A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

Chester's Entry in the Domesday Book

The City of Chester, in the time of King Edward (the Confessor) was guildable or assessable at fifty hides, three hides and a half of which were without the city- namely, one hide and a half beyond the Bridge, and two hides in Newton and Redclive, and within the burgh (or precincts) of the Bishop, but were assessed with the city. At that time there were within the city 431 assessable houses, besides which the Bishop had 56. The city then paid ten marks and a half of silver, two parts of which belonged to the King, and a third to the Earl (of Chester)- and these were the laws there:

The law, or peace, was administered by the hand of the King, or by his writ, or by his lieutenant. If it should be broken by any, the King had thereupon one hundred shillings; but when the King's peace, when administered by the Earl, was infringed, the Earl was entitled to the third penny out of the hundred shillings so paid. If the peace had been broken by the King's steward or the Earl's officer, he was fined fourty shillings, and the third penny belonged to the Earl. If any freeman broke the peace of the King by slaying a man in his house, all his lands and money were forfeited to the King, and he became an outlaw (utlagh). If any of the Earl's men did the same, he forfeited the like, and was outlawed; and to such outlaw noone was able to restore the peace (or permit his return) except the King. Whoever drew blood between the morning of the Monday and the noon of the Sabbath paid a fine of ten shillings; but from noon of the Sabbath to to the morning of the Monday, if he so drew blood, he was fined twenty shillings. And also twenty shillings was to be paid by whoever drew blood in the twelve days of the Nativity, or on the day of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, or on the first day of Easter, or the first day of Whitsuntide, or on the day of the Holy Ascension, or on the day of the Assumption or Nativity of the Holy Mary, or on the day of the Feast of All Saints. He who on any of these sacred days did slay a man, paid a fine of four pounds; but on other days, fourty shillings only. Likewise, he who on any of these days did commit heinfar (that is, taking a servant away from, or causing the loss of a servant to, his master) or forestel (buying corn or provisions before they reach the market: to 'forestall') forfeited four pounds.; but on other days, fourty shillings.

Any person committing hangenuitha (executing a felon without trial) forfeited ten shillings; but the King's or the Earl's bailiff committing this offence, was fined twenty shillings. He who committed robbery, or caused tumult, or offered violence to a woman in a house, did for each offence forfeit fourty shillings. A widow, if she cohabited unlawfully with any one, paid a fine of twenty shillings; an unmarried woman, for the same offence, paid ten shillings. He who took or held the lands of another, and could not prove that they were his own, forfeited fourty shillings; and so did he who laid claim to such land, and could not justify his demand. He that wished to free, or relieve his own land, or that of his neighbour, paid ten shillings; but, if he were not able or willing to pay such ten shillings, the land passed to the King. He who did not pay all tax, rent or custom due to him, at the proper time, was fined ten shillings. Any citzen in whose house a fire broke out, was fined three oras (about five shillings- an ora varying in value between sixteen and twenty pence) and he had moreover to pay to his next neighbour two shillings. Of all these forfeitures, two parts belonged to the King, a third to the Earl.

If ships came to the harbour of the city, or departed therefrom, without the King's licence, the King and the Earl were entitled to a penalty of fourty shillings for each man on board. If, against the peace of the King, and contrary to his proclamation, any ship arrived, such vessel, together with all her cargo and crew, were forfeit to the Earl and to the King. But if any ship came peaceably and with the licence of the King, the cargo might be sold without any interruption on payment of fourpence for each last (lesth). If any such ships brought martin skins, the King's officers were to have first offer on them, and if this were not done, their owner was to forfeit fourty shillings. If any man or woman were found guily of giving false measure in the city, they forfeited four shillings, and if any such did make bad beer, they shall either be placed on a tumbril (the actual Latin words are 'cathedra ponebatur stereoris'- a long beam of wood moving on a fulcrum, to which was attached a seat, to which the offender was tied, and then ducked into the most stagnant or filthy pool or dungheap that could be found. There are frequent entries in the city records of money paid for the repair of this instrument, which was the normal punishment for offending brewers, bakers, common scolds and "any misruled woman of her body, that is called a common sinner") -or were fined fourty shillings. The officers of the King and of the Earl received these forfeitures, whether they were incurred in the lands of the Bishop or any other person, and if any witheld payment for more than three nights, he forfeited fourty shillings.

In the time of King Edward, there were seven mint masters in the city, who gave to the King and to the Earl, in addition to the farm rent, £7, as the money was coined. There were then twelve magistrates in the city, who were chosen from amongst the men of the King, and those of the Bishop and Earl; if any of them kept away from the hundred court when they sat without good reason, he was fined ten shillings. When, for the purpose of repairing or rebuilding the wall or the bridge of the city, the proper officers commanded that one man be furnished from each hide, the lord of such man that did not attend was fined fourty shillings to the King and the Earl. The city then paid fourty five pounds for its farm, and three timbers (one hundred and twenty) of martin skins; the third to the Earl and two thirds to the King. When Hugh the Earl had the city granted to him, it was worth only thirty pounds, having been much devastated. There were 205 less houses than there were in the time of King Edward. There is the same number now as Hugh found there.

Mundret held this city under the Earl seventy pounds, and one mark of gold. He also farmed all the pleas of the Earl in the hundred and county, except Inglefield, for fifty pounds more, and one mark of gold. All the land in which stands the Church of St. Peter, which Robert de Rodelend claimed for Thaneland, never, as is testified by the county jury, belonged to the manor without the city, but belongs to the borough and was always in the custom of the King and the Earl, as other burgases are".

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