You are in [Themes] [Town and Manor] [The Case of the Missing Charters]


The previous article on the Origins of the Town and Manor, covering the period from Domesday to the mid 1500s, explains how the townspeople of Hungerford came to claim rights of the markets and fairs, herbage and pannage, and the rights of free fishing in the river Kennet, given by John of Gaunt in the late 1300s. By the mid 1500s, 200 years of "John of Gaunt" rights began to break down.

One of the most important milestones in Hungerford's history was "The Case of the Missing Charters", which began in 1565, and ended with the decision of a Duchy of Lancaster Inquiry in September 1573. It was a turning point in Hungerford's history, and led to a further 40 years of legal wrangle between the town and the Duchy before the sale of the Manor in 1612 and the Feoffment of 1617.

John Youll bought a mill stone at Southampton, 1565:

In 1565, John Youll (Youle, Yewle or Ewle), the tenant miller at the Queen's Mill (now Mill Hatch, 7a Bridge Street) travelled to Southampton to buy a new mill stone. After paying for it, he was asked to pay a toll for it, but he refused, saying that he dwelt in Hungerford which was free of all tolls by Charter of the Duke of Lancaster. (Jim Davis adds "By Royal Charter in 1267, the possessions of Edmund Earl of Lancaster were freed from a variety of dues - this extended to all the Earl's possessions, which included Hungerford. The inhabitants also had the Charter of John of Gaunt, which gave them similar rights in addition to the free fishing, or at least, so they said.)

Youll was one of the youngest burgesses, aged about 25 years at the time. Back home in Hungerford, at the next Hocktide Court in the spring of 1566, he stood up and related his experience at Southampton. He asked the assembled company if he had been correct. The ancient charter was produced from the Town Chest, but, unfortunately, no-one was able to read the text!

So the Constable, John Lovelake (Lovelack or Lovelocke), took them away to have them transcribed. It seems doubtful that the John of Gaunt Charter was ever seen again.

The town's dispute with Brian Gunter, 1568-9:

Three years later (1568-9), the officers of Hungerford had problems with the farmer at Hopgrass Farm, Brian Gunter, who, they alleged, had been illegally grazing stock on Freeman's Marsh – which was town land. When the matter couldn't be settled, they took the case to the Duchy Court.

This was very ill-judged. Only a Borough could act as a corporation and bring a legal action such as this. The effect of acting in this way brought the whole question of the town's status to the notice of the Duchy Court.

Photo Gallery:

088- town mill c1900
088- town mill c1900

The Town Mill, Bridge Street, c1900, run by John Youll in 1565

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088- town mill c1900 088- town mill c1900
hopgrass may 1990-01
hopgrass may 1990-01

Hopgrass Farm from Freeman's Marsh, May 1990, farmed by Brian Gunter in 1568

hopgrass may 19...
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town chest
town chest

The Town Chest or Coffer. An earlier chest played a key part in "The Case of the Missing Charters"

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town chest town chest

- The Town Mill, Bridge Street, c1900, run by John Youll in 1565

- Hopgrass Farm from Freeman's Marsh, May 1990, farmed by Brian Gunter in 1568

- The Town Chest or Coffer. An earlier chest played a key part in "The Case of the Missing Charters"

John Lovelake's property dispute, 1572:

In the autumn of 1572, the same John Lovelake, who had been Constable in 1565, was involved in a property dispute with Richard Mayle. This was a long time before banks provided vaults for the safe keeping of documents, and in the 16th century it was common for important deeds and documents to be kept in the Town Chest. The Town Chest in those days was actually a "little chest" with two locks, kept inside a larger chest with one lock. These keys were entrusted at each Hocktide Court to "one of the most ancient men of the said Towne, that hath been Constable". Any Burgess might have access to the chest, but only by order and in the presence of two witnesses, one of whom must be the Constable.

The John Lovelake was probably the man who some ten years before had taken bow and arrows to the "backside of the Church" when the right of fishery was disputed there by George Essex of Hopgrass. He was felt to be very worthy of trust and the Charter was handed over to him. Seven years later John Youll said in evidence that that was the last seen of the Charter.

Lovelake, although no longer Constable, clearly still had influence in the town, and he persuaded his daughter Agnes to go to Thomas Hamlin (or Hamlyn), the Keeper of the Keys, and obtained the keys to the Town Chest. A week later he also obtained the keys of the Town Hall.

Lovelake took the Coffer back to his own house in order to obtain documents relating to his property dispute - but he had no right to have the Chest at his house - and it seemed he was responsible for losing other documents.

The Duchy of Lancaster inquiry, January 1573:

In January 1573, the Surveyor of the Duchy lands held a special court to make enquiries about the local manor customs, particularly fishing rights. The main objective was simple: the Crown needed every source of income and would do its utmost to ensure that rights and revenues were not diverted elsewhere.

The townspeople needed to prove they were entitled to the fishery, but the necessary charters were missing, including the Simon de Montfort Charter and the John of Gaunt charter.

Other later Royal charters were still held, including:

- Richard II (1377-1399)
- Henry IV (1399-1413)
- Henry V (1413-1422)
- Henry VI (1422-1461)
- Henry VIII (dating from 1520) and
- Edward VI (from 1553)

But where were the earlier Charters? Had they been stolen? People remembered John Lovelake had taken some documents away, and it was alleged that, along with William Butler, he had "fraudulently disposed of them".

The problems determined at the January 1573 Inquiry led to an official complaint being filed in the Duchy Court in London. In turn this led to the even more significant Special Commission Inquiry of June-September 1573.

The Duchy of Lancaster Special Commission, June-September 1573:

A Special Commission was ordered to consider a complaint brought by Nicholas Passion and others against John Lovelake and William Butler; the charge was "embezzling and conveying" of charters and other documents. The Commissioners, Thomas Parry, Griffith Curteis, Anthony Bridges and John Tull, sat in Hungerford on 20th July and 11th September 1573. Statements were given by a number of people, from which the following is learned:

In 1572, John Lovelake was living in one of the two houses that had been left to the town c.1501 by a priest called Warnewell, along with 16 acres (or 12 acres) of land in Sanden Fee. The property had been put in trust under the terms of Warnewell's will, "one Whitmore and others of the Towne being feoffees". Some dispute seems to have arisen. Circa 1570 Thomas Lovelake, of Sonning Eye, and Thomas Gennyns had entered into a bond of £100 to Richard Mayle, the tenant of the other house, and others not to "vex or trouble" the town with reference to this property. This bond, and apparently other documents relating to the property, were deposited in the Town Chest. One was a copy of Warnewell's will.

Lovelake obtains the Town Chest:

About 15th October 1572, Lovelake asked his daughter Agnes to go to Thomas Hamlin (Hamlyn), the Keeper of the Keys, and obtain the keys to the Town Coffer, claiming her father had authority from William Butler, the Constable, and from Thomas Seymour, who was probably Port-reeve and was to be Constable the next year. Hamlin unsuspectingly handed over the keys. A week later, about 23rd October, Lovelake also obtained the keys of the Town Hall from William Beache, the caretaker "and withheld it from the said Beache by the space of two days and two nights".

Soon afterwards (Richard Mayle's statement said it was "about All-hallowtide" or 1st November) Lovelake met Richard Mayle, who is described as a broadweaver and "a very poor man". He invited Mayle to come back to his house where they would both see the deeds to their houses. That evening Lovelake and Mayle opened the small chest by candlelight, and examined various documents. Mayle had evidently seen the chest before and immediately noticed that three documents were missing. He asked Lovelake what had become of them, and Lovelake replied that they were in the custody of the Vicar.

This seems to have been a fabrication, for the Vicar, whose name was Edward Brouker (or Bronker), stated that he had called at Lovelake's house on 27th December, and "was greatly surprised to see the little box standing in his hall window". He had asked him how it came to be there and Lovelake had replied that it was "by consent of the masters of the town".

About 8th or 9th January 1573, Lovelake called on the Rev Andrew Skynner, Vicar of Kintbury, and produced from under his gown a linen bag (one witness said two bags). He produced some documents, "laid aside those as made for his purpose," and put the rest back in the bag again. He then asked the Vicar to decipher the documents he had reserved, telling him that Henry Edes, of Charnham Street, was trying to get his property from him, and that he wanted to secure his right to it.

Shortly afterwards he called at the vicarage again, and asked if he had accidentally left "the charters of Hungerford" there. The Vicar told him that he had seen nothing of them, on which Lovelake remarked that he had been afraid lest Skynner's maidservant might have given them to John Hall, the "farmer of the vicarage", to whom she was related. Lovelake put the same question to Hall himself, who is described as "of London" but was evidently a good deal at Kintbury, but Hall told him he knew nothing of them.

Duchy of Lancaster Court at Hungerford, January 1573:

A day or two after this the Surveyor of the South Part of the Duchy of Lancaster (South of the Trent), Edmund Twynho, held a court at Hungerford. He appears to have been very active in his duties and had reclaimed some land in Hungerford for the Crown that had been held back from the dissolution of the Chantries. He required the Jury to make presentments on "certain important matters". None of the witnesses mention the exact day, but one says it was "about Twelfth­tide." In the course of the proceedings the Surveyor asked to see the Town Charters. The Jury applied to Hamlin, the Keeper of the Keys, and learned from him to their surprise that he had given the keys to Lovelake. They immediately went to Lovelake's house, but found that he was not at home.

The Jury can't produce the documents: The jury were in a very awkward position. If they did not make their presentment that day they were liable to a fine of £2 each.

After some delay John Fawler (or Fowler), one of the jury, appears to have got round to some adjoining property and saw Lovelake "in his backside" - that is, his yard, or garden. Fawler demanded of him the keys of the Chest, and Lovelake answered, "You shall have them."

In the meanwhile the rest of the Jury had consulted the Vicar and learned that the Town Coffer was in Lovelake's house, which fact they "did greatly mislike". It would appear that the vicar and Fawler now entered the house and saw the little box. Lovelake was informed that it must be taken at once back to the Town Hall. This was done and Lovelake was told, "You have done more than was ever done before in the town."

The box was now opened and examined and it was found that some papers were missing. "They be all safe in the coffer", said Lovelake. "No, they are not". "Yes", said Lovelake "I will find them there", but after "searching and tumbling for a time, "he failed to do so".

John Fawler said, "We must not be dealt with like this - you had the box in which the Charters were wont to be in, standing on your table when master Vicar and I were at your house".

Lovelake then went home and returned with certain documents, but they were not the ones required. "They were all in the Coffer within this fortnight," said he, " and that I will depose; howbeit I will make better stir for them."

Four of the jury, Thomas Seymour, Nicholas Passion, John Fawler and Humphrey Allen, now went to the Constable, William Butler, and "required him in the Queen's name to have diligent search made" for the missing documents. Butler told them that it "was no part of his office," and added with suspicious readiness that he had never seen the charters himself. He sent, however, for Lovelake, and they "communed together on the matter."

The jury now had to return to the Surveyor, declined to make a presentment, and were presumably fined.

Anthony Hidden of Eddington, who was present, seems to have called Lovelake aside and expostulated with him. "You have not used yourself well," he said, "for it is said that you have conveyed the Charters and evidences of the Town and Church lands, the which you have in your keeping". Lovelake replied that two Charters touching the liberties of the town might have been "conveyed away by reason of the weakness of the house". Did he mean his own house, or the Town Hall, which had been presented some years before as " ruinus and utterly dekeyed"? As to the Church papers, he declared "I have them safe enough, but will not deliver them until the Jury have given their verdict, for I do suppose that they shoot at something of mine".

What documents were missing?

There was considerable discussion as to which papers were missing and a great measure of disagreement. Allegations of irregularities in the appointment of the Jury were also made. It is impossible to say what or how many documents were missing. None of the other witnesses mentions the "evidences of the church lands" of which Anthony Hidden speaks. The vicar refers to three :-

  1- A charter of Simon de Montfort, granting to the free inhabitants of Hungerford the right of herbage and pannage in Balteley Wood
  2- A grant by "one Brendnoll, knight," of his mead called Wydmaeshe (Woodmarsh) to the townsmen of Hungerford. This may have been the William de Britnole, or Bretegnol, who held Sandon Fee under Simon de Montfort in the reign of Henry III, or it may have been one of the same family.
  3- The Lovelake and Gennyns bond described above, which it would be to Lovelake's advantage to get hold of and destroy.

Richard Mayle says that more documents had disappeared since the three he missed at All­-hallowtide, but he only mentions the bond and a copy of Father Warnewell's will.

John Youll, however, says that the documents included two "under the Great Seal of England". These may have been the two which, as we shall see were afterwards restored, and may have been identical with the letters patent of Henry VI and Edward IV still among the borough documents.

It will be thus seen that at least seven documents are referred to by the various witnesses, without including the charter of John of Gaunt, which is evidently thought by John Youll, the only witness who mentions it, to have been abstracted by the same party some years before.

John Youll seems to have been the spokesman of the jury in refusing to make a presentment. This seems strange, seeing that he was not the foreman. But he himself declares that the foreman, John Burche, was of East Garston, four miles from Hungerford; the family seem to have lived at Maidencourt in that parish. Burche was in London, and another witness says that he had taken important documents with him.

Youll also makes the startling statement that Henry Edes, of Charnham Street, was appointed by the Surveyor to be one of the jury without being sworn, and that he actually took the place of the foreman in Burche's absence. It must be borne in mind that the proceedings in cases where the claims of the Crown were involved were notoriously corrupt and unjust at this period of our history, and the officials of the Duchy of Lancaster were evidently bent at this time upon destroying the special rights and privileges claimed by the town of Hungerford.

Youll goes on to assert that Edes would not come to an agreement with the other jurors upon various points, and that he endeavoured to persuade them to "make void" the lease of Richard Mayle's house, to misrepresent the value of the rental and other dues paid by Mayle and himself, and to report that Preys Close "with eleven acres of land thereto belonging" was his own freehold, whereas it was held of the Chantry land by Nicholas Passion.

The jury is served with write of Privy Seal, and have to attend in London: Not long after this, apparently about the beginning of February, a Royal Pursuivant arrived in Hungerford, and served the recalcitrant jurors with writs of Privy Seal. They had to go to London for several days, and Youll says that their expenses amounted altogether to £24. He says that Edes and Burche, who seem to have been acting in the interest of the Duchy, did not receive writs; but they appear to have gone to London like the others.

Most of the jurors put up at the White Hart Inn in the Strand, and on 10th February they were visited by Rev Skinner, of Kintbury, They now learned for the first time of Lovelake's suspicious visit to Kintbury Vicarage. Soon after this they were also visited by John Hall, who told them that not long before he had met Lovelake on Hungerford Common Port Down, when Hall asked him, "Are the charters of Hungerford found again?". Lovelake significantly answered "I have them safe enough!"

The jurors now saw how dishonest Lovelake had been, and were confirmed in their impression by the fact that Mayle had told them on 6th February of his visit to Lovelake's house, and that Beach, the caretaker of the Hall, had sent for some of them on his deathbed and explained to them how he came to let Lovelake have the keys.

The jury returns to Hungerford:

They were anxious to get back to Hungerford and call Lovelake to account, but it would appear that the Duchy authorities would not allow them to go without making a presentment; so on 11th February 1573, the day after their interview with the Vicar of Kintbury, they reluctantly did so, but it contained nothing definite about the loss of the Charters. Meanwhile they intimated to the Duchy officials their determination to proceed against Lovelake.

A contemporary copy of the presentment made under such trying circumstances is preserved among the town documents. It is a lengthy and interesting document. The boundaries of the various townships are given after the old form handed down from Roman or Saxon times, and it constitutes the principal authority for the ancient bounds to the present day.

There is also a very lengthy list of the Crown and manor tenants, and their respective quit-rents. There are other interesting particulars, but nothing bearing definitely on the circumstances under which the charters had been lost. The name of Henry Burche, the young East Garston farmer, who was only twenty-eight years of age, and whom the Duchy authorities seem to have employed as their tool, stands first as foreman. Then comes that of his ally Henry Edes, also a yeoman; John Fawler, a draper; John Mawkes, a husband­man, of Kintbury; Thomas Seymour, a yeoman (and Constable soon after); Robert Weighte (or Wayte), a cooper; John Youll; George Clidesdale (one of the Hiddens of Eddington); Richard Mytton, "shearman", or cloth-trimmer; Anthony Harvey, yeoman; Richard Curr, a husbandman or tenant-farmer, probably of Sanham Green; William Grove, glover; and John Dolman, innholder, complete the list.

Some charters are returned:

On 18th February 1573, after the jurors had returned home from London, the Constable summoned them to the Town Hall, and asked, "Have you any tidings of the Charters?". Lovelake and Butler were present. On receiving their negative reply, Lovelake said to Butler "Do you deliver them their Charters?". Butler then produced two documents and handed them to the jurors, who naturally asked how he came by them. "My wife found them," said Butler, " in a chest in my chamber that my apparel lieth in, but how they came there I know not." The jurors made it clear that they did not believe him and Butler added "I wish the ground may open and I may be an example to all men if I know aught thereof".

Some of the jurors and the Vicar now spoke to Mrs Butler. She admitted that she knew how the Charters came into the house, but would say nothing more. Since the Constable only returned two documents it was clear that several were still missing.

At Hocktide, early in April 1573, a Duchy Court was held in the Parish Church, as was often the custom. Butler was present, and reiterated his statement with regard to the documents. But the burgesses showed their opinion of the matter by electing as Constable Thomas Seymour, who had been a strenuous opponent of Butler's, and the name of Butler disappears from the list of Constables for over a hundred years.

The Duchy Inquiry, July-September 1573:

Nicholas Passion and the others who were acting on behalf of the Crown now joined Butler's name with that of Lovelake in their complaint. Commissioners were appointed, and an inquiry opened at Hungerford on 20th July 1573. The witnesses on both sides were interrogated in a manner which would seem extraordinary today. It was strange indeed that with the exception of George Lovelake, brother to John, none of the people who gave evidence belonged to Hungerford. Much of the evidence given was very vague and largely hearsay. but there is no record of anything like cross-examination.

Much of the proceedings seemed to concern the contents of the Town Chest. Edward Brouker, vicar of Hungerford, was called. He declared that "the deeds, charters (etc) of the borough hath been of long time put into one little chest with two locks (which was) placed in one great chest with one lock, that stood in the Town Hall. The keys were entrusted at each Hocktide Court to "one of the most auncient men of the said Towne, that hathe bene Constable." The key of the Town Hall was in the keeping of the man who had to ring the bell and wind up the clock. Any burgess might have access to the documents in the chest, but only by order and in the presence of two witnesses, of which the Constable must be one.

John Youll said "the small chest or coffer was "safe and sound with iron" and if the chest was to be opened it should be done in the presence of the Constable with at least three others."

It seems clear that Lovelake had taken the chest to his house to examine the contents privately, but no-one seemed sure of what documents should have been in there in the first place. The conflicting testimonies, hearsay and malicious back-biting must have been extremely tedious for the Commissioners.

On the first day the witnesses examined for the plaintiffs included the Vicars of Hungerford and Kintbury, John Hall and Richard Mayle. On the same day witnesses were also examined on behalf of the defendants; but it is most significant that with the exception of George Lovelake (the brother of John) not one of them belonged to the borough. They included Henry Edes, of Charnham Street; John Burche, of East Garston; Thomas Lovelake, of Sonning; and George Clidesdale, of Hidden.

Their evidence was of the vaguest description. The prosecution was instituted, they affirmed, by Nicholas Passion and the rest out of "mere malice." Edes said that he had seen the contents of the coffer in 1565 and again in 1571. There had never been more than two charters there. These were not only there now, but were read in the Court of Survey at the commencement of the year, and Passion, Seymour and others then admitted that they were the only ones they had. Burche and George Lovelake said that certain documents had been taken out at Whitsuntide the year before for consultation with regard to a fishery dispute with Brian Gunter, the tenant of Hopgrass. They had been safely redelivered. Clidesdale declared that the jury were hindered in making the presentment mainly by the absence in London of John Burche. The rest of the evidence consisted mainly of vague allegations of malice.

On 11th September further evidence was heard on behalf of the complainants. Mr Hidden, of Eddington, deposed to his interview with Lovelake on the day of the Court of Survey. John Youll gave his evidence at great length and in a singularly graphic and vivid style, but it must be admitted that it contained a larger proportion of hearsay than would be admitted at the present day. His hearsay, however, except on one or two minor points, was in exact accord with the direct evidence of other witnesses. We are indebted to, the straightforward narrative of the young miller for a very large portion of the statements made above; nine other jurors confirmed him.

The court decided against the plaintiffs on the following grounds:-

  -1 that the burgesses of Hungerford were not a "corporation sufficient" to plead in that court. If a charter of incorporation had been granted by John of Gaunt, there would have been clear evidence of it elsewhere. (Hungerfordians always said that the Duchy of Lancaster copy had been lost in the Savoy Palace fire during the Peasants' revolt of 1382).
  -2 that there had been no proof of the removal of any documents. (There was no proof that any earlier charters had existed, so no one could be charged with stealing them.)
  -3 That even supposing that documents were missing, there was no proof that the town had sustained loss by their absence, and that, therefore, the prosecution was vexatious.

Clearly, the main concern of the Duchy Court was to establish the status of the town - and to downgrade it if possible, so that in future the Duchy could regain payments forom markets, fairs and fishing. It seems impossible to regard this decision as in accordance with the weight of evidence. However, it must be admitted that there were weak points in the town case, especially in the fact that there was no schedule of the documents to be produced and that, perhaps because they were mostly in Latin or Norman French, the witnesses seem to have had the vaguest ideas as to their nature.

A further 40 years of legal wrangle:

However, this was not the end of the story by many means.

The result of this case was the signal for the officials of the Duchy to try to prove that the Town's claim to the Hocktide Court, the market, the fishery and the pasturage were encroachments upon the rights of the Crown.

Once it was evident that Hungerford was not a corporation, then other liberties and privileges looked less secure. The Duchy of Lancaster officials attempted to regain control of the fishery, or at least to get some payment for it – and prevent the apparent 'poaching'.

The residents of Hungerford, having enjoyed the profits of markets and fairs, and free fishing for generations, were not going to give up the benefits lightly. A 'battle royal' commenced! For the next 40 years or so, a succession of legal wrangles, inquiries, and surveys was carried out.

The story continues in "The James I Grant (1612) and the Feoffment, 1617".

Other papers on The Case of the Missing Charters":

Several people have written about "The Case of the Missing Charters", including
- W H Summers (in his "The Story of Hungerford"),
- Norman Hidden (below), and
- Julie Shuttleworth (part of the Elizabethan Hungerford book)

Norman Hidden, wrote a chapter on the Case of the Missing Charters in his book "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford, reproduced here:

At the heart of the 'Missing Charters' controversy was the ownership and tenure rights to local property and land. Loss of 'evidences' or deeds is a frequent complaint in lawsuits throughout the medieval period. They are often alleged to have been stolen or to have come into the wrong hands by 'casual means'. Even where a person possessed a home chest or coffer it was not proof against robbery. Medieval merchants and landowners developed a custom of depositing their personal deeds for safe custody in the town chest which contained official town documents. These personages were usually those who served the town as councillors or in some other official capacity. They were thus ensured of frequent and easy access to the documents.

In Hungerford the official town documents were placed in a small chest which was bound with iron and this was placed within a larger and stouter chest which stood in the town hall. The great chest had one lock and one key; the inner or little chest had two locks but still only one key. The custody of the keys was the care of one of the town elders 'that hath been Constable, to keep for the year following at Hocktide Court'. The town hall itself was locked at its front door to which again, there was only one key and this was held by 'one appointed to keep the clock and ring the bells'. This might seem to be as much security as could be obtained in those days.

When a burgess of the town wished to have recourse to the chests and view any of the documents therein it was a rule that this should be done in the presence of the Constable with two or three other burgesses present and, of course, the keeper of the keys. Clearly this rule was in practice relaxed, the more particularly perhaps when a serving burgess might wish to consult a document of his own or one which concerned him. Indeed the laxity in the case of the 'missing charters' is quite astounding; in a small community, however, officiousness is difficult to maintain. When John Lovelake wished to inspect the charters he merely sent his daughter Agnes to Thomas Hamlen, who was the keeper of the keys for that year, for the keys of the two coffers 'in the name of William Butler, then Constable, and Thomas Seymour' (most probably a former Constable). Lovelake then carried the little coffer from the town hall to his own house, where he made no attempt to conceal its presence. It is clear that he took the coffer so as to have available to him to search at leisure, the whole of its contents. What he later claimed he was searching for were some documents which related to the tenancy of his house which had been sub-leased to him by Richard Mayle. The deposition of John Yewle describes the incident vividly: Lovelake is alleged to have said, ' 'Mayle, come to my house in the evening and I will send for the keys of the common coffer and then you and I will see the deeds of our houses'. And Mayle said, 'I will'. And so, the said Mayle according to his promise came and found not the said Lovelake within; but shortly after he came in and asked for a candle and went into his shop with the said Mayle, where the said Mayle saw the little chest that our said charters and evidences were wont to be in. And then the said Lovelake, having the keys, opened the said chest and took out certain of the writings therein and so by confession of the said Mayle, the jury came to the knowledge thereof'.

It is unlikely that Lovelake found much that he would understand without assistance. John Yewle relates how he once had demanded some eight years previously, to see 'a certain muniment bearing the seal of the Duke of Lancaster, supposing it should be a grant from the said Duke of Lancaster concerning the said privilege, the contents whereof none of them there could read or understand. Whereupon the said John Lovelake demanded the said muniment to have him in English for the better understanding of the same and carried the same at that time out of the court and from and after that time hither to this, this deponent never saw the same '. It would seem from this story that Lovelake may have been Constable in 1564 or thereabouts and what he had been able to do once in taking the document home for clarification he could see no reason for not doing again in 1572.

That this was his intention seems to be borne out by the deposition of Andrew Skinner, a vicar of the neighbouring parish of Kintbury who explained that Lovelake came to his house, bringing with him various writings 'in a bag' which he requested the vicar 'to search and read the same to that end that he would see some evidence concerning his house for the better preservation of the right to the same, for that one Henry Edes meant , as he sayeth, to get the said house from him'. This corresponds with what Anthony Hidden relates of Lovelake 's conversation with him. Hidden upbraids him saying, 'You have not used yourself well, for that it is said you have conveyed the charters and evidences of the town and church land the which you have in your keeping'. Lovelake's reply was that he had the documents safe enough but would not deliver them until the jury had made their presentment, 'for I do suppose they shoot at something of mine'. Yewle further corroborates this with his charge against Henry Edes in relation to Richard Mayle.

Mayle was not, as Yewle portrays, 'a very poor man'. He was a selfemployed weaver who tenanted from the town 2 tenements with their gardens and backsides, one of which he sub-leased to John Lovelake. With these two tenements there went some twelve acres of land (according to the official survey of 1573) as he himself deposes rather than the 16 acres elsewhere alleged. These were 10½ acres of arable land (4 acres in the Everlong and 6½ in Sandon Fee), together with 1 acre of meadow in Woodmarsh and ½ acre of pasture in Church Croft. On these lands there was the charge of an obit amounting to 13s.4d. annually, according to the same survey.

John Yewle alleges that at the jury held to determine their presentment to the Duchy of Lancaster's surveyor, Henry Edes disagreed with others of the jury and tried to force the jury to present things 'which the said jury would not nor could not in conscience agree unto'. First, Yewle alleges he tried to persuade the jury to void Mayle's lease, 'the which was no part of their articles' with which they were charged. Also he tried to persuade the jury to present the rent of Mayle's lease as 26s. 8d. whereas it was in fact 40s. Also that the obit which went with the lands as being 11s. when in fact it was 13s. 4d; and he refers to an obit of one George Cooke which Edes wished the jury to present as having been paid by him to the Queen for land in Westcot, 'the which the said jury knoweth not of.'

Yewle's motive is clear enough: he wished to blacken the credibility of Henry Edes as a chief defence witness. If the obit of 13s.4d is added to the rent of 26s.8d. a total of 40s. gross rent is obtained, so that on this matter there seems to be no substance in Yewle 's allegation. The jury, it will be noted, agreed the obit at 13s.4d. and thus resolved the difference between Edes' figure for the rent excluding the obit and Yewle's figure which included it. As to the allegation that Edes was trying to void Mayle's lease it was, as Yewle himself admits, no part of the jury's brief to consider; so they make no mention of it in their presentment, other than the indirect one of presenting the details of the tenements and the quit rent of 23d. per annum due to the Queen. If Yewle's charge against Edes is true, then it is easy to understand John Lovelake 's anxiety as a subtenant of Mayle. Thus in attempting to blacken Edes, Yewle strengthens and corroborates Lovelake's account of why he removed the charters and gives credence to his explanation that he was interested only in documents which related to his own dwelling.

There remains the point concerning the difference in the amount of the obit due. It is not clear whether the lands held by Mayle included the lands on which the obit was charged for George Cooke; but it seems from the conjunction of Yewle's remarks to be so. If this supposition is correct, then the difference in the two amounts presented for the obit may perhaps be explained. In his will (PCC 16 Blamyr) dated 10 June 1502 Cook asks that an obit be kept for him twice yearly in the church of Hungerford and he instructs as follows: 'If it fortune any of them to fail of this my will not fulfilled, then I will that the vicar of the church of Hungerford and to the churchmen shall distress in all the foresaid lands and tenements to take and carry away to the value of 13s 4d. and they to bestow it at my obit 10s. And the said vicar to have for his labour 16d and any of the churchmen 12d., whatsoever they be for the time being vicar or their churchmen there and so oft as any of my executors seeketh evermore'. The lands to which he referred were 'my lands in Westcote in Berkshire and the covenants of farm during the lease that I have of my lord of St Johns', that is, the priory of St Johns. Probate was granted 14 September 1502. If the two churchmen (or churchwardens) each were to receive 12d. and the vicar 16d. and the sum available for obit was 10s., the total to be obtained by distraint would be 13s. 4d. Was the difference between this 10s. and 13s.4d. also the point of dispute between Yewle and Edes? Whatever may be the case it is clear that in the seventy-one years that had passed since Cooke's death, with the Reformation coming between, the dissolution of chantries and priories, and the abolition of obits, the townspeople of Hungerford had lost track of these ancient arrangements, 'which the said jury knoweth not of'. One other strange fact of history must be noted, which involves George Cooke's widow Katherine and an earlier John Lovelake. In 1494 a lease of the rectory of Hungerford for 20 years was granted to Ralph Searle and George Cooke. In 1504 the same lease was granted for 15 years to Catherine Cooke of Hungerford, widow, and John Lovelake of Hungerford, husbandman. In 1517, one imagines on the death of Catherine, John Lovelake acquired a new lease of the rectory and all the tithes of Hungerford for another 25 years by five year breaks. Was the John Lovelake of the missing charters case his descendant? We don't know.

Let us, however, search for those two tenements of Richard Mayle with their 12 acres of land, paying in 1573 a distinctly unusual quit rent sum of 23d. The previous survey had taken place in 1552. It is less detailed and it is written in Latin, but one entry is noticeable: 'Thomas Hedache holds 2 tenements and a barn lately held by John Edwardes, and lately pertaining to the church there by an obit to be celebrated annually ..... quit rent 23d'. There is also another entry, again for Thomas Hedache: ' one tenement late pertaining to the church, quit rent 6d'.

In the deposition of Edward Brouker, vicar of Hungerford, concerning the 'missing charters', he states that the two tenements with the lands appertaining to them were of the gift and feoffment of William Warnewell clerk, for the performance of his last will and testament and that one Whitemore and others were feoffees on behalf of the town as appeared by a deed dated anno 16 Henry VII. No evidence has been found of this William Warnewell, though we have numerous references to a John Warnewell in the latter part of the 15th century, and we have a Thomas Whitemore who was instituted vicar of Hungerford in 1479 and mentioned in local wills in 1504 and 1505. When Warnewell is described as clerk we must remember that a clerk was one who had been ceremonially tonsured by the bishop, whether or no he subsequently proceeded to holy orders. A connection, however, is established by a rental of Hungerford taken c1470 in which John Warnewell held one barn and half a burgage which had lately been held by Thomas Warnewell, quit rent 19d. Two further - and consecutive – entries then state that John Warnewell held a quarter burgage lately John Giffard's, quit rent 2d. and a three-quarters burgage lately Thomas Warnewell's, quit rent 6d. If these two entries are taken together we have a tenement that corresponds to that of Thomas Hedache's second entry in 1552. In the same way, the first entry corresponds, except the difference in the quit rent of a half burgage [each full burgage normally paid a quit rent of 8d at this time], with the details of Thomas Hedache's two tenement holding. It would seem therefore that these tenements came to the parish church via the Warnewell family approximately at the beginning of the 16th century, and were then leased out first to Edwardes and then Hedache.

The date is given as 'approximately' at the beginning of the 16th century despite Edward Brouker's date of 16 Henry VII, which would be 1501. This is because Brouker must be speaking from memory - he claims the will is missing - and one has reason to suspect his memory. If, however, Warnewell in fact died by or almost immediately after the date Brouker quotes, then these lands cannot have been lands which carried the George Cooke obit as George Cooke himself did not die until after 10 June 1502. There is in George Cooke's will a bequest of 4 shillings to the vicar to pray for his soul and what seems to be (the writing is difficult to read at this point) a further bequest of 20d. to 'Sir William'.

One other reference to William Warnewell has been discovered. This is in a Court of Requests case in 1563/4 where Thomas Jennyns, tailor, of Hungerford alleges that his father, also named Thomas Jennyns, was seised of 2 messuages and 16 acres of lands, meadow and pasture in the town and fields of Hungerford when he died about 29 years ago, that is c1534. After his death the documents concerning this property came into the hands of Richard Mayle, George Hidden and John Lovelake 'who by colour of the same have wrongfully entered into the premises'. In fact these three were sued because they were or had been lately at the time of the suit, churchwardens and presumably acting as feoffees of the property. The defendants answer denying any good cause to the suit, regret the lack of deeds or evidence, but say that William Warnewell, clerk had been seised of the 2 messuages and 16 acres of land; he had enfeoffed Richard Long and others in the estate, which the defendants now lawfully have and claim to be lawfully seised. At this point we may wish to consider Richard Mayle's 1573 assertion that 'he knoweth not who the 'fefers' were'. The defendants go on further to say that Thomas Jennyns senior had committd felony, was attainted, convicted and executed at Tyburn c1534/5. If this were so it would effectively dispose of his son's claim to the lands so attainted but Thomas Jennyns junior denies the charge concerning his father. He asserts that if Warnewell had the premises or anything therein it was by disseisin and wrong done to the ancestors of the complainant. This assertion suggests that he has little idea of the date of Warnewell's death. One can only suppose that Thomas Jennyns senior may have been a tenant of the lands at some time between Warnewell's gift and the tenancy of John Edwardes or Thomas Hedache.

We don't know the result of the law suit which should have come to judgement sometime in 1565. Perhaps it was as a result of this judgement that on the 18th of January 1566 leading members of the local community (Edward Hungerford of North Standen, George Essex of Hopgrass, John Goddard of South Standen, esquires, Nicholas Passion, Thomas Seymor, Richard Mayle, George Hidden and John Lovelake) would accept the decision of three named arbitrators concerning the right title to the 2 messuages and 16 acres. What the arbitrators' decision was becomes obvious when we discover that on April 6th 1566 Thomas Jennyns quit-claimed to the three churchwardens, in pursuance of the arbitration verdict given on the 26th of January of that year, all the properties which had been involved in the dispute.

With this set of facts the reference in the 'missing charters' depositions to a bond given by Thomas Jennyns clarifies. Thomas Lovelake says that 'he hath in his custody one obligation wherein he and Thomas Jennyns stand bound to the inhabitants of Hungerford ..... concerning the award and had it of Thomas Bawle of London waterman about 3 years past or thereabouts'. However, this cannot be the same obligation as the one already mentioned because (a) it includes Thomas Lovelake, whereas the earlier one included only Thoms Jennyns, (b) the earlier obligation was dated 1566, but by Thomas Lovelake's calculation it would date nearer to 1570. In addition, in some way a new name, Thomas Ball, is introduced who did not appear in any earlier obligation.

Edward Brouker also mentions the obligation wherein Thomas Lovelake of Sonning and Thomas Jennyns stand bound to Richard Mayle and others of the parish of Hungerford, the condition of which is that they (i.e. Lovelake and Jennyns) should not vex or trouble the town concerning the 2 tenements and 16 acres. Richard Mayle describes confidently 'an obligation concerning an arbitrement wherein Thomas Jennyns of Hungerford and Thomas Lovelake of Sonning stand bound in £100 to the inhabitants of Hungerford etc.'.

Various questions still arise: What part does Thomas Lovelake have in all this? Why, if the quitclaim of Thomas Jennyns stands, should John Lovelake (or anyone else) be concerned about the documents relating to the town house and lands? Why if Henry Edes wished to claim Lovelake's house do we find Edes and John Lovelake allies in Lovelake's defence? Why, if Lovelake is a former churchwarden does he seem to be on such bad erms with his local vicar, apparently preferring to visit a neighbouring vicar when he requires documents translated?

The one thing that does seem evident is that the utmost confusion reigns as to proprietorship of lands originally, we may believe, bequeathed to town and/or to church, especially where essential documents of proof are missing. A system of feoffees would always tend to break down as the older feoffees died and inadequate steps were taken, or no steps at all were taken, to replace them by new and younger feoffees. Where the number of feoffees was small, the problem became accentuated as there might be no one to check the difference between tenancy and possession. Many lands originally devised as a gift might therefore become, almost insensibly, the 'property' of a surviving feoffee or his descendant. This process was accentuated by the dissolution of the land-holding institutions such as the monasteries, the chantries, the priories and hospitals, and of such customs as church obits etc. With the destruction of these institutions came the loss of their records and the loss of continuity in their accountability. How this operated may be seen by following through a further charge laid against Henry Edes by the militant John Yewle.

'And moreover,' Yewle thundered, 'Edes would have the said jury to present that one close called Prayes with 11 acres of land thereunto belonging to be the freehold of the said Henry Edes, whereas the said close and 11 acres of land is parcell of the lease that Nicholas Passion holdeth of the chantry in Hungerford and payeth rent therefor to the Queen's Majesty's use.' This dispute between Edes and Nicholas Passion in fact forms the basis for a case William Curteis v Nicholas Passion in 1578. Curteis married Edes' widow who had inherited Edes' lease from the Crown of the dissolved chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the lands and tenements which it had held. This lease, granted in 1566 for 21 years at an annual rental payable to the Queen of £9 9s. 10d, included 'a burgage with a cottage thereunto adjoining situate in Hungerford, and also of fifty and one acres of arable land lying in the fields of Hungerford, Sandon and the Hillfield and of one meadow called Dayfield and of one close called Prayes Barn with their appurtenances'. (Note: Hillfield is probably the field earlier known as la Hulle). Of this lot the earlier feoffees of the chantry had let the burgage, the cottage and 31 acres plus the meadow of Dayfield to William Lovelake (February 1519) for a 61 year lease commencing in 1525 at a rent of 55s. 8d. Then came the dissolution of the chantry in 1548. In 1554 Nicholas Passion acquired the possession of the estate, interest and term then to come of the premises thus let to Lovelake. Passion sub-let the premises, splitting them up – the burgage and the cottage to Edward Passion and the 31 acres to Ralph Hatt. Curteis claims that since a first payment immediately following the grant of the lease by the Crown to Henry Edes, no payment of rent had been made by either of the Passions or by Hatt. In addition, the two defendants had also taken possession of Prayes Barn together with the remaining 20 acres of the original 51.

In the 1573 survey Nicholas Passion is shown as holding 1 whole burgage and the tenement adjoining, 42 acres of arable land and 2 closes in Sandon Fee. The quit rent due to the queen for these amounted to 23½d. The two closes were described as 'Dasewell' and 'Prayes in Tinknam'. The 42 acres included 1 acre in Billefield, 1 acre in Pidden, 8 acres in Middlefield, 4½ acres in Homefield, 5½ acres in the Breach, 7 acres in Everlong, 6 acres in Westbrokes and '6 acres 4 acres' (sic) in Inkpen fields. This looks like the former chantry property, despite the arithmetical difficulty concerning the arable acres. (But see suggested new arrangement in margin of p15 of the Survey). In the entry concerning the Inkpen fields presumably 6 acres was an error and 4 acres was intended as a correction.

A further entry in the same survey also contains: 'Nicholas Passion: a close called Praise, 11 acres of arable land. Of the chantry of Our lady, quit rent to the Queen 6d'. [Praise close is probably connected with Prayes Lynch which would seem to be the back or boundary between Homefield and Middle Field].

Although Yewle describes Richard Maile as a very poor man he was a landlord and an employer. He held 2 more properties in the 1573 Survey; the parish register records the death of a servant of his in 15 - and of a 'lame boy' whose master he was in 1585. By trade he was a broadweaver.

[Based on P.R.O. Documents:
DL1/94/P8 11 April 1573. Nicholas Passion for the inhabitants of Hungerford v John Lovelake and William Butler.
DL4/15/6. July 1573. Depositions of Witnesses in the above case
For abstracts of these documents, see the bound collections, 'Hungerford Lawsuits' ]
[See also Transactions of Newbury and District Field Club vol.10 no.2 (1954) for P.Walne: 'The Missing Charters of Hungerford' pp.44-49.]