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The Earliest beginnings
Manors and their Courts Leet are usually thought to be an anachronistic remnant of rural areas and so it may come as a surprise that three of them have had a continuous history and operation since the mediaeval period in the heart of central London. The area of the Guildable Manor is almost certainly coterminous with the original bridge-head settlement of the ‘Suthringa Geweorc’ mentioned in the Burghal Hidage of circa 880 AD. In Domesday Book of 1086 it is an estate with taxable revenues as a landing place and bridge crossing, with the interests shared between the king and the local earl. The first of these was Godwin and thence his son Harold who lost the Battle of Hastings. William I ‘the Conqueror’ then gave the interest to his half-brother, Bishop Odo, and later to his son-in-law the Earl Warenne of Surrey. “The Men of Southwark” giving evidence on oath in Domesday are the same ‘View of Frankpledge’ Court summonsed to this day. The charter of 1327 refers to it as ‘the town of Southwark’ and the charter of 1550 as ‘the town and borough of Southwark’. The informal name ‘Guildable’ for the manor derives from the collection of tolls and taxes on goods bound to the City across the Bridge and was first recorded in 1377, it was adopted to distinguish this part of Southwark from all of the other neighbouring manors which were referred to as ‘in Southwark’. These taxes were eventually waived. From the first parliament to call ‘burgess’ representatives, of 1295, Southwark had two MPs; which indicates its formal recognition as a ‘borough’ although its burgesses had no charter of incorporation.
Edward lll's Charter and Quit Rents
In 1327 the City of London acquired the interests for a fee farm of £11 per annum from Edward III. The original Charter, approved by Parliament, is still in the Guildhall Record Office. The formal reason for the City wanting control was because of the difficulties of judicial process and arrest of miscreants who could make-off to the Surrey bank out of the City’s jurisdiction; no doubt the potential of Southwark becoming a competitive alternative for the City markets also exercised the Corporation. This payment is still made, by the Foreman and officers of the Manor, usually in March, when the Jurors are summoned to an Exchequer Court, held in Southwark, by the Queen’s Remembrancer, the Senior Master of the Superior Court of England & Wales of the Royal Courts of Justice, as a ‘Quit Rent’ on behalf of the City. This is a specific requirement of the Charter of 1327.
The City Bailiff took up his duties in 1328, on the retirement of the last King’s Bailiff, and there is a complete record of the incumbents of the office from then to the present day. In 1462 the original charter was confirmed and extended by Edward IV who added the right to hold an annual fair from 7th ‘til 9th of September and the jurisdiction of a “Pie Powder Court”. This strange term is a mispronunciation from Norman-French meaning “dusty feet”, a reference to itinerants. The court was necessary for hearing and acting on the cases of visitors and traders at such events without reference to a higher court. A Steward was appointed in 1542 and likewise a complete list of those who have served in this capacity is available. Both officials usually had other Guildhall appointments and duties, most often as the Bridge Masters, for the Bridge House-Yard was situated in the Manor off Tooley Street.
Edward Vl's Charter
In 1550 the City decided to acquire from the Crown the two neighbouring manors. Henry VIII had received or bought these from Bermondsey Abbey and the Archbishop of Canterbury during the dissolution of the monasteries. The City decided to do so because in the period from 1327 the built-up area of Southwark had spread beyond the original area of the Guildable Manor and the same problems of law enforcement and competitive and unregulated trade presented a challenge to the City’s authority in Southwark from the neighbouring manors. The 1550 Charter, of Edward VI, granted all of the rights and privileges over these manors (eventually known as the King’s Manor and the Great Liberty) as those enjoyed in the Guildable. The purchase price was agreed at £647 2s 1d for the land of the two newly acquired manors and 500 Marks for the feudal incidents relating to the three manors together. The Quit Rent for the Guildable was reserved and retained by the Crown.
The Corporation did not actually pay these sums from its own resources but from the wealth it held in trust to maintain London Bridge free of charges. This was derived from bequests and also the rents from the buildings on the Bridge administered from the ‘Bridge House’ in Tooley Street; hence the trust’s name of ‘Bridge House Estates’. No doubt the City fathers explained this dubious exercise away as an investment for the benefit of the Bridge, a financial arrangement which would not pass scrutiny in later times. Indeed, the City’s practical authority in Southwark went into decline when it was decided, in 1820, that income from the Charter lands could only be applied to the benefit of the Bridge and not used for the civil administration of the Borough. This was the legal advice of the then Recorder of London~High Steward of Southwark, John Silvester, to whom we owe the present procedural ‘charges’ of the Manor’s ceremonial. To this day the Bridge House Estates remains one of the major property owners in this area. Its symbol, the Bridge Mark, is affixed to many buildings here and as such it is the oldest symbol signifying civic authority in Southwark. The Mark has been incorporated into the 1996 College of Arms grant of an heraldic Southwark Badge and is also incorporated on the Manor’s Seal. The Estates still pay the Jurors fee. The Chief Commoner, the title of the chair of the Estates committee, of the year attends the ‘Bridge House-Yard Dinner’ in Southwark with the Manor Officers, a tradition stretching back to the annual ‘Audit Feast’ when the bridge trust accounts were scrutinised in the Bridge House.
As part of the changes from 1550 an Alderman was appointed by the Court of Aldermen to oversee the new responsibilities held by the Bridge Masters; the Southwark Manors were now termed as ‘The Ward of Bridge Without’. The post quickly became a sinecure and eventually was the nominal office for the senior Alderman past the Chair to enjoy a semi-retirement in, the Steward, Bailiff and Manorial officers looking after the practical administration of ‘the Borough’ as the main part of Southwark was always termed. The last Alderman of this ‘Ward’ (the resident inhabitants and Livery never had directly elected representatives in Guildhall) retired in 1978 and the position was abolished by merging it with Bridge Ward in the City proper. The Alderman of the ‘Ward of Bridge and Bridge Without’ is entertained annually by the Manor to maintain this link.
Under a general Charter of Edward IV of 1461 concerned with confirming and extending the City’s rights the Corporation was allowed to nominate a magistrate to the Commission of the Peace of Surrey; this was exercised with the local borough court presided over by the senior Aldermen and Lord Mayor. This power was not exercised until 1606 when the magistrate was set up with a house, court room and lock-up in the Bridge Masters precinct and salaried by them to administer the City’s jurisdiction in regard to its Southwark Surrey manors. The officer was styled ‘The Justice of the Bridge Yard’, the last died in harness in 1835 and no further appointments were made; the new magistrates courts and Metropolitan Police system had made the role redundant. The ‘late’ Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs ‘elect’ attend a feast with the Manor each year to commemorate this connection.
The City's Southwark Town Halls, other courts and their Jurisdictions
The Guildable Manor Court Leet was recorded as assembling at the Bridge House-Yard in 1539. With the acquisition by the City of the other two Manors and the extensive responsibilities pertaining to them, in 1550, it was decided to create a separate forum for this, effectively a Justice Room and lock-up for the Lord Mayor and City officers. This was to be the redundant parish church of Southwark, St Margaret’s, available since 1540 because the parishioners had been granted the Priory of St Mary Overie (the present Southwark Cathedral) by Henry VIII, as a consequence of his dissolution of that house. This, the first, ‘town hall’ was provided by inserting a floor at the level of the gallery for a court room and by blocking in the windows below that for cells. It was known variously as ‘St Margaret’s Justice House’, the ‘Town Hall’, ‘Justice Room’ or ‘Court House’ and eventually as the ‘Borough Compter’. This was destroyed in the great fire of Southwark, in 1676, the lock-up part was eventually rehoused in Tooley Street. The Court House remained on the original site and was replaced with a new town hall in 1685, the ground floor was let to the ‘King’s Arms’ public house.
The City surrendered one of its Charter rights, that of holding and controlling markets in Southwark, when it agreed to the ‘Borough Market (Southwark) Act’ of 1756. This moved the market from the main thoroughfare and eased traffic flow to London Bridge. The replacement facility was to be administered by independent local Trustees and was set up off the main street where its four acre site still continues in its role. From that date the Guildable Manor court ceased to appoint from its number officers described as ‘Supervisors of the Market’.
The James II town hall fell into disrepair and was replaced in 1793; with the decline in the practical civic activity of the City’s officers in Southwark in the following decades, the Bridge House Estates demanded that it be surrendered to them for redevelopment. Because of the town and port’s expansion the site was more valuable. It was closed and the site was leased in 1859 to the London and County Bank which built a new building and hence named ‘Town Hall Chambers’. In 1999 the structure was refurbished as licensed premises at street level with apartments above and was formally opened by the Guildable Manor officers, thus reviving our connection with a site going back 450 years.
The Court Leet of the Guildable Manor then began to meet at the old London Bridge Hotel (now 2 Borough High Street) until the Borough Market Trustees built themselves a new office with a Court Room on Southwark Street in 1932, which is where the Jury assembled until 1999. Since then a number of appropriate and dignified venues have been used due to the larger numbers needing to be accommodated. These have included the Southwark Cathedral Library, the Greater London Authority’s City Hall, the Glaziers Hall and in recent years the Amigo Hall, of St George’s Cathedral.
Aside from the Manorial Courts there were also others. The Charter of 1550 gave the City the right to appoint the Southwark Coroner an anomaly removed only in 1990, the court room is in Tennis Street. Furthermore, there were Courts and Prisons of Royal Prerogative based in the Borough, the Marshalsea and King’s Bench, eventually they became simply gaols for civil debtors and closed in 1842 when the courts ceased to send debtors to them. There were also Ecclesiastic Courts, mainly related before the Reformation to the political duties of the leading Bishops. The manor on the east-side of the high street (the later ‘Great Liberty’) belonged to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but the neighbouring manor to the west of the Guildable was that of the Bishop of Winchester, the Clink and its notorious prison. This gave rise to conflicts of jurisdiction, most notably with the Magistrates of Surrey who also operated in the Borough. Indeed until 1760, when they removed to the Union Hall in Union Street, they sat at the City’s Town Hall, using the rights of a lease obtained before the City acquired it. The Surrey Justices also had their own gaol on the high street, a converted inn, the White Lyon. This was eventually rehoused in the King’s Bench prison when that moved to the Borough Road, but from 1799 the new Surrey County Gaol was opened at Newington Causeway behind the recently completed new County Sessions House of 1794, on Horsemonger Lane/ Harper Road. Executions took place there until its closure in 1878 (HMP Brixton replaced it). A new Court building had already opened in 1875, it was in turn replaced by the present Inner London Sessions House from 1921 but this was now the ‘county’ criminal court for London. The Recorder of Southwark now resides there.
The increase in crime has led to major new court developments based in other boroughs in the Greater London area to supplement the Newington Sessions House. In 1964 Southwark Crown Court was opened at English Grounds near London Bridge for local requirements, giving the borough two Crown Courts. Since 1994 the Crown Court for the west London Boroughs, previously based at Knighstbridge, was rehoused in Southwark as Blackfriars Crown Court. When the decision was taken to separate the judiciary and legislature, in 2007, by transforming the House of Lords Judicial Committee of Law Lords into the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom it was given the Middlesex Guildhall in Parliament Square as its residence. This meant that the crown court judges sitting there were displaced and they too went to the Southwark Crown Court, in 2007, the senior judge holding the title of the Recorder of Westminster. Apart from these four crown courts (ILCC Newington, Southwark, Wesminster, Blackfriars) Southwark’s local magistrates sit at two courts in the borough, Tower Bridge and Camberwell Green Magistrates Courts. With the increase in their responsibilities the Stipendiary Magistrates of these has been recognised since 2008 by their new title of District Judge (MC).
Few boroughs can boast a single major Court, Southwark has seven jurisdictions as explained above and this unique arrangement is reflected once a year at the Justices and Jurors Dinner, held in May by the Manor, when we entertain all of the senior resident Judges.
Legal Status: Relationship with the  Old Bailey  and Jurors Summons

From the late Georgian period the City began to appoint as High Steward the incumbent Recorder of London, ie the senior Judge of the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey, with the office of High Bailiff of the Manors being a supplementary role of the Under Sheriff & Secondary ie the senior administrative officer of that Court from 1885. That is so to the present day, the Writs summonsing the jurors are issued out of the Old Bailey under the Secondary’s Seal.
The Manor Jurors therefore had a number of officials and authorities to assist them in correcting their ‘presentments’ and to whom they could make complaint about the problems associated with this burgeoning urban area, second in population only to the City of London in course of time. Yet the Jurors were the effective representatives of the inhabitants who could in any other location have enjoyed full burgess and municipal corporate rights. From the late Georgian period repeated attempts were made to have the Southwark Manors incorporated fully into the City, or alternatively to secure effective independence. The campaigns were led by active members of the three City manorial courts. With the growth of the metropolis and the development of Vestry Boards and ‘civil’ parishes in the London County, Lord Salisbury’s Government made these full local authorities, as London Metropolitan Boroughs, from 1900. The issue of the Southwark Manors was brought to a head by this proposal and as the City resisted overtures from Southwark representatives, local institutions and the Jurors for full integration it was by default that the three Manors became parts of two of the new municipal councils created by this scheme, that of Southwark and of Bermondsey. In 1965 the creation of the Greater London Council, incorporating the London County Council area and parts of the Home Counties, merged Bermondsey and Southwark with Camberwell to form the London Borough of Southwark. However, all of these civic reorganisations have not affected the functioning of the City’s rights and the summonsing and empanelling of the Manor Courts Leet.
The form for holding the Southwark Courts Leet is based on a document of 1664, itself a revision of an earlier format of 1561. It has certain differences of detail to that of other Courts held elsewhere dating from 1650, almost certainly because the City could draft laws for itself and so the format for this was based on local traditions and conditions. The Assize & Assay is directed at the quality of wine, ale, bread and meats. The Assize of Buildings & Survey relates to the duties to oversee the maintenance of highways and buildings, ie what became planning and building regulations. The Jury of the Manor also sits annually as the Summoned Queen’s Remembrancer’s Court of Exchequer to tender the City’s Quit Rents to the Crown for the Manor as required under the Charter of 1327. That document is recited, the Court is empanelled and the Queen’s Remembrancer is called to receive the payment as required and this is rendered by the Foreman and Officers by being publicly placed onto the Exchequer Cloth. This is preceded by a Thanksgiving Service for the new Freedom recipients earlier that day. It is followed by a formal Luncheon at which the new Freemen give readings from Alderman Bernard’s ‘Rules for the Conduct of Life’. The Manor hosts many senior City figures to this, usually any newly elected Aldermen to introduce them to the ‘Southwark side’ as well as senior representatives of the Livery and also from the other two guilds of the City which have a formal relationship with Southwark, the Parish Clerks and the Watermen and Lightermen. This was held at Guy’s Chapel until numbers attending required a larger venue and now St George the Martyr, Borough High Street, is the designated ‘guild church’ of the Manor. The Borough Recorder’s Court is also held annually under the Recorder of Southwark and the Jurors and Officers are Sworn in that jurisdiction likewise as they are for the Court Leet.
Legal Status : Relationship with the Old Bailey and Juror's Summons
Other Ceremonial Activities
Apart from the original Charters mentioned above, the lists of all Foremen, Officers and Jurors are intact from the earliest time, including copies of Writs made by the Bailiffs and records of Presentments, process and proceedings of the Courts and which can be read by interested persons in the Guildhall Records Office. Indeed they have formed valuable local background detail for scholars and two major academic studies have given special reference to them as they concerned the history of this part of central London. These are David Johnson’s ‘Southwark and the City’ and Martha Carlin’s ‘Medieval Southwark’.
Other detailed articles can be viewed at https://independant.academia.edu/TonySharp
Further reading
The History of The Guildable Manor
The Guildable Manor of Southwark
Registered Address
Guildable Manor, Colechurch House, London Bridge Walk, London. SE1 2SX
Telephone - 020 7394 1271    Email - clerk@guildablemanor.org