The Ordinances of Tewkesbury Borough Council in 1575

by Dr.Anthea Jones

A record book was started in 1575 following the establishment of Tewkesbury by royal charter. It is a thick book with a stout leather cover and buckle and strap to secure it. Some early pages of the book have become damaged by time and possibly frequent handling; they have been well repaired, but as a result small portions of the first ordinances or bye-laws are missing. Council orders were entered in the book between 1575 and 1612, and the names of freemen as they were admitted between 1575 and 1615. At the other end of the book there is a great miscellany of official records, including much material'during the Civil War period, the proclamation of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector in 1653, a taxation list of 1685, and even a note of 1736 that the

‘Pavement in the Town on the church side of the way from one end of the town to the other, being 900 hundred yards in length, was promoted by the Ladyes, carried on by subscription and began and finished by the care and under the direction of William Bromley Esq..'

Bennett and subsequent writers have drawn material from this volume. It would be of considerable value and interest to transcribe and print more of the entries - a large task which could perhaps be accomplished by many bands working gradually through it. Here a very small start is made by transcribing the ordinances, twelve in all, made during the first year of the council ’s life.

The handwriting is not easy for twentieth century eyes, and (2) indicates uncertain readings. Spelling, too, in the sixteenth century was neither consistent nor like today’s forms. The original spelling has been retained here for its intrinsic interest, and Roman numerals likewise, though the Arabic translation is added in square brackets.

The chief officers of the town, as instituted by the charter in 1575, were two bailiffs, who held office for a year, and twelve principal burgesses. Their names were entered in the first minute book:

  • Thomas Perkins
  • Thomas Geaste - bailiffs
  • William Wyatt
  • John Butler
  • Thomas Downebell
  • George Merrye
  • Roger Malliard
  • Nicholas Greenwood
  • William Hill
  • Richard Pace
  • Edward Laight
  • John Poyner

The council met in the chamber or ‘solar’ on the first floor of the Tolsey; this was an old building at the Cross in Tewkesbury where market tolls had been paid and which the enthusiastic council was shortly to demolish and rebuild.

Despite the occasional gaps in the record, it is quite clear what was the intention behind each order. It is fascinating to see what the council considered of major importance for its first decisions. The regular Tuesday meeting, of course, was fundamental. Note that councillors had to meet in the council chamber at 8 o’clock and stay until 11 o’clock, unless the bailiffs allowed an earlier departure. A fine of 12 pence (5p) was paid by anyone who was absent without permission, a heavier fine than can be recognised today. The second order reveals much about sixteenth century society. Councillors had to go in and out of the council chamber, sit and speak in order of status. The fine for wrongful action in this case was 3s.4d. (17p). Regard for due order and deference underlay the third ordinance that councillors should wear gowns. This distinguished them from the ordinary town-dwellers, and so helped to encourage respect for authority. Gowns also reflected the status difference between councillors. Bailiffs were allowed to have facings of fur on their gowns and to wear fur tippets, but principal burgesses were allowed only lambskin facings. Later, in the seventeenth century, the bailiffs had foxfur edgings and the principal burgesses had velvet.

The Puritanism of the council is evident from the fourth order requiring that councillors should not swear. In later years other orders also reveal this religious attitude. Secrecy was another requirement. Writing at a time when ‘leaks‘ from members or former members of the government are very newsworthy, it is interesting that in the later sixteenth century, without all the modern techniques of communication, the council still did not want its discussions or disagreements noised abroad. The penalties for lack of discretion were very heavy. Insights into the markets and fairs are provided by orders 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. The tolls paid by corn dealers were a main source of the council’s finance. Tewkesbury market had existed for centuries. perhaps since before the Norman Conquest, but more goods were apparently made subject to tolls in 1575. Cattle, wool, yarn and corn were the major items. Fair days were[4] particularly busy, with the hatters and cappers, drapers and coopers, bowners and Welsh chapmen (what were their wares?), tanners, ironmongers and ropers occupying the streets. What a pity more of the market arrangements were not altered and so described in council orders. Butter was probably sold under the cover of the ‘King's Board’ or Buttermarket at the top of High Street, and other stalls were probably sheltered in the Tolsey under the council chamber, but most of the stalls were set up in the streets.

The last order of that year, 1575, prohibited townsfolk from making malt between l June and l September. This was to protect the Town’s food supply. Barley could be milled for bread; harvest was not expected to start before September, and by the end of May the stock of wheat would often have been exhausted. Quite a lot of malt for brewing was exported down the River Severn to Gloucester or Bristol, but the conversion of barley to malt might detract from the subsistence of poorer people in Tewkesbury. Later orders reveal a similar mixture of concern for the proper behaviour of the council and the well-being of the townsfolk.


ACTES AND ORDINANCES concluded by the council as well for good order among themselves as for government and commonweale (?)universallle 21 April Anno Regina Elizabetha xvij [1575]

Thomas Perkins, Thomas Bell - bailifies

Henrie Cowler, Johanne Myllington - constables 

Ricard Cotton, Ricard Wood - serjeants 

No. 1. Firste it is by one consent and agreement of the Bailifies and Council ordered and enacted that the Bailifies and Burgesses of the Council of the Boroughe shall weekelie on the Tewsedaie aboute viii [8] of the clocke in the forenoon assemble them together to the councel chamber. And there to continue untill xj [11] of the clocke except they or any of them shalbe licenced by the Bailifies to departe. And in lyke maner to assemble and meete together at all other doles and times at the discrecion and appointment of the Bailifies or one of them. So as lawful warninge be thereof given from time to time And so that they can asigne no lawfull cause to be allowed by the more parte of the councell to excuse such absence or departure at any time as shalbe contrarie to this ordinance uppon peine to forfeite to the use of the chamberfor everie defalte xijd. [12d.]

No. 2. Item that at all suche assemblies and meetinges everie one of the councell shall goe and sitt in his(?) rowine and place in the chamber going out and cominge in according to his course and callinge And likewise shall speake....awneswere and geve his opinion in all...thinges there to be proposed by the lyke course and order  So that...(?)prinye or lowest of the companie shall beginne by procedinge to..elders and Bailifies without quarrelinge or uncomely sepe...and for everie defaulte to lose iis.ivd. [3s.4d] by the gretest number the... to be judged or qualified.

No. 3. Item that whosoever of the councell shall at any suche time of...or else at any other time he associated to the Bailifies in com...any other assemblie or special meetinge without his gowne to..

No. 4. Item that whosoever wilfully and vainely sweareth any...within the chamber at any time of sittinge to lose for everie... 

No. 5. Item that if any of the councell shall at any time be lawfully convicted...of eight Burgesses of the same councell to have uttered or dis... any matter of councell out of the chamber to forfeit for the ofienee xxs. [20s] And after the first coviction for the second offence xls. [40s] And for the third offence being so twice convicted to be removed utterly from the office and callinge of a councellor within the Boroughe except the same by good discrecion and consideracion of the same eight Burgesses shall in any wise remitted or else qualified.

No. 6. Item that all forfaitures made throaghe absence againste the first order shalbe paid by the ofienders at the next general tneetinge in the chamber And all other forfeitures to be paid (?)fully after the peine forfeited  The same to be paid to chamber of such as shall from time to time be appointed to call for and receave the same upon peine for everie such deniall and defalte of payment at the first time to double the same forfeiture And so lykewise the second and third time And yf any one shalbe willfid obstinate and not tractable to performe all the orders aforesaid that then the same shalbe determined by the gretest number of the councell at their discrecion to be a juste and laufidl cause of expulsion and amoving from the oflice of a councellor as aforesaid.

No. 7. Item that whereas the Tolle of the Markett for all sorte of come and graine brought to be sold in this markett hathe from time to time beyond the memory of man been of righte belonginge to the Baylifies of this Boroughe it is now agreed that the Baylifies for the time being shall have and enjoy the same Tolle for and toward their chardg and they shall not take above one quarte uppon a cornocke (?quarter) and that as well as such come and grayne as shalbe broughte in to private howses in any weeke dayes as if in the markett And yf any Townesman shall resiste or obstinantely denye the delivery of the same Tolle to the officers of Bayltfies for the time beinge and shall Joyne with any stranger to the intente to defraude the Baylifi‘es of their Toll he shall forfeite for every such offence vis.viijd. [65.8d.] and to be committed at the Baylifi‘es pleasure.

23 April Anno Regina supradicto [1575]

No. 8. Firste it is ordered and appointed for the placing and setteling of the markett newlie granted and encreased for all manner live cattell wooll and yarne; that the market for‘ great cattell, oxen, kine, etc. shall be holden in the Highe Streete or Oldburie Street from the end of the towne downewards unto the Key Lane. And the market for sheepe to be kept in the Churchestreete betweene the Lane by Nicholas CIeveleies house and the church stile; And that the market for wall and yarne shall be kept in the soller over the market house. And all other marketts to be kept as these have been used before this time

No. 9. Item it is ordered as touchinge the evell use of markett horses standing in the Come markett, that all strangers shall hereafter set their horses in stables and other howses of the towne the Inkepers and others that receive them takinge for the standinge of every three horses one penye and no more if they stand wothout meate And yf the owners gave them meate every horse at least one halfe(?)pstine worthe then take nothinge for their standinge.

No.10 Item it is so ordered at touchinge the fayer daies as well of St.Marckes Daie as the others before used that the olde maner of standinge for merchandose shalbe in some parte changed as followeth viz. the hatters and cappers to have their stalles removed to begin at Richard Broklehburyes house extendinge fowardes toward the Barton streetes end. And next to them all drapers then cowpers Bowners and chapmen of Walles wares as have used before. And that for an open waye throughe the streete the standinges of tanners, iron men and ropers shalle extende in lengthe throughe bothe streetes of Churche streete and Barton Streete longer than hath ben used before And all other places of the street to be voided towardes the gutter for a throughe passage at the discretion of the Baylifies and their Brethren

14 June Anno regina supradicto I 1575] 

No. 11. First that it is ordered than no maner of person in the towne shall lade any corne or graine at the key to be carried by water without first licence of the Bayliffes first obteyned And the quantities of the same And the name of the byer and seller within the twone firste entred into the recordes of the chamber

peine iiis.ivd. [3s.4d]

No. 12. Item that no inhabitant within the towne shall use or l f’)wete any barley to be converted into maulte in his owne howse or any others for himselfe or any other betweene the laste day ofMaye and thefirst daye of September

peine xls. [40s]


Tewkesbury Borough Council Records are deposited in Gloucestershire Record Office.

The first minute book is catalogued TBR/A1/1

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