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THE ANCIENT BOROUGH OF OVER, CHESHIRE.
By Thomas Rigby Esq.
(Read 1st DECEMBER, 1864.)
ALMOST every village has some little history of interest attached to it. Almost every country nook has its old church, round which moss-grown gravestones are clustered, where
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.
These lithic records tell us who lived and loved and laboured at the world's work long, long ago. Almost every line of railroad passes some ivy-mantled ruin that, in its prime, had armed men thronging on its embattled walls. Old halls, amid older trees-old thatched cottages, with their narrow windows, are mutely eloquent of the past. The stories our grandfathers believed in, we only smile at; but we reverence the spinning wheel, the lace cushion, the burnished pewter plates, the carved high-backed chairs, the spindle-legged tables, the wainscoted walls and cosy "ingle nooks.” Hath not each its narrative? These are all interesting objects of the bygone time, and a story might be made from every one of them, could we know where to look for it.
With this feeling I have undertaken to say a few words about the ancient borough of Over in Cheshire, where I reside; and, although the notes I have collected may not be specially remarkable, they may perhaps assist some more able writer to complete a record of more importance.
Over is a small towu, nearly in the centre of Cheshire. It consists of one long street, crossed at right angles by Over Lane, which stretches as far as Winsford, and is distant about two miles from the Winsford station on the London and North-Western Railway. The Borough of Over embraces the townships of Over, Marton and Swanlow and contains about'5,000 inhabitants, who find occupation in agricultural pursuits and in the numerous extensive salt-works lying along the banks of the neighbouring River Weaver.
Over has a Mayor, who is appointed annually, and who exercises the duty of a Magistrate within the limits of the borough during his year of office ; but, unlike other boroughs, it has no Councillors constituting a Corporation, nor does it return any member to Parliament. It is mentioned in Domesday Book, and is there spelt “Ovre" and reported as a borough by prescription or by immemorial custom; but it probably attained its position amongst English boroughs by special charter. “Houses joined together, or rows of houses “ close to each other" might be the foundation of it; but, without the protection of the King or of some neighbouring Baron, the trade of the inhabitants would be liable to the raids of neighbouring foragers, who would rob and lay waste without let or hindrance except for the resistance of individuals in defence of their own. In those days "might gave right;"
The good old rule, the simple plan,
The state of the people of Darnhall, a township adjoining Over, was a complete serfdom or vassalage to the monastery of Vale Royal adjacent. They could not marry their daughters out of the manor without permission. The monastery tenants had to resort to the abbey mills and pay pasturage for their hogs. When any native died, the Abbot became entitled to “his pigs " and capons, his horses at grass, his domestic horse, his bees, “his pork, his linen and woollen clothes, his money in gold
and silver and his vessels of brass.” Other exactions were
In fact the Abbot stripped the dead of everything-leaving him nothing, by all accounts, but his winding sheet.
Although the people of Over were under the same rule, yet there is no mention of their having been in this degraded state ; and it is probable, therefore, that they were protected by some charter of an early date. There is a charter existing in favour of Over, granting a weekly market and annual fair. This was obtained from the Abbot of Vale Royal and is dated the ninth of King Edward I; but no other is known to exist.
It is said by some that Over had a Mayor before Chester could boast of such a dignitary, and that the former takes precedence of the latter in this respect. Webb, who wrote two hundred years ago, says that “ Over was made a Mayoral
town by means of the Abbot and convent of Vale Royal ;" but Ormerod gives the name of Walter Lyneet as the first Mayor of Chester, in the twenty-sixth Henry III, A.D. 1242, which would be at least forty years before the establishment of the monastery; therefore the assumption of Over having this priority may be erroneous. It is probable that Over enjoyed the protection of the Norman kings or some powerful Baron or perhaps of the Earl of Chester, as a borough for trade, before the foundation of Vale Royal. However, it was the policy of the Norman rulers after the Conquest to confirm and enlarge the charters of previous Saxon monarchs and confer similar favours upon rising towns, and thus the allegiance of the inhabitants of such places would be secured. Henshall says, in his History of Chester, that “Over was “numbered among the immediate possessions of the Earl " of Chester until the fifty-fourth of Henry III, when it was granted to the abbey of Vale Royal by Prince Edward.”
It is probable that the appointment of Mayor emanated from the Abbot's inability or disinclination to attend to his magisterial duties. This potent Churchman lived in all the splendour of a powerful Baron and possessed full judicial rights over the manors of Weaverham and Over, with which the Abbey was endowed. He had an extensive right of
advoury,” affording protection to criminals fleeing from the hands of justice-Over Church being, it is believed, one of the
sanctuaries,” of which there were several in the County of Chester. The Abbot of Vale Royal was invested even with the power of dealing out capital punishment. In Town fields, near Over, there are several fields or crofts called “ Loonts." These are narrow strips of land, which once constituted the common rights of the Over people. One of these still bears the title of the “Gallows Loont," from its being the site on which in olden time the gallows was erected. Indeed some very old men, recently deceased, used to affirm that they recollected in their young days seeing the oak side posts of this erection.
The Abbot of Vale Royal had also the power of Infangthef and Utfangthef, with the privileges of Tol and Stallayium, and the amends of bread and ale. Infangthef was liberty to try and judge a thief taken within his jurisdiction ; Utfangthef was liberty to take a thief that fled and bring him back to the place where he had committed the crime ; Tol was an imposition for things bought and sold in the markets; while Stallagium was payment for privilege to stand at markets and fairs. Accompanied by his Seneschal and under Seneschal, the Prior, Bailiffs and Gentry of the neighbourhood, the Abbot used to hold his court and there receive the oaths of fidelity of the large landowners and hear their recitation of the circumstances and obligations of their tenure, and also receive the acknowledgment of suit and service from every male burgess in the borough. He appointed a Coroner to hold regular courts of law in his manors of Weaverham and Over, for the administration of justice; and in the appointment of this officer I think may be traced that of Mayor.
At the dissolution of monasteries Sir Thomas Holcroft obtained the entire manors of Weaverham and Over, with all the privileges that appertained thereto. One of these would no doubt be the legal power the Abbot held over the manor, which he would similarly exercise for his own honour. This he would transmit to his heirs and they to their assigns, Thomas and Edmund Pershall, the latter of whom transferred it by sale, about the middle of the 17th century, to Thomas Cholmondeley, a descendant of the Baron of Malpas (whose family took their name from their place of residence) in whose representative and heir, Lord Delamere, the present proprietor of Vale Royal and Lord of the Manor, the appointment of Mayor of Over is now vested and by whom it is annually exercised.
The mode of appointing the Mayor for a very long period, until recently, was thus performed. The Lord of the Manor held a Court Leet and Baron in October, when two juries were empannelled, one for the town of Over, called the
Grand Jury," and the other for the lesser townships, called the “Country Jury." Twelve of the most eligible and best qualified persons in the borough were nominated by the “Grand Jury” at this Court, and their names returned to the Lord of the Manor, who selected one of the number to serve the office of Mayor; and at another meeting of the Court, fourteen days afterwards, the person so chosen was finally appointed to the office, and was then sworn in by the Recorder of the Court; but, before entering upon the office, he had to take the oath of allegiance and supremacy at the Quarter Sessions of the County, like the county magistrates. At the same time the choice was made of the Bailiff, Constables, Burleymen and Aletasters, who were then also sworn in.
Now, however (and for a few years past), the Lord of the Manor indicates to his Law Agent, the Recorder of the