Manuscripts and Special Collections

The manorial court

Detail from presentments at the manorial court, showing fines levied

The quarrel between Laxton and Moorhouse began at a meeting of the manorial court. Because farming took place in common and open fields, it was essential for everything to be organised and supervised. There had to be regulations to make sure that everyone's rights were respected, and a court to see that the regulations were obeyed. In Laxton, the Court Leet and Court Baron was held twice a year until 1684, and then just once a year, usually in November or December.

The court was presided over by the Lord of the Manor's steward. The bailiff summoned people to court and they were fined if they did not come. Document 5 is a 'suit roll', listing everyone entitled to appear.

The first item of business was to swear in the jurymen from the people present at the court. The jurymen would serve for one year. The court then appointed the constable and deputy constables, the pinder and the burleymen. After the early 18th century, village officials were appointed by the vestry meeting rather than by the manorial court. After the officers were sworn in, the next business of the court was the admission of new freeholders and tenants to property within the manor. People taking on land in Laxton had to swear fealty to the Lord of the Manor, and to pay a small sum of money known as an 'entry fine'.

Then came the important task of judging offences. A few weeks before the court was held, 'Jury Day' took place. The previous year's jury went to inspect the field which had been fallow, but had recently been ploughed and sown with wheat (see Photograph 4). The jury reported any offences in the maintenance of this field in their 'Presentment paper', and fines were imposed. Document 6, Document 7 and Document 8 are examples of manorial court papers.

The Laxton manorial Court Leet still meets once a year, at the Dovecote Inn in the centre of the village.


Next page: The farming year


Manuscripts and Special Collections

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