Carlisle Corporation, Charters, &c.

  > Carlisle has received many grants of royal favour, conveying in the shape of charters, various privileges and immunities, but many of these documents were lost or destroyed, before the union of England and Scotland, when this city was so frequently the scene of desolation and bloodshed. The first charter of which the citizens have any evidence was granted by Henry II, and afterwards burnt by the Scots, but it is recited and confirmed by the charter of 25th Henry III, which "granted to the citizens, freedom from toll1, passage2, pontage3, and all customs belonging to the king, with privilege of dead wood for fuel, and timber for their houses, in divers places within the forest of Carlisle4, by the assignment of the king's serjeants and foresters, with a free guild for trade and merchandise."

It appears that the burgesses5 held the city in fee farm6 in the year 1201. Burns says that Edward I, in 1292, confirmed the charter of Edward III7, "from the enrolment in chancery," the original one being burned. The burgesses also gave that monarch ten marks, for the privilege of having coroners of their own. Another author says, "In the reign of Edward I, the citizens pleaded quo warranto, that they were entitled to murage8 for all goods exposed for sale in the town; a free guild, a market, and fair, &c. They claimed the free guild under Richard I charter, and pleaded that the town had been originally demised to them, in farm9, by king Henry I, but not being able to make good their claims, in consequence of the records of the town having been destroyed by fire, they were not allowed. The fire here alluded to10 was a dreadful conflagration, which happened on the 12th of May, 1192. The whole city appears to have been consumed, with the priory, the convent of Grey Friars, and their churches; the convent of Black Friars, being near the eastern wall, alone escaped.

This dreadful conflagration is said to have been occasioned by an incendiary, who, from motives of resentment, set fire to his father's house, and was executed for the fact. The king, in consideration of this calamity, remitted the citizens the moiety of their fee farm rent, due the preceding year and restored to them their city, which had been taken into the king's hands by the justices of assizes, by reason of the charters having been consumed, as before mentioned, by the flames." In 1352, king Edward III, aware of the great importance of Carlisle as a frontier town, and of the calamities which the citizens had so often suffered by plague and assault, granted them an ample confirmation of all the privileges which they had previously enjoyed by prescription, viz.- "Return of writs; a market on the Wednesday and Saturday of every week; a fair for sixteen days, to commence on the Assumption of the Virgin Mary; a free guild, and election of mayor, bailiffs, and two coroners; assize of bread, beer, and wine11; trial of felonies; infangthief12, and all pleas of the crown which belong to the office of sheriff and coroner; goods of felons and fugitives13; freedom from all fines, amerciaments14, and suits to the county court and wapentake15; common pasture for all their beasts, at all times of the year, upon the king's moor, and liberty to get turf there; with freedom throughout the whole realm of England from toll, pontage, passage, lastage16, wharfage17, cariage18, murage, and stallage19; and that they shall have the place called Battail-holme20 for their markets and fairs; and shall have power to divide, and devise their tenements21; and shall have the city mill, and the King's fishery in the water of Eden." All these privileges were confirmed by Richard II in 1382; by Edward IV, in 1461; by Henry VII, in 1487; by Henry VIII, in 1509; by Edward VI, in 1550; by Elizabeth, in 1559; by James I, in 1604; and by Charles I, in 1637. The citizens, in 1461, petitioned Edward IV, for a recompense for the great injury which they had sustained during the "Wars of the Roses", when they were besieged by his enemies -Margaret, queen of England, Edward, late prince of Wales, and Henry, duke of Exeter, who burnt the suburbs, and even the very gates of the city, besides destroying the mill22, and committing other depredations. In consideration of these grievances, the king granted them a remission of 40 yearly out of their fee farm rent of 80, and gave them "the keeping of the King's Fisheries of Carlisle, otherwise called the Sheriffs Net, otherwise called the Fishery of Frith Net in the water of Eden."

The charter of Charles I, dated July 21, in the 13th year of his reign, confirmed all previous grants of privileges, (reforming only the election of mayors, bailiffs, and coroners), and enacts, "that in all time coming, the mayor and citizens shall be one body corporate and politic, by the name of Mayor, Aldermen, Bailiffs, and Citizens of the city of Carlisle, and shall have a Common Seal :- That one of the Aldermen shall be Mayor; that there shall be besides the mayor, eleven other Aldermen, two Bailiffs, and two Coroners; that there shall be within the city twenty-four other men, who shall be Capital Citizens, to be of the Common Council, and assistants to the mayor, aldermen, and bailiffs." They have also power to elect a Recorder, and Town Clerk, to be chosen by the whole body corporate, and continue in office during pleasure. The charter also states that the mayor, aldermen, bailiffs, and twenty-four capital citizens, or the major part of them, in Guild-hall assembled, on the Monday next after Michaelmas-day, shall have power to choose annually one of the aldermen to be mayor for the following year, and in case of an equality, the old mayor to have a casting vote; the new mayor so chosen must be sworn into office by the last mayor, if he be living, otherwise by the aldermen or major part of them; and he must continue in office till another is chosen and sworn. In like manner, the two bailiffs and two coroners are to be annually chosen and sworn. On the death of an alderman, the mayor and surviving aldermen, or the major part of them, are to elect another, "who shall be sworn by the mayor, and continue for life." "Mayor chosen and refusing to act, shall pay a fine not exceeding 20; one of the twenty-four citizens chosen alderman, refusing, 10; bailiff, 5; citizen, 5" "And there shall be one Sword-bearer, and three Serjeants-at-mace, for the execution of process." The twenty-four capital citizens continued in office during pleasure. The mayor, recorder, and two senior aldermen, were, ex officio, justices of the peace.

"And finally, the mayor, aldermen, bailiffs, and citizens, shall have such and the like court leet23 and view of frankpledge24, and other courts, issues, fines, ransoms, penalties, forfeitures, amerciaments, waifs25, estrays26, deodands27, goods of felons and fugitives, felo-de-se28, and persons put in exegent and outlawed, and other emoluments, as former mayors, aldermen, bailiffs and citizens, have enjoyed, by whatever name of incorporation they were called or known." This charter, comprehending the spirit of all previous grants, and giving some new privileges to the corporation, was surrendered, in 1684, to judge Jeffreys, for the use of his majesty; but it was restored, and declared valid and effectual, by the proclamation of king James II, on the 17th of October, 1688.

In 1835, a bill in Parliament received the sanction of the legislature, for the "Regulation of Municipal corporations in England and Wales," and by the provisions of this act, the old corporation of the city was dissolved, and a new body was established, which consists of ten aldermen, and thirty councillors, and the corporate body is styled the mayor, aldermen, and burgesses of the city of Carlisle. Under the authority of the municipal act, the city is divided into five wards, the citizens or burgesses of each ward electing six councillors, who retain their office for three years, but are eligible to be re-elected. The aldermen were formerly chosen out of the wealthier classes of citizens, and were ex officio justices of the peace. They are now appointed by the councillors, and during their appointment, which is six years, they are members of the council, possessing no power or authority above the councillors. The justices of the peace now act under a commission from the crown, and are a distinct body from the aldermen.

Two or more of the following justices hold courts at the Town Hall, every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, viz., the mayor for the time being, the ex-mayor, Thomas C. Heysham, Esq , Charles James Graham, Esq., William James, Esq., M.P., William Patrickson, Esq., Henry A. Aglionby, Esq., George Saul, Esq., John Slater, Esq., and John Fawcett, Esq. Mr. William Jackson, Solicitor, is their Clerk.

Free Companies. - There are eight free companies or burgesses in this city, each of which has a meeting room in an old building, called the Guild Hall, where they hold a general annual festival on Assension day, when, after regaling themselves in their respective rooms, they proceed to King Moor, where a saddle and other prizes are run for. It is said the charter of the city is held by the tenure of this "leather plating." These eight guilds consist of the incorporated companies of merchants, butchers, smiths, tailors, tanners, weavers, skinners, and shoemakers. No person can enjoy the privileges of a free burgess unless he belong to one of these guilds, to which none are admitted but the sons or apprentices of freemen. The sons of burgesses are free of all the guilds of which their father may be a member, and also of the guild or trade to which they have served an apprenticeship. The only peculiar immunities which the freemen now enjoy, are the freedom from toll in the city, and the privilege of electing members of Parliament.

Members of Parliament, &c. - Carlisle has sent two representatives to Parliament since the reign of Edward I29. "On a dispute in the House of Commons, in 1711, it was declared that the sons of burgesses born after their freedom, and persons serving seven years apprenticeship within the city, have a right to be made free. There have been several strong contests at parliamentary elections, in Carlisle, and a good deal of party spirit manifested, but happily, this feeling is not so virulent at present, as it has been: nor dare it appear at all, when any thing of a national, patriotic, or charitable object is brought forward; all petty quarrels are then forgotten, and the only emulation manifested is, who shall most conduce to the improvement of the public weal, the encouragement of charitable institutions, or be foremost in complying with the call for their benevolence. The mayor is the returning officer.

The funds of the corporation amount to about 2000 a year, derived chiefly from rents and tolls, but the latter by an arrangement with the railway companies, have been almost entirely commuted. The proceedings of the council are transacted monthly in public.


Mannix & Whellan, History, Gazetteer and Directory of Cumberland, 1847




1. toll - the tax on goods brought into the city.
2. passage - was there a tax on people entering the city ?
3. pontage - either a toll for crossing a bridge, or more likely, the right to raise taxes for the purpose of repairing bridges.
4. forest of Carlisle - i.e. Inglewood.
5. burgess - a freeman or citizen, usually from the upper social layers.
6. fee farm - under the feudal system, the holding of land by rent without the necessity of service to the king.
7. Edward I ... confirmed the charter of Edward III. Impossible !
8. murage - taxes raised for the maintenance of the city walls.
9. in farm - for a fixed rent.
10. The fire here alluded to - the original text has "The first here alluded to....", which makes no sense.
11. assize of bread, beer and wine - control of weights, measures, prices, etc.
12. infangthief - the right to arrest and fine a thief caught in ones jurisdiction.
13. goods of felons..... - property of convicted malefactors to be given to the city.
14. amerciaments - punishment or fine.
15. wapentake - a sub-division of a county.
16. lastage - tax on goods carried by ship.
17. wharfage - tax for use of a wharf.
18. cariage - probably a mis-spelling for carriage, a tax on transport.
19. stallage - rent from stalls at a fair or market.
20. Battail-holme - the land lying between the castle and the river Eden.
21. shall have power to .... devise their tenements - the right to leave property by will.
22. destroying the mill - the city mill was outside the city walls.
23. court leet - a hearing before a lord.
24. frankpledge - where each member of a community was held to be responsible for the conduct or damages caused by another member of the same community.
25. waif - either goods found without a claimant, or goods lost by a thief making his getaway.
26. estray - an animal which has strayed from its owners land.
27. deodand - any object which has accidentally caused a death and seized by the crown to be put to a pious use; e.g. a horse which has killed its owner could be seized by the crown and granted to a monastery to carry monks on a pilgrimage.
28. felo-de-se - a suicide.
29. Carlisle has one representative in Parliament nowadays.

19 June 2015

Steve Bulman