Sixteenth and seventeenth century records of the Manor of Mayfield or Little Orpington, transcribed by Geoff Copus

My present purpose is to put on record my transcripts of the sixteenth and seventeenth century documents relating to the Manor of Mayfield or Little Orpington. The earliest of these is part of document reference U967/M2, from the Toke manuscript collection which is now with the Kent History and Library Centre at Maidstone, but I have been unable to trace the present whereabouts of the others.

An article in the Orpington and Kentish Times of 3rd. September 1948 describes how the documents had recently come to light. It is headed “When Orpington had an ale-conner” – the name of the author of the article is not given, but I think that it may have been written by the Rev. Frank Towler. He had been a history master at Dulwich College who was ordained after he retired, and served as honorary assistant priest at St. Andrew’s Orpington. He was also the Local Secretary of the Kent Archaeological Society, a position in which he asked me to succeed him, which I did for a short time, until we moved from Orpington in 1960. The article is worth quoting from at some length:

“Some interesting sidelights into Orpington’s history and ancient customs, and the histories of some of the district’s oldest families, are to be found in three old documents details of which the “Kentish Times” have the privilege of publishing.

Two of the documents are parts of the Court Rolls of the Courts Leet and Barons Courts for the Manor of Mayfield, or Little Orpington, and the other is a survey of the estate compiled in 1678. They belong to Mr. L.H. Dixon, of Sevenoaks, who received them from his friend, the late Mr. Roy Vinson, a member of the last family to reside at Mayfield Manor.

Barons Courts and Courts Leet were the earliest forms of petty-sessional courts in the country, and were the forerunners of present-day magistrates’ courts. They heard complaints and tried local petty crimes, discussed the agricultural policy for the district, and appointed certain local officials such as the constable and the aleconner. The latter was responsible for seeing that measures in public houses were correct.

The Courts were presided over by the Steward of the Manor, normally a solicitor, and a jury was elected from tenants of the Manor. One of the prime businesses of Courts Leet was to view the Frankpledge, a survival of the feudal system by which villagers were divided into groups of about twelve, each of which was responsible for the good behaviour of fellow members, and pledged to see they appeared before the Court.

The Court Rolls, or records of the proceedings at the Courts, are in two parts. The earliest cover a period from 1630 to about 1668 [in fact 1618-69 – GDC] and are roughly bound parchment sheets. The major part is in Latin, but from 1651 to 1660 English is the language used. ……”
A later cutting from the same paper, dated 6th. October 1948, mentions that “More links with the past of Orpington have been handed to Orpington Historical Records Society to be placed with the Avebury collection and other historical articles until such times as a local museum is established. The additions are the 300-years-old Court Rolls of the Barons Courts and Courts Leet of the Manor of Mayfield, a survey of the Mayfield estate taken in 1678, a list of the Quit Rents and arrears for 1764, and a marriage settlement of similar age.”

I was born in Orpington in 1930, and married Brenda Cooper at Chelsfield in 1953. Our first house was in Orpington, and as I had been working on local records since 1947 we were very friendly with that wonderful Orpington historian Mr. Arthur Eldridge, who then lived in Homefield Rise. He founded the Orpington and District Historical Record Society, and in 1954 he lent me the Mayfield Manorial records, which were then in his care, and I transcribed and where necessary translated them before handing them back to him.

It was not until many years later, after I had retired in 1990, that I was able to resume historical research on any large scale, and at that time I transcribed the survey of 1545, which had evidently not formed part of the collection given to the Historical Record Society but had been deposited at Maidstone. I also discovered that the late Mrs. Hart, a prolific and accurate researcher, had in the sixties made literal transcripts of such of the documents as are in English. I made some perfunctory enquiries about the whereabouts of the collection, but without success. Eventually, in June 2013, with the co-operation of Catrin Holland, then the Bromley Local Studies Library Archivist, I searched in the extensive deposited records of the now defunct Historical Record Society, reference 1254/1, to see if I could find any clues as to the fate of the Mayfield documents, with this result –

Ref. 1254/1 – the Minutes of the Society, starting 26 November 1947 with the last entry dated 15 May 1967.

Page 97 – 8 October 1954 – Mayfield documents – These documents were handed over to the Society by Mr. A. Eldridge. As they needed to be kept in safety, it was suggested that the Council be approached for permission to keep all the Society’s documents in their fireproof safe, to be available when required upon application by the President.

Owing to certain unauthorised publications in the Orpington Times, it was thought advisable to draw the Editor’s attention to this. The Chairman [E.C.H. Jones] undertook to send a letter of explanation.

[Mr. Eldridge must have handed back to the Society the documents which I had recently transcribed].

Page 97 – 14 January 1955. Mr. [B.D.] Stoyel reported that the copies of the Mayfield documents were nearly complete.

[this is puzzling, and perhaps refers to Mrs. Hart’s transcripts rather than to mine – I was not actually a member of the Society].

Page 127 – 25 January 1957. Mayfield documents – Mr. Stoyel had sent in the report to the local secretary of the Kent Archaeological Society [this would have been either Fr. Towler or me] but had heard nothing.

Page 209 – 24 February 1964. Mayfield documents – Mrs. Pink said she thought the Mayfield documents, which are kept in the Council Strongroom, may be getting too dry. Mr. Hart said the best place for them would be Maidstone Archives Office, but that we must be sure we can get them back. Mr. Pink thought it reasonable to ask the Librarian whether there is anywhere in Orpington to keep them safely; Mrs. Hart seconded this, so it was agreed the Secretary should write to him.

Page 211 – 20 April 1964. Mayfield documents. – A letter from Mr. Waters  [Orpington Librarian] dated 31 June 1964 was read. Mr.  [John] Parsons suggested that it might be wiser to withdraw these documents from the care of the Council while the changeover to Borough of Greater London was taking place – this was agreed, and it was arranged that Mr. Pink should deposit them in his Bank.

[Mr. T.A. M. Pink and Mrs. Pink lived at 5 Grange Road, and Mr. Pink eventually succeeded Mr. Jones as Chairman of the Society following the latter’s death in 1977, as reported in the News letter of January 1977].

This is the last reference to the Mayfield documents in this source, and unfortunately any later Minutes books have not survived.

I searched through the rest of this box and through all the remaining boxes of material from this Society (a very large collection) and found much which is of interest, but nothing else referring directly to the Mayfield documents.   I also enquired if the documents had indeed been among the Avebury collection which in due course was presented to the Museum, but without any success.

I searched in copies of the Society’s annual Newsletters from the first issue in 1964 (no. 1) to 1984 (no.24), but lacking nos. 18,20,22 and 23. I wrote a short article published in a recent number of “Bromleag”, the journal of the Bromley Borough Local History Society, asking if anyone had knowledge of the present whereabouts of the Mayfield documents, so far without response, and I also checked with Maidstone, but they are not there. I can only hope that they did not end up in a skip and that they will surface one day.

In doing this work I followed my usual practice and made abstracts rather than literal transcripts.  I was however careful to keep the original spelling of place names and personal names; nothing of any importance has been lost but much needless repetition has been avoided.

Geoffrey Copus, 17 Oakdale Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent,  TN4 8DS

February 2014.

Historic Orpington