St. Cuthbert's Fee in Stamford

Dr E C Till

This paper was written for the Stamford Historian by the late Dr E C Till.  For this paper, the author has drawn on much original material in a attempt to remove some of the mysteries surrounding this obscure manorial court.

St. Cuthbert’s Fee
A manor with full administrative rights within the general area of a large town manor; such was St Cuthbert’s Fee.
Peck (1)  demonstrates its origins in the extensive grants of lands and tenements made to the cathedral priory of Durham, which maintained a cell at Stamford, later St. Leonard’s Priory.  Writing in 1724 (2) he refers to ‘The two parishes of St Maries (by the bridge) within Stamford; all…. in the patronage of the prior and convent of Durham’, He postulates ‘a feast held by the aldermen and bretheren of Corpus Christi gild in their gild hall yet standing in the Monday mercat street’. (3)
Stamford Baron Manor, south of the Welland, originally held by Peterborough Abbey but lost at the Reformation, was in Northamptonshire until the Boundary Act of 1832 when the built-up area was brought into Stamford Borough.  It was granted to Sir William Cecil by Elizabeth in 1560 and was always tightly held and controlled by the Cecils.
Stamford Manor, north of the Welland, from early times was a Royal manor and grants reverted to the Crown.  In 1561, Queen Elizabeth granted it to Sir William Cecil.  In 1622/3, his grandson, the second Earl of Exeter, secured a grant of the reversion.  Being without male issue, he settled Stamford Manor in 1639 (the year before he died) upon the Earl of Stamford, who had married his youngest daughter Anne. More than a hundred years later, in 1747, it was purchased by the 8th Earl of Exeter for £6,950 and so returned to control by the Cecils, albeit in a somewhat tattered and diminished state.
The manor of Cuthbert’s Fee, the third manor in Stamford, belonged in 1550 to Robert Hall.(4)  By 1557/8 William Cecil was lord of the manor and probably purchased it from the Hall family.  It was certainly a possession of the Cecils before Elizabeth’s grant of 1561, and remained with the Cecils after 1640. With the dissolution of the monasteries from 1536, it had been secured by the Crown Commissioners for the use of Henry VIII and was subject to the sales and leases that followed.
From the Restoration in 1660, the Cecils and the Greys (Earls of Stamford) were politically opposed and much friction developed over the control of the two manors. This came to a crisis in the 1720’s when the 8th Earl of Exeter, a somewhat prickly nobleman, was prepared to act as plaintiff in a suit before the Court of Common Pleas.  A draft of historical and current evidence was prepared (5) and this document is the only firm evidence to date of the extent and tenements of Cuthbert’s Manor.  The actual Court rolls have not yet been discovered.
The document states that it is ‘a distinct Manor and by the Court Rolls…. it appears to be a Court Leet and Court Baron and always swore a constable and aletaster but the extent of the Manor….nowhere appears, but waifs and strays and felons goods were taken within the said manor for the use of the Lord thereof as appears by the Rolls in 1550 and 1654. Actions for small debts… were … determined there as a Court Baron and a freehold house called the Bull Inn (6) particularly is held of the said manor and paid a Relief upon the death of the owners as appears … in 1557 and on and off a fine of 8 pence ….’
Until 1640, when the Greys inherited Stamford Manor, the Courts of Cuthbert’s Fee were usually kept at 3 – 4 years interval and it was convenient for the tenants of both manors to appear at one court.  In 1640, the 3rd Earl of Exeter kept a separate court for Cuthbert’s Manor and thereafter ‘the inhabitants of St Mary’s parish were summoned yearly for a time and then every 3 or 4 years.
By 1729, ‘Lord Stamford insists that the whole town is within his Manor and therefore his steward keeps court in St Mary’s parish (and) sets fines … upon the inhabitants there …. which Lord Exeter insists is within his manor of Cuthbert’s fee.
Eventually, matters came to such a pass that the steward of Stamford Manor appointed a constable for St. Mary’s parish at the Court Leet and the inhabitants were summoned to perform their suit and service to Lord Stamford.
The document states ‘By tradition and by best information we can get of the Antient inhabitants within the manor and elsewhere …. The said manor of Cuthbert’s Fee extends from Dr. Denham’s House at Castle Dyke (7) and takes in all St. Mary’s parish on both sides of Tenter Meadows and takes it in soon (i.e. after the interval imposed by the Blackfriars Estate) by St. Leonard’s to Uffington Mannor on the south side of the Way. Several other freehold houses and lands in different parts of the Town of Stamford belongs to this Mannor as a Court Baron’.
To prove the active jurisdiction of Cuthbert’s Fee by the Earl of Exeter, a series of extracts of amerciaments (fines and penalties imposed by the Court) are given for the years 1722, 1724 and 1728/9.
A selection of these extracts are given, as they enable the students of Stamford property deeds to locate some of the buildings within the jurisdiction of Cuthbert’s Manor.

  1. Fines varying from 2d – 1s 6d levied on ten persons for ‘laying loads wood on the waste ground in a place called the Tenter Mead’. Included are Simon Walberge ‘Doctor in Physick’ (8) and Boniface Bywater (9)
  2. Thomas Dawkins, gent, fined for laying unspread Ramell (rubbish, usually mason’s) in the same place. (10)
  3. Felix Feast ‘in the same place creating a Water Cut or Lake of Water adjoining to ye River Welland’,
  4. William Miller ‘for a wash pitt or Lyme Pitt on the same meadow near his house and also for a load of Dung in the same place’. (11)
  5. Ayscough Kirke for a Dunghill in the same place. (see also under g.)
  6. Hannah Curtis, spinster, Mary Curtis, spinster and Francis Peck, clerk, for ‘containing an incroachment in the common street called St. Mary’s Hill with two stone pillars adjoyning to the messuage in tenure of Mr John Rogers …’ (12)
  7. Felix Feast, Esq ‘for stopping the common highway with Posts sett up and placed at the messuage in the tenure of Ayscough Kirke in the parish of St. George’. (13)


  1. Thomas Doosley for depasturing his horse upon Blackwell’s Leys before the end of harvest.
  2. Thomas Sharman depasturing his horse upon grass before May day.
  3. Peter Symonds ‘for a wall on St. Mary’s Hill belonging to his messuage called The Bear and Ragged Staff’. (14)
  4. Robert Collington (15) ‘for a lake of water containing length 20 yds and in breadth 6 yds adjoining to the River Welland’.

Thus the area of Cuthbert’s Fee in 1722, included substantial parts of St. John’s and St. George’s parishes in addition to a major part of St Mary’s parish.
What is far from clear, is the extent to which the designated lands and property represent original ownership by Durham up to the Reformation. It seems probable that the Cecils for convenience tacked on sporadic acquisitions either or both before 1561 and after 1640.
William Cecil, Lord Burghley, throughout his life dealt extensively in property, both buying and selling.  For example, in 1551 he purchased from Sir Ralph Sadleyr and Laurence Wemington a job lot of chantry and ex-monastic property including St. Katherine’s chapel in Saltfleethaven, the site of St. John’s chapel in Louth, the chapel garth etc. in Ashby in Bottesford and the ‘Scholehouse’ in Stamford St. George’s.(16)  This is the well recorded Carmelite school that according to Peck, lay ‘full east of the parsonage…’
Again, in another private purchase just before the Queen’s grant of Stamford Manor, William Cecil acquired a parcel of small areas of land in and around Stamford, including ‘Lands and tenements lyeing and being in the circuite …. of the Poche (i.e. parish) sometyme called the Poche of St. Andrew in Stamford…. ‘(17)
A further problem lies in the possible existence of other small Stamford manors, merged but not forgotten in 1724, when the marriage settlement of the 8th Earl of Exeter mentions the ‘Manors (or reputed manors or estates) of Cuthbert’s Fee, Wake’s Fee and Barker’s Fee’.(18) The names of 61 tenants of these ‘Fees’ are given and almost all are surnames occurring in contemporary Stamford documents.
This, then, is the latter-day history of Cuthbert’s Fee.  Possibly the student of the chronology of parish boundaries in Stamford may be able to shed further light on this interesting problem.

  1. Peck, Antiquarian Annals of Stamford, 1728. Lib II pp. 7-13
  2. ibid Lib XIV pp. 6 and 7
  3. Exeter MSS 86/5, contains a deed of 1652/3. This cites ‘a cellar under a Tenement called the Guildhall in Stamford … which … Queen Elizabeth … did grant unto Hercules Wytham and Francis Thekeyton of London … in … the two and fortieth year of the said Queens raigne’. The deeds are those of 4 St Mary’s Place and part of the undercoft still persists.
  4. Exeter MSS 54/1-5
  5. ibid
  6. Lincolnshire Archive Office 1545/6, I, 17; ii, 137. The Bull Inn occupied a site in St. Mary’s Street on part of which the (former) Stamford Hotel now stands.
  7. Exeter MSS 85/8, dealing with properties on the south side of Castle Street, locates Dr. Denham’s house at the junction of Castle Street and Castle Dyke. The house was demolished after 1868 when Wright Waterfield lived there. Photographs of this medieval building still exist.
  8. In 1727, Mrs Walburge occupied a garden west of the Assembly Rooms. Exeter MSS 88/42.
  9. Boniface Bywater, whitesmith (also gunsmith and clock repairer) of 11/12 St. Mary’s Street c.1725 (Peck, A.A.S., Lib XI p.25 and Stukely, Surtees Soc. 76 (1836), p.324. From 1744-52 he lived in a tenement at the north east corner of St. John’s passage, part site of the present 36 St. Mary’s street. Exeter MSS 47/31/12.
  10. He owned a house on the site of the present 4 St. Mary’s Place. Exeter MSS 86/5
  11. A fellmonger. In 1727 was living in 21 St George’s Sq. Exeter MSS 88/42
  12. 13 St Mary’s Hill (property deeds). John Rogers was ‘a doctor in physick’.
  13. 19 St. George’s Sq. (Peck A.A.S., 1728 Lib XI p.26). The raised plinth and a flight of stone steps in the NW cellar demonstrate the need for protection of the sunk area in the adjacent street.
  14. 13 St. Mary’s Hill (property deeds). Peter Symonds, sadler purchased the property in 1723
  15. A coaldealer (Exeter Day Books).
  16. Exeter MSS 201/53
  17. Exeter MSS 90/14
  18. Exeter MSS 45/13

Manor: An area of land with tenements granted origionally by the Crown in return for services rendered. The lord of the manor, in turn had the right to exact certain fees, fines and services from those who occupied his lands and tenements. The administration was expressed through the holding of periodic manorial courts, presided over by the lord or his steward.  The court appointed its own officials – constables, aletasters, bailiffs etc. – and was largely independent of magistrate’s, assize and other courts of the English legal system.
Court Baron: The assembly of the freehold tenants of a manor.
Court Leet: A sort of record held periodically (in Stamford usually once a year) before the lord or his steward and attended by the residents of the manor.
Fee: (e.g. St. Cuthbert’s Fee) a heritable estate held in feudal law of the Crown in condition of ‘homage and service’.
Fine(s): Usually, these were not punitive as modern usage suggests, but more in return for a licence to do certain things within the manor and its waste (ground). Thus it appears that Tenter Meadow was a town rubbish tip with its heaps of dung, wood and builders ramell.