Catalogue description Coronership of the Rye District of East Sussex and predecessor jurisdictions

This record is held by East Sussex Record Office

Details of SHE/2
Reference: SHE/2
Title: Coronership of the Rye District of East Sussex and predecessor jurisdictions

Table of contents


Introduction and tables


SHE/2/1 Appointments and associated papers, 1838-1865


SHE/2/2 Returns to the Home Office and Parliament and associated papers, 1832-1959


SHE/2/3 Returns of deodands to the King's Remembrancer's Office and associated papers, 1834-1844


SHE/2/4 Papers relating to civil registration, 1837-1852


SHE/2/5 Returns to the clerk of peace and associated papers, 1837-1861


SHE/2/6 Inquest papers retained as precedents, 1807-1844


SHE/2/7 Inquest papers, 1844, 1848-1849, 1859-1866, 1869, 1925-1959


SHE/2/8 Memorandums and correspondence concerning inquests, c1810-1942


SHE/2/9 Correspondence relating to the promotion of legislation to reform the law relating to coroners' remuneration, 1827-1860


SHE/2/10 Press cuttings relating to coroners' cases, c1844


SHE/2/11 Textbooks relating to the office of coroner, published 1842-1854


SHE/2/12 Papers derived from the former Rye Borough Coroner's jurisdiction, 1806-1841


SHE/2/13 Miscellaneous, c1808




The Rye District was created as a result of the death of Dr Thomas Tomkinson Harratt, the Rye coroner, on 15 February 1940. The post was advertised by the County Council but the only applicant was Frederick Charles Sheppard, the franchise coroner for the Rape of Hastings, who was ineligible because he failed to meet the residence qualifications. As a result of that impasse, Sheppard agreed to resign his franchise appointments and an order was granted by the Home Secretary altering the existing division of the county into coroners' districts with effect from 1 October 1940. The former Rye District, which covered the areas of jurisdiction of the former Rye and Winchelsea borough coroners and parts of the parishes of Pett and Broomhill, was amalgamated with those of the franchise coroners of the Rape of Hastings and the hundreds of Battle, Bexhill, Foxearle, Gostrow and Robertsbridge, to form a new Rye District. An opportunity was also taken to revise the coroner's salary, which had remained at the rate set in 1860; the revision had been a condition of Sheppard's acceptance of the new post.


With the exception of the jurisdictions contained within the former Rye District, all but one of the franchise coronerships had, from at least the early 18th century, been in the hands of solicitors practising in Battle. Although the lords of the smaller franchises traditionally appointed their own country solicitor as coroner, there was an increasing tendency, no doubt encouraged by the clerk of the peace, to appoint the holder of the coronership of the Rape, itself the subject of an appointment by the Pelham family as overlords.


For those reasons, the descents of the different jurisdictions mirror the histories of a number of solicitors' firms in Battle and Hastings, at least during the period represented by these records. For example, the appointment of George Tilden as coroner of the Rape in 1737 was followed by that of his son John Tilden in 1765. On Tilden's death in 1810 the office passed to a different firm, and was held for nine years by the Hastings solicitor William Thorpe, who also acted for the Pelhams, but it returned to the Battle practice in 1819 with the appointment of Tilden's partner and successor Thomas Barton, who had retained the appointments for the franchises of Battle, Robertsbridge and Foxearle on Tilden's death.


On the death of Barton's partner Thomas Charles Bellingham in 1838 the practice lost all its appointments, with the exception of that of the hundred of Foxearle, and the offices, apart from that of the hundred of Robertsbridge, passed to Nathaniel Polhill Kell, another Battle attorney and the son of a partner of the former clerk of the peace; he gained the Foxearle appointment four years later. His appointments may be found at SHE/2/1.


On Kell's death in 1865 the appointments passed to his partner Charles Sheppard, who became coroner in all jurisdictions within the rape apart from those of the boroughs of Hastings, Rye and Winchelsea on his appointment as coroner of Robertsbridge hundred on the death of Edwin Martin in 1871. The firm of Charles Sheppard and Sons retained the appointments until the retirement of Frederic Charles Sheppard in 1960.


The client bill books of the Battle solicitors' practice owned successively by George and John Tilden, Thomas Barton and T C Bellingham (RAF SHE/1/2) contain regular accounts for the holding of inquests, prepared for their submission to the clerk of the peace for a claim of fees under the act of 1752 (25 Geo 2 c29); the bills themselves are filed on the quarter sessions rolls (Q/R) from that year. Both these classes have been used to identify and date the group of miscellaneous inquest papers listed as SHE/2/6 and 2/8.


Many papers relating to the several jurisdictions were passed to Kell by Bellingham's executors in 1838; although the inquest papers themselves (SHE/2/7) begin only in 1844, other classes of subsidiary and supporting documents survive from half a century earlier. For a list of what was transferred, see SHE/2/1/8.


As well as papers concerned with inquests, these classes include a collection of cuttings of inquest reports from newspapers compiled by Kell, a group of printed legal and medical textbooks owned by Kell and Sheppard, and correspondence received by all the coroners in connection with nationally organised campaigns to reform the law relating to their office.


For the history of Sussex coronerships, see the introduction to R F Hunnisett, Sussex Coroners' Inquests, 1485-1558 (Sussex Record Society 74, 1985), and Coroners in Eastern Sussex: Jurisdictions and Records in the searchroom.


These documents were extensively used by Olive Anderson in Suicide in Victorian and Edwardian England (Oxford, 1987), especially chapter 5.


I should like to thank Dr Hunnisett for his help in the compilation of the tables and his helpful comments on a draft of the list.


Franchise coroners acting within the area of the Rye District of East Sussex before 1940


The Rape of Hastings


William James Acting 23 Mar and c28 Apr 1472


Nicholas Tufton Acting 28 Mar 1498 - 13 Jun 1504, 14 Jan 1515 - 1 Dec 1531


Richard Sharp Acting 10 Oct 1533 - 18 Sep 1552


William Playfair Acting 13 Nov 1566 - 30 Apr 1594; defaulted at assizes 29 Jul 1594 - 18 Jul 1595; either William or Samuel Playfair held an inquest on 9 Sep 1595


Samuel Playfair Defaulted at assizes 23 Feb 1596; acting 24 May 1596, 19 Mar 1597, 3 Oct 1597; attended assizes 21 Jul 1598 - 30 Mar 1599; acting 26 Jan 1600 - 4 Jul 1613


Henry St Barbe Attended assizes 9 Jul 1596 - 17 Feb 1598; defaulted 19 Jul 1599


John Butcher Attended assizes 25 Jul 1614, 8 Jul 1616 - 21 Jul 1617


Alexander Butcher Attended assizes 17 Jul 1615


Thomas Butcher Acting 4 Mar 1622 - 12 Aug 1645


George Courthope Acting 15 May 1646 - 28 Jul 1654


William Cook Acting 26 Mar 1658 - 28 Mar 1662


John Purfield Acting 17 Dec 1666, 5 Apr 1687


George Tilden Appointed 1737


John Tilden 1765 - 1810


William Thorpe 1810 - 1819


Thomas Barton 1819 - 1830


Thomas Charles Bellingham 1830 - 1838


Nathaniel Polhill Kell 1838 - 1865


Charles Sheppard 1865 - 1916


Frederic Charles Sheppard 1916 - 1960


The hundred of Battle


Ralph de Greston Acting Nov 1255 - Nov 1262


Reynold de Beche Elected 14 Apr 1305


John de Loxbeech Acting 3 Jun 1337


William Goldsmith Acting 19 Jul 1378


John Buckland Acting 4 Jan 1486


John Wildgoose Acting 4 Jul 1507, 19 Jun 1509, 4 Mar 1522


Stephen Cutlaffe Acting 19 Jun 1509


Edward Field Acting 1 Jun - 2 Jul 1520


Robert Chalcroft Acting 4 Mar 1522


John Downton Acting 3 Jun 1578, 8 Feb 1582, 2 Apr 1592


John Aynscombe Acting 4 May 1619


George Cole Acting 17 May and 12 Nov 1622, 14 Nov 1628


Charles Nairn Acting 1766 [? on death of George Worge]


John Tilden Acting c1780


Thomas Barton Acting 1810


Thomas Charles Bellingham 1830


The appointments then follow those for the Rape of Hastings


The hundred of Bexhill


Thomas Welsh Acting 27 Jun 1578 - 15 Apr 1581


Thomas Woodgate Acting 22 Aug 1600


From 1760 the appointments follow those of the Rape of Hastings


The hundred of Foxearle


As the Rape of Hastings until


James Bellingham 1838


Nathaniel Polhill Kell 1842


The appointments then follow those of the Rape of Hastings


The hundred of Gostrow


Christopher Wigsell Acting 9 Oct 1545 - 18 Jul 1546


John Downton Acting 15 Jul 1598


Anthony Tuttesham Acting 1 Oct 1628


Henry English Acting 20 Dec 1634


Richard Coleman Acting 8 Mar 1680


George Worge Acting 25 Nov 1751; Henry Dodson [of Rye] deputy


Joseph Acton Acting 1768


John Tilden Acting c1780


The appointments then follow those of the Rape of Hastings


The hundred of Robertsbridge


Charles Nairn 1766 [? on the death of George Worge]


John Tilden 1780


Thomas Barton 1810


Thomas Charles Bellingham 1830


James Martin 1838


Edwin Martin 1846


Charles Sheppard 1872


The appointments then follow those of the Rape of Hastings

Date: 1806-1959
Held by: East Sussex Record Office, not available at The National Archives
Language: English
Physical description: 13 series
  • Rye, East Sussex
  • Winchelsea, East Sussex
  • Hastings, East Sussex
  • Pett, East Sussex
  • Broomhill, East Sussex
  • Battle, East Sussex
  • Battle Hundred, East Sussex
  • Bexhill Hundred, East Sussex
  • Foxearle Hundred, East Sussex
  • Gostrow Hundred, East Sussex
  • Robertsbridge Hundred, East Sussex
  • Death

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