The Midland Boroughs in the 1830's - Portarlington
Set out below is the report on Portarlington.
1. The Town of Portarlington is situate on the Barrow, where that river separates the King's and Queen's Counties, and the portion of the borough which lies upon the left bank is in the King's, and that on the right bank in the Queen's County.
The Charter of Portarlington directs that the borough "shall extend into the King's and Queen's Counties in every direction, from the past over the river Barrow, commonly called Bellatride, near Cooltederry alias Portarlington, 100 acres of Irish plantation measure in the whole." It extends, on the north, to the commons' drain near Derravilla; on the east, to Old Brackland Bridge; (Queen's County;) on the south, the boundary runs along the exterior mearing of Drughill to the Barrow; and on the west, it reaches to Butlersford. (King's County.) The bridge of Portarlington stands over the pass of Bellatride, and the limits are about the charter distance from it. These limits have, so far as regards the representation in Parliament, been altered by the Act of 2, 3 Will. 1V. c. 89. In some points the new boundaries extend beyond the old, but, upon the whole, they are more circumscribed. They include the entire town as built upon, and a small surrounding district. Being adapted limits of the borough and its municipal jurisdiction.
2. The ancient Name of the Land on which the Queen's County portion of the town is built, is "Cooltetoodera," or "Cooltetoodera." Early in the seventeenth century, Terence O' Dempsey was seised of Cooltetoodera, in the Queen's, and of Kilmalogue, in the King's County, by virtue of letters patent of King James 1., bearing date the 15th of June in the sixteenth year of his reign. (1618.) Terence O' Dempsey was subsequently created Viscount Clanmalira, and hence the lands comprised in the patent of James have been frequently described as the "territory of Clanmalira." This territory, including Cooltetoodera and Kilmalogue, descended to Lewis Lord Clanmalira, as tenant in tail, and becoming forfeited by his being attainted of treason in the year 1641, was granted by letters patent bearing date the 5th of November, 14 Charles 11., to Sir Henry Bennett, Knight, afterwards Lord Arlington; and it was subsequently awarded to Lord Arlington by the trustees of forfeited estates.
The 78th section of the Act of Explanation (17, 18 Car. 11.c.2.) relates to these lands. After stating that it was doubtful whether the estate tail was not extinct, Lord Clanmalira's claim of innocence not being allowed, to obviate the doubt, the section enabled Lord Arlington immediately to enter upon and possess the lands whereof Lewis Lord Clanmalira was seised on the 22nd of October 1641, as fully as if the estate tail had been spent or expired, and provided for the remuneration of the adventurers and soldiers who should be removed off the lands for the purpose of giving complete possession to Lord Arlington. Lord A. also obtained a second Patent of these lands, bearing date the 27th of July, in the eighteenth year of Charles 11.
3. This borough was incorporated in the year 1667, by King Charles 11., by a Charter which bears date the 3d day of August, in the nineteenth year of his reign, enrolled in Chancery. (Rot. Pat. 19 Car. 11. p. 5. m. 5. d.)
This charter, (the only one relating to Portarlington,) after stating the adjudication of the lands, forfeited by Lewis Lord Viscount Clanmalira, to Henry Lord Arlington and his heirs for ever, reciting the patent of the 27th day of July, in the eighteenth year of the King, (Charles 11.,) to Lord Arlington, and stating that he had expressed a desire that the lands should be planted with English, proceeded to erect certain of these lands, which lay in the King's County, into a manor, to be called "The Manor of Charlestown;" and further ordained that the lands of Cooltetoodera alias Portarlington, and other lands therein named, all in the barony of Portnahinch and Queen's County, and the Clonrorke alias Portarlington woods, and other lands in the barony of Philipstown, in the King's County, "should be one entire manor, to be called and known by the name of the Manor of Portarlington." It gave to Lord Arlington, his heirs and assigns, power to hold a Court Leet and view of frankpledge within the manor, before a seneschal to appointed by him of them, to inquire into " all felonies, trespasses, deceipts, nuisances, and other offences and matters arising within the manor;" and also to hold a court in the nature of a Court Baron, before a seneschal to be appointed as aforesaid, with power to hold pleas "in all actions of debt, covenant, trespass, account, contract, and detinue, and all other causes and matters whatsoever arising within the said manor, wherein the debt or damages exceed not the sum of 40s.;" and also to hold " a law day, or a Court of Record," before the seneschal, "of pleas of all manner of actions of debt, detinue, trespass replevin, withernam, second deliverance, and all other personal and mixed actions within the manor, wherein the debt or damages shall not exceed the value of £200 sterling." It conferred upon Lord Arlington, his heirs and assigns, the power of appointing officers to execute the process of these courts, to erect a Prison for the manor, and to appoint a gaoler, and to hold two Fairs in the town of Portarlington; one on every Easter Monday, and the other on the 1st and 2d of October in each year, with a Court of Pie Poudre for the fairs; "and also power to receive and take reasonable Toll, and all privileges and immunities to such fairs and courts belonging."
After conferring similar privileges on Lord Arlington, his heirs and assigns, in respect of the manor of Charlestown, the charter proceeds to the Creation of the Borough. It states, "to the end that the manor of Portarlington may be more speedily planted, that the town, and such proportion of the lands of the manor of Portarlington, in the King's and Queen's Counties," as are contained within the limits above mentioned, "shall from thenceforth for ever be a free borough, and that in the said town and borough there shall be a body politic and continue in succession for ever." It prescribes the mode of election of officers, and of admission of freemen; it empowers the sovereign, with the consent of the bailiffs, and twelve burgesses for the time being, or of the majority of them, during his absence, to appoint as deputy some discreet and substantial person, being one of the burgesses inhabiting the borough, and appoints the sovereign, or deputy, a justice of the peace and coroner within the district, and the sovereign and bailiffs to be respectively mayor and constables of the staple for the year next after their year of office. And it enabled the borough, by the majority of the sovereign, bailiffs, burgesses, and freemen, to elect two Members to represent it in Parliament; a privilege which, by the Act of Union, was reduced to one.
It ordains "that the sovereign, bailiffs, burgesses, and freemen, and all the inhabitants of the town and borough, and their successors for ever, shall do suit and service to the manor of Portarlington, and plead and be impleaded in the Court Leet, Court Baron, and Court of Record of this manor."
It empowered Lord Arlington, his heirs and assigns, to nominate "some discreet person learned in the law" to be Recorded and Town Clerk during pleasure, with like jurisdiction as the recorder a justice of the peace within the town and precincts: and it further empowered Lord Arlington to hold a Market on Wednesday in each week within the town, and to appoint a clerk of the market.
4. The Title given by the charter to the corporation, is that of "The Sovereign, Bailiffs, and Burgesses of the Borough and Town of Portarlington."
5. The corporation consists of,
6. And the Officers, in addition to those above mentioned, are,
The charter directs, "that the office of Sovereign shall be annual, and that the sovereign, bailiffs, and burgesses, shall have free election of the sovereign and bailiffs out of the burgesses."
The sovereign is accordingly elected annually on the first Monday after the feast of Saint John the Baptist, (the charter day,) in and by an assembly consisting of the sovereign, and bailiffs in office, and burgesses. In practice, the presence of no certain number of electors is required. In 1832 there were but six present, and in 1833 only the same number attended. No qualification is deemed necessary for the office, except that of being a burgess. The person elected is sworn, and commences to act on the first Monday after the 29th of September following his election.
It is considered by the corporate officers, that a person may be re-elected and act as sovereign for successive years; and indeed, the same individual has been constantly the acting sovereign for the last 20 years, with the exception of a single year, from Michaelmas 1828 to Michaelmas 1829. In form, however, he has been only Deputy every alternate year; and, when there is a deputy, an approval of the appointment is entered in the corporation book, and subscribed to by a majority of the burgesses.
While the mode of election prescribed by charter is
thus, in appearance, to a certain extent observed, the office of Sovereign,
as well as every other in the body, is filled at the nomination of "the
Patron," the Earl of Portarlington.
The lord of the manor does not appoint any clerk of the market, and the market is regulated by the sovereign, who also corrects the weights and measures, and seizes unwholesome food exposed for sale.
He regulates the assize of bread on every Monday. He presides at all corporate assemblies, and is returning officer at elections of a Member to serve in Parliament.
Until the last general election his duty, in this respect, was merely formal, as up to that time there had not been a contest for 50 years.
The sovereign has no fixed Salary. He receives for the corporation a rent of £60 late Irish currency a-year reserved out of the lands of Drughill, out of which he pays their salaries to the bailiffs and recorder, and some incidental expenses, and retains the residue, generally upwards of £30 per annum, for his own use.
He has also, on two of three occasions, received £1 for affixing the corporation seal to documents to be used in foreign countries. He has no other incidental emolument.
The Bailiffs (who are also styled "portreeves" in the charter) are elected in the same manner and on the same day as the sovereign, to serve for one year, but they are generally continued in office. In practice, they are elected from the freemen, although the charter directs that they should be chosen out of the number of the burgesses.
They are always resident, and perform no duty beyond that of occasionally assisting the sovereign in the regulation of the town, and of attending corporate meetings. They never act as constables of the staple after having filled the office of bailiffs.
They receive a Salary of £2 a-year each, paid by the sovereign out of the rent of Drughill, and have no incidental emoluments.
Burgesses are elected for life by the same persons, and in the same manner, as the sovereign and bailiffs. The only direction in the charter as to the mode of their election is, that the sovereign, bailiffs, and burgesses "shall have free election of the burgesses, and all other the officers and ministers, (except the sovereign and bailiffs,) out of the body of the freemen and inhabitants of the town and borough, according to the practice of the corporation of Lanesborough."
Inhabitancy, however, since the passing of the Act of the 21 Geo. 11. c. 10, has not been required, and the Qualification of being a freeman is always supplied at the moment, by the proposed burgess being first elected a freeman, and immediately afterwards, and in the same assembly, a burgess. The number of 12 burgesses; exclusive of the sovereign, is constantly kept up. Of the present 12, only two are resident within the limits of the borough. The sovereign is resident.
The following is a List of the present Burgesses, including the sovereign, with the dates of their admissions, as far as they could be ascertained:
General Archdale, J. D. Clarke, Lord Portarlington, and James Deane have residences within seven statute miles of the town. Four of the burgesses are related to Lord Portarlington, and a fifth (J. D. Clarke, Esq.) is his land agent.
Burgesses have now no functions to perform, except those which they exercise in the election of officers and admission of freemen, at the nomination of the patron.
They have at present no Privileges. They formerly enjoyed a right of grazing their cattle on the commons belonging to the corporation.
7. The charter confers upon the sovereign, bailiffs, and burgesses the power of admitting "such and so many persons so to be admitted taking the usual oath of a freeman, and paying 5s for his and their admission unto the sovereign and burgesses, to and for the use and benefit of the borough."
This power has been exercised in admissions without any qualification, and to the total exclusion of inhabitants. Admissions are for life. Of latter years they have been very rare, and it seems to have been the uniform policy of the Dawson (Lord Portarlington's) family, from the commencement of their connexion with the borough, to restrict, as much as possible, the number of freemen.
There is, at present, only one freeman, exclusive of the bailiffs and burgesses. This gentleman was a burgess, but on the 29th of February 1816 resigned, as such, continuing a freeman of the corporation, and he has since registered as such under the Reform Act.
The greatest Number of freemen, at any one period within the last 20 years, was four; of whom, two filled the office of bailiffs; in fact, it was acknowledged by the corporation, that for the last 35 years no person has been admitted free, except for the purpose of enabling him to fill an office which should be supplied from the freemen. This class, therefore, although it has continued to exist in one or two individuals, has long been virtually extinct.
In 1830, several residents attempted to procure their freedom as matter of right; some on the ground of servitude within the town, others as being the sons of freemen. None were, however, admitted, A subsequent attempt was made in 1832, and was equally unsuccessful. The corporation do not recognise any inchoate right to freedom. No attempt to obtain the freedom of this borough has been made under the "New Rules."
The sum of 5s. payable on admission, "for the use of the borough," has not, within the recollection of any living person, been paid of demanded. The admissions were not on stamps. This fact was recently discovered, and the corporation being apprized of the necessity of their being so, they procured them to be stamped in the corporation book, and Lord Portarlington's agent paid for the stamping of all admissions since 1777, and stated that he intended to charge his Lordship with the amount.
Since the relaxation of the penal laws with respect to corporations, by the 33 Geo. 111. c. 21, there has been only one Roman Catholic admitted to this body. He was a freeman, and his admission bears date the 30th of September 1793. He is dead, and there is no Roman Catholic of Protestant Dissenter now belonging to it.
The only Privilege at present to be enjoyed by a freeman, is that of voting at elections of a Member of Parliament; and this is, by the Reform Act, confined to registered freemen, resident within seven statute miles of the town, and as to honorary freemen, to those admitted before the 30th March 1831. Previously to the Reform Act non-residents also voted.
Prior to 1802, freemen enjoyed the use of the commons
belonging to the borough. By the corporate officers it was stated, that
they did so merely by the sufferance of the burgesses; while the inhabitants
insisted that it was a matter of right, over which no other portion of
the corporation possessed any control.
The Recorder is appointed, during pleasure, by Lord Portarlington, who claims the right of appointment as assignee of the charter rights and privileges of Lord Arlington.
The present recorder was appointed by Lord Portarlington in the year 1795. He is a barrister, and non-resident, and performs no Duty beyond that of advising the corporation, when called upon. He is by charter a justice of the peace, within the district, but he does not act as such.
He receives a Salary of £10 late Irish currency a-year, out of the rent of Drughill.
The Serjeant at Mace is nominated by the sovereign. The right of appointing him and all other inferior officers is, by charter, conferred on the sovereign, bailiffs, and burgesses.
The only Duty he performs is that of bearing the mace at the two annual meetings of the corporation, held on the first Mondays after the 24th of June and after the 29th of September; and he had no emolument beyond a gratuity of a few shillings which he receives from the sovereign on each of these occasions.
8. There are no Fees paid on admission to freedom, or election to any office in this corporation.
9. There is no common council, or other select body; the charter vests the power of making bye-laws on the sovereign, bailiffs, and burgesses.
10. Lord Arlington, on obtaining the charter, erected the town, and afterwards sold it, and all his other charter lands, (except what he had previously granted to the corporation, as will presently appear,) together with his manorial rights, to Sir Patrick Trant, of the county of Kildare. It appears by an inquisition taken at Maryborough, in the Queen's County, on the 15th of March, in the seventh year of William 111.; that Sir Patrick was attainted of treason on the 3d of April, in the third year of William 111.; and thus the lands conveyed to him by Lord Arlington were a second time forfeited to the Crown. By Letters Patent bearing date the 26th of June 1696, these lands were granted by King William to the Baron de Rouvigny, whom he created Earl of Galway; and Lord Galway established in Portarlington a colony of Huguenots, to whom he executed leases for lives, renewable for ever, of houses and plots in the town. The grant to Lord Galway; was subsequently declared void by an Act of the English Parliament, passed in the eleventh and twelfth year of William 111., (1699,) and the lands comprised in the grant to Lord Arlington (except the portion of them which he had given to the corporation) were vested in trustees, to be sold for the use of the Crown. Lord Galway, however, had interest sufficient to procure a Confirmation of the Leases which he had executed to his followers, (64 to French and Dutch, and five to English settlers,) by a private Act of Parliament, of the first year of Queen Anne; and the lands subject to these leases were sold, and, on the 10th June 1703, conveyed to the "Hollow Sword Blade Company." The company did not retain their purchase, and in the year 1709 assigned all their interest therein to Ephraim Dawson. From him the lands descended to his son William Henry Dawson, afterwards Viscount Carlow, the father of the present Earl of Portarlington, on whom they devolved on the death of Lord Carlow. Residing in the neighbourhood of the town, and becoming proprietors of the manorial lands, the Dawson family experienced little difficulty in acquiring a predominating influence in the corporation. This influence they successfully exercised in restricting admissions to freedom, and in supplying vacancies in the number of burgesses, with their own adherents, until the control of the family was completely established; and by the same means it has been maintained to the present time.
11. The patron also exercises several of the Manorial Rights, granted by charter to Lord Arlington, his heirs and assigns. His title to do so is questioned by many of the inhabitants. They contend that the manorial rights are not appurtenant to the manor lands, but were personal privileges conferred upon Lord Arlington, his heirs and assigns; that from his lordship they passed by assignment to Sir Patrick Trant, and upon his attainder, and consequent forfeiture, vested in the Crown, and have not been regranted by it. They state that no mention is made of these rights in the inquisition and finding at Maryborough; that nothing more could be sold by the trustees that was comprised in that finding; and that, consequently, the lands, without the manorial rights, passed by the conveyance from the trustees to the Sword Blade Company, and from the company to Ephraim Dawson.
The latter certainly purports to convey the manorial rights. It is registered, and from the memorial it appears, that by deeds of lease and release bearing date, respectively, the 21st and 22d days of June 1709, and made between the Governor and Company for making Hollow Sword Blades in England, of the one part, and Ephraim Dawson, Esq., of the other part; the governor and company conveyed to Ephraim Dawson, for ever, "all that their manor and lordship of Portarlington, with all courts, royalties, dues, duties, services, jurisdictions, rights, members, and appurtenances thereunto belonging, together with all rights, dues, customs, tolls, payments, and other advantages of the several fairs and markets of the said town of Portarlington, and also all their right and title to the grazing 20 collops on the commons of Portarlington."
It is observable, too, that the exercise of the manorial rights by the Dawson family, from the date of their purchase to this time, has never been legally resisted, nor the question put in a train of legal investigation.
Although the charter empowers the sovereign, bailiffs, and burgesses to make Bye-laws "to bind all the inhabitants of the borough," the officers of the corporation were not aware of this privilege having been ever exercised, and they were unable to refer to any bye-law in their books.
12. There has never been any Court, criminal or civil, belonging to or under the control of the corporation. The borough is situate within the manor of Portarlington, and, as already mentioned, "the sovereign, bailiffs, burgesses, and freemen, and all inhabitants, and their successors for ever," were "to do suit and service in that Manor," and to plead and be impleaded in its Courts.
The Seneschal of the Manor Courts is appointed by the Earl of Portarlington, during pleasure. The deputation to the present seneschal bears date the 22d of March 1818. He is a practising attorney and solicitor, and is also seneschal of the manor of Charlestown. The jurisdiction of the Court Baron is limited by charter to 40s.; that of the "law court, or Court of Record," to £200 late Irish currency. The seneschal stated that he had never held the Court of Record, but he has entertained claims by civil bill, and made decrees for £14 and upwards, apparently acting under the general Manor Court Acts, by which the process and Fees of his court are regulated. The seneschal has no salary, nor any emoluments beyond the statutable fees.
The jurisdiction not being now exclusive, this Court has fallen into disuse. In the year 1831, it sat twice; namely, on the 7th of January and 6th of October. On the latter occasion seven cases were tried, and no court had been subsequently held up to the 24th of September 1833, the day on which our investigation terminated at Portarlington. The public did not complain of this circumstance, and are not anxious for the continuance of this court. They prefer resorting to the civil bill jurisdiction of the quarter sessions.
There are, however, no Quarter Sessions held in Portarlington; the assistant barrister sits twice a year in Maryborough, (distant nine miles,) and twice a year at Stradbally, (distant nine miles,) for the division in which that portion of the borough which belongs to the Queen's County is situate. The inhabitants of the part of the borough which lies in the King's County are within the Philipstown division for quarter sessions, where they are held four times a year, and it is distant from Portarlington about 11 miles. It would result greatly to the benefit of the town to have quarter sessions held in it for the entire borough, without distinction as to the counties in which the portions of it lie.
The circumstance of the borough extending into different counties, and being subject to different Jurisdictions, produces inconvenience and confusion in the administration of the law.
13. There is no Police under the control of the corporation. From 8 to 10 of the county constabulary are stationed here, and they patrol and maintain the peace of the district. This number has, in general, been found sufficient; but occasions have arisen where a greater force has been required.
The Streets are repaired by county presentment as portions of the county roads. Where they are paved or flagged, it is done by private subscription amongst the inhabitants. They are not lighted, and no attempt has been made to introduce the provisions of the 9 Geo. 1V.c. 82, for the purpose. The town is abundantly supplied with water. There are three public pumps, which are kept in repair by private subscription.
14. There is at present no Prison within the limits of the borough, except a small and unwholesome place called the "Black Hole," used as a place of temporary confinement. There was formerly a bridewell, but it was condemned by the inspectors of prisons; and prisoners from the district are sent either to the gaol of Maryborough, (9 miles,) or of Tullamore, (14 miles distant,) according as the offence is committed within the Queen's of King's County. Great inconvenience is experienced from the want of a local prison. The "Black Hole" is not suited for a place even of a temporary confinement.
15. There is no Public Charity under the superintendence
of the corporation.
The Earl of Galway, prior to 1703, erected two churches
and established two schools, one church and school for the use of English
Protestant inhabitants, and the other church and school for French Protestant
settlers; and both schools "for the education of the children of
such native Irish as would suffer them to be instructed and brought up
in the Protestant religion;" and he granted an annuity of £112
of the then Irish currency, charged on the manor lands of Charlestown,
for the salaries of the officiating clergymen and schoolmaster; £40
per annum for each of the clergymen, £20 for the master of the English,
and £12 for the master of the French school. These churches and
schools, with the plots attached to them, were not sold to the Sword Blade
Company; and by the private Act of Parliament of 1 Anne, the trustees
of forfeited estates were empowered to convey them, together with the
annuity or rent charge of £112 per annum, to the Bishop of Kildare
and his successors, which the trustees accordingly did by indenture, bearing
date the 24th of September in the 1st of Queen Anne. They secured the
£112 per annum by conveying to the bishop and his successors a rent
of £100 a-year, reserved on a lease of certain lands in the manor
of Charlestown, bearing date the 6th of September, 1698, and of £20
a-year on a lease of other lands, dated the 17th of the same month, both
subject to a quit-rent to the Crown of £8 per annum; the profit
rent of £112 to be applied for ever amongst the clergymen and schoolmasters
in the proportions already mentioned. The churches were repaired by private
subscription in 1810, and the clergymen are still in receipt of the £40
a- year Irish currency each, together with an equal annual sum which they
each receive out of ecclesiastical lands in the diocese of Kildare. The
French school has ceased to exist; and the £12 late Irish currency,
payable to its master, is, together with the £20, like currency,
for the English master, and the rents of some holdings built on plots
belonging to the schools, received by the master, of the English school;
and the entire has latterly been applied by the present master towards
reimbursing himself for money which he advanced in the purchase of a new
school house, the old one having fallen into decay. The Schoolmaster is
appointed by the Bishop of Kildare; the present master is non-resident,
and acts by deputy. It did not appear that gratuitous education was at
any time afforded at the schools; and the existing school differs in no
respect from any private seminary, except that the master is appointed
by the bishop, and receives a salary in addition to the ordinary profits
of his establishment.
16. No Fines have been imposed by the corporation on its own members; the sovereign in his magisterial capacity has inflicted some, and the amount has been applied to charitable purposes, accordingly to the directions of the Acts of Parliament under which the fines were imposed.
17. There are no Lands now in the Possession of the
On the 9th of August, in the thirteenth year of William 111., (1700,) the sovereign and burgesses, probably to obviate any doubt which might exist as to their title to the lands, of which they were possessed under the above grant, in consequence of the Act of 11 and 12 William 111., presented their petition to the Trustees of Forfeited Estates, describing the grant as above, stating that it was made by a deed which was then mislaid, but that there was an entry to the above effect in their books, dated the 12th January 1676, and praying for the judgement of the trustees upon their claim; and it being heard before the trustees, they, on the 3rd of March 1701, decreed in favour of the corporation, and allowed their claim. It is remarkable that the lands of Biker's Park, otherwise Drug Hill, do not appear to be comprised in the petition, although they also were said to have been granted by Lord Arlington to the corporation for the use of the borough. It is further observable, that by the deeds of 1709, "the town and lands of Droughill alias Rughill alias Biker's Park, Bog Mill, and Mill Close, containing together, by estimation, 12 acres, and all those parcels of land commonly called Ware's Close, and Critchley's Close, containing by estimation 24 acres," were conveyed by the Sword Blade Company to Ephraim Dawson. It was, however, stated that up to the year 1784 the corporation continued in the undisturbed enjoyment of their lands, including Biker's Park or Drughill; and on the 4th of October, in that year, the sovereign and burgesses entered into a Resolution respecting Biker's Park and other lands, which appears in their transaction book in the following terms:
"Borough of Portarlington, Monday, 4th October 1784.
"In pursuance of a notice posted upon the tholsel of said borough by Robert Sherwood, macebearer, on the 27th of September last past, signed by James Stanus, Esq., sovereign, of which the said Robert Sherwood made oath, that the lands of Biker's Park otherwise Drughill, the Old Bog Mill Meadow, Crutchley's Close, and Ware's Close, would be set on the 4th day of October then next, - the above-named sovereign, bailiffs, and burgesses have agreed to grant a term of 700 years to James Lewis Higgins, Esq., of said lands, with the appurtenances, at the yearly rent of 5s. sterling, for the term of four years from the 1st day of May last, and the yearly rent of £60 sterling, payable half-yearly, for the residue of said term," which resolution appears to be signed as follows:
Pursuant to this resolution a lease was executed, bearing date the 4th of October 1784, expressed to be made between James Stannus, sovereign, "and the subscribing bailiffs and burgesses" of the first part, James Lewis Higgins of the second part, and the Right Honourable John Lord Viscount Carlow of the third part, of Biker's Park otherwise Drughill, therein described as containing 166a. 1r. 8p.; the Old Bog Mill land containing 3a. 2r. 23p.; Crutchley's Close as containing 166a. 1r. and 12p.; and Weare's Close as containing 21a. 3r. 0p.; in all 204a. 1r.12p.; for the term, at the rents in the resolution mentioned. This Lease was registered a few days after its date, and it appears to have been executed to Higgins merely as a trustee for Lord Carlow, the then patron of the borough; and the Dawson family have ever since paid the rent reserved by the lease. The lease is expressed to be made "with the consent of the said Lord Viscount Carlow."
A few years afterwards, Lord Carlow enclosed 14 acres of the great Commons, with the consent of the sovereign and burgesses, in lieu, it was stated, of his right of commonage as a burgess.
In 1802, the sovereign, bailiffs, and burgesses were induced to part with their remaining property, (except bog,) which up to that period was in a state of commonage, and the following Resolution was entered on the books:
"Resolve, that the lands and premises hereafter mentioned, that is to say, all that and those that part of the corporation lands of the town of Portarlington called the 'Great Commons,' containing by estimation 79a. 3r. 17p., bounded, and as in a chart of map No 1, situate, lying, and being in the Queen's County, and also all that and those that part of the said corporation lands of the said town of Portarlington, called the 'Small Commons,' containing by estimation 15a. 0r. 5p., meared and bounded as in a chart or map, situate, lying, and being in the King's County, or by whatever other name or description the said lands and premises of any part formerly were, now are or hereafter shall be known or distinguished, and all commonage and right of commonage, and all rights of turbary in and upon the said lands and premises, or any part thereof, together with all the rights, members, and appurtenances thereunto belonging, of in anywise appertaining, shall be granted and conveyed to Right Honourable John Earl of Portarlington, his heirs and assigns for ever, in consideration of £200 sterling, paid to the said corporation, and also for other considerations; and that a deed of conveyance, grant, or release, shall be executed to the said John Earl of Portarlington;" and this resolution is signed by,
A Conveyance was accordingly executed. It bears date the 25th of February 1802, and purports to be between the sovereign, bailiffs, and burgesses of the one part, and John Earl of Portarlington of the other part, and it was registered on the 22nd of March following its were under the corporation seal. The description of the parties, grantees, in the deed of 1784, essential form was not complied with. The interest of Lord Portarlington, under the lease of comprised in the conveyance of 1802, being adjacent to the town, are worth nearly £300 per annum.
The sum of £200, the Consideration for the Conveyance of 1802, was paid to one of the members of the corporation, and was expended in repairing the English church, together with a further sum of £200 afterwards given by Lord Portarlington for the purpose; but the latter £200 formed no part of the purchase money for the lands. It would seem that in both deeds the consideration was inadequate and disproportionate to the value of the property conveyed; and that on both occasions the interest of the borough was sacrificed to that of the patron.
It is impossible at this remote period to ascertain the circumstances connected with the resolution of 1784; but with respect to the more recent one of 1802, although it is represented by the corporation that the enclosure of the commons consequent upon it was beneficial to the town, and that the existence of so much land in a state of commonage was a public nuisance, it is plain that such opinion was not by any means universally entertained, and that the Resolution was not carried into effect without considerable opposition, principally from freemen. It was first resisted in the assembly in which it was ultimately passed, by Colonel D'Acourt, supported by two of three other members of the corporation; and a Bill was afterwards filed in the Court of Chancery, in the name of a freeman, to set aside the Conveyance. The Solicitor who filed it stated, that he was induced to stay further proceedings in the suit by a grant to himself of a Lease of 10 acres of the land in controversy, for three lives and 61 years, at a rent of 1d. a-year as long as the lives existed, and a fair rent afterwards during the term of years. The Suit shortly afterwards abated by the death of the plaintiff, and no further proceedings have as yet been taken to impeach the conveyance. Several Leases were produced of portions of the commons granted by Lord Portarlington for lives and years at nominal rents, during the existence of the lives; and it was stated that they were given to purchase the acquiescence of the lessees to the conveyance of 1802. These lessees were generally burgesses or freemen, of persons connected with them; and the remainder of the commons was let by auction in small lots in the year 1804, and rents varying from £7 to £2 10s. per acre obtained for them. The £7 rents have been reduced, and the highest now paid for any part of the commons is £5 per acre. Lord Portarlington had, in 1802, only recently attained his majority, and was stated to have been absent from the country when the resolution of that year was passed and the conveyance executed.
It was objected by the inhabitants that no Freemen appear to have subscribed to either of the Resolutions of 1784 or 1802, and that no legal conveyances could be made without their concurrence; the recorder (while, as the land agent of Lord Portarlington, he protested against the Commissioners investigating beyond the nature and management of the income of the circumstances attending them, because the interest of Lord Portarlington, deriving under the corporation, was concerned, and refused to give any information on the subject) insisted, that the sovereign, bailiffs, and burgesses, without the freemen, were fully competent, and were the proper parties to grant; and he relied on the passage of the charter enabling the corporation, by its name of "the sovereign, bailiffs, and burgesses, to make, receive, and take all and all manner of gifts, grants, and purchases," as conferring such power.
It is difficult to ascertain what Privileges the Freemen enjoyed prior to 1802 as connected with the commons. The evidence on the subject is contradictory, as already stated. The corporation deny that they had any right of commonage, and assert that when they used the commons, it was only by the express permission of the burgesses. The inhabitants, on the other hand, allege that freemen enjoyed the commons as a matter of strict right, and wholly independent of the burgesses, and that they frequently sold that right to persons not members of the corporation, and that it was worth £2 or £3 a-year to each freeman. There is an entry in the corporation book, dated 1792, of a petition from the widows of freemen for liberty to graze one cow each upon the commons, and a Resolution permitting them to do so.
It was alleged that Colonel Armstrong, in the year 1800, obtained possession of, and enclosed about half an acre of ground which had formerly been used as a fair green.
18. Upon the great Red Bog, mentioned in the petition of 1700, the corporation and inhabitants still enjoy a Right of Turbary. This right has, in some instances, been expressly granted in the old leases, and it is constantly exercised in right of inhabitancy, and without any grant. These are, however, frequent contests between Lord Portarlington and the inhabitants, with respect to the claim of the latter to cut turf on some of the bogs in the neighbourhood of the town; and his lordship insists on the cut-away and reclaimed portions of the red bog, and has actually dispossessed persons of parts which they had brought into cultivation. It was stated that in 1829 his lordship had obtained a verdict which established his right to a portion of reclaimed bog then in dispute, but the exact circumstances of the case were not disclosed.
These disputes relative to the bogs have been productive of much bad feeling in the district, and are likely to lead to mischievous results.
The only Income received by the corporation is the £60 late Irish currency, reserved by the lease of 1784 out of the lands of Drughill. It is paid by Lord Portarlington's agent the sovereign. Its application has been already mentioned, and the sovereign renders no account of it.
There is a Tholsel or Market House here. It was erected upwards of a century ago, and some years since was repaired by county presentment.
19. There are eight annual Fairs, two of which are held under the charters, two others under a patent bearing date the 14th May 1752, (enrolled 25 Geo. 11. p. 1.m. 35. d.) granted to William Henry Dawson, Esq., to whom the tolls of these fairs are also granted, and the other four under a patent of more recent date.
The general Market is held on Wednesday, the charter day, in addition to which there is a meat market on every Saturday. There is neither fair green nor shambles; the fairs and corn markets are held in the streets, and the meat is exposed to sale under the tholsel. Both these circumstances are complained of by the inhabitants.
20. Up to 1832 Tolls and Customs were collected at the fairs and markets by the lessees of Lord Portarlington. In the month of October in that year the collection was resisted, and it has since then been totally discontinued. The tolls and customs were let at rents varying from £40 to £20 per annum, and no toll boards specifying the rates being exposed pursuant to the Act of 57 Geo. 111. c. 108, the charges were often arbitrarily made. Threepence per sack was taken on potatoes. Quantities of meal and potatoes were formerly taken as toll out of the sacks. While this system prevailed, little meal was brought to the market, and customs was generally expended by Lord Portarlington's agent, by the direction of his lordship, in repairing the churches and market house.
21. There is a public Craner whose weights are occasionally proved by the sovereign. He has not obtained any new weights since the passing of the Act of 5 Geo. 1V. c.74; but standard. The Weights and Measures in use through the town are also examined by the sovereign, and some defective ones have been seized. More attention might, however, be well bestowed upon them, and it would be followed by beneficial results to the public.
22. There is no Patronage, ecclesiastical or lay, exercised by the corporation.
23. I am not aware of any local Act of Parliament relating to the district but that of the 1 Anne, to which allusion has been already made.
24. The population of the town of Portarlington was returned in 1821 as then amounting to 2877.
The population and buildings are on the increase. The larger and better portion of the town is situate in the Queen's County.
25. The town is within 44 statute miles of Dublin, with which it has the advantage of water communication by means of the Grand Canal. It possesses, however, but little commerce beyond the ordinary retail trade consequent upon its population; and there are no extensive manufactories in it. With respect to the corporation, the exclusive spirits of the charter has been more than acted on by the persons who acquired corporate influence; the body has been served from the people, and a feeling of mutual animosity has long subsisted between them. A corporation so circumstanced could not accomplish much towards the advancement of the prosperity of the district. By the alienation of their property, the corporation deprived themselves of the power of being useful; they reduced their income to an inconsiderable rent, while the property, granted expressly for the benefit of the borough, is producing in other hands an income of nearly £800 a-year. Many matters essential to the prosperity of the borough are now needed, which these lands, if retained, could furnish the means of supplying; there is no town police; no hospital or fair green; the streets are in a neglected state, and their repair is thrown on the county, which of course presents sparingly for works principally to benefit the borough; and the town, although some of the private houses are good, presents altogether an impoverished appearance.
Prior to the legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland, this borough sent two Members to the Irish Parliament; since 1800 it has returned one to the Imperial Parliament, and so close has been this corporation, that for 50 years previous to the last general election, the nominee of the Dawson family, commonly a total stranger to the borough, was always returned without a contest. According to the Parliamentary Returns of May 1829 and June 1830, the number of electors, resident and non-resident, was 15; that is, all the members of the corporation. At the last election the number of registered voters was 137, of whom 131 actually polled, and the corporation candidate was defeated.
Should the corporation be extended, there is a sufficient number of inhabitants qualified to support it. There are about 60 twenty-pound, and a much greater number of ten-pound householders resident in the town.
Copies of the following Documents are sent with this Report:
Inquiry held the 21st, 23d, and 24th September 1833,
before John Colhoun and
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