|Subject:||Upkeep of borough properties|
|Original source:||Nottinghamshire Archives, Nottingham chamberlains account book|
|Transcription in:||W.H. Stevenson, ed. Records of the Borough of Nottingham, (London and Nottingham, 1883), vol.3, 252-61.|
|Original language:||Middle English|
Memorandum that this book lists the costs, repairs, and expenses made and undertaken by John Coste and John Howett, chamberlains of the town of Nottingham, from 29 September 1485 to the same date in 1486 that is, for a whole year during the term of Richard Alestre as mayor of the town of Nottingham, John Bellyn and John Williamson then being sheriffs of that town.
These extracts from the annual financial accounts of the borough give some sense of the scope of the "public works" facet of local government in the late fifteenth century. Whereas there was reliance on communal labour in the nascent period of self-government, by the close of the Middle Ages government was itself shouldering those responsibilities (or rather, we might say, the labour duties had been commuted into local taxation).
There was no department of public works yet, nor any officer dedicated solely to overseeing that aspect of administration, but several positions were coming into being with particular responsibilities in that regard:
A "pinder of Nottingham" the keeper of the Pinfold, or communal pound is mentioned in the borough rental of 1435, and we hear of John de Horncastle as a "servant of the community" in this role in 1364; in the chamberlains' account of 1464 this official is listed among those paid a fee and given a uniform. In the 1390s there is reference to the "common keeper of pigs" in a context which claims that there had been a communal swineherd from time immemorial; that phrase was not necessarily to be taken literally in the Middle Ages, but we hear of appointments to the office in the 1350s and '60s. The Bridgemaster's account of 1488 also talks of "the thatcher", and "the filler and the spreader" (of gravel); although these unnamed men were paid per job and probably not employees of the corporation, we can see a degree of specialization developing in the work required by the borough. That work was quite extensive in 1485/86. At least eleven streets were targeted for paving.
By the middle of the fifteenth century the authorities had introduced bridge-wardens to take responsibility for collection of revenues intended for maintenance of Hethbeth Bridge, and their expenditure to that end. As the borough acquired properties through gifts or bequests some to support chantries, some in aid of bridgework, others with no apparent strings attached the bridge-wardens took on maintenance of those as well. Maintenance of lesser bridges appears to have been the responsibility of the chamberlains.
Besides the properties gifted to the borough, its authorities had been in the process for some time of developing wasteland or communal land to provide for improved facilities and augmented revenues through leases or rents. The earliest surviving list of these properties (1435) shows the variety: weirs in the river with associated fishing rights, gardens, fields on the outskirts of town, meadows beside the river, gravelly stretches along the riverbank (probably for some industrial use), the towers on either side of the town gate called Chapel Bar, laneways, market stalls, pig-pens.
We also hear in the same rental of various structures of which some at least were owned by the borough: the Common Flesh-house (i.e. shambles) in the Saturday Market, possibly an open-sided building, its 16 bays each accommodating two stalls (each owing a rent of 5s. a year), and a lean-to attached to the north side to provide cover for 10 fish-boards (each paying 2s. a year); the Drapery, with 10 2-stall bays (each stall owing 4s. annual rent), the Common Bakehouse; the Common Pinfold, probably for impounded animals found roaming the streets; the Tilehouse; the Toll Booth; and the Common Town Hall, whose lower floor and two attached tenements were in 1499 being rented out. Before the close of the century the corporation had extended its initiative to create market buildings for specific goods, by adding a Mercers' House accommodating 30 stalls; this was in process of being tiled in 1484/85.
All these represented legal obligations and costs for upkeep. This growth in borough-owned real estate may have been part of the reason why Nottingham's town clerk had commissioned, ca.1483, a copy of Littleton's Treatise on Tenures.
Paving is also documented in the earliest surviving chamberlains' account, 1463/64, when Marsh, Dead Lane, and High Pavement were the focus of activity; cobblestones rather than boulders were being used at that period. A wall was also being put up in Dead Lane. That year saw a good deal of hedging going on, particularly at the Coppice, at Eastcroft, and around one of the gravelled riverbank areas known as Upper Steyner. To give further protection of the latter from roaming animals, a wooden railing was also being erected. Plumptre Bridge required only minor repairs that year, but the town's pillory needed foundation work, the Horse Mill (in the vicinity of Chapel Bar) had to have new mill-stones and some repairs, and one side of the Guildhall needing re-daubing.
Around 1479 the Guildhall at the south end of Weekday Cross was expanded a supervisory committee comprising the mayor and 19 other leading citizens having been appointed, and the principal construction firm having been chosen thanks to the bequest of adjacent land in the Weekday Market, earlier part of the foundation of the Amyas chantry. Located within the New Hall, as it was called at first, were the Council House, the Treasury, and the borough gaol, and other spaces rented out for residential and business purposes.
For purposes of comparison, the York chamberlains account of 1486/87 deals with costs incurred in maintaining stone walls in various places (possibly the defensive wall around the town was meant), repairs to the communal crane at the quayside, and work on the bell-tower of the chapel on Foss Bridge. At this period the ranks of the civic bureaucracy included a salaried mason (responsible primarily for the city walls), a Guildhall custodian, and a custodian of the Common Staith, as well as the bridgekeepers, who were responsible for the upkeep of a long list of properties whose rents funded bridge maintenance.
"Robin Hood's Close"
"Margaret Forth's garden"
"thrave of lyng"
"the lane by St. Mary's churchyard"
|Created: August 27, 2004. Last update: May 27, 2016||© Stephen Alsford, 2004-2016|