THE HUNDRED OF MELKSHAM
IT is stated in the Exchequer Domesday that Melksham with its appurtenances (appendicibus) gelded for 84 hides of which 34 were in demesne. (fn. 1)
In MSS. B (fn. 2) and C (fn. 3) of the Wiltshire Geld Roll in the Exeter Domesday it
is stated that there were 8 6 hides and 13 carucates in the hundred. According
to MS. C the king was said to hold these in demesne; but the barons held 32 hides
and ½ virgate in demesne and of this hidage the king was said to have a share. (fn. 4)
This share amounted to 9 hides 13 carucates according to MS. B (fn. 5) and 9 hides
according to MS. C. (fn. 6) In MS. A of the Geld Roll, however, the hidage of the
hundred is given as 39, with 23 hides, 1½ virgate in demesne. (fn. 7) It is extremely
difficult to make sense of these figures and for the moment it must suffice to
observe that the hidage of the manor given in the Exchequer Domesday is very
The value of the manor in the Exchequer Domesday is likewise high
whether calculated by the stated alternatives of weight or tale. (fn. 8) When the
manor was in the hands of Humphrey de Bohunfrom 1155 to 1158 it was valued
at £48 blanched, (fn. 9) or rather less than half its value by tale in 1086. If a blanched
farm of a manor may be taken to comprise the value of that manor with a hundred jurisdiction annexed, (fn. 10) it is tempting to argue that the 'appurtenances' of
Melksham manor at the time of the Survey comprised the rest of the hundred.
Be this as it may, the possibility that a hundred jurisdiction was annexed
to the manor in 1086 becomes a certainty by 1240, for an extent of that year
declares as much. (fn. 11) Moreover the hundred was by then bilateral—a home and
a foreign hundred. These were separable jurisdictions, for in the same year,
when Nicholas de Barbeflet lost the farm of the manor, the foreign hundred
was committed to the sheriff. (fn. 12) How long this separation continued is not
When the manor was granted to Amice, Countess of Devon, in 1257 the
hundred was granted with it. The fee farm rent of £48 which the countess paid
for it was blanched, and since this farm corresponds with the value in 1155, the
presumption that the hundred was annexed to the manor in the earlier year is
rendered the stronger.
Hundred of Melksham
In 1281 the Prioress of Amesbury, who had already acquired the manor,
claimed that the foreign hundred was included in her grant. An inquisition
was taken and the issue submitted to the justices in eyre. (fn. 13) Their judgement has
not been traced, but presumably it was in the prioress's favour, for the charter
of 1285 (see Melksham) declared that the liberty of returning writs, enjoyed
by the prioress since at least 1275–6, extended to the foreign hundred. (fn. 14) The
distinction between the home and foreign hundreds, which was still maintained
in 1317–18, (fn. 15) is nowhere defined. Presumably the home hundred represented
a leet jurisdiction within the lady's demesnes and the foreign hundred the jurisdiction of the hundred court apart from Melksham itself. It is doubtful whether
there was a manor court distinct from the home hundred. In 1250–1 the rent
called 'loveselver' amounted to £1. 7s. (fn. 16) It was evidently received half yearly,
for in 1257–8 the Martinmas payment brought in 14s. (fn. 17) In 1274–5 it was
valued at £1. 8s. and was said to be annexed to the home hundred. (fn. 18) The 'rent'
of the foreign hundred was worth £2. 12s. in 1250–1. (fn. 19) In 1274–5 rents called
tourn and tithingpenny, valued at £1, were annexed to the foreign hundred. (fn. 20)
They were presumably the same as the rent of 1250–1. These appurtenances
of the foreign hundred were confirmed as part of the profits of the manor and
hundred by the charter of 1285. (fn. 21) From 1316 to 1318 tourns were held and the
tithingpenny collected at Martinmas and Hockday. (fn. 22) In 1356–7 the same
practice prevailed. Tourn and tithingpenny then brought in £4. The prior
with the steward attended the Hockday court and surveyed the stock at the
same time. Nine home and as many foreign hundreds were held and yielded
£9. 10s. 4d. and £6. 0s. 8d. respectively. (fn. 23) In 1535 2 curie legales and 18
hundreds with certainties, fines, heriots, and other casualties brought in £8. (fn. 24)
This shows a considerable drop in receipts from this source, but the continuance
of the same system of court keeping, namely hundred courts every three weeks
and tourns twice a year.
After the Dissolution the distinction between home and foreign hundreds
is not observed, but the undifferentiated hundred continued to follow the
descent of the capital manor until 1749 when it is for the last time the subject of
a conveyance. (fn. 25) The post-Dissolution practice of court keeping is revealed in
1651 when the hundred was surveyed by the Parliamentary Commissioners
in the belief that it belonged to the Crown. The courts leet and lawdays for
the hundred were kept in Melksham at the house of Sir John Danvers, lord of that
manor, within the months of Michaelmas and Lady Day. Lawday silver or certainty money and sheriff's tourn money, amounting on each occasion to
£1. 13s. 4d., were payable at these courts. All constables and tithingmen and
all residents within the hundred were to appear at these courts or essoin 1d.
Officers within the tithings and constables of the hundred were to be elected
and sworn in them, and jurors were to present nuisances. A three weeks'
court, with power to try actions under £2, was also kept at the same place. The
estimated annual value of the courts leet, lawdays, and three weeks' courts was
£4. 10s. (fn. 26)
In 1086 the towns of Melksham, Chalfield, Hilperton, Staverton, Trowbridge, Trowle, and Whaddon apparently lay within the hundred, (fn. 27) but this
is probably not an exhaustive list. In John's reign Chalfield was transferred to
Bradford hundred (q.v.). In 1240 the hundred consisted of the following tithings: Melksham, Beanacre, Bulkington, Hilperton, Poulshot, Seend Row, 'Stanleigh' (unidentified), Whitley, and Woolmore. (fn. 28) The Nomina Villarum (1316)
shows it to have consisted of the following towns: Melksham, Bulkington,
Erlestoke, Hilperton, Poulshot, Seend, and Trowbridge. (fn. 29) Thereafter there
is considerable variety, as the appended table illustrates. These variations,
however, must not necessarily be attributed to intentional changes in administrative practice. The sources from which the table is compiled are mainly
taxation assessments, and small places may have been grouped in different ways
by different collectors or altogether ignored as separate units by some of them.
The list of 1651, which is not drawn from such an assessment, perhaps shows
the position as it then was with exceptional reliability. It is to be noted that
certainties of tourns paid by Bulkington, Hilperton, and Erlestoke in 1540–1 (fn. 30)
and the certainty money (doubtless the same payment) due from Bulkington,
Erlestoke, Hilperton with Whaddon, and Poulshot in 1651 (fn. 31) were twice as
great as those payable by other tithings. In the former year sheriff's aid called
tithingpenny seems to have been due only from Erlestoke (13s. 4d.) and
Hilperton (6s. 8d.).
It will be noticed that after 1333–4 there is no reference to Staverton and
Trowbridge for some time or to Studley and (Little) Trowle at all. These
places came to be accounted extra-hundredal and to be grouped together into
the liberty of Trowbridge. The original character of the liberty, as a feudal
immunity, cannot here be considered. As an administrative area it was separately
mustered in 1539 (fn. 32) and separately assessed in 1545. (fn. 33) In the latter year it
consisted of the tithings of Studley and Staverton, between which Trowbridge
itself seems to have been divided. In the early 17th century the town of Trowbridge appeared before the county justices separately from Melksham hundred,
though at the same Quarter Sessions. (fn. 34) In 1645 the liberty, consisting of Trowbridge, Staverton, Studley, and Trowle, formed a single unit of assessment. (fn. 35)
In course of time, however, Trowbridge seems for all purposes to have been
reunited with the hundred, of which by 1814 (fn. 36) it was deemed to form a part,
though the name 'liberty' was still in use in 1847. Staverton, Studley, and
Trowle, which had once been townships in the hundred, became tithings of
Trowbridge (see Trowbridge).
In 1831 Melksham hundred consisted of the parishes of Melksham,
Erlestoke, Hilperton, Poulshot, Trowbridge, and Whaddon, and the tithing of
Bulkington in Keevil parish. Curiously enough this corresponds with the list
of towns of 1316.
A hundred bailiff, Robert Savery, is named in 1316, (fn. 37) another, Walter
Wynneley, in 1444. (fn. 38) In 1651 the tithingmen of the hundred were to 'cease'
all strays, waifs, and deodands, and to account for them to the bailiff. (fn. 39) A bailiff
of the manor and hundred was in office as late as 1875. (fn. 40)
Townships in Melksham Hundred
1327–8: Assessment of 20th, 1 Edw. III (E 179/196/7).
1333–4: Assessment of 15th and 10th, 7 Edw. III (E 179/196/8).
1524: Assessment of subsidy, 18 June 1524 (date of collectors' cert.) (E 179/197/155).
1539: Assessment of subsidy, 12 Dec. 1545 (date of collectors' cert.) (E 179/197/218).
1545: Muster taken on a commission of Mar. 1539 (L. & P. Hen. VIII, xiv(1), p. 299.)
1560: Assessment of subsidy, 15 Feb. 1560 (date of collectors' cert.) (E 179/198/275).
1611: Assessment of subsidy, 5 Mar. 1611 (date of collectors' cert.) (E 179/199/368).
1645: Parliamentary Monthly Assessment (Chalfield & Malmesbury Garrison Accts. (W.A.S. Rec.
1651: Parliamentary Survey, 13 Sept. 1651 (E 317/Wilts./12).