AT what period the first establishment of Communities or Corporations took place, seems involved in mystery, and several of our most celebrated historians are by no means agreed upon the subject. Some are of opinion that incorporations did not take place, in this country, until after the Norman conquest; amongst these may be reckoned Hume, Robertson, and others; the latter of whom observes, that charters of Community were first introduced into France and other countries of Europe, about the years 1108 and 1137. Authorities like these, it must be acknowledged, are not easily overturned; nevertheless, Lord Littleton, on the other hand remarks, that "It is not improbable that some towns in England were formed into Corporations under the Saxon kings, and that the charters granted by the kings of the Norman race, were not charters of enfranchisement from a state of slavery, but confirmations of privileges which they already enjoyed."

Which of these opinions may be correct is not for me to determine; no record of antiquity, sufficient to solve the mystery, having come under my observation during the research which I have made amongst the ancient documents pertaining to the Corporation of East Retford.

East Retford is a Borough by prescription,* and is undoubtedly of very high antiquity; but whatever its age may be, it is to be feared the name of its original patron must for ever remain involved in obscurity.

In making out a regular series of the various charters, &c. which have, at different periods, been given to this town, considerable difficulty has arisen in consequence of some being lost, others, from the length of time passed away since they were granted, and from various other causes, have become illegible, and the dates of the remainder being frequently at variance with each other. To one of the above causes, I am inclined to believe, may be attributed the misfortune to which allusion has previously been made. In order, therefore, to supply this defect, conjecture must be had resource to, which will, almost beyond dispute, fix it upon Richard I,† commonly called Coeur de Lion, as the original benefactor of the Borough. The charter, however, is not at present in existence, but judging from the tenor of certain ancient documents which I have perused, the incorporation must have taken place between the years 1185 and 1200, and during the intervening period, the name of Richard I. is not unfrequently mentioned.


In 1246, Henry the third, for the bettering of this Borough, granted to the burgesses, and their heirs, one fair, annually, for eight days, viz. on the eve, the day, and the morrow of Holy Trinity, and five days following. He also granted them and their successors that whilst resident in the Borough, they should be acquitted of toll, pannage, and murage, throughout the whole kingdom. He likewise granted to them and their heirs, in fee-farm for twenty marks of silver, yearly, the tolls of the bridge at Kelim, and all along to Dourbeck where it falls into the Trent, and of Eperstone, and the bridge of Mirald and of Retford, and of all other places where the burgesses of the town of Nottingham were wont to take toll.

On the 27th November, 1279, Edward the first, granted the town in fee-farm to the burgesses, paying for the same £10. per annum; he also granted that they should have a market on every saturday, with stall, tollage, stalls, and other liberties and free customs belonging to the same. He likewise gave them a court to plead the writ of a certain patent of the common law, and to have the amendment of the assize of bread and beer,§ and the pillory and the ducking stool+, and wrecks# and waifes‡ and to have a bailiff of themselves, when to them should seem expedient to the keeping of the said town and its appurtenances.

In 1336, Edward the third† confirmed all the liberties which had previously been granted to the town, and further granted that the inhabitants should not be put on Juries at the assizes, or recognise any matters with foreigners on occasion of lands and tenements either without or within the said Borough; he also exempted them from all tolls and foreign services.

In 1424, King Henry the sixth confirmed most of the before mentioned grants, &c. and also of his royal will and favour, further gave unto the bailiffs and burgesses a court of record for the relief of complaint and also of all manner of pleas of debt, accounts, Covenants, trespasses as well by force and arms as otherwise done, and other contracts, causes, and matter whatsoever within the town aforesaid, to whatsoever sum the aforesaid debts, &c. may amount. He also granted them the use of the office of escheator and clerk of the market, and also the clerk of assay. And lastly granted to them a fair yearly, for four days, viz. on the eve, and the feast of St. Matthew the Apostle, and for two days immediately following the same. All of which charters, grants, &c. were allowed by the several kings until the time of James the first, who not only confirmed the same, but also incorporated the Borough anew, in form and manner following.

* By prescription signifies that it is a Borough in virtue of those customs and privileges, which has, from immemorial usage, obtained the force of law.
† It is supposed that during the reign of this prince, coat armour was introduced into this country, which, as the face of the warrior was concealed by the barred vizor, was rendered necessary as a distinctive cognizance whereby he might be distinguished in the field of battle.
§ The power of settling the assize of bread and beer, was a privilege, commonly granted to corporate bodies, conformably with a statute of Henry the second.
+ The ducking stool, or tumberel, "was an engine of punishment, which used to be in every liberty, having view of frank-pledge, for the correction of scolds and other unquiet or disorderly women. This machine was in use in this country during Saxon times, and is mentioned in Doomsday-book, under the appellation of the cathedra stercoris, as the delinquents used to be placed in the chair, and ducked in stinking water." Holland’s Hist. Worksop.
#Wreck, by the ancient common law, was where any ship was lost at sea, and the goods or cargo thrown upon land; in which case, the goods were adjudged to belong to the king.
‡Waifs, bona waviata, were goods stolen, and waived or thrown away by the thief in his flight, for fear of being apprehended. These were given to the king by the law, as a punishment upon the owner, for not himself pursuing the felon, and taking away his goods from him.