History of Stafford Borough
Stafford was given free borough status by the Charter of King John in 1206. A charter gave a town a certain status and independence, because it could hold its own markets and fairs, levy tolls on goods, and attract trade. Stafford originally had two town reeves or bailiffs as chief officers, with a town council. The first town clerk was appointed in 1548/9. In 1615 a mayor replaced the bailiffs, and the town council consisted of ten aldermen and ten "capital burgesses".
The Borough's antiquity is reflected in the large collection of records held at Staffordshire Record Office, although the original charters themselves are retained by Stafford Borough Council. One of the oldest documents in the collection dates from c.1611, and includes copied extracts dating back to c.1528. This is the "Old Book of Accounts", and it includes an account of Queen Elizabeth I's visit to Stafford in 1575. Other early documents include the main Borough order books which date back to 1648 and record all the formal business and orders of the council, chamberlains' and charity accounts dating back to 1555.
The rest of the collection includes committee minutes, records of Corporation property, local legislation, admissions of burgesses, and electoral records for municipal and Parliamentary elections in the Borough constituency. There are also thousands of loose items of correspondence, legal papers and deeds, and a new catalogue of these was completed in 2005.
The property records include title deeds, major mortgages, and hundreds of leases of Corporation property dating back to 1714, which give the names, occupations and dwellings of Stafford residents, and sales of new building land which record the first owner-occupiers of the new estates built on Corporation land. There are also leases of Isaak Walton's charity land at Chebsey, and a Chancery order and leases relating to the ancient Coton Field, dating back to the 17th century. Coton Field was historically treated as town land, with burgesses holding allotments, and it was opened for common grazing after the crops were harvested, but the town's rights over the land were subject to various disputes over the centuries.
The most unusual aspect to this collection is the survival of thousands of items of Town Clerk's correspondence, covering legal and general matters. These give immense background detail into the running of Stafford Corporation mainly in the 19th century, the issues affecting the Town, and how this affected the lives of the townspeople.
Notable issues in the legal correspondence are the elections of the 1830s-1850s (in the context of national electoral reform and an attempt to disenfranchise the Borough); the Borough finances; negotiations with the County over contributions to the Shire Hall; boundary extensions and large amenity projects; and the Corporation property, particularly dealing with the Coton Field and the raising of mortgages on property and tolls.
The mortgages required a massive amount of research into the Corporation's title, never previously recorded. This involved the examination of all the deeds and compiling of schedules of property and income, the recording of sworn witness depositions as to historic market customs, and the creation of some extremely large-scale maps of the Corporation's property which show immense detail of buildings, outhouses and former "garden grounds".
A small series of papers relating to the Watch Rate includes otherwise unknown details about the 1842 Chartist riots in the Potteries Towns and the creation of the new police forces. There are also many petitions, received and sent by the Borough, on small local matters as well as national ones. These include huge documents signed by hundreds of townspeople about the elections and possible disfranchisement of the Borough. Through their listings of occupations they incidentally show the dominance of the shoe trade in the town.
The general correspondence includes a wealth of information about individuals, buildings and local activities, from complaints about bad sanitation and the noise from visiting fairs or anti-social behaviour, to the names of every inn supplying stabling accommodation for the yeomanry, or the cleanliness of lodging houses in times of disease. There are also letters discussing the engineering of public amenities, as well as letters and surveys from other town clerks across the country asking for advice or sharing expertise, such as over sewerage schemes or street cattle markets. There is no end to the miscellaneous items to be found in the collection, which provide all sorts of insights into the lives of individual people in Stafford.
The collection also includes records over which the Borough acted incidentally, such as local charities and the Free Grammar School for which it was trustee, the Lyceum Theatre, and the local military tribunals for the First World War which assessed men for work of importance to the war effort or for conscientious objection. Other papers of interest relating to the wars include letters from the troops relating to Welcome Home celebrations after the Boer and Second World Wars, and lists of dependants of servicemen in the First World War applying for financial assistance, which give names and details of regiment. Another unusual item is the visitors' book to the Royal Brine Baths, which records the appreciative comments of visitors from all parts of the country and from across the world, including British football teams during the 1920s.
Please note that the documents shown on our online catalogue do not represent the total of the Borough's records held at Staffordshire Record Office. Further catalogues are still to be input, in particular, a large series of building control plans and planning applications for new houses and alterations, from 1876 to 1948. In the meantime please make enquiries to Staffordshire Record Office as to their contents.
A full account of the history of Stafford can be found in The Victoria History of the County of Stafford, volume VI, 1979. A History of Stafford was reprinted 1982 and 2006, and is available for purchase from Staffordshire Record Office.
Please follow the links below for further information from Stafford Borough Council on the history of Stafford and the 800th anniversary of the 1206 Charter:
History of Stafford - http://www.staffordbc.gov.uk/static/page5749.htm
800th Anniversary of the 1206 Charter - http://www.staffordbc.gov.uk/static/page5473.htm