Archived Extracts

A FREE PRESS column authoritatively contributed by Mr G. G. Bonser J.P., dated from Friday March 8th 1935 amid amalgamated Sutton-in-Ashfield elections which abolished Huthwaite Urban Council offices.


Changes in Sutton and District

Interesting Survey by Mr. G. G. Bonser, J.P. ARTICLE 1

In view of the enlargement of the boundaries of Sutton, which will take effect on April 1st., the following review by Mr. G.G. Bonser J.P. of local government in Sutton will be read with considerable interest.

  When Honorious Archbishop of Canterbury from A.D. 627 to 653, divided England into districts, making it possible for a Bishop to oversee and visit the clergy, the plan worked so well that Theodore, who succeeded him, allotted smaller districts of clergy who might be easily reached and found when children needed baptism, adults desired marriage and the aged needed burial. And thus parishes came into existence.

  Establishment of Local Government

  As permanent churches were built, especially after the Normans came under William the Conqueror, the parishioners found it necessary that some one of them should be appointed, whose duty it was specially to look after the building and the interests of the persons using it, so in A.D. 1127 wardens were chosen to perform this duty, and thus local government was established.

  The Church building was the centre not only of the religious life of the community but in its vestry (or room adjoining the Church where the parson kept his vestments, the parish registers etc.) the inhabitants met to deal with all matters concerning the welfare of the parish, and from this meeting descended all the vestries and boards of those days in our village life.

  The record of these early days are lost but much may be learned of parish affairs from the records of the visits of the Archdeacons who held their Courts regularly in every county, and it was the duty of the Church Wardens to bring into his Court any parishioners, of whatever standing, who had transgressed the laws of morality.

Courts of Morals.

  As an instance of this, we find a record that when the Ven. Archdeacon Louth visited Mansfield in 1568, John Allycocke, of Sutton-in-Ashfield, was presented by the Churchwardens for not satisfying a judgement given at the promotion of a suit by Alice Bott. And on 24th January, 1578, Anne Alyn, Thomas Swanee, Hugh Wylsonne and Richard Keye were brought before Archdeacon for drinking at an ale house (ye Swanne) instead of being at Church.

  In 1580 on December 10th, the Church wardens themselves were summoned before the Archdeacon for not repairing the Church, and Thomas Langford was ordered to see that Richard Suger (a Warden) should pay twelve pence to goodman Jeffery, while both Suger and William Clarke (the other Warden) were cautioned for neglecting to repair the Church.

  As Humphrey Louth, the Registrar, lived at Sutton-in-Ashfield, it does not seem improbable that he prompted this correction. From this it is plainly to be seen that these Courts of the Archdeacon were Courts of Morals as well as local government, and it is open to argument that their disappearance under the regime of the Puritans in the 17th Century was a real and serious loss to the religious life of the community.

A Matter to Economics.

  And as a matter of economics, what a saving it would be if an offender were placed in the stocks as an example instead of being sent to gaol where he must be fed and cared for, his work neglected, and his family deprived of his services, or, if called upon to pay a fine, further impoverished.

  The parish meetings in the Church Vestry which had existed for centuries for the election of local officers continued to be the centre of local government but the government of mundane affairs by the Court of the Manor must not be overlooked. And in the records of the Court of the Manor held at Mansfield, held every third Thursday, we have accounts as early as A.D. 1316. These records from the Muniment Room of his Grace the Duke of Portland, first published in 1921 by the late Mr. R. W. Goulding, date from 1295, which a local historian found in Public Record Office many years ago. The Welbeck Rolls date from A.D. 1316.

  Its main function was the registering of all transactions in land transfer, but debtors were dealt with, many criminal offences such as assaults, thefts, etc, were also dealt with. As an instance, on Thursday next before the Feast of the Apostles Philipcura James, the Frankpledges (men who were appointed by a group of free holders as surety for good behavour) of Sutton-in-Ashfield, presented Agnes, daughter of Ralph, for stealing flax, and in the same Court at Michaelmas in 1315 Ralph de Molton surrendered to Hugh Cole all the tenements within and without the vill of Sutton-in-Ashfield which they had inherited from William the Clerk of Sutton. It Will be remembered that William's seal was stolen from the vestry of Sutton Church in 1923. Enough has been written to show that local Government was well understood and preached in the middle ages.

Duty of Wardens.

  The principal duty of Churchwardens was the repair and maintenance of the Parish Church, as not only the house of God, the place of worship and to which every parishioner had to come on the three occasions of his life, but also the place where all the affairs of the parish were transacted and the names of the Wardens are fairly well preserved in many records.

  At Sutton-in-Ashfield in 1573 Ralph Mason and Christopher Brandreth, in 1612, George Ellis and Richard Shaw, in 1761, Cornelius Hufton and John Bryan, in 1781, Thomas Dove and Samuel Barnes, in 1799, William Stanhope and James Daubeny, in 1824, William Beecroft and Clay Fisher, in 1837, Edward Unwin and William Beecroft, in 1845, John Butterworth and Ebeneser Hickton, in 1873, G. B. White and J. K. Daubeny, in 1881, William Bonser and John Briggs. No rates were lawful until signed by these officials until the Local Government Act of 1894.

  Other officials were associated with these Wardens, and records of the meetings of parishioners in Vestry assembled are to be found in Vestry books. At these meetings Freeholders and Copyholders met, and in the case of Sutton-in-Ashfield, a town in a Forest which had no less than 3,092 acres of unenclosed land, two Woodwards were elected, a third borough or petty constable, whose duties included the supervision of inns, apprehension of felons, etc. and to report to a meeting of inhabitants in Vestry assembled. A head borough was also elected, whose duty was to collect tithe.

Important Duties.

  The Woodwardens had important duties, such as checking encroachment on the Forest, theft of clay and wood and pasturing on the common land of animals of non-parishioners. We have a most interesting account of their action in the case of Roger le Wyne, who, in 1340, pastured his cattle on Fulwood, which the Woodward who lived at Hucknall Huthwaite impounded. A long suit in the Court of the Exchequer followed and finally Roger (who lived in a moated castle close to South Normanton Colliery) was made to keep his cattle off the Forest land. Woodwardens and Head boroughs disappeared on the enclosure of Sutton Forest land in 1797-1803.

  On many occasion the Sutton Vestry would meet at inns - The Swan, the principal inn of the town, which in 1785 was kept by William Godber, or at the Old Trooper, kept about the same time by William Brandreth - but on 20th May, 1795, it was in a virtuous fit resolved that in future all meetings should be held in the Vestry, although many meetings had been held in the Workhouse in Hardwick Lane, a house that was a constant cause of worry to the Governing Body.

  To revert to the duties of Woodwardens, in the Sutton Vestry book we have an interesting account of a meeting at the Swan Inn, 14th May, 1793, when it was reported that Joseph Milnes, butcher, of Mansfield, had got clay out of Godber's Croft, near Hamilton Hill. The free and copyholders thereupon agreed to meet at 10 o'clock on Wednesday morning, go and pull down the fences, and fill the clayholes.

Indignation Cooled.

  The following parishioners signed their names agreeing to indemnify each other in any expense, viz:- Wm. Butcher, Nath, Bacon, T. Dove, R. Haslam, S. Downing, Jas. Foulds, C. Ellis, J. Didsbury, S. Ward, T. Halton, Thos. Cursham and W. Godber. These names area given as they were amongst the principle residents in the town.

  The Butchers were mercers who supplied silk to the framework knitters, the Haslams were the leading builders, the Dowings farmers and land owners, the Haltons were framesmiths, Thos. Cursham was a schoolmaster and Vicar of Annesley, who lived at the corner of High Pavement and Hardwick Street, and Godbers kept the Swan Inn. Their indignation seems to have cooled in the night, for no one turned up ot carry out the resolution.

To be continued.

Written 08 Mar 1935 Revised 28 Jan 12 © by Gary Elliott