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 1265 : Burford

Keywords: Burford river crossings manors villages topography borough charters burgage tenure market licences competition urban decline

Burford was a large Domesday manor situated on the north bank of the River Teme, a tributary of the Severn, next to a fording point. Several nuclei of settlement already existed on the manorial estates. Although it appears no more than a village with a church, Burford was the caput of the manor, which is later seen as a component of the lordship of Richard's Castle. The manor was held by a Norman, Hugh Fitz-Osbern, both immediately before and after the Conquest. His family held property in several counties, though none of its members are associated with licensing markets on their estates. With the extinction of its male line, through the female Burford descended to Hugh de Mortimer (ca.1219-74), as did Richard's Castle, believed named after Hugh Fitz-Osbern's grandfather, Richard Fitz-Scrobe; Hugh de Mortimer's father Robert had founded a market town at Richard's Castle around 1216.

A charter establishing a liber burgus at Burford was issued shortly before the royal grant of a Saturday market and July fair in 1266 to Hugh de Mortimer, who had come into possession of Burford and the bulk of his inheritance only after the death of his step-father (holding by 'courtesy of England') in 1259. That Hugh did not thereafter move sooner on developing Burford may be due to him being quickly thrust into the Welsh wars and then the conflict between the king and the Montfortian party, during which the latter had possession of Burford and Richard's Castle for a year. The licence grant may be seen as one of the king's rewards to his supporters, following the victory at Evesham (1265); this connection was made by the jury of a royal inquisition that took place shortly after Hugh's death, stating that he had persuaded Henry III to make Burford a free borough following Evesham. Hugh's charter simply granted his free burgesses of Burford their burgages for an annual rent of 12d. each, and assigned them the laws and customs of Breteuil, as adapted for use in the city of Hereford. The market licence would have put Burford, perhaps intentionally, in competition with nearby Tenbury, already established (1248) as a market town, on the other side of the Teme, across the border in Worcestershire, yet less than a mile away. The 1334 lay subsidy evidence shows Burford was unable to out-compete Tenbury, though holding its own well enough for the parish church to undergo some rebuilding in the fourteenth century. The Black Death would have furthered declining fortunes, depopulation reducing Burford to village status by the close of the Middle Ages.

The borough founded at Burford in 1265/66 was situated to the north-east of the earlier village, which focused around the church and manor-house; those buildings faced each other across a street running south off an east-west through-road, and then turning west to what was probably the ford across the Teme. Another road ran north off the through-road, close enough to the southwards street to suggest there may once have been a crossroads. The burgage plots appear to have been situated on either side of that through-road, although there is little trace of their original boundaries. Location of the market is unknown, though conceivably it may have been near the crossroads of the axial streets of village and town.

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Created: December 31, 2018.
© Stephen Alsford, 2018