By David Shavreen, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 15, 2006
The Minute Book of the Manor of Burston or Boston cum West Brentford which is preserved in Chiswick Local Studies Library covers the period between 1692 and 1842. The Lords of the Manor during the whole of this period were the Clitherows. Originally from Yorkshire, they were a distinguished family of London merchants. James Clitherow the first was the fourth son of Christopher Clitherow who had been Lord Mayor of London in 1635. He had bought Boston Manor House in 1670 after a fire and with it the right to all feudal duties.
Boston Manorial Court maintained arrangements for enforcing law and order, for securing fair trade by the inspection of weights and measures, for ensuring the quality of basic staples, such as bread and ale, and for conserving the Lord of the Manor’s property against encroachments and pollution by animals. In addition the court kept records of all land transfers involving payment to the Lord of the money to which he was entitled from his tenants. To supervise these measures jurors were appointed from among local men of substance. As many as 22 members could be chosen and failure to attend when summoned carried a fine.
Amongst other duties the jurors had to appoint officers. In the case of Boston Manor these included two constables, two headboroughs or assistant constables, two ale-conners, flesh and fish tasters, leather searchers (they stamped the finished hides), a registrar or clerk of the court and a pinder whose task was to round up stray animals and place them in the town pen ready for collection by their owners.
The venue for the meetings of the Manorial Court was one or other of Brentford’s great coaching inns, the Red Lion or the Three Pigeons. Prescribed sums of money were set aside for food and drink. But such occasions were clearly opportunities for high jinks and jollifications. Friends and neighbours popped in to participate in the Lord’s bounty to such an extent that the money allocated was exceeded by the costs of the entertainment, as is shown in the bill for 1709:
Paid Mr Steward and Mr Turton his fee £ 1.1s 6d
Stewards and my ordinarys 10s 0d
4 friends treats 6s.0d
Wine all. Dinner all £1.0s.0d.
Ditto after Dinner own Roome £1.0s.0d
Ditto the Jury when Donne £1.0s.0d
Servants att Pigeons 5s 0d
An attached note reads: NB the expenses were greater than usual on a greater appearance of neighbours.
Fifty years later things were no better. Between 1749 and 1805 the Court met only eight times because, as had been noted in 1713, ‘a Court kept once in three years is sufficient . . . no profit’. The bill for April 1755, when James Clitherow held one of his infrequent Courts at the Red Lion, tells the same story:
Dinner self and steward 10s.0d
Wine and Punch and Tobacco £3. 8s.0d
(NB very large company)
Mr Reynell’s fee as steward £1.1s.0d
Then come the following comments:
1. Extraordinary expenses to be avoided in the future.
2. Mr Reynell having a friend to assist him gave him a fee as Mr Reynell (this quite unnecessary).
3. Fourteen bottles of wine drank before dinner and so charged contrary to order . . . For this reason Court never to be held again at the Lion while Hancock keeps it because he is an imposing fellow and gave us a very bad dinner.
4. Ordinaries [fixed price meals] at 1s 6d for the jury and neighbours being 28 which they should have paid, but as they disputed it, rather than wrangle I paid but this to be settled and agreed before the Court Leet.
Protecting the land
The Manor of Boston was co-terminus with the township of New Brentford and consisted of a narrow strip of land lying between the river Brent and the Half Acre with Boston Lane on the east. The Thames lay to the south with the township’s wharves where boats and barges unloaded timber, stone, coal and lime. To the north lay open countryside, market gardens, cornfields and water meadows. The wastes of The Butts to the north and The Ham to the south were part of the Lord of the Manor’s demesne and were subject to Common rights and fees to be paid to the Lord by the occupants.
There were penalties for infringements on this land or for pollution from animals. This was a problem for poor men whose pigs often wandered at will and people who dug up the land or who built on it were punished. In 1693 Richard Jones the apothecary was fined 2s 6d for digging the turf in the Ham and Thomas Miles for digging holes, no doubt to extract clay for his pots. In the following year John Tunstall was fined for removing gravel from The Butts and carrying it off to another parish and John Wheeler, a local carter, for erecting a cart house on The Butts.
The Butts itself was under development in 1663. William Parish, the inn keeper of the Red Lion, purchased the Butts Closes and began to erect houses and cottages at one end, leaving the east end as market gardens. Parish could boast considerable wealth, as could his wife Ann who was granted the right to hold a cattle market in the Butts. He was clearly a man of character and not an easy man to be imposed on, especially regarding money.
In 1670 he appeared before the local magistrates to complain against the unusually high rates imposed on him by the churchwardens and overseers of New Brentford, and accused them further of selling, without permission, a silver tankard which had been part of the Church plate. The magistrates were sufficiently impressed to issue a warning that the offence should not be repeated, even though the money had been needed to help pay expenses incurred at the time of the Great Plague. Parish himself had earlier been accused of breaking the terms of his agreement with the previous Lord of the Manor to pay for apprenticing one poor boy each year when the jury found ‘That no boy has been put out in the past three years although William Parish by the churchwardens and overseers of the poor of New Brentford hath often been paid for the same.’
It is likely that Parish’s behaviour did not endear him to the local magistrates because they decided to change their meeting place from the Red Lion to the Three Pigeons. The following year they received this humble letter:
Gentlemen I am heartily sorry your worships hath taken distast and left your old inne. I am sensible it was not without cause; if your worships please to retorne again I shall take it for a very great favour and approve myself.
Your most humble servant
Red Lyon in New Braintford
The magistrates duly returned.
The Red Lion was on the corner of the Market Place where petty malefactors were often placed in the pillory, or the stocks, with a notice proclaiming their misbehaviour above their heads. A runaway apprentice received this treatment and was to be exhibited on a market day so that he would be more likely to attract the unwelcome attention of passersby.
The Lord of the Manor had special rights when a person had been sentenced for murder by the Court of Assizes since the property of the convicted criminal would pass into the Lord’s possession. In 1692 the Minute Book records that the property of George Caswell, consisting of several messuages and tenements, with their appurtenances, had been confiscated since Caswell had been executed for the murder of one Andrew Hickson. A barber, William Nicholls, was brought to court for receiving four pounds and three shillings and two pocket pistols, the goods of Henry Roberts who had been convicted for felony, which in those days was a death sentence. The Lord of the Manor Christopher Clitherow appended the following cryptic note ‘Nicholls being poor and prosecuting, I remitted the money. Pistolls I had (Highwayman)’, ie the Lord allowed Nicholls to keep the money but retained the pistols. Such consideration for poor men was exceptional but the Clitherows were an unusually compassionate family.
By 1720 authority was beginning to frown on the comparative leniency accorded to malefactors. The Poor Law demanded the punishment of idle rogues and vagabonds and this required not just the pillory and stocks but also whipping posts and a cage in which to lock them up. The town of New Brentford was summoned by the justices to provide these amenities and an application was made to Christoper Clitherow for a piece of waste ground on which they could be erected. The town asked for ‘a part of the waste lying between the roades leading over Brentford Bridge and thorow the Brent River towards Hounslow.. .for the better securing and punishing of all loose and idle persons.’ The request was granted.
The increasing severity of the law which punished poor men with whippings and imprisonment, where an absence of money could lead to death by starvation, was implemented by the introduction of transportation whereby men were sent to far-off lands and their survival was largely a matter of good fortune. The records of the Manorial Court preserve one such incident. In 1800 John Franklin was committed and sentenced to transportation for committing a highway robbery. His two houses were confiscated and became vested in the Lord of the Manor. However, on his arrival in Botany Bay ‘he immediately forsook all vicious crimes and determined by severe repentance, and by imploring the assistance of almighty God to make amends to Society for the crime he had committed. Most happily his endeavours were blessed with the fullest success so he became a fit object for His Majesty’s royal mercy and was allowed to sail home to England . . .’
Inns and industry
The inns and alehouses of Brentford played an important role in the life of New Brentford and feature largely in the manorial records. The need for refreshment on the extremely uncomfortable and dangerous journeys to the west over Hounslow Heath, a notorious hideout for highwaymen, and the presence of the corn market in Brentford explains why there should have been so many in such a small area. Moses Glover’s map of 1635 names the major inns as the George, the Doves, the Lion, the Boar’s Head, the Pye, the Wolfe and the Wheele. Another ancient inn recorded in Elizabethan times was the White Horse which still stands adjacent to the bank of the River Brent under its new name The Weir. Near to the Red Lion was the Harrow which in 1717 was purchased by Charles Anstey of Hammersmith who turned it into a coffee house. Other inns mentioned in the manorial record accounts are the Star, the Magpie and Crown (still there), the Magpie and Punchbowl, the Rose and Crown (once the Wolf), the Catherine Wheel, the Sign of the Hill, the Spotted Deer or Reindeer which in 1774 was called the Six Bells (still extant), the Nag’s Head, the Black Boys overlooking the churchyard (in 1755 this was sold to Thomas Mawson, brewer of Chiswick), the Rising Sun and the last dwelling in New Brentford called The Still ‘down the yard called Still Yard with a wharf at the bottom’.
As time went on some of the bigger inns fell into disuse, but since they were large buildings they were sometimes retained for use as lodging houses or for letting out. The Boar’s Head inn and yard for example had become 12 tenements by 1720.
The manorial records tell us something about Brentford’s industry. Tanning, which was widely practised because of the cattle market, was a particularly smelly undertaking. In 1721 William Saunders acquired a house facing the church together with barns and a tanning yard, combining the smell of tanning hides with the odour of sanctity from the church.
Turpentine was another product produced in Brentford. In 1791 Alexander Corson successfully organised a petition to the Lord of the Manor, appealing for his help in securing a parcel of land stating that ‘your petitioner has for many years been an inhabitant of the said township and has for a considerable time past had a laboratory therein for the manufacture of turpentine . . . the said works having been at very great expense brought to perfection he will be destitute of a place unless accorded a piece of ground on the Ham near the course of the River Brent’.
Another successful Brentford entrepreneur was Dr Robert Wallace Johnson. He was a wealthy doctor who acquired six acres in Town Meadow and, by 1792 ‘owns a steam mill, a starch house, a coak house, lofts and yards’. However, he had to answer to the Lord of the Manor for encroachment for ‘he has bought a piece of land that so projects into the creek that in all probability it will impede the navigation and threatens to totally stop up the same’. To which the Lord has added ‘the new canal will remedy this’. This was a reference to the projected canal linking Brentford to Braunston which was not, though, completed until 1805. The line of the canal was cut through the Ham and Town Meadow, thus diminishing the amount of common land, and for which the Lord had to work hard to gain adequate compensation. The townspeople protested against the ‘number of small houses on the Ham which . . . cause encroachment on the waste . . . ‘ The towing path was also a focus of misbehaviour for ‘persons draw manure and other material without any authority and do damage to the soil, not to mention damage done by landing goods and drawing the same over the Ham in all directions’.
Almost the last entry in the Manorial Records was made in 1815 when land is applied for to build a school for poor boys of New Brentford, parts of Old Brentford and Isleworth. The request is granted. However the master of the school has to wait until 1841 before he is provided with a house for himself. The teacher’s comfort as usual coming last. Plus ça change!
David Shavreen lives in Brentford and taught for over 40 years in schools in Brentford, Chiswick and Tottenham.