Ales and Leets in Elvaston


Elvaston Church Ales

Fund-raising parties for the Elvaston parish church were compulsory events for the villagers in the three settlements making up the parish, according to a passage at page 262 of Stephen Glover's History and Gazetteer of the County of Derby, published in 1831 (and apparently repeated in Glover's History of Derbyshire, vol. I, p. 309). The parishioners used to brew and donate the ale for the festivity, where they used to buy it back again to enjoy themselves and raise funds:

In Dodworth's manuscripts in the Bodleian library, there is the following record. "The inhabitants of Elvaston and Ockbrook were formerly required by mutual agreement to brew four ales, and every ale of one quarter of malt, and at their own costs and charges, betwixt this and the feast of St. John the Baptist next coming. And every inhabitant of Ockbrook shall be at the several ales; and every husband and wife were to pay twopence, every cottager one penny, and all the inhabitants of the said towns of Elvaston, Thurlaston, and Ambaston, shall have and receive all the profits and advantages, coming of the said ales, to the use and behoof of the said church of Elvaston; and the inhabitants of the said towns of Elvaston, Thurlaston, and Ambaston, shall brew eight ales betwixt this and the feast of St. John the Baptist, at which ales, and every one of them, the inhabitants shall come and pay as before rehearsed, who, if he be away at one ale to pay at the t'oder ale for both, or else to send his money. And the inhabitants of Ockbrook shall carry all manner of tymber, being in the Dale wood now felled, that the said priest chyrch of the said towns of Elvaston, Thurlaston, and Ambaston shall occupy to the use of the said church."

Glover adds, "This appears to be the ancient method of paying money for the repairs of country churches," and adds in a footnote: "The Whitsun Ales were derived from the Agapai, or love-feasts of the early christians, and were so denominated from the churchwardens buying, and laying in from presents also, a large quantity of malt, which they brewed into beer, and sold out in the church or elsewhere..." Glover points out that there would have been games and dancing, and probably music, during these fetes. An unidentified contributor writing about Ockbrook in the late 19th century book Bulmer's History and Directory of Derbyshire quoted Glover, but disapproved of the alcoholic nature of these fetes. A church ale, said the author disdainfully, "was somewhat analogous to the tea-feasts of the present day, but 'the cup that cheers and doth not inebriate' was then unknown." (pages 570-571). A modern study of church ales by Judith M. Bennett says that charity ales went into decline in the seventeenth century, when "all kinds of charity ales faced considerable opposition, not only from religious authorities concerned about drunkenness and inappropriate celebrations of holy festivals, but also from secular authorities concerned about maintaining good order."

The manuscript Glover refers to was compiled by Roger Dodsworth (1585-1654). The Bodleian Library at Oxford does not yet have a searchable online catalogue of the Dodsworth manuscripts. (Glover spelled the name without an S, but the modern form seems to be Dodsworth with an S.)

Court Leets of Elvaston, Thurlston and Ambaston

Charles Cox's Three Centuries of Derbyshire Annals (1890) contains an interesting account (volume II, page 275) of the "court leets" of the three manors in Elvaston parish in the period 1687-1697. These were twice yearly council meetings of the freeholders of these three manors. A court leet appointed "field-reeves", "pinners" and other officials such as the parish constable, and also enacted temporary by-laws until its next sitting, and punished those who did not repair the fences, clear drains or take part in common work.

We have to thank Mr. John Adderley's omnivorous desire of office for another highly-interesting small collection of documents that range between 1687 and 1697. They have no connection whatever with county records proper, but have evidently found their way to the record room owing to Mr. Adderley having been clerk of the peace, in the same way as was the case with the clerk of the market papers, upon which we have already commented.

These documents, sixty in number, are the orders, presentments, and pains (i.e., penalties) of the jurors of the Derbyshire manors of Elvaston, Thurlston, and Ambaston. These were originally three separate manors of the parish of Elvaston, all requiring their own courts; but two centuries ago the courts of Elvaston and Thurlston had become amalgamated, though the jurisdiction of Ambaston remained quite separate. These courts, over which John Adderley presided, were the ancient manorial gatherings of the freeholders, that is, the court leet. In these documents it is variously termed the "court leet," "great leet," "court baron," and "court leet of view of frank-pledge" (together with, occasionally, their Latinised equivalents), usually with the addition of the name of the lord, who was John Stanhope for the greater part of the decade, and Sir Nathaniel Curzon, Bart., at its close.

John Adderley's position as president of these two manorial courts was in virtue of his appointment as steward, sometimes expressed by the Latinised form of seneschal. Two or three of the later of these courts were presided over by John Wright, deputy-steward.

Two courts were held every year — namely, in April and October. It does not seem that the exact date was regulated by any fixed or movable calendar day, but rather probably by the condition of the seasons. It is interesting to note what a keen hold the saintly nomenclature of days and seasons still had on the English peasantry of Derbyshire; the Puritanism of the Commonwealth had altogether failed in its efforts at eradication. We find mention of the following days and periods named to regulate the time of certain agricultural or pastoral proceedings: — "Our Lady's Daye," St. Andrew, St. James the Great, St. Thomas, SS. Simon and Jude, All Hallows, and also Candlemas and Martinmas, the latter generally spelt "Martlemas." Nor was this due to the churchmanship of the steward, for each court, judging from the diversity and uncouthness of the handwriting, seems to have appointed its own scribe or recorder, John Adderley merely signing, and that only occasionally, the various presentments as steward.

The number of the jury of these courts, in each case where these names are recorded, was thirteen; they were sworn from the freemen of the manor. Several official duties pertained to them. They had once a year to present for the acceptance of the court two names as field-reeves, who regulated the common interests of the manor; occasionally these officers were appointed for a longer period; thus, at Ambaston, on April 28th, 1690, Edward Coxon and William Matthew were presented as field-reeves for the two years next ensuing. The jury also nominated two to act as "pinners" or "pinders" of straying cattle for the year.

The Elvaston court, in addition, nominated the parish constable. The jury made "pains," or bye-laws, to regulate the common husbandry almost every court day, which varied slightly in the nature of the offence and in the penalty imposed from time to time, and occasionally dealt with new and transient offences. These pains, except in the case of thoroughly-established ones, such as pinfold charges, only remained in force from the time they were promulgated to the next court day. The "presentments" that the juries made were the actually imposing of fines upon those who had infringed the rules, and therefore rendered themselves liable to the pain or penalty.

The following examples of pains and presentments in the two court leets of Elvaston with Thurlston, and Ambaston, made between 1687 and 1697, give a good idea of their jurisdiction:

These presentments and bye-laws also establish the following interesting regulations and customs of these manors : — Notice was given by the field-reeves when any common work had to be done, when every freeholder had to be present or to provide a substitute, usually under a pain of 1s. for every day's neglect. All beasts put into the fields or commons were to pay towards the herdsman's wages, in default, 3s. 4d. for each beast. No cattle were to be put out till the herdsman called for them, under pains varying from 1s. to 5s.; on another occasion it was ordered that no cattle were to be put out before the herdsman's call, "except the sun bee risen"; from another paper we find that the picturesque custom prevailed of the herdsman's call being given on a horn.

The repair of the pinfold was done annually in the spring; on one occasion the pinners were threatened with a pain of 3s. 4d. if it was not sufficiently repaired within ten days after May day. At the April court, it was usual to order all to fence their part of the meadow rails within a brief specified time, under a 3s. 46. pain; the field-reeves had, at the same time, to see to the proper hanging of the gates. On one occasion, a fine of 1s. was charged on "Mrs. Smithson's maid-servant for resqueinge beests from ye pinner," and 6d. on "Samuel her son for same." The jury also decided the dates and places when sheep, cattle, horses, mares, foals, and swine might be put out, tented, or tethered, as the case might be, each decision being enforced by a pain.

The thoroughly popular or democratic nature of these courts is shown in the fact that the lord of the manor was just as amenable to the pains, and that the jury were just as ready to present and enforce presentments as in the case of the humblest freeholder or tenant. At the Elvaston court, held on April 20th, 1688, John Stanhope was fined 1s. for not causing his part of the fence to be made. The Ambaston jury, in 1691, "present John Stanhope for not scouring his water course thro Willin Close according to pain, 10s." He was fined again in 1692 for the same offence. On April 13th, 1694, Madame Stanhope was fined 15s. for not scouring a water-course in the new close according to pain.

We now give three examples of this class of document: —

Amberston paines 8 October 87
J. Adderley .... ibm
Aprill ye 21th 1688
Amberston Presentments £ s. d.
Impr We present William Trowell for his littell moore ditch not scouring 0 0 2
Edward Poule For not scouring a trench at litell moore 0 0 2
Item We present Jonathan Whitehead For not scouring his ditch now close 0 0 6
Item We present Edward Coxon for not coming to common works one day 0 0 8
Item Wee present Widdow Bovinly for not coming to common worke 0 0 8
Item Wee present Ann Bates for not coming to common worke 0 0 8
Item Wee present Will Leare for not coming to common worke 0 0 8
Item We present Sarah Coxon not coming to comon worke 0 0 8
Item Wee present Will : Matthew for not coming to comon worke 0 0 8
Amberston Pains
Item We make a paine that every man Fence his part of the Meadow railes by a weeke after May Day on paine for neglect 0 1 0
Item Wee make a paine that every man Fence his land ends at flatshmouth by a weeke after May day on pain 0 1 0
Item We make a paine that Will Leare scoure his nine ridges ditch & gileans ditch by Michalmas next on paine 0 3 4
Item Wee make a pain that Will Rowell scoure his nine ridges ditch & pinfold ditch by Michaelmas next on pain 0 2 6
Item That one Beast shall goe for one pasture and noe more on payne to forfett 0 10 0
Item Wee make A paine that Will Leare scower his ditch at ye Cobheades on pain 0 2 6
Item Wee make a paine that noe one put any C .... unpastured on paine for every defaulte 0 1 0
Item Wee make a paine that noe persons keepe any swine unrunge past a quarter old on paine 0 0 8
Item Wee make a paine that every person goe to common worke at notice given on paine for every days neglect 0 1 0
Item Wee make a paine that the Cannoe ditch be sufficiently repaired by Midsummer next on paine 0 1 0
Item Wee make a paine that no person that taketh any pastures on the Greene shall hath the pasture or pastures after Michalmas past a fortnight on paine 0 5 0
Item Wee make a paine that noe sheepe come into the stuble till eight days after corne be got 0 2 6
Item Wee make a paine that noe sheep shall come of the Meddow till Michaelmas nor on the Greene till Martinmas 0 2 6
Item Wee make a pain that no person turne his cattell down before neaturd (neat-herd) call on paine 0 1 0
John CoxonGeorge Sowter
Edward CoxonJohnathan Rudgate
Aprill ye 13th '95
Agreement & Pains made & ordered by the Jury att the Court (Elvaston) held this day & yeare above aforesaid
Wee make a pane yt ye Comon Dike betwixt ye Hardhurst & the Deep Croft be sufficiently amended & made goods by May day next, every one neglecting to forfeit 0 3 4
We make a pane yt ye Woat Field be sufficiently fenced & the Gates Hung by May day next & the gates & fences in & about all the Corne fields be well fenced & hung by May day next, every one neglecting to forfeit 0 3 4
Alsoe wee make a pane that ye Fences be well & sufficiently fenced betwixt Amberston nook & Nine Ridges by the 24th day of this present Aprill everyone soe neglecting to forfeitt 0 5 0
Wee also agree make & ordane yt every one that turnes beastes or tents beastes uppon ye Comons shall be assessed & pay towards the Herdsmans Wages, Every one denyeinge or neglectinge to forfeitt 0 3 4
We make alsoe a paine yt every one yt tents or teathers Mares & Poles in any of the Corne Fields shall forfeit 0 3 4
And every one that tents or teathers any cows within any of the Corne fields shall forfeit or pay 0 5 0
Wee all agree & order yt the Breach Field ?? (ff)?? be broak within a weeke after ye Corne be gotten off, with sheep
Wee order & agree that ye two weather fields be not broake with ships till Michelmas next, every one therein offendinge to forfeit 0 10 0
And wee also make a pane yt every one yt suffer beasts or horses to goe loose a night in ye Pooley Field shall pay forfeit 0 10 0
And also wee make a pane that ye Dike by ye Lay Close and all other Comon Water courses be sufficiently scoured and diked by Midsomer next every one neglectinge their or any of their presentments to pay forfeit 0 5 0
C. WardEdward Robin Edw. Bridgford
William PigginJohn Johnson John Coxon
John Spencer William Holland Will. Leare
Ambrose Towlle John Smedley George Sowter

In addition to these various Pains and Presentments there are three "Suite Rolls," of the manor of Elvaston, of the years 1687, 1690, and 1694. These rolls remind us of the original intention of the court leet or view of frank pledge, which was to view the frank pledges, that is the freemen of the manor or liberty, who were all, by ancient use, reckoned as mutual pledges for the good behaviour of each other. All freeholders within the liberty were bound to attend these courts, save persons under twelve and over sixty, peers, priests, women, and the king's tenants in ancient demesne. The Suit Roll for April, 1687, contains the names of seventy-seven freeholders, beginning with the names of Sir John Harpur, Bart., Robert Rollston, of Beaston, and Isaac Osborne and Joseph Fellowes of Alvaston, who seem not to have been called on to reply to their names; of the remainder, forty-six were present, as signified by the "a" (Adsum) against their names.

The roll is ingeniously entered on the centre of the paper, so that the same list of names, by the use of parallel columns served also for the other court of 1687, and for each of those of the two following years, six courts in all. In like manner the Suit Rolls for 1690 and 1694 each served for three years; the number of freemen enrolled for each of those dates was seventy-six.

Although the steward presided over the court to keep order, to regulate the proceedings, and to submit questions to the jury, the general members of the court, that is the freeholders, were their own masters and controlled the decisions of the juries. After the sworn jury had made their presentments and pains, the sanction or approval of the whole court was requisite to make the orders valid. This is the meaning of such expressions as "afferred* by the whole homage," "affaired by the whole homage," "affaired per totum homagium," and "allowed by the whole homage."

A duty of the steward of the court was to assign the pain money received to the custody of one of the freemen; mention is made on several of these papers in the handwriting of Mr. Adderley, of the names of the persons thus nominated to act as temporary treasurers.

* An old law term derived from the French affier, that is affirmare, confirmate.

The 60 documents which Cox describes above have a rather dramatic history of their own. J. Charles Cox, an Anglican clergyman and doctor of law, had the run of the old Derbyshire record room and its priceless collection of quarter-sessions archives in the 1880s while he compiled his two-volume book (full title: Three Centuries of Derbyshire Annals as illustrated by the Records of the Quarter Sessions of the County of Derby from Queen Elizabeth to Queen Victoria, London and Derby, Bemrose and Sons).

Cox clearly states that the Adderley court-leet records were among the quarter-sessions papers, although the one had nothing to do with the other. The quarter-sessions collection is now in the custody of the Derbyshire Record Office at Matlock. In March 2008, a Record Office archivist, Mark Smith, undertook a search for the leet records, and advised that they were not in the quarter-sessions box. This led to a very plausible fear, which I wrote about on this website, that the papers had been destroyed, lost or stolen during one of the record collection's various relocations:

We can only speculate on the reasons for this. Cox conserved and catalogued many ancient documents, but other people were not so careful. Until the 1950s or 1960s, the archives were not well cared for, and the legacy of the great antiquarians like Cox was neglected. It would seem today as if the Elvaston court-leet records have vanished.

In January 2014— six years later— Mark Smith resumed E-mail contact with some welcome news: the series of manorial records had been rediscovered. They were in fact still where Cox had found them: among the quarter-sessions records, but it turned out that their location had been recorded under what Smith called the "rather unhelpful" reference of Q/Strays. His colleague Neil Bettridge, who had been working on the Manorial Documents Register for Derbyshire, had come across them in the course of his work. Mark wrote:

Cox was quite right in saying the papers did not belong among the Quarter Sessions records. With that in mind, I have created a new collection number for it, D7687.

A reference to the records can now be found in the Record Office's online catalogue and more will appear later on the National Archives Manorial Documents Register. I wrote a blog post in February 2014 about the rediscovery.

© Jean-Baptiste Piggin 2000-2014. This page may not be copied, published or placed online elsewhere without express permission from the author.