Stoke-on-Trent Local History



Local Government

Local government needs to be looked at to help understand the changes in important aspects of life and population.

Before the late 19th C, with associated detailed maps, boundaries were very vague concepts and hard to establish now. There was also no simple system of local government to describe.



Parishes provided for the spiritual needs of their population. Charities were also often organised through them. In fact, parishes were responsible, through the rating system and parochial officers, for the relief of their own poor. Also, the system of church courts from the Conquest to about 1800 was primarily concerned with moral offences.

Hair estimates that maybe as many as 10% of people appeared before the court in their lifetime.

For example: Alsager, Cheshire, c1740

"We whose names are hereunto subscribed do believe that Richard Lovelady of Alsager has been falsely accused with having been guilt of fornication with Mary Dales before his marriage with her. We do further believe that there are no just grounds for such accusation, and that it was nothing but the spite and malice of one who had been his servant that raised it. Witness our hands, Margery Bostock, Robert Worton, Thomas Norris". (source: P. Hair)


Manor Courts:

Manor courts had their origins in Anglo Saxon times (e.g. Tunstall Court Leet). It had jurisdiction over all matters affecting the interests of the Crown and the well-being of the subject, with the power to try all criminal offences on its territory (called the Leet), which extended from Kidsgrove and Mow Cop to Chell, Burslem, Cobridge, Red Street, Bradwell, Ravenscliff and Tunstall.

After 1176 it could only try less serious criminal cases, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, though more usual punishments were corporal punishment and fines.

Manor courts also had an administrative role. They had the power to impose taxes on the sale of goods and cattle; to licence the sale of bread and ale; to regulate the sale of goods, fairs and markets; to specify standard weights and measures; and to appoint public officials, such as constables, overseers of the highways, ale testers and market reeves, who held office for a year and were unpaid.

Three manors covered the local area: Tunstall, Fenton and Newcastle. After the decline of the castle courts were held at the Greyhound Public House in Penkhull.

These manors were responsible for many aspects of local life well into the 19th C.




 Notice is hereby given, that the next General COURTS LEET and COURTS BARON of RALPH SNEYD, Esquire, Lord of the respective Manors of Tunstall, otherwise Tunstall Court and Abby Hulton, both in the county of Stafford, will be holden at the times and places following, viz:-

For the Manor of Tunstall, otherwise Tunstall Court, on Tuesday, the third day of November next, at the house of Mr. JOSEPH SANT, the sign of the Grapes, in Newchapel, within the said manor of Tunstall, otherwise Tunstall Court, at eleven o'clock in the forenoon. 

And for the Manor of Abby Hulton, on Thursday, the 5th day of November next, at the house of Mrs. WEATHERBY, the Sneyd's Arms, in Sneyd Green, within the said Manor of Abby Hulton, at eleven o'clock in the forenoon.

At which respective times and places all persons who owe suit (?) and service at the above respective Courts, are hereby required personally to be and attend.


Steward of the said Manor. 


13th Oct. 1846

 From: The Staffordshire Advertiser 17.10.1846


Poor Law:

The poor law was radically revised in the 1830's and parishes were grouped together to form Poor law Unions, and these created another set of boundaries.

e.g. Stoke poor law union formed in 1836, covered the southern part of the old parish. In 1838 Burslem and Tunstall became part of the new Burslem and Wolstanton Union. Also in 1838 Newcastle became the centre of another union incorporating eight rural parishes to the west, such as Audley.


Newcastle-under-Lyme: Newcastle was different from the nearby pottery towns because it had been created a borough in about 1173:

"The townsmen had already begun to elect a mayor by 1251, and about this period they began to use a common seal to authenticate official documents, for the seal still in use is probably 13th C in origin. The earliest borough archives began in 1369 and they show that by then the mayor was assisted by two bailiffs… a sergeant, and two wardens who supervised the sale of bread and ale. The mayor was advised by a council of 24 seniors or aldermen" 
(Briggs, Newcastle p.29)


In this medieval system though "not all townsmen had equal political rights. Only the class called freemen or burgesses really enjoyed any power, either in running the business affairs of the town (through the guilds) or in choosing the council and having a say in political matters. Only a burgess could run a shop, have a share in the common fields or sit on the council; and many men (and most women) were not burgesses. But…only the burgesses paid rates and taxes, and if they were councillors or town officers they might have to lend their own money to meet deficits, loans which may not be repaid them for several years."
(Briggs, Newcastle, p.34)



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Next: Development of Local Government 


questions / comments / contributions? email: Steve Birks