Skelton Manor Court - 1823.
The following document was sent in 1823 to Stephen Emmerson of Hollybush Farm, Skelton.
It has come to the notice of this website through the researches of Josie Bland of Skelton, whose ancestors include the Emmersons.
It has been kindly contributed by the Judson family, Norman, Anne and son, Neil, of Saltburn by Sea.
Norman is the son of Alice Emmerson, who was the Niece of Stephen.
A similar Court with similar rules had probably existed in Skelton since the times of the Anglo-Saxons.
The word "leet" in the heading of the document refers to the Lord of the Manor's authority or leave from above to hold a Court and the term "frank pledge" to the duty of those who lived within the Manor to swear fealty to the Lord and be mutually responsible for upholding the laws.
The jurisdiction of the Manor Court ran alongside that of the higher Courts of the Justices of the Peace, who held the Quarter Sessions in various towns in the North Riding to hear more serious offences.
There is mention of the Court Leet meeting at one of the village hotels later in the century, but by that time local offences were dealt with by the Magistrates' Court at Guisborough.
The exact date when the Skelton Manor Court lost the power of legal jurisdiction is not known, but it was not nationally abolished until 1977 and the Courts themselves were ended by Act of Parliament in 1998.
Folk "owert moors" though have yet to hear of it. In nearby Danby, the all-male Court Leet still meets in the Castle court room to deal with the management of common land.
The document was called the "custumal" of the Manor and the 21 promulgations contained in it show that the Court existed not only for the administration of local justice, but was intended to ensure the good and profitable management of the Lord's domain.
The rules applied only to those people living within the land owned by the Lord or which he had "enfeoffed" to others.
As can be seen by rules 1 and 2 any person who the Court wished to deal with was called, usually by a notice put up in Church, at which regularly attendance was a duty. Failure to attend resulted in a fine.
The custumal is "signed" by 15 local prominent men, the last of whom can only make his "mark". 12 of these would form the "good men and true" of a Jury to decide cases in dispute, a system which had been introduced by the first Normans to replace the earlier primitive methods of trial by ordeal.
Local officials are mentioned in the list:-
The Lord's "Steward" would have been a man of higher social standing and knowledge of the Law. He was the Chairman of the Court and stood in the Lord's place. Later in the century he is the Estate "Agent".
The "Bailiff" was responsible for collecting the Lord's rents and fines and in earlier times for organising the work that peasants had been obliged to carry out on the Lord's land.
There must have been some sharing of responsibility between the Court and the Church Vestry in the appointment of officials
as the Constable's duties to deal with "wandering rogues" figure in rule 12 and the Vestry Clerk would write down a record of the Court's activities, maintained in the Court Rolls.
The "Surveyor of the Highways" refers to the responsibility placed on each Parish by the Poor Laws to maintain its own roads, which task in those times involved breaking up stone and hammering it into the earth.
The "Pinder" was the man appointed to take stray animals to the village "pinfold", from which they could be recovered only by the payment of a fine. Most people for basic survival kept a cow and pigs. Before the Enclosure Acts of this time there was much common land and boundaries in the open field system were marked by stones rather than the walls and fences of today. A wandering animal eating someone else's produce was a public nuisance.
The Manor Court had been established by the Lord for his own benefit and profit. All fines went into his coffers. His ownership of the land, the game and the trees upon it, even the stone underground, were protected by his local laws and offenders fined.
Punishments in the past had often been more physical. In Skelton, the stocks had not long gone out of use at the side of the whipping post.