Court Baron for the Manor of Dunham Massey

Scope and Content

The records of the court baron for the manor of Dunham Massey consist of three series of material: court books and bundles of verdicts, 1546-1840 (EGR2/2/1), suit rolls, 1677-1856 (EGR2/2/2), and estreats, 1765-1871 (EGR2/2/3).

[Among the records of the court leet for the barony of Dunham Massey there are two jury list books that also include the names of jurors at the court baron for the manor of Dunham Massey until 1895 (EGR2/1/12/8-9), and a bundle of copy verdicts and other papers; this contains copy verdicts, copy presentments and jury lists for the court baron, 1869-1895 (EGR2/1/12/10).]

Administrative / Biographical History

While a court leet was held for the whole barony of Dunham Massey, a separate court baron was held for the manor of Dunham Massey. As explained in the introduction to EGR2/1 above, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the distinction between the two courts was not always clear-cut in practice; sometimes sessions of both courts may be recorded on the same roll, or a roll may be worded so ambiguously that it is unclear to which court it relates. Such cases have generally been listed with the barony records.

The jurisdiction of the court baron extended beyond the township of Dunham Massey to include Ashley, Bollington, Bowdon, Hale, Timperley and part of Partington. Tenants in these townships owed suit of court at the court baron for the manor of Dunham Massey and at the court leet for the barony of Dunham Massey. Tenants in Altrincham owed suit of court at the court baron for the manor of Dunham Massey and at the court leet for the borough.

In the mid sixteenth century the court baron met every fortnight at Altrincham to hear civil actions. In the period from the 1630s until the 1780s the court appears to have met once a year, in early December, though additional sessions were held occasionally in the seventeenth century. During the 1780s the date of the annual session was brought forward to November, and during the nineteenth century the court sat in September or October. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries the court appears to have met at Dunham Massey, but from 1739 onwards the court is stated to have met at public houses in Bowdon. The court met at the houses of the following innkeepers and victuallers: John Eccles (1739-53), his widow Jane (1754-6), William Yarwood (1757-8, 1760, 1762-70, 1772, 1774, 1776, 1778, 1780 & 1782-91), John Yarwood (1792 & 1794), James Walton (1759), Francis Booth (1761), Samuel Pass (1771, 1773, 1775, 1777, 1779 & 1781), Thomas Howard (1793, 1795-1813, 1815, 1818, 1821-2, 1824 & 1830), Peter Fletcher (1814, 1816-7, 1819-20, 1823, 1825, 1827, 1829, 1831 & 1833), Maria Fletcher (1835), William Bowler (1837 & 1839), Maria Broadhurst (1838 & 1840). William Yarwood, James Walton, and Thomas and Mary Howard are known to have been tenants of the Green Dragon public house in Bowdon, later named the Griffin Inn, while Peter and Maria Fletcher occupied the Red Lion, later known as the Stamford & Warrington Arms. The court continued to alternate between the Griffin Inn and the Stamford & Warrington Arms until its apparent cessation in 1895. The names of the stewards of the court are recorded in the introduction to EGR2 above.

The business of the court largely consisted of orders or presentments made by the jury. These are primarily concerned with the regulation of tenancy matters, the safeguarding of the lord of the manor's interests, and the governance of township affairs. Orders relate to the making and repair of hedges, fences, gates and stiles, the scouring of ditches and watercourses, the cropping of trees, the making and maintenance of roads, cart lanes, footpaths and bridges, the repair of houses and farm buildings, the removal of encroachments onto highways and commons, and the prevention of the practice of turning swine out onto highways.

In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries suitors were also fined for non-payment of rent, failure to perform labour services, such as the carting of coal to Dunham Massey Hall, and non-observance of their obligation to grind corn at the lord's mill. In 1684 a suitor was fined for prosecuting an action of debt outside the lord's court. Suitors were also fined for harbouring a woman who bore a bastard (1640), and for harbouring a daughter to bear a bastard (1647); in these cases the court can be seen to be protecting the interests of the townships upon which the children might become chargeable. In 1716 Thomas Torkington was fined 2s 6d for entertaining Jane Moores, wife of William Moores, as an inmate, and was pained to remove her out of Bowdon in 12d per week so long as she remained there. In some years two affeerers, or assessors, were appointed to set the level of fines.

The amount of business transacted at the court baron remained fairly constant throughout the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but declined during the nineteenth century. In the 1830s the court continued to concern itself with the repair of lanes, banks, hedges and ditches, but there were no presentments in 1839, and only one in 1840, other than presentments for non-appearance.