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|1554 (Nov.)||GEORGE NEWPORT|
|ROBERT WYTHE 1|
Droitwich, or as it was more frequently called at this time Wich, had lived by salt-making from at least the early middle ages and possibly from Roman times. Situated in the Salwarpe valley, six miles north-east of Worcester, it was on the road from that city to Birmingham and could send its salt and cloth, its other main product, to Worcester with comparative ease; much of the salt was then sent down the Severn to Bristol. The brine-salt, formerly from five pits but by the time of Leland from only three, was worked from midsummer to Christmas: this restriction was partly to save timber in the furnaces, but also to keep up the price of the product; it was possible because the industry was controlled by a small number of owners of phates or vats, who organized it through officials appointed by themselves. Droitwich was one of five Worcestershire towns to which the manufacture of worsteds was limited by an Act of 1534 (25 Hen. VIII, c.18). In 1547 it was one of several places in the county exempted from contributing towards the expenses of the knights of the shire.2
The earliest reference found to Droitwich as a burgus is in 1155, but no charter is known before 1215, when King John gave the burgesses responsibility for the collection and payment of a fee-farm of £100. This seems to have been reduced later in the 13th century, but the next important charter, granted in April 1554, allowed for a fee-farm of ‘£100 tail’. The Marian charter was almost certainly promoted by the president of the council in the marches, Nicholas Heath, who was restored to the bishopric of Worcester about the time of the grant. Its preamble states that, although from time immemorial there had been two bailiffs and ‘certain burgesses to whom the governance of the borough has belonged’, doubts had arisen as to the validity of the earlier incorporation, and the bailiffs and burgesses had petitioned for a new charter. The town was therefore declared to be a body corporate; two bailiffs were named to serve until the Tuesday after Michaelmas, from which date the burgesses were to hold an annual election for the office. There were to be a recorder and clerk of the borough court appointed by bailiffs and burgesses, a body granted the right to be self-perpetuating. Other clauses allowed for a weekly market and three two-day fairs in early May, late June and the end of October. At Droitwich the term ‘burgess’ was apparently restricted to those who owned phates or portions of them by inheritance or by election; according to Habington, ‘none though purchasing ever so many phates could ever by purchase be a burgess’. The Marian charter, which restored to the borough the parliamentary franchise not known to have been exercised since 1311, laid down that the ‘bailiffs and burgesses’ were to choose the Members, so that the electorate must have been small. By 1541 there were non-resident owners of phates; the King had 29, and among others, most of them owning by titles which would qualify them as burgesses, were Sir Gilbert Talbot, Sir John Russell of Strensham, Sir George Throckmorton, John Lyttelton, Humphrey Coningsby, John Pakington and Walter Blount. Droitwich families providing burgesses were the Gowers, Newports and Wythes, who also furnished the first Members. Not surprisingly there was frequent litigation about the ownership of shares in the salt works.3
The three Marian indentures, all in Latin, do not give the impression that non-resident burgesses took part in elections, but they are in very bad condition. The contracting parties are the sheriff of Worcestershire and the bailiffs, whose names are given together with those of a varying number of electors, probably between 15 and 25; one or more Newports and Wythes are included in all three. In 1555 the list of about 25 eligatores contains several generosi, but no names well known outside the borough.4
Author: N. M. Fuidge
- 1. Little of Wythe's name, which is listed in Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs., remains on the indenture, C219/23/138.
- 2. Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, ii. 89, 92, 94; VCH Worcs. iii. 72; Habington’s Worcs. (Worcs. Hist. Soc. 1895), i. 352; (1899), ii. 295-7; A. D. Dyer, Worcester in 16th Cent. 54, 57, 63, 113; CPR, 1547-8, p. 95.
- 3. VCH Worcs. ii. 258; iii. 74; CPR, 1553-4, pp. 402-4; Nash, Worcs. 304; Habington’s Worcs. ii. 298, 306-8.
- 4. C219/23/138, 24/173, 25/125.