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Friday, 4 May 2018

Manorial documents project: Don't forget to fender your fender!


Lots of our collections include records of the manor courts dating from the 1300s right up to the early 1900s. They provide the earliest history we have of local administration with details of court proceedings, names, local rules and land transactions often in long runs of consecutive years. In addition to this, manorial records can also include maps and surveys, providing material for geographical research. The aim of this one year project is to establish a definitive list of Cheshire's manorial records, and share the stories they can tell us along the way.

On opening my first box of manorial documents at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, I was faced with a particularly interesting excerpt of Orders for Bidston, Moreton and Saughall Massie from the early 1800s. Not least because the first note of fines related to escaped pigs: ‘all persons suffering their pigs to wander or go abroad or astray within the said Manor’ were charged two shillings for the offence. More notable is the inclusion of the word ‘fender’ from the second paragraph onwards. It was a word which I hadn’t come across before in this context and as such, took me a small while to ensure that it wasn’t simply a long ‘s’ beginning the word.





According to Brownbill’s ‘History of the Old Parish of Bidston, Cheshire’ the act of ‘fending’ was to clear watercourses or fenders, suggesting that a fender was a sort of drainage channel. 







‘We present Ellen Wharton to fender her fender from
Arthur Godwin’s Car to James Pover Black Meadow or pay
to the Lord of the Manor 1s6d per rood for each rood not done by
the first of June next.’


Ms Wharton was not the only individual charged with fendering her fender; there is even a court order requiring people to place boundary stones along fender road to make clear which part they are liable to fix – the charge for not doing this was five shillings per offence. Other orders include instructions to ‘ditch a ditch’ and to build a bridge, the latter of which would face by far the largest fine of one pound and 19 shillings if not completed in the given time frame.

The document highlights the importance of maintaining manorial lands at this period, in this case with particular emphasis on the watercourses. This document refers largely to Bidston, which is situated in the Wirral Peninsula. Given that the land in Bidston is sandy, low-lying and mostly flat, this would account for the need for strict rules on maintaining fenders and may explain the emphasis in this document. In any case, it’s clear that the fines for not maintaining fenders and ditches could be particularly costly, especially for those with large areas of land.

What is interesting to note in this document is that each offence is charged the same regardless of the gender of the individual. The order for each offence simply mentions the individual charged and the amount that they will be liable to pay if the order is not completed. Considering that at this point in time, women were unable to vote and that the Married Women’s Property Act, which granted women the right to own land wasn’t passed until 1870, it is very interesting to note how ‘matter of fact’ the orders are when relating to women. It seems at least, in the obligations of local manor courts, men and women were treated equally. The sums are high for not abiding by the rules, which also suggests that women had access to decent sums of money if they were expected to meet these fines.

The list of Cheshire Manorial documents will be made available on the Manorial Documents Register at the end of this year, to find out more about the national project,
please follow this link.