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Borough and Manor

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From the beginning of the fourteenth century the records indicate a clear distinction between the borough and manor, usually called the manor of Erbury or of Stoke and Chilton. We do not know when the borough was created; but in view of the fact that there was a market in late Saxon and Norman times it seems likely that one of the first Clare lords deliberately separated the area around the church and market from the manor, gave its inhabitants special privileges and received dues from them. The borough was small in size: north to south it stretched from Gosford Street to the end of the Nethergate; east to west it extended from the Pysenebregge to the Hawedych (which may indeed have been dug as a boundary); the castle bailey was not included. The manor lay outside, covering Chilton on the north, stretching westwards toward Stoke, halfway to Cavendish on the east, while the river Stour marked its southern boundary. In all probability the administrative centre of the manor was at some point north of Sheepgate Lane, beyond the common.

During the Middle Ages Clare had the title of borough in official documents. It had a select number of burgesses who held their property by burgage tenure, paying money rent and not owing servile dues as did the manorial tenants, and who were privileged to enjoy special rights in the market. There is some reference to a market court; and in the borough court officials were elected yearly, including the bailiffs, constables and aletasters. The bailiffs, first mentioned in t 1273, were the chief administrative officials of the borough. In the early fifteenth century the burgesses obtained the farm of the market, thus paying a lump sum to the lord instead of miscellaneous dues; but beyond this they did not succeed in extending their privileges, and Clare never became a chartered borough, sending members to parliament, as did Sudbury in the sixteenth century.

The reason for this arrested development is not far to seek. Clare was the centre of the extensive lands belonging to the Honor of Clare in the eastern counties. The courts of the honor, as well as of borough and manor, were held by the lord's steward in the moothall at Clare. The lords were often in residence, and their great officials, steward, marshal, constable and others were normally at the castle. As a result the town was easily overawed, and it had little chance of free development.

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