The Guildable Manor of Southwark

This week I was invited to a City of London event, paradoxically taking place outside the City of London across the river to the south side. Manors and their Courts Leet are usually thought to be an anachronistic remnant of rural areas. But the Guildable Manor in the heart of central London can trace its origins back to circa 880 AD. As one of his first acts as King the young Edward III granted the City of London a Royal Charter for the Guildable Manor of Southwark in 1327. He accepted their argument that felons would commit their crimes in the City then escape across the bridge beyond their jurisdiction. The name ‘Guildable’ refers to the collection of taxes there and was adopted to distinguish this from the other manors of the Southwark area. These taxes were eventually waived. The area of the Manor includes the south-side footing of London Bridge, Southwark Cathedral, Borough Market, Hays Galleria and now The Shard. In 2012 a small connecting street was named ‘Guildable Manor Street ‘to commemorate the institution.

Although neither a guild nor a Livery company, the Guildable Manor does have a permanent organisation, consisting of a Foreman, other Officers and Jurors.  The Court of Aldermen of the City appoints a High Steward. Since 1900 this has been the Recorder of London, sitting at the Old Bailey. The Aldermen also appoint a High Bailiff, since 1750 this has been the current Under Sheriff and Secondary of London, the administrator of the Old Bailey. Every November, these two officials swear into office the Jurors and their nominated Officers.

On the appointed day, the Court is assembled, the Jurors are sworn in and they name their Foreman and he names a Constable, a Flesh Taster and Ale Conners, who take their oaths. The Affeerer, a-fee-rs i.e. prices the fines; the Ale Conners and the Flesh Taster are appointed to test the quality and measure of beers and meats. The terminology can be compared with the equivalent in Livery Companies: thus Foreman = Master; Sworn Officers = Wardens; Tithing = Court of Assistants; Tithingmen = Assistants who have served as Foreman.

The High Bailiff then reads the Riot Act (from an original King’s Printers Copy without which it has no proclamatory validity). After this the ‘Foreman’ states any ‘presentments’ – i.e. the cases he wishes to present. There have been none since the early Victorian period. The High Steward, being such an eminent jurist, then gives a talk (a ‘charge’ to the Jury) on some historical matter or an issue of some current legal concern and controversy and the Court then adjourns to allow the Jurors to continue in a convivial way entertaining their guests and the Old Bailey officers to a festive meal, in best City tradition. This arrangement of the City’s Law Officers Swearing the Jurors (‘Freemen’)

This arrangement of the City’s Law Officers Swearing the Jurors (‘freemen’) and Foreman with Officers (‘Master and Wardens’) is unique in the City, unlike the Liveries and guilds which Swear their own Freemen, Liverymen, Courts of Assistants and Master and Wardens. The City’s authority in Southwark in relation to its manors there dates from 1327, considerably predating most of the livery.

But this was not the event I attended. Rather it was the Bridge House-Yard Lecture and Dinner held at St George the Martyr church in Borough High Street. It is customary for the lecture to be delivered on an historic or archeological theme pertaining to the Manor. Chris Mayo of pre-Construct Archeology spoke about Brandon House: the site which wasn’t meant to be there. Opposite the church the site on which Brandon House or Suffolk Place stood is being redeveloped. Under current planning legislation prior to development the archeological survey must take place at the expense of the developer. The site was redeveloped in the 1930s and the 1970s but on both occasions only a cursory survey took place. On this occasion a much more extensive survey has been conducted at a cost of £500k+ to the developer, with exciting results.

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk (from 1514; ca 1484-1545) and Mary Tudor ‘the French Queen’ (she had briefly been consort to Louis XII), his third wife from 1515, sister of Henry VIII, were owners of Brandon or Suffolk Place until 1536. Their grand-daughter was Lady Jane Grey. Brandon’s grandfather, William, had been the Knight Marshal to Edward IV from 1479. His son, Charles’ father had been a standard bearer to Henry VII at Bosworth and was killed there, his children being adopted and brought up at Court with the royal family. Hence, Charles Brandon inherited the role of Keeper of the Marshalsea and King’s Bench prisons on Borough High Street and in this role and as Lord High Steward and Constable he was involved in the indictment and trial of Anne Boleyn.

Brandon/Suffolk/Southwark Place was a property which the family had acquired by 1460 in relation to their duties over the prisons on the opposite side of the High Street. They developed the site and added a park of 48 acres to it. Charles rebuilt it as a mansion in fine Renaissance style in 1522. Henry VIII wanted to create a hunting ground nearby and this was to be the Lodge. It was taken over by Henry VIII who exchanged it with Brandon for Norwich Place on the Strand. Henry granted it to Jane Seymour in 1537, but when she died the same year it reverted to the King. It then became a Royal Mint, between 1545-1551 and passed to Edward VI. It was, as a ‘royal palace’, reserved to the Crown and excluded from the grant to the City of the King’s Manor in 1550. It was used for one night by Mary I and King Philip II of Spain in their marital progress to London in 1554. Mary gave it to the Archbishop of York, in 1556, but he never resided there, selling it off. It was demolished in 1557 and the area built over with small tenements. Because of its ‘extra-legal’ status it had become a refuge for debtors and outlaws, the notorious ‘Liberty of the Mint’, beyond the City’s and the Surrey Sheriff’s jurisdiction until abolished in 1722. Thus this extraordinary, highly desirable property, stretching along the south bank of the Thames, as redeveloped by Charles Brandon in 1522, changed hands seven times including six kings and queens in just 35 years.

The archeologists have recovered excellent examples of terracottas and bowling balls which after cataloguing and restoration will no doubt be exhibited in the Museum of London. But there are also several Roman finds from deeper excavation including a most unusual and almost perfectly preserved Roman measuring rod, which unfolded to a precise Roman foot: 29.5 cm.

I learnt much on this evening but perhaps the most significant lesson was that our planning laws have been improved to increase the chance of us rediscovering and preserving our ancient heritage.

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