The Manerium of Helmsley

The following transcript is posted on behalf of the late

The Rev J. StewartRev. J. Stewart, M. A.
Bodney Cottage
Buckingham Square
York Y06 5DZ


A strange and interesting discovery has recently been made in All Saints Church, Helmsley, Yorkshire, England.

In an unused and forgotten cupboard there was found a parchment or vellum scroll obviously very old. It is 9 inches by 60 inches being in fact two parchments tied together but clearly one document. At first sight it looked incomprehensible but it turned out to be in English and after much labour was eventually transliterated.

It appeared to be instructions from the Helmsley Court Leet and Baron to its officer to investigate and prosecute (inquire and present) criminals. Many offenses, such as murder, rape, burglary, are still crimes, but forestalling, regrating, and engrossing were medieval offenses against the Just Price (the medieval Economic System was very different from modern Capitalism) and so point to a date centuries ago.

How the scroll came to be preserved in Helmsley Church is odd, but it would be very interesting to have it dated.



First part of the charge is of things enquirable and presentable.


You shall enquire of high treason if there be any amongst you that do compass, imagine or intend the death of the king or his children or of his consort, to go to war against him or be adherent to his enemies. If any do counterfeit the Great Seal of England or currant coin of this realm or do diminish or wash or round the same.


If a woman kill her husband, or a servant kill his master or mistress, or a priest or other religious person kill his ordinary.


If any know of treason and conceal is twentyfour hours...Murder, manslaughter . . defend and chance medley if one kill another in his own defence or by accident here it is enquirable of as bloodshed...


If a man ravish a woman, wife, widow or maid, though she afterwards assent to it, it is there enquirable as a trespass, and their aiders and abettors to be inquired of.


If any in the night time or in the time of peace with a felonious intent do rob or break into any houses, churches, walls or gates they are to be inquired after, also burglary by the new statute also robbery, theft, or petty larceny as where any with a felonious intent do take anything under the value of 12s


If any in the night time or in the time of peace feloniously burn any dwelling or orchard or stacks of corn or . . in the night season, it is a felony at the common law and there to be inquired of.


The taking away ornaments feloniously out of churches or chapels is here inquirable as felony.


Taking doves feloniously out of dove cotes, hawks out of their nests, fishes out of ponds . . but in a common river otherwise . . taking swans marked . . in the highway though he take but the value of a penny is felony without benefit of clergy and there inquirable.


Putting out of eyes, cutting out of tongues, or disfiguring any member to the intent they should not hear or speak is here inquirable as bloodshed.


Inquire of all accessories to felons whether before or after the felony committed, all voluntary escapes of felons and . . thereof and receivers of them knowing them to be such and concealing them. All felons forfeit their goods and lands All these matters are inquirable and presentable but not punishable but shall be certified by the steward to the justices of the peace at the sessions


Second part of the charge of matters inquirable, presentable, and punishable.

All suiters to the court being of the age of twelve years ought to he sworn at the Court Leet otherwise are fineable.

If the constables or tithingmen have been remiss and negligent in executing their office upon vagabonds, rogues, and sturdy rogues that have come within their liberty and charge, for every such neglect they ought to forfeit twenty shillings, also such as harbour maintain or relieve them do forfeit for every such time ten shillings.

You shall inquire if there be a good and sufficient pair of stocks within your townships, if there be not the township forfeits five pounds.

Inquire whether hue and cry after thieves and robbers hath been duly pursued which lies next in your way and present them that made default. The penalty or forfeit for such default is five pounds.

Inquire of bridges and causeways decayed and broken down within the township and who ought to repair them. The penalty is according to the discretion of the jury upon view.

Further inquire if any ancient boundaries and landmarks be withdrawn, taken away or removed such as distinguish or divide any lands or tenements. The offenders are fineable according to the discretion of the jury.

Inquire of woodstealers and cutters of other men's grass or corn and hedgebreakers which are the ground of many . . The offenders are to be whipped or set in the stocks.

Inquire also of all breaches of the peace, viz. assaults battery and unlawful assemblies.

Inquire of common barraters within the precincts of the Leet, such persons are common incendieries of strife and discord amongst their neighbours, and also scolds and eavesdroppers.

Inquire of disorderly houses and alehousekeepers keeping unlawful games and houses suffering gaming in their houses. They forfeit ten shillings for every such offence to the poor of the parish.

Inquire of forestallers, regraters and engrossers of any corn, victuals or other goods, for the first offence imprisonment for two months and the loss of the value of the thing sold, for the second offence imprisonment for half a year and the loss of double the value of the goods, and for the third offence imprisonment during the king's pleasure and judgment of the pillory and forfeiture of the goods and chattels.

Inquire of those who have and use false weights and measures and whether the assize of ale bread and beer be just.

Inquire of such as do hawk hunt and fowl within the manor or do keep any dog, net or other engine to destroy game (not being qualified) viz. such as cannot dispend one hundred pounds and also of such as draw hares to destroy them. the penalty or fine is 6s for every hare to the lord. Such persons as put infected horses upon the common or fields forfeit to the lord for every beast 10s.

Inquire who . . and ward hath been only kept from Whitsuntide till Martinmas from the setting of the sun to the rising, if the constable hath been remiss he is fineable by the jury according to discretion.

You shall inquire if there be any waifs and strays or felons goods common within the precincts of the manor and who detains them that they may be delivered to the bailiff

Also further inquire of common nuisances and purprestors viz. in lands goods or rivers by blocks, stones, hedges ditches raised or made or ditches filled up to the public nuisance and also erecting houses, walls or hedges to the public common hurt . . and also such as divert any highways or water sewers out of their ancient course casting carrion or laying any . . wood or other thing in the highway whereby to stop the same or encroaching upon the highway by casting up of ditches or setting out hedges or stones therein, or if any person having any ground lying next the highway do not . . the hedges or scour the ditches belonging the same, or if any do corrupt the water by casting carrion or other thing therein or do put hemp or flax or lay leather in the same, and the party offending for every time so doing forfeits 20s.

If there be any other matter which comes to your knowledge omitted in this charge and fit to be presented you should inquire and present and punish the offender. The Charge of a Court Baron

All persons that do rob any lands of the Lord of the Manor ought to appear and perform their suite and service otherwise are to be amerced

Inquire if any tenant be dead since the last court or before and his death not as yet presented, and what lands and tenements he held of the Lord of this Manor, and by what terms and benefit it is grown to the Lord thereby, and who is the next heir and of what age and in whose custody and present all these things if any tenant of this Manor seized of lands is dead without heir generally or specially the Lord ought to have these lands by right.

Inquire if any rents, customs or services be withdrawn from the Lord of the Manor, what the same are, by whom they were withdrawn, and how long they have been detained and forth of what lands they issue that the Lord may distrain for the same and the arrears.

Inquire of such persons as do refuse to pay the rents and perform the services due and accustomed to the Lord of the Manor and present and amerce the same.

Inquire if there be any that do conceal any of the Lord's lands, that is do hold them without his licence, and what lands they are, the contents and worth of them, and how long they have been detained and by whom, and present them.

Inquire of such persons as do surcharge the common by putting upon it more cattle before the usual time or do inclose the common or dig break the Lord's soil without leave (unless it be gravel for repairing the highways, making up the breach again) or do get any turves or whyns without right, or do erect house, cottage, holme, or thing thereupon, present and amerce them.

You shall inquire of treasure trove, viz. treasure found within the precincts of this Manor either within or above ground (the hiders not being known) from whom such money so found appertains to the Lord of the Manor.

Inquire of encroachments upon the Lord's waste, by whom and what quantity of ground and how long the encroachment hath been continued and present them.

Inquire of such as plow away other men's lands and present them, and of such persons as do trespass upon the Lord's demesnes or other his ground and present them.

Also if any distress be put into the common pound of the Lord and be taken out without authority of law. This is a pound breach and presentable and punishable.

Also further inquire if any rescue be made when the Lord's bailiff hath distrained for rent service or amercement due to the Lord, by whom the same was committed and present it.

And further inquire whether the officers belonging this court, viz. the bailiff, the bylawman, pinderer have duly and diligently executed their offices. If you find they have been remiss and negligent you ought to present and amerce them.

You are likewise to inquire whether your bylaws and paines have been and are well kept and observed, and the offenders against them punished accordingly.

Lastly inquire of all other matters, offences and things which you believe in your conscience convenient to be inquired of according to the customs and constitution of this Manor and Court, and make a true verdict and return of the same in writing.


The document refers to 'the king' so it was presumably not written during the reigns of Mary or Elizabeth I, 1553-1603.

It contains several words not now in common use and they may give hints as to when it was written. The sort of society referred to may also give hints about its date.

ROUND To deface (coin) by cutting or paring.
TITHINGMAN Anciently, the chief man Of a tithing; in later use,a parish peace officer or petty constable.
LIBERTY The district over which a person's or Corporation's privilege extends. Also a district within the limits of a county but exempt from the jurisdiction of the sheriff and having a separate commission of the peace.
BARRATOR One who vexatiously raises, or incites to, litigation
INCENDIARY One who stirs up civil strife or violence, an inflammatory agitator; a firebrand.
FORESTALL To intercept (goods etc.) before they reach the public markets; to buy (them) up privately with a view to enhance the price. (Formerly an indictable offence.)
REGRATE To buy up (Market commodities, esp. Victuals) in order to sell again at a profit.
ENGROSS To buy up wholesale, esp. to buy up the whole, or as much as possible, for the purpose of 'regrating'
ASSIZE Ordinances regulating weights and measures and the weight and price of articles of general consumption. The statutory regulation of the price of bread and ale by the price of grain.
PURPRESTURE An illegal enclosure of or encroachment upon the land or property of another.
AMERCE To exact something from; to punish.
DEMESNE Of or belonging to a lord.
DISTRESS The action of distraining; the legal seizure and detention of a chattel, orig. for the purpose of constraining the owner to do some act.
AMERCEMENT The infliction of a penalty of fine.
BYLAWMAN Bylaw - often used of ordinances made by common consent in a Court-leet or Court-baron.
PINDER An officer of a manor who impounds strays

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