Turvey's Last Manor Court

On 10th August 1907 a notice was pinned of the village school door, it read:

The Manor of Turvey in the County of Bedford
Notice is hereby given that the Court of View of Frankpledge of our Sovereign Lord the King with the Court Baron of Henry Longuet Higgins Esquire, Solicitor of the Supreme Court, Lord of the Manor, will be holding at the messuage known as the Reading room in and for the said Manor on Saturday the 24th day of this instance August at the hour of two o’clock in the afternoon, when and where all tenants resiants  and other persons following suit and service of the said Court are required to attend and do and perform the same and to pay their quit-rents and all arrears thereof due, of Lady Day last.

H. Longuet Higgins, Steward of said Manor of Turvey.

A ‘resiant’  is a male resident in the said Manor aged 12 and over.

On the Friday before Turvey’s last Manor Court, Henry Longuet Higgins, the Lord of the Manor of Turvey, addressed a packed meeting in the Reading Room to provide a history of the Turvey’s Manor Court.

A Brief History of Turvey’s Manor Court

From Saxon times to the Norman Conquest villagers would gather for a Folkmoot   which would be held outside at a place called the Hlaws. In later years this area would become known at Laws Field and today is remembered through the existence of The Laws building. The actual field was to the south of the present day  ‘Laws’ encompassing land on which the Village Hall and The Green are built.

View from The Laws House

View from The Laws House

At that time no boundaries were determined to define Turvey, the cluster of poor dwellings gradually came to be known as a town and a Townsend Close existed marking one end of the town of Turvey.

Before Turvey became a parish, it was a Manor and its courts came to be known as Court Leet and Court Baron, the most ancient criminal court in the country. The community was still small and could gather under a tree. Here the resiants were periodically called to gather.

The intention was to listen to any complaints and make decisions on behalf of the community. In later days these Courts had the power to fix the price of provisions, to try cases of assault and to elect the parish constable. These powers survived even as late as 1830. A jury of not less than twelve and not more than twenty-three was summoned to hear every case. The Lord of the Manor, or more likely his steward, acted as judge

A Manor Court was held in Turvey in 1664 when Henry, Earl of Peterborough, was Lord of the Manor. Thomas Christie was his Steward and Samuel Impey was the bailiff. A total of 56 out of the 130 resiants in Turvey attended the court. The Jury assembled at The Cross at 8 o’clock in the morning and walked round the edge of the parish, known as beating the bounds. The Court Roll included well known Turvey Names such as Skevington, Wooding, Tysoe and Rabans.

As part of his talk, Henry Longuet Higgins gave figures as to the number of resiants able to attend the Courts.

YearNumber of Resiants
1664130
1670117
167794
1831286
1845356
1860377
1887348
1907319

 

The 1907 Manor Court

Newspaper reports of the time noted that only 37 resiants attended the Court in 1907;  a much larger number had been expected. A jury was duly appointed consisting of Henry Wright senior (foreman), Robert Wooding, L Montagu Savage, Harry Gardner, George H Paine, Luke Peers, John Law, George W Mardin, William G Bamford, J Lawrence, George Wooding, Edwin Wooding, Lambert Bailey and William Tongue.

Mr H Hugh Longuet Higgins acted as Steward. The Court Leet was opened with the usual proclamation given by the Schoolmaster, Mr Hopkins.:

 Oyez, oyez, oyez. All manner of persons who owe suit and service to the Court of the view of Frankpledge and the Court Baron of Henry Longuet Higgins Esquire, Lord of the Manor, now beholden, or who have been summoned to appear at this time and place draw near and give your attendance, every man answering to his name when called. And thereby saving his amercement. God save the King and the Lord of this Leet.

The resiant roll of 319 names, the Suit Roll (the names of those  in attendance ) and the Jury List were then handed to the Steward who called over the roll marking those in attendance as “app” and against such as assigned as ‘cas”

The Suit Roll was called over and the Jurors were duly sworn in, commencing with the foreman. The form of oath run thus

Henry Wright, you as foreman of this jury, with the rest of your fellows shall enquire and due presentment make of all such things as shall be given you in charge, and of all such other matters as shall come to your knowledge, presentable at this Court. The King’s counsel, your own, and your fellows’ you shall truly keep. You shall present nothing out of hatred or malice, nor conceal anything through fear, favour or affection, but in all things, you shall be true and just presentment make according to the best of your understanding. So help you God.

The Jury were sworn in groups as follows:

 The like oath which Henry Wright, your foreman hath taken on his part, you and every one of you shall well and truly observe and keep, on your respective parts. So help you God.

The Steward then delivered his charge to the jury. The ancient privileges and rights of the Court were stated and it was pointed out that many of their duties were now performed by other authorities. The Jury decided that the amercement  (a fine) of one penny be paid by those resiants who had not attended the court.

The second Court, The Court Baron revised and correctly stated the various reliefs, fines and quit-rents due to the Lord of the Manor, six years payment being declared to be due in each and every case. One of the quit-rents was for the trustees of the Turvey Reformatory to pay “a peppercorn” per annum.

The Jury signed their names followed by a few closing remarks by the Lord of The Manor. It appeared that this Court decided not to “beat the bounds” but following the Court, John Howe, who had been present at the Court held in 1831 recalled how the resiants had beat the bounds, starting with bread and cheese and a pint at the “Three Fishes Inn”, then walking to the end of Geary’s Holme near Newton Lane and being boated across the river.

An observation

The fact that 43% of the resiants attended in 1664 and only 12% in 1907 plus the fact that the 1907 Court was the last to be called clearly reflects the diminishing role of the Court and hence, the Lord of The Manor. It is even possible to purchase such titles and beating the bounds has become a pleasant excursion with no meaning.

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