Notes on Bridgwater’s Town Clerk

Portrait of Paul Octavious Hawthorne Reed, by Frederick Brueton. Reed for Town Clerk for Bridgwater for many years, and one of the town’s solicitors. Here he is in his official robes. Portrait owned by Bridgwater Town Council and on display in the Town Hall.

By T Bruce Dilks, from the Bridgwater Town Council Archive BRITC : 2013/55/5

Bridgwater was created a mesne bourough by King John in 1200. Under a Charter of King Edward IV it received a Mayor. This was in 1468.

In the pre-mayoral days it is possible to discriminate between two sides of the town administration the provostry and the Community.

(1) The provostry represents the lords of the Borough. Two provosts or reeves preside over his Borough Court monthly and has view of Frank pledge. They are responsible to the Lords for his dues (I have said they preside. Rather I think there was a steward who presided over the Courts, but the reeves were responsible for the monies).

(2) The community – the burgesses – had at first no officials and so no money store of their own. But they adopted the structure of the Gild Merchants. Its officers – two stewards – became the stewards of the community – the common stewards – up to the time of the establishment of the mayorality. The bailiff of the Stewards became the bailiff of the community as distinct from the bailiffs of the reeves.

It is on the side of the community that we must look for the forerunner of the Town Clerk.

The first mention of the Clerk of the Community occurs in the account of the baliff of the Community for the year March 1399 ? March 1400. there is a payment of 2d. to the Clerk of the Community for parchment and another of 6s. 8d. For his stipend. In the accounts of 1431-32 we have now in English: “Item to ye Comyn Clerke 6s. 8d.” In 1440-41 he is described as “common clerk of the common stewards and the common bailiff” and is in receipt of the same salary. Later he is the “clerk of the common stewards of the Gild of Brigge”. In 1444-45 he is given 10s. of which it is possible that 3s. 4d. as for the clerk who wrote the account for later his stipend is again 6s. 8d.

After the mayorality was established in 1468 it may be presumed that the office of the Town Clerk was completely recognised as a borough function and assumed the duties, gradually enlarged, which it discharged to-day. From the account rolls of the water bailiffs of Henry VII’s and Henry VIII’s reigns we learn that the annual payments to the chief officials were then:-

to the Mayor £5
to the Recorder 20s
to the Water Bailiff 15s 4d
to the Town Clerk 26s 8d

Dr Peter Cattermol 1 March 2013 revised 14 April 2013.