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The Records of the Borough of Newport in Pembrokeshire

B G Charles. National Library of Wales journal, Vol VII/1, Summer 1951.

Extracted onto the pages of GENUKI with the kind permission of the National Library of Wales

This is a complete extract of this article [Gareth Hicks July 2002].


Charters

The mediaeval town of Newport in the hundred of Cemais, standing at the mouth of the river Nevern on the north coast of Pembrokeshire, grew up around the Norman castle which the Martin family built there. Although tradition attributes the conquest of Cemais to the shadowy figure of Martin of Tours, history reveals that the district was conquered by his son Robert fitz Martin, who was already in possession about 1115. Nanhyfer (Nevern) was first selected as the site of the Norman stronghold which was intended to dominate the conquered territory. In 1191 the Lord Rhys, during his campaign against the Norman castles of South Wales, captured the castle of Nanhyfer which was held by his son-in-law William fitz Martin who had married Angharad, daughter of the Welsh prince. Rhys gave the castle to his son Gruffudd. Within three years, in the course of a family feud, Maelgwn and Hywel Sais, sons of the Lord Rhys, imprisoned their father in the castle of Nanhyfer which was then in their possession. In 1195 Hywel Sais destroyed the fortification when the reconquest of Cemais by the Normans appeared likely. That seems to have been the end of Nevern as the stronghold and caput of the invaders. From now onwards Newport (Trefdraeth) became the seat of the lords of Cemais. A new castle was built there; in 1215 Llywelyn the Great is reported to have captured it.

Having settled upon a new site for his central stronghold, the lord of Cemais proceeded to establish a borough in the shadow of the castle and called it Newport. In Welsh the place was (and still is) called Trefdraeth from its situation near the traeth or shore which was called Traeth Edrywy. Like other Norman lords, he recognised the advantages of settling a compact community of burgesses in a newly conquered district and establishing an outpost of predominantly English settlers in the midst of his Welsh subjects. He realised, too, that a thriving urban community would be an added source of income so long as complete control of the town remained in his own hands. It will become apparent in the course of these notes that the lords of Cemais never relaxed their hold on the government and finances of the little borough of Newport throughout the long period of its history.

How soon after erection of the castle the town began to develop is not known. The earliest known charter of Newport, which is undated but which may be attributed to circa 1241, is still extant in the Bronwydd Collection (NLW), complete with the seal of Nicholas fitz Martin, lord of Cemais. This charter is a confirmation by Nicholas to his burgesses of Newport of all the liberties and customs which his father, William fitz Martin, had granted to them by his charter. William was lord of Cemais.

The following is the gist of the charter;

'The burgesses shall have common pasture in the grantor's land and common in water from the ditch which encloses the vill towards the east as far as the sea, and easement of wood for their houses and buildings and for their fire under the supervision of the lord's forester. If a burgess die from any death whatsoever, unless he lose his life by judgment for felony, the lord will have nothing of his chattels, except the relief, viz 12d. If a burgess deliver to any man his living plough cattle, and the latter lose his life or his cattle, being accused of felony or larceny, the burgess shall prove the cattle to be his by good and lawful (men), and shall have them. If a burgess hire land from any freeman, and the freeman wish to break the agreement, the lord is bound to distrain on the freeman to compel him to keep the agreement. In the same way he is bound to distrain the debtors of the burgesses of whom they have bail and witnesses, that they shall pay their debts to them. A burgess accused by any foreigner shall be bailed by his neighbours. The burgesses ought to have a reeve and catchpoll appointed by consultation with the lord. No foreign merchant shall buy or sell without the lords town of Newport. A burgess who is accused of felony or larceny and says ' I deny the felony or larceny and whatever is charged against me' makes a good defence. The burgesses shall not go on expedition, except as the burgesses of Pembroke go. And with the liberties aforesaid, the lord granted them the liberties and free customs of Pembroke.'

Nicholas fitz Martin granted another and supplementary charter (undated but circa 1273-81) to the burgesses of Newport. This is an important document inasmuch as it gives the bounds of the liberties and amplifies the clauses touching burgage tenure and rights of pasture;

'The lord granted to the burgesses in common all his land wet and dry, moors and turbaries, without their burgages and within, according to these boundaries; on the east part of the town of Newport from the chapel of Milburge as (the river) Cleudach [i.e Clydach] holds its course as far as the boundaries of the lands of the sons of William Dev towards Talleronnauc [i.e Dol-rhanog] --- saving to the lord and his heirs the dry arable land in the place called Gvernrou and also saving whatever arable land there may between Gvernrou and Carnengli within the bounds of Talleronnauc. And saving to the burgesses and their heirs and assigns all the pasture in the same land so long as it is not ploughed or bearing corn and Nicholas grants that that land shall not be sold to any foreigner but only to his burgesses of Newport --- And from the bounds of the lands of the sons of William Dev as far as the boundaries of the land of Talleronnauc and thus encircling the hill called Carnengli [Carningli] as far as the bounds of the tenement of Nantmarchan [?Cwm Collen by Llannerch] and thence as far as the boundaries of Menithmelin and thence descending to the highway leading from Newport to Haverford to the river west of Makmareis [Park y Marriage] running towards Rogian [Rhigian] as far as the sea, saving the burgages and the lands of freeholders and the lands of burgesses within the aforesaid boundaries and saving the lands of those bearing a free rent ( portantium liberum reditum) outside their burgages; and thence all the marshland on both sides of the river called Nevern as far as the bridge of the town of Newport over the Nevern and the small island which is between the said bridge and the mill of the lord called New Mill ( novum molendinum). Moreover, he granted to the burgesses their heirs and assigns that they may collect fern through all his demesne, viz at Birie [Bury], Ryvgyan and Makmareis, outside his corn in the time of summer and autumn.'

Because of the paucity of mediaeval records, it is not known how many burgesses were attracted to this seignorial borough by the privileges and customs set out by the lord in his charters, nor how much land went with each burgage. Apart from some stretches of demesne land, most of the parish seems to have been parcelled out in burgages and common land among the burgesses, although there were a number of freeholders with lands in the parish and liberties of Newport who did not enjoy the status of burgesses. Newport is a parish of over 4606 acres, a great deal of which consists of the rough mountain land on the hill-slopes of Carningli which rises steeply south of the town and castle. The town itself lies below the castle on the lower levels towards the sea. Here, along the coast and the rivers, is the more fertile agricultural land. In mediaeval times the slopes of Carningli were a large common of rough grazing land. The eighteenth and nineteenth century enclosures made more and more inroads into the common until only some one thousand acres of common now remain on the upper slopes of Carningli.

Very little is known of the development of Newport from the time of its creation to the end of the mediaeval period. The economy of the borough was mainly based on agriculture with a little fishing, trade in the fairs and markets, and business in connection with the lord's castle and courts. A number of ministers' accounts, preserved in the 'Register Book of Kemes', provide a few glimpses of the affairs of the borough between 1394 and 1513.

The Castle

The castle was kept in some kind of repair and there was a constable in charge --- the constable of Cemais. In the account for the year ending Michaelmas 1395, 66s.1d was expended in repairs there --- lime and its carriage from Haverfordwest, stone tiles for roofing the castle buildings and lath-nails, wages for the mason and tiler and other servants engaged on the work of reparation and roofing. The constable's fee was 40s in the account for Michaelmas, 1398. In the same account 5s.4d was paid to a stone mason who was employed for sixteen days at 4d per day in repairing certain buildings of the castle, helped by his servant whose wage at 3d per day for sixteen days came to 4s. The two carpenters who spent three days felling timber in the wood of Penkelly to make a new bridge for the castle received 2s.6d at the rate of 5d a day. Carriage of the timber to the castle cost 8s. There was an expenditure of 6s for boards ( ass'bus) for the bridge bought at Fishguard, with 8d carriage.

The castle was in ruins long before the end of the sixteenth century. There is no record that the Audleys ever lived there. The following, taken from the 'Vairde Book', describes it as it appeared to a surveyor in 1594;

'Also there is a Castell there now decaied called the Castell of Neewporte which Castell was the mansion and chiefe manorhouse of the Lorde of the saide Lordshipp or Baronie of Kemes, and the Lorde is owner of the saide Castell in which Castell there were many lardge and faire roomes with buildings abowte three partes of the Coortlage, which Castell was seated on a mounte above the towne and moated with a faire Cleere spring of sweete Runing water out of which moate by a sleewse the saide water was lett forth to drive the mill called the Castell mill beinge Close adioyninge to the saide moate unto which Castell did belong the lands called the Burye as the demesnes of the saide Castell which standeth so that owte of the saide Castell maye be seene all the Cattell that shalbe feedinge and all ye corne growinge upon the same land called the Burye beinge a very greate and lardge demeynes and good grownde most apt to beare Barley, pease and beanes and to feed sheep & Connyes, which Castell is not valued at any rent.
Also there is a peece of grounde without the saide moate belonginge to the saide Castell called the Castell garden ... which garden is not valued.
Also there is a close called the Castell parke close adioyninge to the saide moate of the Castell on the sowth side thereof conteyninge by estimacon vi acres of the Contrey measure and was in old tyme closed with a stone ditch which nowe is ruinowse and is valued above at vs. under the title of terr' dominical.'

In 1341 James de Audley, then lord of Cemais, farmed out the issues of the town to Phillip de Chetwinde for the term of the latter's life at a rental of 17 marks per annum. A further indication of the revenue derived by the lord from the town is given in the accompanying table of statistics which are drawn from the accounts. The reeve, who later became the mayor, was responsible for the collection of the issues.

(The full table only comprises figures under separate headings so I only show one example as follows;

Date; 1512-3

The Courts

Records of the courts of the borough of Newport date from the 8 Oct. 1566, but there is only one roll, covering the years 1588-1593, for the queen's reign. There are eight other rolls dating from May 1604 to 29 April 1741 but unfortunately, some serious gaps occur in the series. Three files of subsidiary documents, consisting of writs, precepts, declarations, copies of pleadings, panels of jurors, legal costs and correspondence for a number of years in the reigns of Elizabeth, James I, Charles I and Charles II, illustrate the internal procedure of the borough courts in some detail. Eleven estreat rolls (1574-1632) help in a small way to fill the gaps in the court roll. From 1742 to 1853 a series of court leet presentments and court books bring the records down to modern times.

Two courts were held in the borough: (1) The Court Leet and View of Frankpledge, (2) the fortnightly Hundred Court.

(1) The title used in the rolls for the first court is the 'Court of the View of Frankpledge', and in the later rolls the 'Court Leet and View of Frankpledge'. It was held at Newport twice a year, soon after Michaelmas (Sept, Oct or early November) and about Easter (April or May). In the early part of the seventeenth century the place of meeting was the Guildhall but from about 1625 the court was held at the house of the bailiff of the borough, probably because the old Guildhall was falling into ruins. The court was held before the reeve ( prepositus) of the borough or his deputy. Burgesses and freeholders, inhabiting within or without the borough, owed suit of court, and for each default they were amerced 7s.

Periodically the records of this court begin with the roll of the suitors of the town of Newport (freeholders with lands in the parish) followed by the roll of the burgesses of the town. The lists are not mutually exclusive; a man might be a suitor by virtue of a freehold tenement within the liberties as well as by virtue of his burgage holding. The clerk or recorder of the court marked the suit-rolls with his own symbols --- a dot, apparently, to denote the presence and a cross to denote the absence of suitors, thus providing himself with a record of defaulters who were duly amerced. The same lists were used for several successive courts. Deceased and sick suitors and burgesses who had fled the borough were often denoted; names of new burgesses were added at the end of the suit-rolls; the quality and occupations of burgesses were often added to their names. e.g there is a glover, merchant, corvisor, miller and tanner in the oldest roll of burgesses (Bronwydd No 75). In spite of deletions, emendations and additions these suit-rolls provide us with the approximate number of burgesses of the town from one period to another; sixty-seven (1588), sixty-four (1594), sixty-four (1611), sixty-eight (1625), seventy-nine (1631), sixty-three (1655), eighty-six (1712). The approximate number of freeholders who owed suit of court were ; twenty-six (1588), thirty-one (1594), twenty-four (1611), fifteen (1625), fifteen (1631), seven (1655), eleven (1712). New burgesses were elected by the jurors at the View of Frankpledge 'by consent of the lord and reeve' (3 May 1604) and were sworn in court. An example of the oath sworn by a burgess may be seen in roll No 72 (1655). A number of aldermen appear among the ranks of the burgesses from 1655. The following excerpt from the customs of the borough dated 1594 (in the 'Vairdre Book' fo. 156) gives some information on the election and status of the burgesses;

'Also the great enquest sworne there every leete do electe and chuse such persons as they thinke fitt to be burgesses of the saide Towne and so doth the Lorde at everye of the said leetes of himselfe chuse and electe any person or as many as himselfe pleseth to be burgesses there also, which persons so elected by the Lorde of greate Enquest furst do fealtie to the lorde and are sworne in open Coorte and take the oathe of the burgess there and then such person so chosen and sworn is free to enjoye any libertyes within the saide Towne. If any Burgesse do misbehave him selfe or otherwise then becometh him or doth refuse to paye or contribute with the burgesses there in any common rate or taske then is the same Burgess disgraded in maner as he was elected, with disgradinge being entred in the recordes in open Coorte he is barred from all liberties and freedoms that he enjoyed before as burgess.'

At the Court Leet and View of Frankpledge a 'grand inquisition' consisting of from fifteen to nineteen jurors (sixteen was the normal number) were elected by the reeve (mayor) from amongst the suitors to the court and it was their duty to make presentments and amerce offenders. They were appointed 'to inquire for the king and for George Owen', lord of the town. The jurors were sworn in court, apparently in batches of three, and one of them acted as foreman or spokesman. On occasion they acted in successive courts by adjournment and presented leet matters at the fortnightly court.

The election of the officers of the borough took place at the Michaelmas court. The chief officer was, of course, the reeve or portreeve ( prepositus) or mayor, as he is called in English records (the term mayor is used as early as circa 1500). He was elected by the lord of the borough from a list of three (sometimes four between 1611 and 1655 and not infrequently including the name of the retiring mayor) submitted to him by the grand inquisition of jurors. He was also sworn by the lord in person: in the time of George Owen some new mayors had to go to Henllys to be sworn by the lord. The mayor was answerable for the lord's rent, the prise of ale, tolls, estreats, waifs and strays within the town.

Then followed the election of the bailiff. Three or sometimes four names, which might include the old bailiff, were presented and this time the mayor made the choice. But in theory, according to the custumal in 'Vairde Book', fo. 156, the lord elected and swore both the mayor and bailiff. When Owen Lewis was elected bailiff on 12 Oct 1590, he was sworn by the recorder of the court. The bailiff was the executive officer of the court: he served writs, collected fines and amercements, and took charge of prisoners. When the new bailiff came into office on 13 Dec 1629, he was handed a pair of great bolts, two pairs of small bolts with two rings and a shackle.

Two constables or petty constables were also appointed at this court and sworn in full court. From 1615 to 1721 three petty constables were appointed.

Early in the proceedings of the court would come the calling of the roll of suitors. Defaulters, both freeholders and burgesses, were presented and amerced 7s each, a sum which was later mitigated by the affeerors. It has been noticed that generally speaking the persons who absented themselves regularly were men of standing --- the 'esquires' and 'gentlemen'.

The jury then made their presentments on oath. The following extracts from the rolls will give a good idea of this aspect of the business of the View of Frankpledge;

(2) The other court which was held within the borough of Newport was a court of record.

In early times it was called the Hundred Court 'holden before the mayor or portreeve every fifteen days there, which Court holdeth plea of any action personal or mixed of what sum soever and to the said Court are all freeholders by tenure of their land and the burgesses by reason of their freedom bound to do suit and service' ('Vairdre Book', fo. 158). In the sixteenth and seventeenth century court rolls it is styled the 'Court of George Owen (later Alban Owen), esq., lord of the town of Newport'. In some eighteenth century rolls it is described as the 'Court Baron'.

The jurisdiction and procedure of this fortnightly court have several points of considerable interest. It was held every other Monday at the Guildhall in Newport (later, like the Court Leet, at the house of the bailiff) before the reeve or mayor. Sometimes the reeve's deputy presided. The normal business of the court was the trial of pleas of debt, detinue, trespass, and slander, but there was an important difference between the court baron of a manor and a borough court of this kind inasmuch as the limit of 40s was not observed in pleas of debt. A great many cases recorded at on the extant rolls involved much larger sums, as may be seen from the pleas quoted below, but nevertheless the majority of cases was concerned with small amounts.

During the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth and the reign of James I it was a popular court for the settlement of debts and the award of damages for trespass. Its business proved a source of profit, if not to the lord of the town, at least to the officers whose duty it was to conduct proceedings and to the attorneys or professional pleaders who acted on behalf of litigants. These drew fees at every stage of the proceedings. The clerk of the court usually entered the name (initials or surname) of the attorney immediately above his entry of the suit on the roll --- complainant's attorney on the left and defendant's on the right. Litigants did not invariably employ attorneys to plead their suits; in such cases the clerk usually notes that they appeared in person. Among the attorneys noted in the early rolls are Morris Powell, J Br(?rown), M Bowen, Phillip Young, Williams (?George William [Griffith] of Penybenglog), Gruffydd Vaughan, William Gwyn of Newport, William Bowen of Holmus, and John Symins, most of whom were local gentlemen with legal training. The attorney's fee seems to have been about 1s.4d. but there is one case in which William Bowen of Holmus, gent, claimed a debt of 4s.4d. from Richard ap Ievan, tailor, who had retained complainant as his attorney in the court of Newport and he sued for his fee, viz 4s.4d. (12 Oct 1612). At the court held on 15 March 1613, there was a scene between the attorneys. William Gwyn snatched the declarations in a number of suits which were before the court from the hands of William Bowen and tore them to pieces before the mayor in court.

From a minute study of all the countless annotations made by the clerk of the court on the rolls (cryptic and puzzling though some of them may be) and from the interesting files of subsidiary court documents, it should be possible for the student to reconstruct the internal procedure of the court in some detail. The first stage was for the litigant to get his suit entered by the recorder or clerk. His complaint would be set out by his attorney in what was termed the declaration ( narratio), a copy of which was given to the defendant who was summoned to answer complainant. Defendant would put in a plea in his own defence or plead guilty and issue was joined. It often happened that defendants made essoin or raised an objection on a point of law or procured postponement in some other way. Thus these suits could, and often did, drag on from one court to the next for weeks and even months before the pronouncement of judgement, followed by execution. The suits were tried by jurors. A precept ( venire faceas) signed by the prepositus ( and often by the clerk as well) was directed to the bailiff of the town to summon twelve burgesses to act as jurors in a particular suit at issue, giving the names of the litigants and the nature of the suit. The bailiff then summoned the jurors individually to appear in court on the appointed day when six of them were sworn in court to sit on the case. One of the six was appointed foreman or spokesman and it was he who declared the verdict of the jurors after they had heard the pleadings on both sides and assessed the damages and costs. The panel of jurors, with the names of the six who were sworn indicated thereon, is often endorsed on the precepts returned by the bailiff, some of which have survived. The verdict, damages and costs may also be found endorsed on these precepts. The same information is frequently entered on the rolls themselves. Witnesses were also summoned by precept. The following is the earliest example noted;

villa de novo burgo

'To the persons undernamed and every of them Whereas you are necessary witnesses as is alleaged in a matter dependinge at yssue in the towne Corte of the said town between Eignon Younge, gent, plaintiff, and David Griffith, deft., these are to will and require you to appeare in the corte of the said towne upon Monday the vth day of this moneth then and there to testifie the trueth of your knowledges in the said matter of the plaintives behaulfe, your reasonable chardges considered, thereof faile not at your peril.

Dated the 11th day of November 1634
Jennet John, Mary Edward,
Thos Jones, clerk of the court
Geo Gwynn, maior.'

It fell to the bailiff to execute the judgements of the court. Failure on the part of defendants to pay the damage and costs awarded brought forth a warrant ( capias ad satisfaciendum), directed by the mayor to the bailiff to arrest him;

'Warrant to Griffith John, bailiff, to attach John Taffe or Owen Lewis, his pledge, and bring him before the Mayor of Newport to make satisfaction to Phwke Lloyd of Cardigan in respect of a debt of 27s.6d. which he recovered in the court of Newport and 5s.6d. costs. Signed : William Warren, prepositus. Endorsed by the bailiff; I have arrested the body of the said Owen Lewis, who was committed by the prepositus of the town and he remains in my custody, Griffith John, bailiff.'

There are many instances of writs which bear the endorsement that the mayor had committed a person to the town gaol where he remained in the custody of the bailiff. When the bailiff was unable to find the defaulter in his bailiwick he then attached his pledge who had to answer for the debt or be imprisoned until satisfaction was made. On 23 Aug 1630 Owen John David, pledge of William Phillips, was arrested to satisfy a debt of 40s.4d. and 4s.2d. costs. On 20 Sept the mayor committed him to prison until he paid and on 1 Oct he paid the debt and costs in full. Debts recovered in court could also be levied by distraint;

'Writ of levari faceas directing the bailiff to distrain the goods and chattels of Thomas Phillip Gwrda to satisfy Roland Yong, gent, in respect of a debt of 16s.9d. and 5s. costs. Signed Wm Warren, Mayor, 3 Nov 1600. Endorsed: Distrained from his goods one brown cow valued 22s. by Lewis William and Phillip Meredith and it remains in my custody --- Griffith John, bailiff.'

It was one of the duties of the clerk of the court to keep a record of the costs of litigation. Using a system of abbreviations he noted in the margin of the rolls or wherever he could find space, the various precepts issued in the suit and certain other bits of information, e.g dida (dies datus), vefa (venire faceas), lefa (levari faceas), casa (capias ad satisfaciendum), fifa (fieri faceas), narr' (narratio 'declaration'), esso (essoin), jud (judicio 'judgement'), and the puzzling li'lo (?liberata loquela) cum copia which had to do with informing the defendant of the suit initiated in court against him and supplying him with a copy of the declaration. A few bills of court costs have survived and include such items as these ; entrance fee 6d., filing declaration 4d., attorney's fee 1s.4d., writs of venire faceas, levari faceas and capias ad satisfaciendum 1s. each, warrant to witnesses 10d., jury 1s., witnesses 1s. ? each, judgement 8d., pledge 4d., etc. Costs in two suits in 1665 were 7s.8d. and 10s. respectively, but from 5s to 6s seems to have been the average costs at the beginning of the century.

There can be little doubt that this town court conducted considerable business in petty suits and functioned successfully , at least before it began to decline in the second half of the seventeenth century. It was an expeditious court for the settlement of debts and probably cheaper than the Quarter Sessions of Great Sessions. A remarkable number of litigants came from outside the borough, even from beyond the boundaries of Cemais. They were mostly traders and merchants from Haverfordwest and Tenby and farmers who visited Newport to buy and sell, especially at fair time. Suits were often tried between two litigants, both of whom lived outside the liberties. It is probable, though not quite clear, from a cursory examination of the records, that the issue in dispute had to originate within the borough before the case could come before the mayor. Debts, trespasses and slanders are frequently, but not always, stated to have been committed at the town cross or in Cocklane. Suits initiated in the court could be transferred to the Great Sessions by writ; several such writs have survived. A suit between Alban Owen, esq, plaintiff, (lord of Cemais) and Thomas Griffiths, defendant, in a plea of trespass to the damage of 13.13s.4d. was thus removed on 6 April 1631. Plaintiff had entered into a bond in 8 with a silk-weaver from Bristol at Cocklane on 20 July 1628 at the instance of defendant. The silk-weaver recovered the sum with costs at the King's Court at the Guildhall, Haverfordwest, against plaintiff, but as Thomas Griffith, the defendant, had not made satisfaction to him he brought a suit to recover the debt  'before the mayor in the Newport court without the king's writ according to the custom of the said town'. But because an error in procedure had become apparent, to the damage of the plaintiff, a writ was served on the mayor ordering him to send the documents in the suit for trial at Carmarthen, probably in the Great Sessions.

To illustrate the work of the court the following excerpts (summarised from the Latin of the originals) have been taken from the rolls at random. Some of the clerk's annotations are summarised in the square brackets;

B G Charles (to be continued).


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