Our Council Chamber ~ Not Frozen In Time But Five Hundred Years Of Continuing Tradition

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This is Much Wenlock’s Guildhall, standing in the heart of the town next to the parish church. It was built in 1540 after the dissolution of Wenlock Priory, so marking the end of monastic rule and the growth of secular, civic administration. The ground floor was originally a corn market, and several weekly markets are still held there. The upper floor has a court room, now a museum and gallery, and a council chamber, where our Town Council continues to meet every month.

Surprisingly Much Wenlock has a prestigious civic history for what today seems a small and sleepy town. It was first granted borough status by a Charter from Edward IV in 1468. This was to mark his acknowledgement of the  “’laudable and acceptable services’ of his ‘liege men and residents of the town of Wenlock’ in his gaining of the crown.” Under the Charter the townspeople acquired a certain autonomy and could organise markets and fairs, and have their own officers – a Bailiff and Burgesses to oversee secular matters. The Prior still held sway though, effectively acting as lord of the manor. But after the Dissolution it was down to the Bailiff and Burgesses to run the town.

We will soon all know what these pillars of the community got up to – at least from 1495 to 1810. Extraordinarily, the Borough Minute Book covering 300 years of civic pronouncements and records has survived, and this year the Town Council raised funds to have it conserved and digitised. Now there are teams of volunteers working on the transcription of the entries. There are 800 pages, since the Burgesses who had the book made in 1495 were looking ahead. They were also using a newfangled material – paper. It was expensive stuff too, for during the conservation process it was discovered from the water marks that they had commissioned only the best from a maker in Italy.

The whole thing is quite breath-taking. Almost too much to imagine in our little town of two and half thousand souls; even when we were looking at the newly conserved Minute Book back in September when it was given its first public airing. Our very own half-millennium time machine of bureaucratic declarations and decisions. It will not be a pretty story either, not all of it anyway. There will be hangings, and the poor will be shoved from pillar to post, but within these pages we might also perceive the seeds of English democracy beginning to swell and take root.

Minute Book

Thursday’s Special: tradition

39 thoughts on “Our Council Chamber ~ Not Frozen In Time But Five Hundred Years Of Continuing Tradition

  1. How incredibly exciting!!!! I’m so glad that the Council found funds for preservation. What a brilliant resource for historians and genealogists. This is great Tish. 🙂

    1. Researchers’ heaven, isn’t it. It comes in the wake of a 3 year project transcribing Wenlock’s poor law records – another treasure trove, though many sad tales revealed, as you will surely appreciate.

  2. I like tradition… and history… it was a pleasure reading this post. Was worried that maybe the snow has lasted 500 years; now that would be a bit too much. All the best to you and your fellow citizens in your gorgeous town.

  3. They were also using a newfangled material – paper.

    And sometime in the not too distant future we may well be saying: ”Remember when we used paper?”

    Showed the Guildhall photo to my lot and it received appreciative oohs and aahs.
    Lovely post.

    1. I probably still could volunteer. It was the thought of having to relearn Latin in a new form, and spend hours fathoming handwriting that put me off. Not enough hours in the day 🙂

  4. Wonderful take on this theme, Tish! Fascinating how sleepy Much Wenlock has so much history….. I hardly seemed to see a soul in the place whenever I drove through en route to my parents, around 20 years ago

    1. I’m not exactly sure when or why the ‘Much’ arrived. But there’s also a Little Wenlock a few miles away, also part of the Borough. It may be that the Much is used to distinguish between the actual town and ‘the borough’ which extended for many miles and basically included the lands and properties of the Saxon Abbess and Mercian Princess, Milburga who founded our Priory in 680. In other words, borough here doesn’t mean quite what you think it means. It lasted until 1966. Now we have village status, when once we had 2 MPs to represent the Borough in Parliament. Many thanks for your question 🙂

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