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No names known for 1510-23
|1542||EDWARD HALL I|
|WILLIAM GREY I|
|1545||EDWARD HALL I 1|
|HENRY BLOUNT 2|
|1553 (Mar.)||AMBROSE GILBERD|
|1553 (Oct.)||SIR GEORGE BLOUNT|
|1554 (Apr.)||JEROME HORDE|
|1554 (Nov.)||JOHN HORDE|
|1558||JOHN BROKE II|
|THOMAS BROMLEY II|
Bridgnorth had long been the leading borough in Shropshire after Shrewsbury, but by 1536 so many houses in the town centre were becoming ‘ruinous’ that it was included in the Act for urban renewal (27 Hen. VIII, c.1) and by 1540 the town walls were ‘all in ruin’. An important factor in its prosperity had been trade by the river Severn, navigable from Bristol to Pool Quay in Montgomeryshire, and by the main road linking Bristol, Chester and Shrewsbury. The four annual fairs and the weekly markets attracted trade from a wide area, but the town was beginning to suffer from the decline of the staple industry in the district; according to Leland it had ‘stood by clothing, and that now decayed the town sorely decayeth therewith’. During the period Bridgnorth tanneries were relatively prosperous, and brewing, cap-making and other crafts employed a number of the townsfolk, but the later situation by which there was ‘no general trade to employ the inhabitants in’ might have been foreseen by 1558. Periodic meetings at Bridgnorth of the council in the marches of Wales helped to keep up the impression of a busy and prosperous town.3
An ancient royal borough, never incorporated, which paid an annual fee-farm to the crown, Bridgnorth had charters dating back to the middle of the 12th century. By one of 1446 the leading town officials, the two bailiffs (earlier known as provosts, reeves or occasionally praetors), were to act as justices of the peace and escheators. By the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign there were 24 burgesses, later usually styled aldermen, who sat in the ‘great court’ or ‘great leet’, but the constitution of the full governing body is nowhere defined. A local historian refers to an earlier common council of 48, but if such existed it played little if any part in 16th-century town administration. The bailiffs were elected on St. Matthew’s day (21 Sept.) from among the aldermen by a ‘jury’ of 14 of the Twenty-Four, and took the oath of office on Michaelmas day. There was a recorder, appointed for life by the bailiffs and the Twenty-Four, the first known being Richard Horde, who was in office by 1531. The town clerk was often called the steward because of his position at the courts held at Easter and Michaelmas by the bailiffs, in this case representing the crown as lord of the manor.4
Various local magnates, notably the earls of Shrewsbury, and the lords Stafford, held property in the borough, and successive presidents of the council in the marches of Wales exercised influence there. Until the Dissolution, the abbeys of Buildwas, Crokesden, Haughmond and Wigmore, and Wenlock priory, also owned or leased land within the walls or in the suburbs. When the Bridgnorth chantries and colleges were dissolved the borough itself appears to have gained very little; even the leper hospital of St. James, which had been founded by the townsmen, came into private hands.5
The parliamentary franchise was probably exercised by the bailiffs and the Twenty-Four only. Eight indentures survive, the three earliest (for the Parliaments of 1542, 1547 and March 1553) in Latin, the five Marian ones in English. In December 1541 the contracting parties were the bailiffs and about 12 named burgesses, but all later indentures are between the bailiffs and the sheriff of Shropshire (placed first only in 1547), with that for the Parliament of March 1553 also naming five electors. The English indentures describe the elections as having been carried out ‘by authority of a precept in the Queen’s highness’s name from the ... sheriff unto us [the bailiffs] directed ..., by the assent and consent of the most part of all the burgesses of the said town’. In 1558, although the writ was issued on 6 Dec. 1557 and the shire election held on 13 Jan., Bridgnorth did not draw up its indenture until the 18th, two days before the opening of Parliament; this may indicate that the borough had awaited one nomination or even two.6
There was a strong local element in Bridgnorth elections, but since one of the leading families in the town, the Hordes, was related to prominent Shropshire gentry, among them the Corbets and Blounts, intervention from outside is not easy to discern, especially as the Corbets were themselves closely connected with the earls of Shrewsbury and the council in the marches. (Two country gentlemen related to the Horde family, Edward Grey and Thomas Lacon, have been suggested as the missing Members in 1510 on the insufficient ground that they were made freemen at about the time of the election.) Of the 14 known Members at least seven could be described as townsmen: Humphrey Goldston, George Hayward, Roger Smith and John Horde were ex-bailiffs, John Pulley was later to serve in that office and as town clerk, and both Jerome Horde, a younger brother of John, and William Acton had property in or near the town. The remainder display a variety of connexions. The lawyer William Grey, of Enville, Staffordshire, eight miles distant, was a nephew of Richard Horde, whose name heads the list of electors on the indenture of 20 Dec. 1541 recording Grey’s election. Henry Blount was returned when his elder brother Sir George was a knight of the shire, and Sir George was himself sheriff of Staffordshire when elected for Bridgnorth. Ambrose Gilberd was a lawyer from Suffolk who by 1554 had married the daughter of Sir Robert Townshend of Ludlow, a former vice-president of the council in the marches. Of three other lawyers, Edward Hall had local connexions but was probably a council nominee, and John Broke and Thomas Bromley came from important Shropshire families, Broke’s in particular having long been prominent in Bridgnorth. Legal study or practice in London could also explain Jerome Horde’s election before his elder brother and his four Parliaments to John Horde’s one.7
Author: N. M. Fuidge
- 1. Bridgnorth bor. mss 9(2), f. 558.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, ii. 85, 86; iv. 168; HMC 10th Rep. IV, 424-7; S. Bagshaw, Bridgnorth, 616-21; VCH Salop, i. 423; J. F. A. Mason, Bridgnorth, 6-8, 15, 17, 38; R. W. Eyton, Antiqs. Salop, i. 259; W. Watkins-Pitchford, ‘Port of Bridgnorth’, Trans. Caradoc and Severn Valley Field Club, ix(4), 216-33; Anon. Bridgnorth (1821), 8-10.