East Grinstead

Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Elections

DateCandidate
1386
1388 (Feb.)John Dyne II
 John Heldele
1388 (Sept.)William Nelond
 Richard Woghere
1390 (Jan.)
1390 (Nov.)
1391John Alfray I
 John Dyne II
1393Thomas Alleyn
 Thomas Rasse
1394
1395Thomas Farlegh
 William atte Hull
1397 (Jan.)John Dyne II
 John Punget
1397 (Sept.)John Dyne II
 John Punget
1399John Dyne II
 Richard Woghere
1401
1402John Dyne II
 Richard Woghere
1404 (Jan.)
1404 (Oct.)
1406
1407John Dyne II
 Richard Woghere
1410
1411
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)Thomas Alleyn
 John Hoke
1414 (Apr.)
1414 (Nov.)John Dyne II
 John Woghere
1415
1416 (Mar.)John Ermyte
 John Mason
1416 (Oct.)
1417
1419William Fenningham
 John Hamme
1420
1421 (May)Richard Fowell II
 John Woghere
1421 (Dec.)John Alfray II
 John Woghere

Main Article

East Grinstead, situated in the midst of royal forests, passed in 1372 into the possession of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, together with Ashdown forest, the manor of Willingdon and Maresfield, and the rape and castle of Pevensey, after the duke had formally surrendered to the Crown certain other properties in the east of the county. Little of significance is recorded of the town previously, and, although there had been 23 taxpayers there in 1332 (of whom the wealthiest paid 13s.10d., the rest 5s.4d. or less) and 16 in 1341, there is no indication of the size of its population later on in the century.1 The inhabitants regularly paid John of Gaunt and his heir, Henry IV, annual rents of assize fixed at 26s.d., a tax called ‘stretgavel’ assessed at 5s. a year, and 20s. p.a. for land held in common, together with variable dues such as rent for the butchers’ shambles in the High Street. Perquisites from the borough court (no more than 7s.6d. a year), together with those of the more profitable hundred court, ranged from £1 3s. to £2 17s. annually in the period 1382 to 1409 (that is, until Henry IV granted East Grinstead along with other duchy estates in the county to his henchman (Sir) John Pelham*). Tolls collected in the marketplace never amounted to more than one mark in the course of a year. The official given responsibility for accounting for these issues to the duchy was called bailiff, but whether he owed his appointment to the lord or to free election by the townspeople is uncertain. It was quite common for a bailiff to serve for two or more consecutive years: thus, Thomas Wykes held the post from 1384 to 1388, and Thomas Cook from 1397 to 1402 and again throughout the period 1406-9.2 That the Sussex assizes were sometimes held at East Grinstead may be attributed more to the town’s convenient location in the north of the county, from the justices’ point of view, than to its intrinsic importance as a centre of administration or trade.

East Grinstead had first made returns to the Commons in 1301, but until John of Gaunt became its lord it was represented in no more than one out of every three Parliaments summoned. From 1372 onwards elections were held with greater regularity, but even so for the period 1386 to 1421 returns survive for only 16 of the 32 assemblies called. The names of East Grinstead’s representatives for 1386 and January 1390 have long since been torn off the returns, but it would seem that in 1401, 1406, 1417 and 1420, when other Sussex boroughs are known to have responded to the sheriff’s precept to hold elections, East Grinstead apparently neglected to do so. Of the 18 men recorded as representing the borough in our period, nine evidently only did so once and four just twice. But a few were returned quite frequently: John Dyne II was elected nine times between 1383 and 1414, Richard Woghere the same number between 1378 and 1407, and John Woghere (perhaps Richard’s son) six between 1414 and 1437. John Mason, who has not been satisfactorily identified, may have been the man of that name who had earlier represented Lewes; while more certainly William Fenningham’s three appearances in the Lower House for East Grinstead were interspersed with one for Midhurst and one for Arundel. In four of the 16 Parliaments where the names of the MPs are recorded the borough was represented entirely by men with previous experience of the workings of the Commons, and in perhaps nine more one such individual accompanied an apparent newcomer. It may have been the case that in the Parliaments of 1393, 1395 and 1419 both of East Grinstead’s Members were novices, but given the number of gaps in the returns this is unlikely on all three occasions.

Besides the Wogheres, with their combined experience of 15 Parliaments, the Alfrays could also boast of a tradition of parliamentary service for their home town; indeed, four generations of their family produced Members of the Commons in the years from 1360 to 1478. However, their participation did not amount to much in our period, for John Alfray I and his son, John II, were elected to only three Parliaments between them. The place of residence of as many as nine of the parliamentary burgesses has not been discovered, although there is no reason to believe that any of these obscure individuals lived anywhere other than at East Grinstead, where all the rest did. Some of the more affluent of their number acquired land elsewhere, such as at Worth (the Alfrays), across the border with Surrey at Lingfield (Thomas Alleyn and John Woghere), or at Horsted Keynes (William Nelond), and for lack of evidence to the contrary it may perhaps be assumed that many of them made a living from farming. William Fenningham was out of the ordinary in being a lawyer. After a career as an attorney both at the local assizes and in the central courts, in the course of which three Sussex boroughs elected him to Parliament, he became a landowner and ‘gentleman’.

Only three of the 18 MPs are recorded serving as bailiffs of East Grinstead (Thomas Alleyn and Richard Woghere for two terms each, and John Punget for three); and an office-holder was only once returned to the Commons throughout the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV (in April 1384, during one of Woghere’s bailiffships). None of East Grinstead’s Members was ever singled out for service in posts in the Crown’s appointment, nor even as royal commissioners, with the exception of John Alfray II, who was once named as a collector of parliamentary subsidies in the shire as a whole.

Author: L. S. Woodger

Notes