City government, 1612-1835


Victoria County History



Elizabeth Crittal (editor)

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'Salisbury: City government, 1612-1835', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6 (1962), pp. 105-113. URL: Date accessed: 20 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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The charter of 1612 incorporated Salisbury as a free city under the title 'The Mayor and Commonalty of the City of New Sarum' and, as amended by later charters, remained the city's governing charter until 1836. (fn. 1) The ancient boundaries of the city were confirmed, and the jurisdiction of the bishop was confined to the Close, saving to the mayor the right to proceed to services in the cathedral with his officers, and the mace borne before him. By a charter granted to the bishop at the same time the liberty of the Close was created with its own commission of the peace. The right was also granted for the bishop to have, or to continue to have, a prison, pillory, and stocks within the liberty. (fn. 2) The liberty of the Close remained outside the jurisdiction of the city until the Municipal Corporations Act of 1836, but the holding of sessions appears to have ceased before that date, possibly with the destruction of the bishop's Guildhall in 1785. (fn. 3) The bishop's court also continued, the times for holding it varying at different periods. It was still in existence as a court of record in 1835, but no case had been tried in it for eighteen years, and the book setting out its procedure had been lost. (fn. 4) The government of the city was vested in the mayor, recorder, 24 aldermen, and 48 assistants, the first holders of these offices being named in the charter, and provision being made for future elections. The mayor was to be chosen in common council on the Wednesday after the feast of St. Martin and was to take the oath of office that day before the bishop, or, in his absence, before the old mayor, the recorder, and at least four aldermen. Any citizen could apparently be nominated, but in practice a member of the corporation was always chosen, and generally an alderman. (fn. 5) The recorder was to be chosen by the common council; aldermen and assistants by the mayor, recorder, and the residue of aldermen and assistants; aldermen generally from assistants who had served as mayor, if any existed, and assistants from resident inhabitants. The mayor, recorder, and aldermen had the power to remove for misconduct aldermen, assistants and the various officers of the corporation. The mayor and commonalty had the power of making by-laws and of buying additional land to the value of £50 a year. The mayor and ten aldermen, who had served as mayor, were to be justices of the peace holding quarter sessions within the city. There was no stipulation that members of the corporation should reside in the city, although it was clearly desirable that they should do so. In 1693 two aldermen, one of them also a justice, and one assistant were disfranchised from their offices because they lived outside the city. (fn. 6) One member of the corporation lived at Westbury and two at Bath in 1802. (fn. 7) In 1827 the serjeants and beadles lamented the falling off in their Christmas gratuities from members of the corporation as a result of the 'great number of gentlemen who are not resident'; (fn. 8) but in 1834 17 of the 24 aldermen were resident, the other seven living 'at a distance'; 23 of the 30 assistants were resident, and 9 out of the 10 justices. (fn. 9)

The corporation had the privilege of making freemen, or free citizens, who alone could exercise any trade or occupation in the city. Assistants were always sworn as free citizens when sworn into their offices, and the city's M.P.s were always freemen. (fn. 10) With the decline of the merchants' companies and of restrictions upon trading within the city, the practical value of the freedom of the city declined, and by 1834 its chief advantage was that it carried the right to profit by Sir Thomas White's charity. (fn. 11)

The charter of 1630 was virtually a renewal of that of 1612, though the opportunity was taken to make some small additions. (fn. 12) Both charters were superseded for a period of just under three years by the charter granted to the city by Cromwell in 1656. (fn. 13) A petition for a new charter was first presented to the Protector and Council in 1655. (fn. 14) In 1656 a second petition was drawn up and was referred by the Protector to a committee for consideration. (fn. 15) It has been suggested that this was the origin of the important Commonwealth Committee on Municipal Charters. (fn. 16) A counter-petition from the inhabitants of the Close, protesting against the proposal that under the new charter the Close should be included within the jurisdiction of the city, (fn. 17) was of no avail. Besides placing the liberty of the Close under the jurisdiction of the mayor and corporation, the charter reduced the number of aldermen to 15 and assistants to 24 on the grounds that the population of the city had fallen. All officers of the corporation were named. (fn. 18) This charter remained in operation until 1659, when the restored Rump ordered the city to revert to the charters of 1612 and 1630 and surrender the charter of 1656. The corporation were very unwilling to give up the patronage and control of St. Nicholas's Hospital, which was within the liberty of the Close, and petitioned unsuccessfully for a renewal of the grant on the ground that they used it for the relief of the poor 'wherewith they were overgrown and burdened by the great decay of trade'. (fn. 19)

Early in 1675, after various negotiations, a new charter was obtained. (fn. 20) This limited the number of assistants to 30 on the ground that the city was 'much impoverished' by the plague, and raised the annual value of land which the corporation might purchase to £100. The king, in accordance with his general policy, took the opportunity of inserting a clause stipulating that after the death of the present recorder, no appointment to that office was to be made without the approval of the Crown. Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the charter was the authority given to appoint a deputy recorder. Much controversy arose later as to his precise rights: had he a vote in parliamentary elections, and had he a vote in the common council if the recorder was also present. (fn. 21) A dispute of considerable acrimony on the subject was in progress in the 1830's and the Commissioners on Municipal Corporations cautiously declined to discuss the question as one that could 'only be decided in a court of law'. (fn. 22)

The charter of 1675 was surrendered in 1684, in the course of Charles II's campaign to gain control of the municipal corporations, (fn. 23) and a new charter was granted by James II early in 1685. (fn. 24) Like most of the charters granted at this time, it contained a clause giving the Crown power to remove officials by Order in Council, (fn. 25) and in 1687 by orders of the Privy Council the mayor, town clerk, and a number of aldermen and assistants were removed and replaced by others named in the orders. (fn. 26) The warrant for a new charter was dated 28 August 1688, (fn. 27) but this charter was never put into operation. In October 1688 James II issued his proclamation restoring to corporations their ancient charters, and shortly afterwards all members and officers of the corporation at the date of the surrender of the 1675 charter were declared to be re-elected. (fn. 28) Although this appears to be a clear return to the charter of 1675, doubts seem nevertheless to have arisen, and some members of the corporation regarded the first charter of James II, granted in 1685, as being still in force. (fn. 29) This led to disputes about the time and manner of electing aldermen, and in 1706 it was decided to petition for a new charter to make these points clear. The new charter, dated 1707, provided that on a vacancy for an alderman occurring, two persons should be nominated by the mayor and remaining aldermen, one of them to be elected by the common council. The mayor was not to call a common council without due notice to the justices or without the consent of a majority of them. Under this charter and the more detailed provisions made in the charter of 1612 the government of the city continued to function until the Municipal Corporations Act of 1836. (fn. 30)

The principal officers appointed by the corporation were the town clerk, who was also clerk to the justices, holding office during good behaviour; the clerk of the peace, who, before 1785, had to be the clerk of the bishop's court; 2 chamberlains, elected annually from members of the corporation, and responsible for the management of the city's finances; 4 high constables, chosen from among the leading tradesmen and responsible for collecting the city rate; 13 sub-constables, also chosen annually and responsible for keeping order; 3 serjeants-atmace, and 2 beadles. The clerk of the peace, high constables, and sub-constables received no salaries, and the serjeants and beadles, though receiving salaries, relied chiefly on fees and gratuities, though their salaries were raised in 1827. (fn. 31)

The council's meetings were held in the Council House, their frequency varying greatly. From 1719 the annual mayor's feast was also held at the Council House instead of the mayor's own residence. (fn. 32) This had disastrous results in 1780, when shortly after the end of the feast a fire broke out, destroying the greater part of the Council House. (fn. 33) Emergency meetings of the council during the next few days were held at the house of Sir Alexander Powell, the deputy recorder, and at the Vine Inn. (fn. 34)

Procedure was laid down at a council meeting shortly after the charter of 1612. 'Mr. Mayor may make his speech, sitting and covered, and every other of the twenty-four aldermen shall, at the first, stand up and then sit and deliver his speech, motion or question, uncovered. Every one of the forty-eight assistants, shall stand and be uncovered, during the time of his speech'. Members of the twenty-four, wishing to speak, were to have precedence over members of the forty-eight, and if no one offered to speak the mayor should direct who was to speak first. (fn. 35) In the 17th century aldermen wore scarlet and foyne gowns for certain ceremonies and feast days, and on other occasions foyne gowns or gowns faced with satin, according to the season. The wearing of gowns by assistants was revived in 1788, after such long disuse that no one could remember what gowns they used to wear, and a new type was approved. The following year a distinction between the gowns of aldermen and those of assistants was decided upon, and distinctive markings designed for aldermen and assistants who had been excused promotion to a higher office. (fn. 36) Attendance seems to have been a problem from at least the mid-17th century onwards, and in 1662 a scale of fines for non-attendance was imposed. (fn. 37) In 1759 a council, attended by the mayor and only ten aldermen and fourteen assistants, ordered that these fines should be strictly enforced, since non-attendance was making it difficult to transact the business of the corporation. (fn. 38) There was also difficulty in enforcing attendance upon the mayor at the cathedral on Sundays, and in 1716 the council was divided into two groups, each group to attend the mayor to church for a month unless excused by the council. A fine was imposed for unauthorized absence. (fn. 39) Fines for delay of more than three months in taking the oaths of office after election were imposed in 1713, and, at the same time, for the less heinous offence of 'hanging up cloths in the Council House.' (fn. 40) Attendance at council meetings seems to have declined in the latter part of the 18th century and was sometimes very sparse in the early years of the nineteenth.

Although temporary committees to deal with specific issues were set up frequently, standing committees were few. The earliest seems to have been the committee for managing the city brewhouse, set up in 1623. (fn. 41) A revenues committee, consisting of the mayor and 25 others, was constituted in 1663. It dealt with business connected with the corporation lands, and lands belonging to the various charities, and with constant business connected with city bondholders; it approved sums for banquets on such occasions as the anniversary of the restoration of Charles II, and frequently admitted free citizens. (fn. 42) At a meeting in 1706 it considered a request from 'two gentlemen pretending to be empowered by the Commissioners of the Stamp Office' for a list of all those admitted into the corporation or sworn free citizens since 1694, and prudently resolved 'that the town clerk do not deliver any such list without an Order of Council or until Mr. Recorder's opinion be first had upon it'. (fn. 43) After 1724 there are no further minutes of the revenues committee as such, but in a number of cases 'a committee', up to about 1770, deals with the same sort of business with which the revenues committee had been concerned. It was, however, becoming usual to set up special committees to deal with the renewal of leases of the corporation property, and in 1794 a standing committee on city lands was set up. (fn. 44) A standing committee for regulating the market was set up when the corporation obtained complete control of the market in 1796. (fn. 45)

The administration of the city was divided between the common council and the justices in quarter sessions who were all members of the common council. Little information about the activities of the justices is available. (fn. 46) Presentments were generally of such minor nuisances as unfenced water-courses and defective bridges over them, obstruction of the street by wagons, the escape of pigs and other animals, and the offensive state of the privy on Fisherton Bridge. This was constantly presented between 1797 and 1800, when William Woolfrye was indicted and pleaded guilty to neglecting to keep it clean and repaired. Convictions were most frequently for drunkenness, stealing, assault, selling goods as a hawker or pedlar without a licence, keeping an ale-house without a licence, or keeping disorderly houses. The average number of cases at each sessions was about six, and the impression left is not one of unusual disorder or serious crime. (fn. 47) In 1795 the justices recommended the appointment of special constables for keeping the peace, and in 1805 after the battle of Trafalgar distributed a handbill 'signifying their wish that a general illumination should not take place on the eve of the day appointed for a general thanksgiving'. (fn. 48) In 1792 unfounded rumours of riots in Salisbury led some interfering and anonymous person to approach the Secretary at War with a request that troops should be sent from Downton to quell these hypothetical riots, much to the indignation of the justices and of the council, who devoted a good deal of fruitless effort to trying to discover, through the city's members of Parliament, the identity of this informer, and whether he had charged the magistrates with any misconduct. (fn. 49)

Prisoners awaiting trial or convicted at quarter sessions were sent to the city gaol under the bishop's Guildhall, which by 1782 had become very dilapidated. (fn. 50) The Act of 1785 providing for the building of the new Council House also provided for the building of a new gaol, and city prisoners were for the time being sent to the County Gaol at Fisherton. (fn. 51) In 1799 the need for a proper prison for debtors was expressed at general sessions and negotiations were opened with the county justices for a permanent arrangement. An Act of 1800 (fn. 52) formally constituted Fisherton gaol into a joint county and city gaol. Prisoners sent there from the city sessions were supported out of the city rate, salaries of a gaoler, surgeon and matron were paid by the city, and the justices each session appointed two of their number to be visiting justices of the gaol. (fn. 53)

Early in 1800 the justices announced their intention of taking advantage of the Act of 1740 extending to city justices the provisions of the County Rates Act of 1739, and of levying a general city rate. In the absence of earlier records, it is impossible to be certain that this was the first occasion when such a rate was levied, but the appointment, for the first time, in 1799, of a city treasurer, to whom the rates collected by the high constables from the overseers in the three parishes were to be paid, makes this appear probable. The rate levied in January 1800 was £50 6s. 8d. apportioned thus between the three parishes: St. Thomas's, £22 13s. 4d.; St. Edmund's, £20; St. Martin's, £7 13s. 4d. Subsequent rates were divided in the same proportions. The amount varied a good deal from year to year, in some years two rates being levied, in others only one. Between 1813 and 1832 the lowest figure was £100 13s. 4d. in 1813, and the highest £1,399 6s. 8d. in 1819; from 1825 onwards a general pattern became established of a first rate of £250, followed by a second of £250 or sometimes less. In 1830 and 1831 only one rate of £200 was levied. (fn. 54)

The principal items of general business concerning the common council were the corporation's real property; the administration of the various charities; (fn. 55) the admission of free citizens; loans to various inhabitants; and, from about the second decade of the 18th century, petitions to Parliament for bills for the regulating of various aspects of the city's affairs. During the 17th century business connected with the trade companies and the exclusion of strangers from trading in the city occurred quite frequently; it declined in the early 18th century and soon disappeared altogether. On the other hand, business connected with the city's finances occurred more frequently after 1660, and can be said to have been the most important item of business in the early 19th century. The administration of the city under the old corporation can be considered here under three general categories: finance; the repair, cleaning and lighting of the streets; and poor relief and public health.

The city's finances were administered by the senior of the two chamberlains, elected annually from members of the corporation, the same person generally being elected several years in succession. (fn. 56) He received a salary of £3 10s. a year, and was responsible for collecting rents, making all disbursements, and keeping the accounts, which were audited every year by a committee generally consisting of the mayor, the old mayor, and four aldermen, and four assistants taken in rotation. (fn. 57) Limitations upon the chamberlain's powers were sometimes imposed by the council in times of financial stringency; in 1721, for example, it was ordered that he should not spend over 40s. in repairs or otherwise without the consent of the mayor and justices, or the majority of them; and in 1796 the auditors recommended a limit of £10, expenditure above this sum to be referred to the council. (fn. 58) Normally, however, the chamberlain appears to have been left without supervision, and it was possible for George Maton, chamberlain from 1782 to his death in 1816, to die owing over £2,000 to the various city funds. Six years later the bulk of this debt still remained unpaid, and the auditors regretted 'that we feel ourselves called on to add that such defalcation has arisen in great measure from the inattention and misplaced confidence of the different auditors for several years previous to Mr. Maton's decease'. (fn. 59) The auditors from time to time suggested improvements in the method of keeping the accounts; in 1794 the council ordered a more detailed itemizing of receipts and payments, and in 1822 the auditors proposed alterations, provided that the chamberlain could be assisted by a clerk, for his task was complicated, owing to the multiplicity of the accounts which had to be kept. (fn. 60) These included, besides the general account of the chamber, the accounts of the various charities, and, after 1796, a fund known as the Permanent Fund, formed from the gift of £1,000 from William Hussey, which was invested and appropriated to the repair of the new Council House.

The corporation's main sources of income were the rents and fines for renewals of leases from their lands, fines from members of the corporation for refusing office, and, after 1796, market tolls. The rents were mostly quit rents on about 50 properties in the city let on leases. The annual income from this source was about £200 a year throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries. Between 1647 and 1652 24 properties were alienated by the corporation, and henceforth paid freehold rents amounting to £2 a year. Income from fines for renewals varied considerably from year to year; the yearly average between 1820 and 1833 was just over £100. (fn. 61) Attempts to increase the revenue from the city lands were made from time to time. A survey of the lands and new regulations for the leases were made in 1724; a further survey was made in 1794, and the mayor and justices were constituted a standing committee to consider and report to the council on all leases proposed to be granted or renewed. (fn. 62) Approvals of fines for renewals of leases fixed by this committee appear at frequent intervals in the ledgers from this date. In 1822 the auditors recommended the 'granting of all leases at rack rents of all houses now in hand, if eligible tenants can be found', and the insertion of an advertisement to this effect in the Salisbury Journal. (fn. 63) Fines for refusals of office became a lucrative source of income in the later 18th century. A fine not exceeding £40 for mayor, £20 for aldermen and 'reasonable fines' for assistants were fixed by the charter of 1612. These were increased to respectively £100, £40, and £20 in the charters 1656 and 1675, and revised by bylaws in 1720 to respectively £100, £80, and £5. (fn. 64) Revenue from this source amounted to more than £800 in 1796, 1797, and 1803, and it was still bringing in an average income of over £100 a year in the 1820's, although by that time only fines for refusing the office of mayor were being exacted. In 1829 a committee was set up to consider the expenses and fees of the mayor's office, and as a consequence, they became less onerous. As a result, no one refused the office of mayor in the early 1830's, and the corporation was thus deprived, at a critical period in its finances, of a valuable source of income. (fn. 65)

Market tolls became an additional source of income in 1797. (fn. 66) Much was hoped from this new source, but it proved very disappointing, and in 1834 the market committee proposed letting out the tolls by public tender, in the hope of increasing the revenue from this source. (fn. 67)

The heaviest item of the corporation's ordinary expenditure was the payment of the various charities. Having received the principal sums for their own use, the corporation were obliged to pay the interest or annual donations out of their ordinary revenue. The ordinary expenditure also included fees, wages, and some clothing to certain corporation officers, presents to the justices of assize, the salary of the masters of the workhouse and house of correction, a pension to the vicars choral, and quit rents to the bishop. In 1824 the corporation borrowed from the Permanent Fund, and henceforth interest of nearly £17 on this loan became an item of ordinary expenditure. The biggest item of extraordinary expenditure was generally for repairs, mainly of the various almshouses, many of which were very dilapidated in the early 19th century; (fn. 68) of the bridewell until 1673, when it became so decayed that the inmates were moved to the workhouse; and of the Council House itself.

The Council House was becoming increasingly in need of repair, enlargement, and improvement. Attempts were made to raise public subscriptions for improvements in 1614, in 1740, and again in 1765. (fn. 69) Fairly extensive external repairs had to be made in 1734 and 1757, and in 1770 a committee was set up to inspect the building and give orders for repairs, and to consider schemes for erecting a new Council House in its place. (fn. 70) The fire which destroyed the old Council House in 1780 was thus to some extent a blessing in disguise, (fn. 71) as the corporation was supplied with a new Council House paid for by Lord Radnor, (fn. 72) and £1,000 for its upkeep by William Hussey. (fn. 73)

The city's financial position was on the whole poor in the later 17th and early 18th centuries, generally sound from about 1738 to the end of the century, with minor crises in the eighties and nineties, and increasingly precarious in the early 19th century. The Commonwealth corporation, which appears to have been generally rather spendthrift and unwise, had had to face two very large items of expenditure — the purchase of the episcopal and capitular lands, (fn. 74) and the expenses involved in obtaining the charter of 1656, which amounted in all to about £250. (fn. 75) The city finances were in a bad state at the Restoration, and a committee to consider means of raising money to pay the corporation's debts was set up in 1663. (fn. 76) The chamberlain's accounts show frequent deficits between the Restoration and the Revolution, and again between 1714 and 1738. The position then continued to be generally satisfactory until 1796. In that year there were two heavy items of extraordinary expenditure, namely, the purchase of Canon Hume's interest in the clerkship of the market for £400, (fn. 77) and the payment of £486 for railings round the new Council House. These produced a deficit, which led the council to cancel its order for six pairs of candlesticks with silver branches at an estimated cost of £200. (fn. 78) The situation was temporarily saved by the unusually large sums paid in fines for several consecutive years, but another and more severe crisis occurred in 1806–7. The corporation was now heavily in debt, and a committee was set up, on the auditors' advice, to consider possible means of increasing revenue. It recommended economy, and an increase in fines for renewals of leases, but could not suggest any other obvious remedies. (fn. 79) Matters did not improve, and in 1822 the auditors, while attaching no blame to anyone felt impelled to make a long report to the council on the unsatisfactory state of affairs, drawing attention to the 'large balances due from the corporation to the several charities' (amounting in all to £273), and recommending the setting up of a special committee to consider their report. (fn. 80) In 1834 the chamberlain reported that he had no funds to pay the mayor's salary, nor the greater part of last year's bills for the charities. He referred particularly to the heavy burden of maintaining the almshouses without sufficient funds, and pointed out that the income from fines, which had rescued the corporation in previous crises, had now practically ceased. Unless some plan were adopted for raising money, 'the corporation would remain in debt and their affairs could not be carried on'. The committee on finance, faced with this situation, could only recommend reductions in the salaries of the recorder, deputy recorder, town clerk, bailiff and chamberlain. (fn. 81) All except the town clerk responded by agreeing to give up their salaries, the bailiff making the prudent proviso that no call should be made on him for a subscription towards the corporation's finances. The town clerk refused to relinquish his salary and expressed the opinion that the corporation had property available for getting themselves out of their difficulties. (fn. 82) This optimistic view was not shared by the Commissioners on Municipal Corporations, who foresaw for the Salisbury corporation a gradually increasing debt or at the very best, since so much of the corporation's revenue was allotted to specific purposes, no hope of any surplus for works of public utility. (fn. 83)

The cleansing of the water-courses, and the upkeep of the banks and bridges presented a special problem to those responsible for the upkeep of the highways, and it is perhaps for this reason that between 1612 and the Act of 1737, setting up directors of highways, this responsibility seems to have been assumed by the corporation rather than the parishes. In 1612 a common surveyor was appointed, whose duty it was to present all parts of the rivers which were not kept clean, all who refused to clean them and repair the banks, and all who refused to clean the streets before their doors. (fn. 84) This arrangement apparently did not work satisfactorily, for in 1620 the council ordered the cleaning of the water-courses, which had become so dirty that in places the flow of the current was stopped, and appointed six surveyors of water-courses—two aldermen who were also justices, and four assistants — to be chosen annually. (fn. 85) When the Court was at Wilton in 1625 the mayor and commonalty took the opportunity to present a petition to the Privy Council lamenting the ruinous state of the streets and of the water-course banks, and the fact that most of the city's inhabitants were too poor to contribute to their repair. The Privy Council ordered a survey of property and the rating of property-owners for this purpose. (fn. 86) The financial liability for the repair of bridges and river banks seems to have remained a matter of doubt throughout the 17th century. (fn. 87) In 1677 the corporation, on being cited at the next quarter sessions and in the bishop's court leet for not repairing Fisherton, Crane, Lyon, and Friars' Bridges, 'and several other bridges and ways over the Town Ditch', and the water banks, held that as the corporation had no land on these banks, they were not obliged to pay for repairs out of the chamber funds. A rate on the city, it was argued, should pay for them, and the next quarter sessions should be asked to make an order for such a rate. (fn. 88) In 1713 the council ordered that three representatives of the inhabitants of the city and three representatives 'of the inhabitants of the ditch' should search for evidence concerning the arrangements for cleansing the Ditch; (fn. 89) and it was perhaps doubts and uncertainties of this kind which in 1700 prompted the attempt to include a clause 'for cleansing streets and water-courses and repairing bridges in and about Sarum' in the bill then before Parliament for making the Avon navigable. This bill never got beyond the committee stage. (fn. 90) Plans in 1707 for a bill to empower the mayor and justices to appoint a watch, and to raise by rate a sum not exceeding £30 a year for placing lamps at convenient places in the streets also failed to mature. (fn. 91) Street lamps were, however, presented in 1727 by Thomas Lewis, one of the city's members of Parliament, later in the year. Four of these were erected in the Market Place, two each in Castle Street, Catherine Street, High Street, Silver Street and Winchester Street, one each in Brown Street, Endless Street, Milford Street, New Street and St. Ann Street, one 'on the Ditch', and one each at Crane and Fisherton Bridges. They were first lighted on George II's coronation day. (fn. 92) Further lamps were presented in 1769 by Henry Dawkins, unsuccessful candidate at the election of 1768, the posts being provided at the expense of the chamber and a public subscription collected to cover the cost of lighting. (fn. 93)

Meanwhile in 1737 an Act was passed setting up directors of highways responsible for repairing, cleaning, and lighting the streets and for regulating the watch. (fn. 94) It provided for the appointment of watchmen, a lamplighter, and a scavenger, and ordered all inhabitants on pain of a fine to clean the street before their houses once a week and refrain from throwing refuse into the street. Rates could be levied, and three days work a year, or a fine of 1s. 6d. for each day demanded, from those not liable for rates. The directors at once levied a rate on the three parishes amounting to £236; (fn. 95) and the council, in order to carry the Act into effect quickly, lent the directors £150. A further loan of £150 was made in 1741 and a further £150, with promise of £100 more if necessary, for repairing the Ditch, in 1743. (fn. 96) In 1772 the corporation joined with the trustees of one of the turnpike trusts in petitioning Parliament for power to light certain streets and repair and pave certain footpaths, and collect at all entrances to the city a Sunday toll and, during race week, a daily toll. (fn. 97) An Act on these lines was passed in 1772 with a clause added at the committee stage prohibiting the driving of wheelbarrows on the footways. (fn. 98) The condition of the streets still did not satisfy the inhabitants, who met in 1812 to consider means of financing improvements. (fn. 99) The directors of highways petitioned Parliament to extend their powers in 1814, and the following year a further Act was passed extending and amending the two previous Acts. (fn. 100) Five night watchmen were now employed in summer, nine in winter, and seven in the intermediate seasons, their captain being sworn as a constable. The directors had power to raise a rate not exceeding 2s. in the £ on property of more than £20 annual value, the poor rate to be the standard of value. Two rates totalling £538 13s. were levied in 1815, three totalling £765 4s. 6d. in 1820. By 1825 the amount had increased to £1,009 1s. 3d. (four rates) and to £1,306 0s. 3d. (four rates) in 1830. (fn. 101) In 1832 a Gas Company was established, and streets were lighted by gas for the first time early in 1833. (fn. 102)

The organization of poor relief was the responsibility of the parishes, under the supervision of the city justices, the Close having its own overseer and raising its own rate. From at least the middle of the 17th century the three city parishes had all adopted equal rates and the same method of rating, and applied their funds to the relief of the poor of the city in general, thus avoiding the problem of disputes about the settlement of paupers, and their removal from one parish to another. This procedure seems to have worked smoothly, though the consideration by the council in 1758 of an application to Parliament 'for the better regulation of the poor' (fn. 103) possibly foreshadowed the crisis which arose in 1769. In that year the inhabitants of St. Thomas's, the most prosperous of the three parishes, resolved to separate, and to appropriate their rates to the relief of their own poor only. In 1770 the churchwardens and overseers of the poor of St. Martin's and several of the principal inhabitants of the city presented a petition to the House of Commons, protesting that the action of St. Thomas's would result in a heavy burden for the other two parishes and prove detrimental to the city as a whole, and asking for a bill to consolidate the poor rates for the three parishes into one common fund. It was regarded as doubtful, in view of the attitude of St. Thomas's, whether the present method could legally continue without such a bill. (fn. 104) Leave was given to bring in a bill, and the Act, passed in 1770, (fn. 105) laid down that the poor of all three parishes should be provided for as one parish, expenses to be paid out of a common stock. Two churchwardens and four overseers were to be appointed for each of the parishes of St. Thomas and St. Edmund, and two churchwardens and one overseer for St. Martin's.

The corporation from time to time made additional financial provision for the poor, over and above the poor rates. Its most ambitious venture in this field was the decision in 1623 to set up a city brewhouse, the profits of which were to be applied to the relief of the poor, both in the workhouse and in the city generally. The bitter opposition of the brewers was eventually defeated, and the brewhouse established in Rollestone Street, where several tenements belonging to the corporation were adapted for the purpose, and a committee of eight aldermen set up to manage it. About £850 was spent in the first year in building and equipping the brewhouse and the committee's first report stated that it was not yielding much profit. In 1625 only eighteen of the city's hundred innkeepers were on its list of customers, and only 40 of them seem to have obeyed the council's summons to a meeting to discuss the situation. (fn. 106) The brewhouse was subsequently let to Giles Naish, and by 1696 was so decayed that the council thought of pulling it down, but decided instead to spend £50 on repairing it. (fn. 107) It seems unlikely that it ever contributed much towards the relief of the poor. In 1612 the council ordered that every apprentice on his freedom should give 6d. to the poor, and fines for drunkenness were in that year assigned to the same purpose. (fn. 108) The rents from Joan Popley's lands were frequently applied to the relief of the poor, generally for the term of one year. (fn. 109) The mayor from time to time dispensed money given for the poor by the city members of Parliament and the local gentry. (fn. 110) In 1795, when poverty was particularly widespread and acute in Salisbury, as elsewhere, the corporation raised 100 guineas for poor relief and called a meeting of inhabitants to organize a general subscription. In 1800 it petitioned the House of Commons about the high price of bread and corn. (fn. 111)

The poor rates rose steadily from £1,500 when they were consolidated in 1770, to £1,611 in 1780, £2,180 in 1790, £3,143 in 1795 and £7,249 in 1800, the cost of maintaining the 'out poor' rising during the same period from £241 to over £2,000. (fn. 112) For the year ending 25 March 1832 the poor rates were £5,437, the total number of poor receiving relief being 2,354 out of a population of just under 10,000. Of these 1,260 were described as 'out-door relief permanent poor', and another 945 as 'casual, nearly permanent'. (fn. 113)

In 1637 the workhouse near St. Thomas's churchyard was replaced by one established in the house in Crane Street, which had formerly belonged to Lord Castlehaven. (fn. 114) The new workhouse was to be supervised by stewards, chosen from the members of the council, who were to survey and repair the house quarterly, and the mayor, in the year after his mayoralty, was to be treasurer. It was placed in charge of a master, chosen by the mayor, recorder and justices, and removeable at quarter sessions. (fn. 115) In 1673 the bridewell in St. Thomas's churchyard became so decayed that it could no longer be used as a house of correction, and this was transferred to the Crane Street workhouse. (fn. 116) In 1709 'a voluntary and charitable contribution' was inaugurated to raise the money for setting the poor to work and making the workhouse convenient for that purpose. A total of about £513 was raised by subscriptions from the corporation, the wardens of the various trade companies, the three parishes, the Close, certain country gentlemen, and from yarn sold by four merchants. Of this £371 was at once spent on repairs to the workhouse, and on equipment and wool for spinning. (fn. 117) Further contributions continued to be received, notably from Robert Pitt of Stratford, who gave £500 in 1710. In 1733 the council ordered that Joan Popley's charity should be applied annually to the new workhouse, provided the three parishes also contributed. (fn. 118) A committee of the council was set up to manage the workhouse in 1716. (fn. 119)

Conditions in the workhouse at the end of the 18th century can be gathered from the pamphlet of 1801, by Henry Wansey, which was addressed to the mayor, justices, churchwardens and overseers, and suggested a number of economies. The average number of poor in the workhouse during the three preceding years was 216, the cost of feeding and clothing them being between 3s. 6d. and 4s. a week per person. Each was allowed 12 ozs. of meat, or 8 ozs. of bacon, 10 ozs. of cheese, and 7 lb. of bread a week, with vegetables. Breakfast every day consisted of 'pottage', and supper of bread and cheese. Dinner consisted of meat or bacon, with vegetables on Thursdays and Sundays; on other days of bread and cheese. Wansey had apparently made a detailed study of a number of workhouses in other towns, and considered that most of them were better organized than the Salisbury workhouse. (fn. 120) The report of the Poor Law Commission in 1834 lends support to his view. The commissioners had never seen 'a more disgusting scene of filth and misrule than the Salisbury workhouse', the building being very old and dilapidated and the master 'an elderly man, confined to his chair by gout and rheumatism'. (fn. 121) In spite of this the Poor Law of 1834 left the three Salisbury parishes, which already formed a 'Union', to continue under their local Act.

Brief mention must be made of the Salisbury Society for the Suppression of Mendicity, founded in 1818, which had a semi-official character. It consisted of the mayor, two justices for the city and two for the Close, the dean, the incumbents of the three parishes, one churchwarden and one overseer for each parish, and the overseers for the Close, to be elected by the rest of the society. Its meetings were held in the council chamber. At its inaugural meeting the society deplored the great increase in the number of beggars in the city, who were thought to spread infectious diseases and deflect charity from the resident and more deserving poor. The Society set up two lodging houses, one in Culver Street and one in St. Ann Street, and arranged a system whereby two members acted in rotation as 'weekly managers'. Citizens were urged not to give alms in the street, but instead to present beggars with tickets which could, with the approval of the weekly managers, give access to one of the lodging houses. Here each person would be given food and lodging for one night. Cases requiring more permanent help would be passed on by the managers to the overseers. During the 1820's and 1830's the society was dealing with an average of some 3,000 cases a year, in the early 1840's with over 5,000 a year. In 1845 it was brought to an abrupt end on being informed that no further relief would be given it from the parish funds. Its affairs were wound up and its activities ceased. (fn. 122)

The council's activities in the field of public health were limited to intervention in crises brought about by serious epidemics. Precautions were taken when there was an outbreak of plague in London in 1625. Watch was kept at all entrances to the city to keep out travellers and goods from London; strangers were forbidden to stay in the city unless they could prove that they had not been in London, or any other infected place; and searchers, examiners and buriers of the dead were appointed. Plague broke out in Salisbury in March 1627, but the council, far from taking any official action, dispersed to stay with friends in the country, with the exception of the mayor, John Ivie, and two of the petty constables, who remained to fight against the epidemic and against violence and looting by certain inhabitants. (fn. 123) Plague in Salisbury in 1666 caused the mayoral election to be held in the Close, as less infected than the city; and the corporation borrowed money for the relief of poor and infected persons. There were outbreaks of small-pox in 1723, 1752, and 1766. The council's only official part in the unsuccessful movement by the inhabitants in 1752 to prevent inoculation, which was carried on by certain doctors, was its use of £100 given by Lord Folkestone for the benefit of the poor to discourage inoculation by giving 5s. to every inhabitant who had the small-pox 'in the natural way'. The small-pox hospital, established in a house in Bugmore given by Lord Folkestone, though vested in the corporation, was endowed by the donor and equipped by public subscription. The council supported the plan for establishing the county hospital in 1767. (fn. 124) It took precautions to prevent the spread of cholera to the city during the epidemic of 1831, and Salisbury seems to have escaped with only one case. (fn. 125)

This examination of the city government between 1612 and 1835 leaves the impression that although the corporation does not stand out as an efficient and enlightened administrator, it was on the whole reasonably attentive to and interested in its duties. During the Commonwealth period it was perhaps too much swayed by sectarian feeling, and in the later 17th century it was perhaps too readily subservient to royal wishes. The 18th century corporation, on the other hand, appears mainly to have been a sensible and independent body, working with its members of Parliament in upholding the city's interests, not ready to be subservient even to its valued patron and recorder, the second Lord Radnor, and prepared to forego his gift of a new Council House rather than submit unreservedly to his wishes in the matter. (fn. 126) Real, if not very successful, efforts at economy were made in the early 19th century, and some at least of the corporation's servants were sufficiently disinterested to give up their salaries as a part of these efforts. The Salisbury corporation compares favourably with many of those reported upon by the Commissioners on Municipal Corporations.


1 The original charters of 1612, 1630, 1675, and 1707, with translations and copies of the surrendered charters of 1656 and 1688 (the latter in translation), are in the muniment room in the Council House. There is no copy of the surrendered charter of 1685 but a draft is in S.O.7/78. The charters of 1612, 1630, 1675 and 1707 are printed in Hatcher, Salisbury, pp. 784–99; that of 1656, in translation, in Camd. Misc. vol. xi (Camden Soc. 3rd ser. xiii), 167–98.
2 Hatcher, Salisbury, 784–6. In the 16th century a prison for the Close was in or near the N. Gate: see p. 75.
3 Wilts. Borough Rec. (W.A.S. Rec. Brch.), 65. The Close Quarter Sessions are not mentioned in Places which held separate Q. Sess. previous to Municipal Act, H.C. 546, p. 2 (1836), xliii.
4 App. Rep. Munic. Corps., H.C. 116, p. 1343–4 (1835), xxiv.
5 Ibid. p. 1341. In 1711 John Prater was elected alderman and mayor on the same day, which was sufficiently unusual to be mentioned in A Collection of Remarkable Events relative to the City of New Sarum (1817), 17. It became customary at the swearing in of the mayor to wait until 2 o'clock to allow the bishop time to come.
6 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. f. 307d.
7 Berks. R.O. Radnor MSS. D/EP. b. 028.
8 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger G. (9 May 1827). The numbering of the folios of the ledgers ceases about half way through Ledger E., and references are, therefore, given to dates of entries.
9 Rep. Munic. Corps. (1835), pp. 1341–2.
10 Frequent cases occur in the ledgers of persons admitted as free citizens and then immediately elected M.P. for the city, often on the same day.
11 Rep. Munic. Corps. (1835), p. 1340; see p. 172.
12 Hatcher, Salisbury, 377; Rep. Munic. Corps. (1835), p. 1339.
13 Cal. S.P. Dom. 1655–56, 330; Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. f. 91; see p. 119.
14 Cal. S.P. Dom. 1655–6, 41.
15 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. f. 90; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1655–6, 195.
16 H. Hall, 'The Salisbury Commonwealth Charter', Camd. Misc. vol. xi. (Camden Soc. 3rd ser. xii), 166.
17 Hatcher, Salisbury, 437–8.
18 Camd. Misc. vol. xi (Camden Soc. 3rd ser. xiii), 167–98.
19 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. ff. 115–16; B. L. K. Henderson, 'The Commonwealth Charters', Trans. R.H.S., 3rd ser. vi, 151–4; for St. Nicholas Hospital, see V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 352.
20 Cal. S.P. Dom. 1673–75, 295, 301, 422; Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. f. 206.
21 A Collection of Remarkable Events Relative to the City of New Sarum (1817), 22 n.
22 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger H. (29 Oct. 1830, 22 Sept. and 7 Dec. 1831); Rep. Munic. Corps. (1835), p. 1341.
23 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. ff. 264–65.
24 Ibid. f. 268.
25 A draft of this charter is in S.O. 7/78; it was not enrolled, and there is no copy at Salisbury.
26 R. H. George, 'Charters granted to Eng. Parliamentary Corps. in 1688', E.H.R. lv, 50; Hist. MSS. Com., Var. Coll. iv. 249.
27 E.H.R. lv. 53.
28 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. f. 288d.
29 Rep. Munic. Corps. (1835), p. 1340.
30 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. ff. 360–2, 365d: Hatcher, Salisbury, 503–4.
31 Rep. Munic. Corps. (1835), p. 1342; Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger E. (14 Nov. 1764); Ledger G. (9 May 1827).
32 Peter Hall, Brief Hist. Old and New Sarum (1834), 20.
33 See p. 87.
34 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger E. (16 and 17 Nov. 1780).
35 Hatcher, Salisbury, 322.
36 Ibid. 449–50, 540.
37 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. f. 138.
38 Ibid.; Ledger E. (11 June 1759). Under the charter of 1675 the mayor and any 20 aldermen and assistants constituted a common council.
39 Hatcher, Salisbury, 509; Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. ff. 402–3. The regulations are set out at the beginning of Ledger D.
40 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. ff. 390d., 391.
41 C. Haskins, Ancient Trade Guilds and Companies of Salisbury, 325.
42 Sar. Corp. MSS. Cttee. Min. Bk. 1663–1724.
43 Ibid. f. 208.
44 Ibid. Cttee. Min. Bk. 1725–94 passim; Ledger F. (11 Jan. 1794).
45 Ibid. Markets and Fairs Cttee. Day Bk. 1796–1815, and see below, p. 139.
46 No Q. Sess. records earlier than 1797 have survived, except a convictions bk. of petty offenders 1710–63, and a rough min. bk. 1747–60.
47 Sar. Corp. MSS. Sess. Bks. 1797–1832; rough min. bk. 1747–60; Convictions Bk. 1710–63.
48 Ibid. Ledger F. (24 Sept. 1795, 4 Dec. 1805).
49 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger F. (4 Apr., 6, 17 May 1793).
50 Ibid. Ledger E. (13 Nov. 1782).
51 See pp. 121, 182.
52 39 and 40 Geo. III c. 53.
53 Rep. Munic. Corps. (1835), p. 1343.
54 Sar. Corp. MSS. Sess. Bks. The treasurer's accts. begin in 1813.
55 See p. 168 sqq.
56 Throughout this section use has been made of information from the chamberlain's accts. among the Sar. Corp. MSS., see Wilts. Borough Rec. (W.A.S. Rec. Brch.), 71, items 57 and 58.
57 Rep. Munic. Corps. (1835), pp. 1342, 1344.
58 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. f. 434; Ledger F. (14 Nov. 1796).
59 Ibid. Ledger G. (11 May 1822). Instalments of this debt were paid at intervals by Maton's son, Dr. Wm. Maton, who received the freedom of the city in a gold box in July 1827. In Feb. 1827 some £900 were still unpaid: Ledger G. (15 Nov. 1820, 27 Apr. and 22 Sept. 1825, 5 Feb. and 18 July 1827).
60 Ibid. Ledger F. (11 Jan. 1794); Ledger G. (1 May 1822).
61 Rep. Munic. Corps. (1835), p. 1344.
62 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger E. ff. 4–7; Ledger F. (13 Nov. 1793, 11 Jan. 1794).
63 Ibid. Ledger G. (1 May 1822).
64 Hatcher, Salisbury, 510; Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. ff. 416–17.
65 Ibid. Ledger H. (9 Nov. 1829); Rep. Munic. Corps. (1835), pp. 1342, 1344.
66 See p. 139.
67 See p. 139.
68 Rep. Munic. Corps. (1835), pp. 1344–5.
69 Hatcher, Salisbury, 324, 526; Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger E. (25 Sept. 1740).
70 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger E. (8 May 1734, 26 May 1757, 29 June 1770).
71 See p. 107.
72 See p. 121.
73 See p. 108.
74 See p. 119.
75 Hatcher, Salisbury, 439.
76 Ibid. 455.
77 See p. 139.
78 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger F. (14 Nov. 1796).
79 Ibid. (30 May 1806, 22 Apr. 1807).
80 Ibid. Ledger G. (1 May 1822).
81 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger H. (23 and 28 Apr. 1834).
82 Ibid. (13 June 1834).
83 Rep. Munic. Corps. (1835), p. 1346.
84 Hatcher, Salisbury, 323.
85 Ibid. 335.
86 Ibid. 351.
87 For further information about some of these bridges and their maintenance, see p. 87 sqq.
88 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. f. 224.
89 Ibid. f. 389d.
90 Hatcher, Salisbury, 498.
91 Ibid. 504.
92 Ibid. 512; Sar. Corp. MSS. Cttee. Min. Bk. 1725–94 (4 Oct. 1727).
93 Hatcher, Salisbury, 528.
94 10 Geo. III c. 6.
95 Sar. Corp. MSS. Mins. of Directors of Highways 1737–72.
96 Ibid. Ledger E. (13 Oct. 1737, 16 Nov. 1743).
97 C. J. xxxiii, 446–7.
98 Ibid. 642; 12 Geo. III c. 74; Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger E. (17 Feb. 1772).
99 Hatcher, Salisbury, 558.
100 C. J. lxx. 33, 266; 55 Geo. III c. 23.
101 Sar. Corp. MSS. Directors of Highways Gen. Acct. Bk. 1815–1848.
102 Hatcher, Salisbury, 572; T. J. Northey, Popular Hist. of Old and New Sarum, 249, and see p. 184.
103 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger E. (7 Sept. 1758).
104 C. J. xxxii. 677; A Short State of the Case of the Petitioners for a Bill to consolidate the Poor Rates in the City of New Sarum.
105 10 Geo. III c. 81.
106 Haskins, Guilds, 319–28.
107 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. f. 317.
108 Hatcher, Salisbury, 323.
109 See p. 173.
110 e.g. Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger E. (15 Dec. 1752, 4 Mar. 1757, 11 Jan. 1768).
111 Ibid. Ledger F. (29 July 1795, 25 Sept. 1800).
112 H. Wansey, Thoughts on Poor-Houses, with a view to their general reform, particularly that at Salisbury (1801), 9, 25. Wansey was a Warminster clothier, at that time living in Salisbury.
113 Poor Law Com. Rep. (1834) quoted in V.C.H. Wilts. v. 253, n. 60.
114 Hatcher, Salisbury, 384; see above, p. 82.
115 Sar. Corp. MSS. Poor Relief and Corporation Workhouse, vol. of Memoranda 1638–77, see Wilts. Borough Rec. (W.A.S. Rec. Brch.), 77, item 112.
116 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. f. 198.
117 Sar. Corp. MSS. Poor Relief and Corporation Workhouse. Gen. Acct. Bk. 1709–28, see Wilts. Borough Rec. (W.A.S. Rec. Brch.), 77, item 115.
118 Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger D. f. 379, Ledger E. f. 51.
119 Ibid. Ledger D. f. 404.
120 H. Wansey, Thoughts on Poor-Houses (1801), 10, 24, and see n. 9 above.
121 Poor Law Com. Rep. (1834), quoted in V.C.H. Wilts. v. 253, and n. 60.
122 Sar. Corp. MSS. Min. Bks. of the Society, 1818–24, 1825–45, passim.
123 Hatcher, Salisbury, 357–63; V.C.H. Wilts. v. 319–20.
124 V.C.H. Wilts. v. 321–3, 340–1.
125 Hatcher, Salisbury, 570.
126 See p. 121.