A FREE BOROUGH

The most momentous event in Salford's early history was the granting of it's Charter in the thirteenth century, thus making it a Free Borough, and in order to grasp the full significance of this act, we have to look at the way England was governed at the time.

For two centuries after the Conquest, little had changed in the administrative laws of the land, whereby men of fixed residence were obliged to do suit and service at the King's Court, and pledge themselves, their households and dependants to keep the peace. These courts were held at Easter and Michaelmas and were ruled over by local earls who as Shire Reeves, (or Sherrifs), possessed excessive powers as the representatives of the King, a fact which often led to much abuse.

At the time, the Hundred, or Wapentake, of Salford had been split into two Baronies, whose lords, although permitted to hold their own courts, were still required to render personal suit and service at the superior court of the Wapentake. And although Salford was the chief seat of jurisdiction in the area, and the main market town of the district, it's landed gentry, upper class families, freemen, and villeins alike were all suffering great impoverishment under the yolk of such feudalism..

It was then that Earl Ranulph de Blundeville of Chester, (who held Salford and had affection for the town) decided to grant it a Charter. An extremely radical act for the day, and one which would make Salford a Free Borough forever, whilst at the same time, giving England one of it's most important historical documents.

So it was that Salford became a borough (or mutually pledged town), whereby every inhabitant was to be sworn and enrolled as in pledge or bail, for his neighbour. And not a borough only, but a Free Borough with it's many privileges. Of these, the chief one was escape from the jurisdiction of the hated sherriff's tourn. The townspeople would have a 'Portmanmote' or Court of the Portmen, giving them independent jurisdiction over all civil and criminal matters concerning the town and its people. They were to have the power of choosing their own Reeve; they would possess burgages of their own with power of sale or gift (except to religion), and they were allowed to develop unhindered, industrial arts and commercial pursuits, giving them the opportunity of serving the needs of the State in a wider form.

However, it was not merely benevolence, which prompted Ranulph's action. During his campaigns in France, he had encountered the communes or burghs with their chartered liberties which developed both population and prosperity, and, in turn, led to great wealth for king and lord alike. Thus, by making Salford a Free Borough, he knowingly ensured that the poor and oppressed peoples of the countryside would move to the newly-privileged town, thereby improving their social condition, as the town flourished from their hard work and earnest endeavour. For the very first time in the land, wretched bondsmen were able to escape their Lord's tyranny and become free burgesses, going about their daily life without fear or molestation.

The signatures of Ranulph's friends alone, make the document, beyond price:-

Wiiiam de Vernon, (Justicar of Chester)
Simon de Montfort (Of Runnymeade fame)
Pain de Chaworth (Baron of Gloucestershire)
Fulk Fitz-Warine (Hero of many medieval tales)
Gilbert de Segrave (Son of Henry IIII's unpopular Minister)
Walkelin de Arderne (Of Aldford in Cheshire)
Roger Gernet (Chief Forester of Lancashire)
Richard de Vernon
Roger de Derby
Galfride de Bury
Hugo de Biron (The Gt.Grandson of the founder of Kersal Monastery)

From this we can see that the granting of Salford's Charter was no mere matter of routine, but a noteworthy event of its day as the attestation of these nobles of high rank and judicial office show.

Bibliography:

Salford Portmote Records 1597-1669

Salford Through the Ages the fons et origo of an industrial City', by Charles P.Hampson

Information provided by Anne Gerhard,