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


1386John Aubyn
 Richard atte Mere
1388 (Feb.)John Chaunce I
 Thomas Ballard
1388 (Sept.)John Aubyn
 William Bone
1390 (Jan.)John Aubyn
 William Bone
1390 (Nov.)
1391Roger Chaunce I
 William Bone
1393John Aubyn
 John Bavell
1395John Skinner II
 John Bavell
1397 (Jan.)John Skinner II
 John Bavell
1397 (Sept.)John Skinner II
 Richard atte Mere
1399John Skinner II
 Roger Chaunce I
1402Richard Turner
 Thomas Barber III
1404 (Jan.)
1404 (Oct.)
1406John Chaunce II
 John Taylor
1407John Chaunce II
 Thomas Barber III
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)
1414 (Apr.)
1414 (Nov.)John Skinner III
 Roger Chaunce II
1415John Skinner III
 Walter Wrigge
1416 (Mar.)
1416 (Oct.)
1417John Knight
 John Chaunce II
1419John Pope II
 John Chaunce II
1420John Pope II
 John Skinner III
1421 (May)John Pope II
 Walter Urry
1421 (Dec.)Robert Wanford
 Roger Chaunce II

Main Article

The area around Reigate was occupied from prehistoric times, although the town owed its origins to William de Warenne, earl of Surrey, who built a castle on his land there at the end of the 11th century. He was lord of the manor of Reigate, or Cherchfelle, as the small agricultural settlement was then known, and his newly built castle, which lay within the confines of the manor but some distance from the existing village, soon attracted a community of tradespeople, labourers and husbandmen from the surrounding countryside. The castle, and thus the town, occupied an important strategic position; it commanded one of the main routes from London to the south coast, and also lay on the principal east-west road along the Holmesdale valley which connected all the other towns at the foot of the North Downs. This road lay parallel to the old track known as the Pilgrims’ Way, but, like Bletchingley, Reigate developed because of its proximity to the newer valley road.1 Throughout the Middle Ages the townspeople looked to agriculture as their major source of revenue. Most of those who were not farmers earned a living by buying and selling dairy produce and grain, although there were other industries in the area. From 1086, if not before, the greensand formation which extended from Reigate to Limpsfield was quarried to provide firestone for local use. The stone gradually became more popular, so that by the late 13th century it was being requisitioned for various royal building programmes. The Reigate quarries provided considerable quantities of material for Edward III’s works at Windsor and Westminster, while the local parks were a source of high-quality timber which was also very much in demand at this time. In 1347, for example, John de Warenne sent a consignment of wood to help build the Black Prince’s residences at Kennington and Byfleet. Loads of Reigate timber also formed a regular part of London’s fuel supplies, and a number of charcoal burners lived in the borough during the medieval period. This part of Surrey was rich in natural resources: deposits of fine white sand were used for building purposes as far afield as Essex, and beds of Wealden clay gave rise to brick, tile and pottery making on the manor of Reigate. Tiles appear to have been manufactured on a fairly impressive scale, sometimes as a result of orders placed by the clerk of the King’s works, who did business with artisans in the neighbourhood. By far the most famous local product was fuller’s earth, a rare commodity of great importance to the cloth industry, which was dug from pits found only in the Reigate and Nutfield area.2

Yet despite the many physical advantages of its situation, the borough of Reigate was essentially dependent upon the castle and the impetus which this gave to its economic development. The earls of Surrey were holding a weekly market in the town before 1276, a right which was legally established, together with their claim to three fairs every year, during the quo warranto proceedings held shortly afterwards. A royal charter of 1312 confirmed them in their privileges, although the burgesses of Reigate rather than the earls were probably the chief beneficiaries of the award.3 It seems unlikely that the owners of the borough derived much in the way of profits from the markets or fairs: Reigate had a small population and, as the tax returns of 1332 reveal, it was poorer than at least ten other Surrey towns. The 37 burgesses then rich enough to qualify for taxation paid a total of £3 12s.d., while the 68 taxpayers living outside the borough but on the manor of Reigate produced a further £5 9s.d. Neither return altered significantly over the following century, which was evidently a period of stagnation as far as the prosperity of the townspeople was concerned.4

Reigate was a mesne borough, owned successively by the Warenne earls of Surrey and the Fitzalan earls of Arundel. It was not incorporated until the 19th century, largely because of its very limited economic and administrative importance. Indeed, it would probably not have acquired burghal status at all but for the power and influence of the Warennes, who almost certainly engineered its representation in Parliament during the later Middle Ages. Reigate had become a borough by the time of Hamelin de Warenne, who died in 1202; and it was represented as such by its own jury at the eyre from 1235 onwards. Some 65 years later the burgesses joined together to complain about the oppressive behaviour of the sheriff, but no other references to corporate actions of this kind have survived.5 Indeed, the townspeople felt little need to organize themselves on a formal basis. During the Middle Ages they had no mayor, nor did they belong to any guild merchant or fraternity. Administrative as well as legal matters were dealt with at the lord’s court and view of frankpledge, which took place regularly in the presence of the town’s two constables and bailiff. One of the constables was responsible for the safe-keeping of prisoners in Reigate castle, although not enough evidence has survived for us to determine exactly how else their duties were shared. All these officers were answerable to a steward, who during our period was appointed by the Fitzalan earls of Arundel. The castle was of great importance to the earls, and they invariably visited it while touring their estates. In 1397 Richard, earl of Arundel, fled there to escape the wrath of Richard II, although he was treacherously persuaded to leave, and died on the block after being taken prisoner. The buildings must still have been sound at this time, but decay had set in by 1441, when the houses within the walls were said to be uninhabitable. Lambard refers to ‘the ruins and rubbish of an old castle’, which none the less retained some military value until the 17th century.6

Save for a brief period following Earl Richard’s attainder, when all the Arundel estates were held by John Holand, duke of Exeter, Reigate belonged to the Fitzalans from 1347 onwards. On the death of Richard’s son, Thomas, in 1415, it became part of the dower held by the widowed countess Beatrice who lived on until 1439.7 The family’s undoubted influence in the borough does not, however, appear to have been much exercised in the matter of parliamentary representation, since during the 14th and early 15th centuries local men were customarily returned. Because Reigate was a small borough whose residents were almost all connected with the lord in one way or another most of the MPs had some dealings with the Fitzalans or their agents, although this obviously cannot be taken as evidence of electoral management.

Reigate first returned burgesses to Parliament in 1295, although it was not until 1350 that the borough was represented on a fairly regular basis and elections ceased to be sporadic events. Returns have survived for 20 of the 32 Parliaments of our period. We have no information as to who sat for Reigate on any of the other occasions, which makes it impossible to be certain about the parliamentary experience of the 19 men whom we know to have been elected between 1386 and 1421. Allowing for the limitations of the evidence, five of them were apparently returned only once, four were returned at least twice and three at least three times. Seven MPs had rather more impressive records, probably because the size of the borough and the problem of finding suitable candidates obliged the more influential residents to offer themselves repeatedly for election. At all events, three of them sat in four (or more) Parliaments, and two (Roger Chaunce I and John Bavell) in five; John Aubyn attended six, and John Chaunce II seven. Either through necessity or choice the people of Reigate were almost always represented by at least one Member with previous experience of the parliamentary scene. Only in 1402 and 1414 (Nov.) do both Members appear to have been novices, but we cannot be certain because of the gaps in the returns. In no less than ten of the Parliaments under review both men had sat before, and in at least eight one novice was accompanied by an experienced colleague. Reelection was common throughout the late 14th and early 15th centuries. John Aubyn served consecutively in 1385 and 1386 and again, with William Bone, in 1388 (Sept.) and 1390 (Jan.). John Skinner II sat in four consecutive Parliaments between 1395 and 1399, complete representative continuity being assured in 1397 (Jan.) with the re-election of his colleague, John Bavell. John Skinner III was reelected in 1415, John Chaunce II in 1419 and John Pope II in 1420 and 1421 (May). So far as is known, Walter Urry was the only MP to be returned for another constituency during this period, having twice represented his native Horsham before he first sat for Reigate in 1421 (May). He alone possessed the influence and resources to become a shire knight, which he did in 1435 when the electors of Sussex sent him to Parliament.

Urry also stands out among the Reigate MPs because he seems to have been the only outsider to represent the borough between 1386 and 1421. Far more is known about him than his colleagues, since hardly any local records have survived to illuminate their careers. Even the more important burgesses, who were probably quite affluent farmers or tradespeople, remain obscure figures, identifiable only through some long-standing family connexion with the area. This is true of no less than seven of the men considered here, whose private affairs and lives outside Parliament are now completely undocumented. We may assume, for example, that the Chaunces and Skinners played a leading part in the life of later medieval Reigate, for they so often provided it with MPs. Thanks to the existence of a few local deeds, at least five more burgesses are known to have held land in or near the borough, while two others appear as the witnesses to property transactions there and perhaps lived in the area. The remaining five MPs cannot now be identified at all, although their very obscurity would suggest that they spent most of their lives in Reigate and were not active elsewhere. With the exception of Walter Urry, who owned a substantial estate in and around Horsham in Sussex, the individuals considered here seem to have been landowners on a modest scale. John Pope may well have held property in the Sussex village of West Hoathley, but so far as we can tell his colleagues did not acquire land in other counties, nor did they build up holdings at any great distance from the borough. If, as seems possible, John Knight had a farm in Wandsworth, he was the only MP with possessions in north Surrey.

No more than two of the men who sat for Reigate during our period ever played any part in local government at a county level, and both had already sat in Parliament before doing so. Roger Chaunce II was appointed three times as a tax collector for Surrey, and Walter Urry served on five commissions in Surrey and Sussex. Whereas in the later 15th century the borough was commonly represented by retainers or employees of the earls of Arundel, who more often than not enjoyed considerable influence in their own right, the burgesses returned during our period seem to have been relatively humble men, whose election can have owed little, if anything, to the Fitzalans. Some may have been employed as constables or bailiffs; others probably farmed land belonging to the earls; but only Walter Urry has the distinction of being returned while in office as steward of the Arundels’ liberties of Lewes and Reigate—a post which he appears to have held for over 24 years. The loss of the borough records and the nature of the returns for Reigate (which form part of a brief schedule either for the whole of Surrey and Sussex or for Surrey alone) mean that hardly anything is known about the election procedure adopted at Reigate or the size of the electorate. The two constables made the return in 1452, although 20 years later their duties were evidently assumed by the bailiff.8 These changes had little practical effect, however, since the presiding constable often acted as bailiff during his term in office. It is unlikely that more than a few burgesses voted at the borough elections; and because of the lack of properly qualified candidates the majority were probably men who had themselves been returned to Parliament.

Author: C.R.


  • 1. W. Hooper, Reigate, 81; VCH Surr. iii. 230, 234.
  • 2. VCH Surr. ii. 277; Hooper, 103, 105-7.
  • 3. VCH Surr. iii. 234; CChR, iii. 194.
  • 4. Surr. Rec. Soc. xi. 5, 39-40, 140.
  • 5. Eng. Med. Bors. ed. Beresford and Finberg, 169; VCH Surr. iii. 234.
  • 6. Hooper, 44-49.
  • 7. CP, i. 242-6.
  • 8. VCH Surr. iii. 234.