Court Books of the Leeds Corporation (First Book)
edited by J.G.Clark
Maurice Paganel, or Paynell, who held the Manor of Leeds from Ilbert de Lacy, Baron of Pontefract, granted a limited charter to his tenants in Leeds on the 12th November, 1207. By this charter the inhabitants held of Paynell by burgage right instead of villein service and became burgesses of a borough. There was a borough court , but the burgesses were not the magistrates. That office was discharged by the reeve, and the liberties of the borough were exercised under his supervision for the benefit of the lord of the manor. This measure of local government, small as it was, had to suffice for the next four centuries.
Leeds had an ancient market, but no castle, minster or shrine t make it an important centre in mediaeval times, and it was not situated on any great highway. The steady growth of the town during the sixteenth century. however, and the reputation of its inhabitants as manufacturers of woolen cloth rendered its incorporation desirable, and on the 13th July, 1626, Charles I granted the first Royal Charter to the borough.
The government of the Borough was now vested in an Alderman, nine Principal Burgesses and twenty Assistants, who constituted the Common Council. The Alderman, the Principal Burgesses and the Recorder were appointed Justices of the Peace, with the power also to administer the statutes of artificers and labourers and of weights and measures. The first Alderman was Sir John Savile of Howley Hall, afterwards Baron Savile of Pontefract.
Under the Commonwealth the local supporters of Parliament gained control of the Corporation, and it is not surprising that at the Restoration there was an early petition from the Royalist party in Leeds for the ejectment of the existing Common Council. A copy of this petition, with the cross-petition of the Parliamentary party and other relevant documents, appears in the Appendix this volume. I am indebted for these copies to Miss Joyce Atkinson, who transcribed them from the origianls in the Public Record Office in London.
As a result of this Petition a new Charter was granted to Leeds by Charles II on the 2nd November, 1661, by which the Common Council was to consist of a Mayor, twelve Aldermen and twenty-four Assistants. The first Mayor was Thomas Danby of Farnley Hall, son of Sir Thomas Danby. I have included in the Appendix some brief particulars of the person nominated in the Charter.
In 1684 the Charter was surrendered and a new Charter, less favourable to the burgesses, was granted. Leeds suffered in this respect in common with the other Boroughs of the Kingdom, but with the accession of William and Mary the Charter of 1661 was restored and remained in full force until the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835.
The records of the Corporation prior to 1661 are missing. Whether they were lost of deliberately destroyed before the appointment of the new Council under the Charter of 1661 is not known. The existing Court Books of the Corporation for the period before 1835 are three in number and the volume which follows is a transcript of the first, covering the period 1662 to 1705. The original measures 13 inches by 8½ inches; it is in bad repair, lacking the back strip and bromen in the covers and binding. The first twelve pages are much frayed at the edges and corner, and seven leaves (pages 332 to 345 inclusive), are missing.
The book contains about 430 pages of Court Orders and memoranda and at the end of the book there is an appendix containing the Hearth Tax return under the Act of 14 Charles II and copies of certain oaths of office. The Hearth Tax return is printed in full in Wardell's Municipal History of Leeds, and it was threfore considered unnecessary to reprint it. Most of the oaths of office also appear in Wardell's history.
The thanks of the Society are due to the City Council for their kind permission to transcribe and publish the court books. My personal thanks are due to the Town Clerk (Thos. Thornton, Esq.) and the Chief Committee Clerk (A. T. Wilson, Esq.) for the facilities afforded me in maiking the transcription.
J. G. Clark, Leeds, 1936
|The Charter of 1661||Frontpiece|
|A page of the Court Book||facing page 10|
|The Charter of 1684||100|