of £242 a year in 1778-88, and £312 in 1831-2. (fn. 24) Increases in the amount charged for freedoms led to substantial sums being raised, particularly at election time, whether or not there was a contest. In 1795-6, when there was an uncontested election, £644 was received from freedoms. (fn. 25) The exaction of money from parliamentary candidates for their freedoms was particularly lucrative: the fee was set at 100 guineas in 1791 and raised to 150 guineas in 1808 and 200 guineas in 1825. (fn. 26) The corporation received £420 in that way in 1825-6 and again in 182930. (fn. 27) The corporation had the power, under the charter, to levy fines for refusal by a freeman to serve as mayor, alderman, or capital burgess; only a dozen men elected aldermen in the period 1700-1828 were so fined, but the corporation was accused of dishonesty in 1751 when William Strickland was fined £50 for refusing to serve as alderman. (fn. 28)

The third chief source of income was tolls from markets and fairs, which were let by the corporation. The rent was £40 in 1706-7, £50 in 1740-1, £72 in 1770-1, £86 in 1790-1, and £120 in 1831-2. In the earlier 18th century the corporation also received a sum for toll corn sold, in 1740-1, for instance, nearly £16, and later in the century tolls at Hull bridge produced a small rent, too. (fn. 29)

The chief regular items of expenditure by the corporation were concerned with the building and repair of property, the maintenance of streets, and salaries. Large sums were spent on public buildings, including the market cross of 1711-14 and the rebuilding of part of the guildhall in 1762. (fn. 30) Plans to erect a dining room near the guildhall in 1782 were not implemented but, as a final fling, the unreformed corporation spent £1,309 from 1832 to 1835 on refronting the guildhall. (fn. 31) Besides maintaining property which it kept in hand, the corporation encouraged tenants to act by letting houses and shops on favourable building leases. (fn. 32) Improvements to the streets of the town were a special concern of the corporation: pavers were continually at work repairing streets and making new causeways with cobbles and gravel bought in large quantities in Holderness. The sums of £108 spent on paving and £419 on cobbles and gravel accounted for over a quarter of the total expenditure in 1804-5. (fn. 33) The corporation also played a part in the piecemeal covering of open sewers, for which householders were mainly responsible. Its concern with street improvement was increased when the members of the corporation were designated lighting and watching commissioners under an Act of 1808. The Act enabled money to be raised for street lighting and cleansing; at first the streets were lit with oil lamps but from 1824 with gas from a privately built gasworks which was bought by the commissioners in 1829. (fn. 34)

In 1788 the corporation paid salaries to 19 officers. The mayor received £70 for his expenses and entertaining, the recorder and the town clerk 10 guineas each, and the last-mentioned officer a further 3 guineas as billet master. The macebearer and the town husband received £6 each, and the two serjeants at mace £5 each. The rest of the staff were paid from £1 to £3 a year; they comprised chamber clerk, market keeper, swineherd, cook, beadle, four waits, and keepers for Swine Moor wells, the shambles, and the fire engine in St. Mary's church. Besides the salaries of its own officers, the corporation was obliged to support the work of the town churches and the grammar school with regular payments. The master of the grammar school then received £60 a year, the incumbent of the minster £20 as an augmentation and for a lecture at St. Mary's church, and another lecturer at St. Mary's 10 guineas. Less regular sums were also paid to the bell woman and street cleansers and for the work of the constables and serjeants at the markets, fairs, and races. (fn. 35) Fees added greatly to the value of some of the corporation offices: in 1833 the offices of town clerk and billet master were worth c. £140 a year, most of it from fees, while the post of market keeper was said to be 'a better situation than recorder or town clerk'. (fn. 36)

An occasional item of expenditure which could be heavy was the cost of defending the town's interests at law. The claim by Bishop Burton men to be exempt from toll as tenants of the former provostry of St. John posed a serious threat to the town's income and at least £150 was spent in countering it between 1715 and 1717. (fn. 37) Later suits, arising from the corporation's claim to part of the former moat in the Trinities, went against the town, which had to pay c. £1,450 in costs and damages between 1826 and 1828. (fn. 38)

Besides its own funds and those of the minster, the corporation also administered moneys raised for the beck from the 1720s. (fn. 39) The total receipts, consisting mainly of tolls, balances from the previous year, and loans raised to meet heavy expenditure, amounted to £119 in 1735-6, usually £100-£200 in the mid century, and later over £300, reaching almost £800 in 1825-6. Expenditure was occasionally high, as in 1775 when nearly £300 were spent on cleansing the beck and in the 19th century, but in some years little was spent and the beck fund was drawn upon for expenditure not authorized by the beck Acts. In 1761-2, for example, when a new guildhall was proposed, nothing was spent on the maintenance of beck or streets and the whole surplus of £105 from the fund was appropriated by the corporation. Loans were also made from the beck fund to the corporation, town institutions, and individual aldermen. (fn. 40)

The policing of the town was carried out by 18 annually elected constables and the serjeants at mace, under the control of the mayor, recorder, and aldermen acting as J.P.s for the borough and liberties. Any three of the justices, of whom the mayor or recorder were to be one, could in petty or quarter sessions deal with all felonies except those causing loss of life. Offenders were placed in the town gaol and the penalty of transportation was sometimes enforced. (fn. 41) Concern over the increase in crime in the later 18th century led to subscriptions being raised for the apprehension and conviction of offenders. In 1786 the corporation subscribed 10 guineas for that purpose, and c. 1788 the Beverley Association for the Prosecution of Felons was established. (fn. 42) A spate of robberies in 1807 led to £1,000 being subscribed to obtain the lighting and watching Act, but there is no evidence that night watchmen were appointed by the commissioners before 1821. (fn. 43)

Although comparatively peaceful, Beverley experienced some of the unrest that was endemic in the 18th century. In 1748 a mob killed the toll collector at Grovehill and burned down gates there, (fn. 44) presumably objecting to the payment of additional tolls under the Act of 1745. It was not until 1751 that the gates were rehung. (fn. 45) Another serious disturbance took place in 1757 during the widespread riots against the imposition of the Militia Act. Several hundred people from the neighbourhood of the town entered Beverley and demanded money from resident gentry under threat that they would burn the town, and indeed they began to demolish a house; money was given and the mob left. (fn. 46) As a consequence in 1758 a group of gentlemen formed an association for the defence of the corporation 'and the circumjacent inhabitants'. (fn. 47) Rioting was also associated with parliamentary elections and the annual mayor-swearing in the late 18th and early 19th century.

The chief days in the ritual calendar of the town were the Monday before Michaelmas, when the mayor was elected, and his swearing-in a week or fortnight later. (fn. 48) The populace celebrated the swearing-in by baiting a bull in Saturday Market or in front of the new mayor's house, (fn. 49) while the gentlemen of the town and neighbourhood were entertained to dinner at the Tiger or the Beverley Arms. (fn. 50) The days were also enlivened with music, bell ringing, and the distribution of apples, and the evenings with fireworks, gunfire, and bonfires made with tar barrels provided by the corporation. (fn. 51) The increasingly notorious sport of bull-baiting caused much disturbance and was forbidden by the corporation in 1786. (fn. 52) About 1802, however, one of the town's M.P.s, probably John Wharton, was persuaded by 'a certain class of his constituents' to renew the diversion. The magistrates consequently banned the sport within the town but it continued on Westwood until the passing of the Act against the cruel treatment of cattle in 1822 enabled the corporation to stop it completely in 1824. (fn. 53) By the early 19th century bonfires and fireworks were also being discouraged by the corporation and in 1825 the magistrates brought to an end the large-scale annual football match that was customarily played on Westwood on the Sunday before the races. (fn. 54)

An undercurrent of unrest in the early 19th century was associated with the increasing political polarization of the community, evident in both parliamentary and local elections. In 1829 it was remarked that 'as in all independent borough towns, two conflicting parties exist, which usually clash at public meetings, when the discussion of any important measure is introduced; and hence such meetings are often clamorous and discordant'. (fn. 55) Pressure for parliamentary and municipal reform divided the town, particular causes of complaint being the election of aldermen and aldermanic control of the election of capital burgesses. The discontent of the reformers with the existing structure and practices of the corporation was evident in the remarks of the currier John Dawson and the attorney Matthewb Empson at the public inquiry in 1833 which preceded the dissolution of the old corporation under the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. (fn. 56)


  • 1. Above, Beverley in 17th Cent. (Charters and Town Govt.); Poulson, Beverlac, 405-7 lists the aldermen. Their occupations can be found from the list of mayors: ibid. 4002.
  • 2. B.L. Lansd. MS. 896, f. 184; Poulson, Beverlac, 4001; White, Dir. Hull (1831), 216.
  • 3. Wharton, Rep. into Corp. Beverley, 6.
  • 4. B.L. Lansd. MS. 896, f. 185; H.R.O., BC/IV/7/4; Poulson, Beverlac, 400; White, Dir. Hull (1831), 216.
  • 5. The poll bk. and campaign literature were published: H.U.L., DX/150/3. For the elections of 1822-32 see Beverley Pub. Libr., DDX/24/25 (inside cover).
  • 6. Wharton, Rep. into Corp. Beverley, 8-9.
  • 7. Ibid. 7.
  • 8. H.R.O., BC/II/7/9, ff. 63v., 64; ibid. DDBC/1/19(d); Min. Bks. pp. x-xi.
  • 9. Rep. Com. Mun. Corp. pp. 1455-6; Min. Bks. p. x.
  • 10. B.L. Lansd. MS. 896, f. 185; Min. Bks., p. xvii.
  • 11. H.R.O., BC/II/6/126; BC/IV/1/1. The minster accts. have apparently not survived.
  • 12. Min. Bks. 101.
  • 13. H.R.O., BC/II/6/105, 126; below, Churches.
  • 14. H.R.O., BC/II/6/115-17; Boro. Rec. 191.
  • 15. H.R.O., BC/11/6/115-16, 126; BC/IV/14/1; Min. Bks. 4, 6, 13.
  • 16. Min. Bks. 7-8.
  • 17. Below, Churches.
  • 18. Min. Bks. 105, 110, 145-6.
  • 19. Changes in accounting practices make comparison difficult and most of the figures in this para, are calculations. Balances and arrears have been excluded. Rents include proceeds from leases of pasture and market stalls but exclude toll income.
  • 20. H.R.O., BC/II/6/109; BC/IV/1/2, 5.
  • 21. Ibid. BC/II/6/105; BC/IV/1/1-2; below, Charities; Outlying Townships (Weel).
  • 22. H.R.O., BC/IV/1/3, s.v. 1798-9; R.D.B., BZ/515/817, etc.
  • 23. H.R.O., BC/IV/1/3, 5; R.D.B., CO/440/684, etc.; Min. Bks. 100; Wharton, Rep. into Corp. Beverley, 37; below, Outlying Townships (Beverley Parks).
  • 24. H.R.O., BC/II/6/100; BC/IV/1/1, 2, 5.
  • 25. Ibid. BC/IV/1/3; above (Economy).
  • 26. Min. Bks. 74, 98, 131.
  • 27. H.R.O., BC/IV/1/3, 5.
  • 28. Boro. Rec. 113; Min. Bks. pp. x, 32; Poulson, Beverlac, 405-7.
  • 29. H.R.O., BC/II/6/105; BC/IV/1/1-2, 5; Min. Bks. 34, 36-7.
  • 30. Below, Mkts. and Fairs; Public Inst.
  • 31. H.R.O., BC/IV/1/2, s.v. 1782-3; BC/IV/1/5, s.vv. 1831-2 to 1834-5; Min. Bks. 63; below, Public Inst.
  • 32. Min. Bks. 35, 93; Hall, Hist. Beverley, 45-7, 55-6.
  • 33. H.R.O., BC/IV/1/3; Min. Bks. 38, 58, 67.
  • 34. Below, Public Services.
  • 35. H.R.O., DDBC/1/25, pp. 33-4; ibid. BC/IV/1/2, s.vv. 1786-7; 1787-8; Min. Bks. 41, 56; below, Churches; Education; Mkts. and Fairs; Public Services.
  • 36. Wharton, Rep. into Corp. Beverley, 17-19.
  • 37. H.R.O., DDBC/23/1, ff. 57-67; ibid. BC/II/6/114-15.
  • 38. H.R.O., DDBC/27, no. 11; ibid. BC/IV/1/3, s.vv. 18267; 1827-8; Min. Bks. 132, 134.
  • 39. H.R.O., BC/IV/2/1; above (Economy).
  • 40. Transport Hist. iv (2), 121-43; Rep. Com. Mun. Corp. p. 1462.
  • 41. H.R.O., DDBC/6/1; ibid. BC/IV/1/3, s.v. 1812-13; Sumner Colln., 'Beverley Ct. Leet Papers'; Rep. Com. Mun. Corp. pp. 1454-5, 1459-60.
  • 42. H.R.O., DDBC/21/19; Min. Bks. 68-9; below, Public Services; below (this section).
  • 43. Below, Public Services.
  • 44. Poulson, Beverlac, 812; Min. Bks. 29.
  • 45. Min. Bks. 32.
  • 46. B.L. Add. MS. 32874, ff. 121-4.
  • 47. Min. Bks. 38.
  • 48. Poulson, Beverlac, 52-3; Wharton, Rep. into Corp. Beverley, 4; Hull Advertiser, 15 Oct. 1830.
  • 49. Hull Advertiser, 11 Oct., 1 Nov. 1817.
  • 50. Ibid. 22 Oct. 1814; 11 Oct. 1817; 13 Oct. 1820; 15 Oct. 1830.
  • 51. H.R.O., BC/IV/1/3, s.vv. 1804-5; 1805-6; 1806-7; Hull Advertiser, 11 Oct. 1817; 9 Oct. 1829.
  • 52. Min. Bks. 69. It was not, however, until 1790 that the cessation of the custom was noted: H.U.L., DDX/60/3, s.v. 11 Nov. 1790.
  • 53. Beverley Pub. Libr., 'Beverley Documents', i, pp. 5856; Hull Advertiser, 1 Nov. 1817; 13 Oct. 1820; Oliver, Hist. Beverley, 422; 3 Geo. IV, c. 71.
  • 54. H.U.L., DDMM/2/18, f. 22; Oliver, Hist. Beverley, 429.
  • 55. Oliver, Hist. Beverley, 413.
  • 56. H.R.O., DDBC/27, nos. 6-8, 10; Wharton, Rep. into Corp. Beverley, passim; Rep. Com. Mun. Corp. p. 1457.