Today we are used to going to our local district council to check on local services, pay local taxes and find out about planning applications. Around here our local district is currently called 'Wychavon'. The District of Wychavon makes up a block of land in south-east Worcestershire that includes the market towns of Pershore, Evesham and Droitwich and all the small villages around them.
The offices keep records that may eventually find their way into the public archives and be useful for heritage detectives but only for records going back to the late 19th century, before that it is to the records of the ancient hundreds that you should turn. This is particularly important in an area as ancient as the area around Pershore with its early Saxon origins.
From late Saxon times until the Local Government Act of 1894 most of the counties of England were divided into hundreds (or wapentakes in eastern England). The hundreds were
the only widely used financial and judicial assessment unit between the parish, with it various administrative functions, and the county with its formal, ceremonial functions.
When they were introduced in Saxon times, between 613 and 1017, a hundred had land sufficient to sustain 100 households. A household was considered to need a hide of land to sustain it and this became to be the unit of assessment for taxation purposes. Initially the area of a hide was not a consistent amount of land as not all land was equally productive, but over time this became to be accepted as 120 acres.
A hundred was headed by a Hundredman (hundred eolder). Within each hundred there was a meeting place where wealthy and powerful men of the hundred would meet to discuss local issues and where the hundred court was held. The name of the hundred was normally the meeting place. Pershore was the name of the hundred of Pershore.
Over time the principle functions of the Hundred Court became the administration of law and the keeping of the peace. By the 12th century the Hundred Court met every three weeks!
The court maintained the system of frankpledge which was formed of 12 freemen (freeholders). They crossed systems of manorial courts, courts leet and courts baron.
Before the Norman Conquest hundreds were divided into tithings, they contained 10 households, the hide was the unit of taxation and the tithingman was responsible for collecting any tax.
From Norman times the hundred would pay geld ( tax) to the king and a Shire-reeve (or sheriff) of the county and two knights from each hundred would work out how much had to be paid before the knights of the hundred and the bailiff had to collect the money for the Sheriff whose job it was to get the money to the king. Click here to check the names of the Sheriffs of Worcestershire
When trying to understand all this it is important to remember just how sparse was the population and how little land was actually cultivated in Saxon times. Remember there was little correlation between the areas of land assessed as a hide. Imagine that most people lived in and cultivated clearings gradually the clearing got bigger and became more productive. When kings gave vast tracts of land to the Church most of it was not cultivated.
There can be confusion here!
Heritage detectives need to make sure they understand as much as they can about parishes.
Parishes have been around a long time but the parishes we mostly talk about today are the civil parishes set up by the Local Government Act of 1894. This act set up parishes as the first or lowest tier of local government.
If you are heritage detective wanting information about a village or market town before 1894 you will need to search for information from the records of the ancient ecclesiastical parishes set up by the Christian church as far back as late Saxon times. Remember, when the land included within the boundary of a parish was first identified everybody was a Christian and attended church by law. Every parish had its own parish church. The Normans, who were also Christians, extended the system of parishes to cover the whole country so everyone lived in a parish. Even after the Reformation the parish, through the parish officer and the vestry, remained a convenient way to administer government at a local level. Church buildings and records are vital sources of information for heritage detectives.
Heritage detectives are also advised to identify the boundaries of the parishes that interest them. Parishes were sometimes, but not always, coterminous with the boundary of a manor. Early parishes would have included a village and perhaps several small settlements within its boundaries. In the large villages which later grew to become towns there may well have been two parishes and two parish churches.
We all belongs to many different types of organisation and subject to different rules and regulations within each, each has to be paid for in some way and has to enforce its own rules and regulations. This has always been the case.
Medieval people were subject to church and civil courts and they paid tithes and taxes to church and state.