This archive primarily consists of the records of the governing bodies of Preston prior to the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835. However a few records of the post- 1835 borough are included (CNP 5), while some records relating to the earlier authorities are to be found in the main Preston Borough Council archive, q.v. (CBP).
The administration of Preston can be divided into four periods: pre-1566, 1566-1835, 1835-1974, post-1974.
Borough administration pre-1566
The early administration of Preston is unclear but it is thought to have consisted of the burgesses sitting as the portmoot, deriving their authority from charters and the custumal. The date of the latter (listing all the rights and customs of the borough) is uncertain, but internal evidence suggests it dates from between c.1179 and c.1328 (see Crosby, A.G., The History of Preston Guild, Preston 1991 p. 14).
The earliest extant charter is that of King John (1199), which confirms an earlier grant of Henry II (c.1179). A charter dated 1100 was declared in 1611 to have been seen by Sir Thomas Walmysley (see CNP 3/1/8) which has led to much discussion (see Crosby, op. cit. pp. 12-13 and Clemesha, H.W., A Bibliography of the History of Preston..., Preston 1923, p. 1).
The 1179 charter confirmed to the burgesses of Preston all the liberties and free customs which had been granted earlier to Newcastle under Lyme. This included the right to hold a Guild Merchant. Subsequent charters increased the rights of the burgesses: notably an eight day fair granted in 1199, and a weekly market on Wednesdays and an additional fair granted in 1328. Two other charters were granted, in 1227 and 1252, but these along with that of 1328 are no longer extant.
Borough administration, 1566-1835
In 1566, Elizabeth I granted the charter of incorporation to the Borough. Incorporation meant that the mayor, bailiffs and burgesses would henceforth act as a single body, with corporate (joint) responsibility; prior to this, they had acted, in the eyes of the law, as individuals, and so were individually responsible for the finances, debts etc. of the borough. A common council was to administer the town, whose members were the mayor, two bailiffs and 24 capital burgesses.
At the end of the Civil War, Charles II granted a charter to the borough in 1662, in which greater emphasis is placed on ensuring the loyalty of the mayor and burgesses to the Crown. In 1684 this charter was surrendered to the Judge Jeffries of Bloody Assize fame. The reason for this is uncertain but H.W. Clemesha suggests in his History of Preston in Admounderness, M.U.P., 1912 p. 176 that the reason was political. The Whig party had fallen from favour in London, and in order to encourage Tory support there and in the boroughs, charters were withdrawn, ensuring that new ones were sought. The new charters were presumably to be granted to Tory sympathisers; in the case of Preston, John Kellet was named as Mayor, with Robert Pigot and Daniel Dunster as bailiffs. Judge Jeffries corresponded with the mayor at this time, and a letter promising to help the borough in procuring a new charter, survives in the archive (CNP 3/1/10). For the first time the office of alderman is mentioned in a charter, although the position was known to have existed prior to this date. The seven men to hold the office are named, as are the 17 capital burgesses.
The composition of the common council remained thus (i.e. mayor, two bailiffs, seven aldermen, and 17 capital burgesses) until the Municipal Corporation Act of 1835 was implemented.
However by the early nineteenth century, the town council had fallen into disrepute, and in 1815 a private act of Parliament was passed creating a body of Improvement Commissioners. This body co-existed with the Common Council, and survived the 1835 reforms, until 1850 when under the Public Health Act, 1848, their powers passed to the Borough Council. Those powers concerned lighting, paving, policing and licensing, and the provision of firemen and watchmen.
For records of the Borough, 1566-1835 see CNP 3 and of the Improvement Commissioners see CNP 4 and CBP 53
Borough administration, 1835-1974
As a result of the Municipal Corporation Act, 1835, the office of bailiff disappeared from the official title of the Borough. The Council was to be composed of the mayor, 12 aldermen and 36 councilmen, the mayor being selected from either group. The borough was divided into six wards, each ward electing 6 members. The aldermen were chosen from among the councilmen or from the burgesses.
For records see CNP 5, and CBP
Borough administration post-1974
As a result of the Local Government Act 1972, a new local authority was created. To ensure the new authority retained all the rights and privileges granted by the earlier charters, Queen Elizabeth confirmed them by a charter of 27 Feb. 1974 (CNP 1/14).
Although the Portmoot as an administrative body ceased to function from 1566, it still met three times a year as a court. One meeting was not judicial: this was the Mayor's Court, or Great Court of Election, when twenty four of the burgesses chose the mayor, the town's bailiff and town's sergeant (also known as the sub-bailiff). The twenty four electors had been chosen beforehand by two men known as the eleisors (one chosen by the mayor, one by the capital burgesses). The mayor's bailiff and mayor's sergeant (also known as sergeant at mace) were in turn chosen by the mayor.
The other courts were the two Great Court Leets, held a month after Easter and Michaelmas, before the mayor, bailiffs and steward (from 1685 known as the recorder). An additional court was held - the Court of Inquest or Inquisition of Office - which was probably an intermediate session between the two Great Court Leets. The work of these courts fell into decline, as people preferred to use the sessions court of the county justices, and seems to have ceased sitting by 1835.
The mayor sat as a Justice of the Peace in the Borough Quarter Sessions court from 1566. Three additional justices were appointed by the charter of 1685. By 1828 the population in the town had increased by an estimated 6-fold, with a resultant increase in crime, and so a charter was granted that year to increase the number of borough justices to ten. Few records of this court have survived (see CNP 3 below, and CBP 56), and indeed Clemesha, writing in 1912, (see Bibliography op cit. p. 3) lists only one item. He suggests there and in his History op. cit p. 235, that prisoners were more often tried before the county quarter sessions justices rather than the borough justices.
There was another court - the Borough Court of Common Pleas, or Town's Court of Trials. This was established by the 1566 charter and was held initially before the mayor, bailiff and steward, but from 1685, before the recorder. The small order book (CNP 3/1/3) lists the rules and fees of this court; otherwise a few documents will be found under CBP 57.
Preston was granted the right to hold a guild merchant by the charter of 1179. For a discussion of when the first guild was actually held see Crosby. The first extant guild roll dates from 1397; there is one for 1415 and one for 1459. There is then a gap until 1542 from when the series is complete. The 1459 roll was not deposited with the rest in 1991 and was thought to be lost (though it had been transcribed in 1884 by W A Abram in The Rolls of the Burgesses at the Guild Merchant 1397-1682, Record Society of Lancs and Ches vol 9). However it was later found and deposited in 1997. Abram refers to another roll for 1500 (p. xxii) but states that 'there is no trace of it' and so it had been lost by 1884.
The rolls record the names of all the members of the Guild, i.e. in-burgesses and foreign burgesses. (For a description of the different categories of membership, see Crosby op. cit). People were admitted to the Guild at various times, but once every twenty years the formal court of membership renewal was held. At that time formal orders were passed by the Guild mayor and these are recorded on the rolls, with the words of the oaths to be sworn by the members.
There are two copies of certain of the rolls, viz those for 1582, 1602 and 1622. For 1582 and 1602 there is a parchment roll and a paper volume, and Abram op. cit. p. xxx suggests that the parchment one is the official record and the paper volume a copy (rather than a draft). The 1622 record consists of two paper volumes, one being bound with the paper volume recording the members of the 1642 Guild. Internal evidence suggests that the 1622 part of the composite volume (CNP 2/1/7) is a fair copy of the one for 1622 (CNP 2/1/8), but this contradicts Abram, q.v. (op. cit p. xxxi).
For Guild sub-committee minutes 1950-53 see CBP 53/18