C.J. (Charles James) Billson.

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Common Hall. The name Town Hall did not come into use
until the 15th century. It appears first in the Borough Records
in the year 1452 ; and, on September 20th, 1462, the Mayor
and Community leased to their Town Clerk a house and garden,
which were described as adjoining the " Town Hall."

54 .

It was not found necessary to spend much upon repairing
the Hall until the year 1306, when the roof began to give trouble.
A " Keeper of the Guild Hall " was then appointed, who bought
slates and other materials for mending the fabric. He made a
bargain with a slater by contract for 5s. iid., " and two boys
helping him 4s. i|d.," the total cost (including some new benches)
amounting to 19s. 2|d. This bargain did not prove, however,
to have been a good one, for extensive repairs were again found
necessary in 13 14, when a thousand slates were put on the roof ;
and once again, in 1320, another thousand slates had to be used.
Six years later, an end was made of this kind of tinkering, and
the work of restoration was properly carried out, the structure
being re-timbered and re-plastered, and re-tiled with two and
a half thousand slates. After this reconstruction, which cost
nearly ^3, the building remained serviceable for upwards of
forty years. By the middle of the 14th century, however, it had
fallen into such a ruinous condition that timber was bought, it
would seem, for propping it up, and it was again re-slated. In
the Spring of 1366, the community decided to undertake the
task of rebuilding it. This work was well carried out, at a cost
of ;£24 14s. od., under the direction of William of Syston and
John of Scraptoft, " keepers of the work of the common hall of
the town." Some of the old slates were used up in roofing the
little chapel on the West Bridge.

During the next two centuries this new building served as
the Guild Hall of the Borough, although after the lapse of little
more than a hundred years it was found somewhat inadequate
for the purpose. Before the 15th century had run its course, the
Community found it necessary to hold some at least of their
meetings in the more commodious Hall of the Corpus Christi
Guild. Long before the actual purchase of this Guild's building
by the Leicester Corporation, the hall in Blue Boar Lane was
sometimes referred to as " the old Hall," or " the old Mayor's
Hall," so that it had evidently even then lost much of its vogue.
It was sometimes, perhaps rather later, called disparagingly " the
oldeshoppe." It was still used by the Corporation, however, and
periodically repaired. It was indeed handsomely redecorated in


I549"5° ^^^ painted with fantastic designs, " antick worii,"as it
was called, scriptures and the King's arms, The garden was let off
in 1537 on a thirty years' lease to a private citizen at a rent of 23
pence. It may be the garden " against the Mayor's Hall," which
was sold about 1590 to Thomas Clarke for 30s. It should be men-
tioned that in 1461 a house, near the High Cross, had been given
to " the Mayoralty of the town of Leicester perpetually " by
John Reynold the Elder. He had himself held that " honourable
and worshipful office," as he states in the deed of Conveyance,
no less than four times, and he had no doubt felt the want of
accommodation. It is not known if the house furnished an official
residence of the Mayor, or if it was used in some other way.

After the purchase of the Corpus Christi Guild Hall in 1562-
3, the old Mayor's Hall was still kept in repair, The armour was
removed to the new hall, and so was one of its doors. Before the
building of the Free Grammer School, the old Mayor's Hall did
duty at least on one occasion as a temporary school. It had long
been used for the reception of prisoners, and also for the storage of
coal. In 1573 a stone wall was built to divide the coal-house from
the prisoners. The Corporation passed a resolution, seven
years later, that no member of the 48 should be punished
any longer at the old hall, but at the new.

It is not known when the Old Pvlayor's Hall was demolished,
and different stories are told about its end. According to some
M.S. notes made by James Thompson, it was sold in 1653 to
John Kestian, malster, for £30. Throsby asserted, on the other
hand, that during the siege of Leicester in 1645 the building was
used as a store room for powder and ball, and was blown up
by the King's forces at the storming of the town. This statement
has been repeated, with some hesitation, by other writers. But
in the rent roll of the Leicester Corporation for the year 1694
" the Mayor's Old Hall " still appears, so that Throsby's story is
probably untrue, and could at the most apply only to a partial
demolition, and Thompson also seems to have been mistaken.

It is quite within the bounds of probability that the Hall and
Parlour of the Corpus Christi Guild were built and designed not


only for the meetings and suppers of the Guild, but also for the
transaction of municipal affairs. The connection of the Town
authorities and the Corpus Christi Guild had been extremely close
ever since the Guild was founded in the middle of the 14th century.
The men who governed the borough were always, to a very large
extent, the same as those who managed the Guild; and as time passed
on, the co-operation of the two bodies became constantly more
noticeable. Thus, it is evident from an ordination passed by the
Mayor and his Brethren in the year 1477 that, as North has
pointed out, " the two masters of the Corpus Christi Guild were
at that time closely connected with the Corporation in the Govern-
ment of the town, and to some extent Vi^ere invested by the Mayor
and his Brethren with superior authority, inasmuch as they had
power to inflict penalties on the Mayor himself in case he neglected
his duty."

The earliest allusion to the Hall and Parlour of the Guild
occurs in their Accounts for 1493-4, when a payment was made
" for sweeping of the parlour and the hall." In the preceding year
the rentcoUectors also took credit for some repairs done to the
Chantry, or residence of the guild priests, which is then first

Now, in the year 1862, Mr. Gordon Hills examined these
buildings, and reported upon them to the Meeting of the British
Archaeological Association which was held at Leicester in that
year.* The conclusion which he drew from a very close and
critical survey of the architectural features of the buildings was
that they were built in the reign of Henry VH. If that is so,
they must have been put up somewhere about the year 1490,
replacing " cottages " and " ground " in St. Martin's Church
Lane, which appeared in older rentals of the guild.

At that time, the Guild was a rich body, its income being
larger than that of the town, and the shrewd burgesses who man-
aged the concerns of both felt, no doubt, that the resources of the
guild might be well employed in providing that accommodation

* Not the Meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute, as Kelly
inadvertently named it in his account of the old Guildhalls. The
meeting of that body at Leicester took place in 1870.


for carrying on the town's business which was then so badly
required. If that was the case, the Mayor and his Brethren
probably made use of the new buildings as soon as they were
completed, although the earliest date on which a common hall
is actually recorded to have been held there was January 8th,
1494-5, (1° Henry VII.) There is no record of any rent being
paid by the town, but the Town Chamberlains took credit for
payments, " for charcoal for Mr. Mayor and his brethren at
Corpus Christi Hall divers times." The relations between
Town and Guild were doubtless on an easy footing, and not
defined by strict contract. Possibly the Mayor and his Brethren
themselves subscribed towards the building ; at all events they
seem to have felt themselves entitled to some beneficial interest,
occupying the Hall rent-free, although the freehold was vested
in the Guild.

The crash came at Easter, 1548, when the chantry founda-
tions ceased to exist, and the legal estate in their property passed
to the Crown. Leicester had taken no open steps to resist the
Chantry Bill of the first year of Edward VI . as Coventry did. The
burgesses of Coventry, it will be remembered, were only induced
to withdraw their opposition to it by a promise, which was duly
performed, that, if they did so, the more important guilds in
their constituency should recover their lands. Indeed, in this case,
" the confiscation of the guild lands of Corpus Christi would
simply have been the ruin of an already decaying city." Leices-
ter was not so dependent on its chief guild as Coventry was, but
what happened at the former town in 1548 is not very clear.
It may be gathered from the Borough Records and from the
Conveyance hereinafter quoted, that the Mayor and his Brethren
managed in some v/ay to retain the use of the Guild Hall apparent-
ly on thesame terms as before. In the Chamberlains' accounts for
this period, the two Tov/n Halls are distinguished as " The Old
Mayor's Hall," or the " Old Hall," or " the Mayor's Hall," on the
one hand, and " the Hall," or " the new Hall," " Corpus Christi
Hall," or the " Town Hall " on the other. Both were kept in
repair at the cost of the town, or by voluntary contributions.
Thus, in 1556-7, a study was provided for the Mayor, at " the


Hall," when 9 pieces of old wood and 44 pounds of lead were
bought " from the church " for that purpose. Towards this
work a sum of ^7 i6s. o^d. was lent, the Mayor himself contribu-
ting los. " The church " was no doubt St. Martin's, but the
accounts of the Churchwardens of that church for the year 1556-7
are unfortunately v/anting.

The Mayor and his Brethren must have been anxious to
obtain the freehold of the new Hall, and they entrusted the
negotiations, it would seem, to Robert Braham, who was ap-
pointed to the Recordership of Leicester in 1558, and who was
M.P. for the town in four parliaments.

Braham completed the matter a few years later through a
Mrs. Pickerell, a wealthy widow of Norwich. She belonged to
a very well-known and prosperous Norfolk family, being a
daughter of Augustin Steward of Norwich, esquire, (who was
Sheriff of Norwich in 1526, Mayor in 1534 and 1546, and M.P,
for Norwich in 1542), and of Elizabeth, daughter of William
Read of Beccles, Suffolk, esquire. Mrs. Pickerell's grandfather
was Geoffrey Steward of Norwich, and she was named after
her paternal grandmother Cecilia, a daughter of Augustin Boyce.*

The family of the Pickerells was also well-known at Norwich.
Thomas Pickerell, who died in 1544-5, had been Mayor
of the city three times, and he was, in all probability, nearly
related to John Pickerell, the husband of Cecilia Steward. f
John Pickerell lived at Dichborough, near Diss, in the county of
Norfolk ; and it does not appear that he had any connection with

* See the Steward pedigree in the Visitation of Norfolk, 1563,
(Harleian Society, 1891) 368-270, and Rye's Index to Norfolk Pedigrees
(Norwich 1896) p. 116. Mr. George Famham of Quom has ver>'
kindly called my attention to another trace of Mrs. Pickerell's business
transactions. Common Pleas Plea Roll 1224 Michaelmas 7 Elizabeth m.
894. A.D. 1564. "CeciliaPyckerellof the City of Norwich, widow z;. Roger
Mansell of Pedmore co. Worcester yeoman Ralph Sheldon of Bewley
CO. Worcester gent and John Famham of the Palace of the lady the
Queen esquire in pleas of debt of £100 respectively."

t In Thomas Pickerell's will, dated loth September, 1545, and
proved 13th March, 1545-6, the Testator mentions a son Edmund and
a brother Edward, but no John. John may have been either brother,
son, or nephew of Thomas. The arms of Pickerell were " sable, a
swan close argent, a chief ermine."


Leicestershire, though there was a John Pickerell, who owned
some land at Leicester in 1492, and who may possibly have been
connected with the Norfolk family.

The Will of John Pickerell of Dichborough, dated the ist
of November, 1554, was proved onFebruary 9th,i555by Edmund
Brudenell, proxy for the relict and executrix. The Testator
gave all his lands tenements houses and orchards within the city
of Norv/ich to his wife Cecily for life, and for her jointure of
40 marks a year he gave her ;^400 in money, and a debt owing to
him of £s^° (200 marks of which were to be paid on the marriage
of their daughter Suzanne). And he left his wife all his furniture
and horses, etc., (with one or two exceptions), and all his debts
and his lands called " Dicheborowe and Rassall " with their
appurtenances in Norfolk ; and, after giving his son Rich?.rd £^0
and his daughter, the wife of Francis Bolton, ^(^20, " to be paid
to them on the recover)' of my debts owing by the Queen's
Majesty," the Testator left the residue to Cecily his wife, and
appointed her sole executrix.

Cecilia Pickerell vv^as thus a woman of considerable means,
and she became a large investor in the lands of dissolved chantries.
It is possible that the debt owing by the Crown, which is referred
to in John Pickerell's Will, may have been discharged from this
source. No less than three Royal Grants were made to Mrs.
Pickerell within two years : the first in the third year of Elizabeth ;
the next in the February of the fifth year, and the third in the
June of the same year.

The Leicester Recorder approached Mrs, Pickerell perhaps
after her first grant in 1 560-1, and made a bargain with her that
in her next batch of investments she should include the premises
of the Leicester Corpus Christi Guild Hall, and re-sell them to
him at a fixed price. The negotiations may have been carried
out, if one may hazard the conjecture, through Mrs. Pickerell's
proxy, Edmund Brudenell, who had proved her husband's will.
Brudenell is not a Norfolk name, and Edmund Brudenell was
probably one of the Brudenells of Staunton Wyville or Staunton
Brudenell, in the county of Leicester. There were at that time
at least three members of the family who bore the Christian name


of Edmund ; (i) Sir Edmund Brudenell, who died in 1584-5,
grandson of Sir Robert Brudenell, Chief Justice of the Common
Pleas, and a Commissioner to survey lands in Leicestershire, (2)
his uncle Edmund, and (3) his cousin Edmund, who died at
Staunton Wyville in 1590, and whose alabaster figure, arrayed
in magisterial robes, lies in the chancel of Staunton W}^dlle
church. The inscription placed over his monument records that
he was " a man that l\^'ed in the treue feare of God, a lover of
hospitalitie, pitiful to the poore, a quieter of controversies in his
countrie, beloved of his neighbours, learned in the laws of the
realme bothe civill and common." This worthy county magnate
would be well-known to the Leicester Recorder and M.P., and
pending the production of further evidence, it will do no harm
to indulge in the hypothesis, that it was partly through the good
offices of Edmund Brudenell of Staunton Wyville that the 15th
century Guild Hall of Leicester became restored to the Town.*

The grant made to Mrs. Pickerell on February 6th, 1562-3
was very extensive, and comprised property in Derbyshire,
Chester, Devon, Norfolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Sussex, Surrey,
etc. The roll is actually some 50 feet in length, consisting of
42 membranes sewn together end to end. There seems to be
no Leicestershire property contained in any of the three grants
except Leicester Corpus Christi Guild Hall passing under the
grant of February 6th, 1562-3, by the same description as that
which appears in the Conveyance to Braham. That Conveyance
was in all probability prepared beforehand, to await the sealing
and official enrolment of the grant to the vendor.

A Deed of Conveyance is still preserved in the Munim.ent
Room of Leicester City, which is endorsed on the front " The
Deeds for the Town Hall," and on the back " They dedis
and Raylaisse of the towne hall bought by Mr. Brayham
o"^ Recorder in the tyme of Mr. Raynold mayre Anno 1563."
This document was produced at the meeting of the British
Archaeological Association before referred to. As it has not

* It is v.'orth noting that Robert Braham's only daughter and heiress,
Phillippa, married Henr>' Cave, of Barrow-on-Soar, the fourth son of
Francis Cave, Doctor of Civil Law, of Bagrave, Leicestershire.
(Visitation of Leicestershire, page 120.)


been published in the Records of the Borough, a translation of it
is here given.

" TO ALL the faithful in Christ to whom this present
writing indented shall have come CECILIA PICKERELL of the
City of Norwich widow late wife of John Pickerell Gentleman
now deceased (sends) greeting perpetual in the Lord KNOW YE
that I the aforesaid Cecilia for a certain sum of money to me
the aforesaid Cecilia beforehand well and duly paid by Robert
Braham of Barrow-on-Soar in the County of Leicester gentleman
v\'hereof I own myself to be fully paid and satisfied and the same
Robert and his heirs and executors to be acquitted and exonerated
in perpetuity by these presents have delivered granted enfeoffed
sold and bargained and by this my present writing indented have
confirmed to the same Robert ALL THAT cottage or tenement
v.ith its appurtenances situated and being next the burial ground of
Saint Martin's in the town of Leicester in the County aforesaid
now or late in the tenure or occupation of the Mayor and Burgesses
of Leicester aforesaid and late for some while belonging and per-
taining to the Guild of Corpus Christi there AND any reversion
or reversions of all and singular the premises and of any part
thereof as well as the rents and annual profits in any way reserved
upon any leases or grants of the premises or of any part thereof
in any way made as fully and freely and entirely and in as full
manner and form as I the aforesaid Cecilia Pickerell late held all
and singular the same premises (amongst other things) by the
grant and concession to me and my heirs in perpetuity of Our
Lady Queen Elizabeth that now is by letters patent sealed with
lier great seal of England bearing date at Westminster the sixth
day of February in the fifth year of the reign of the said Lady our
Queen as by the said letters patent (amongst other things) more
fully is clear and doth appear TO HAVE AND TO HOLD and
to enjoy all the aforesaid cottage or tenement with its appurtenances
to the aforesaid Robert Braham his heirs and assigns in perpe-
tuity for the sole and proper use and behoof of him the said Robert
his heirs and assigns in perpetuity To Hold of the aforesaid Lady
Queen her heirs and successors as of her Manor of East Grene-
wich in her county of Kent in free socage by fealty and not in


capite for all rents or outgoings and demands whatsoever therefrom
to the said Lady Queen her heirs and successors by whatever
means to be rendered paid or done AND I the aforesaid Cecilia
Pickerell and my heirs the aforesaid cottage or tenement to the
aforesaid Robert his heirs and assigns in perpetuity for the afore-
said use against me the aforesaid Cecilia and my heirs w411 warrant
and in perpetuity will defend by these presents AND MORE-
OVER know ye that I the aforesaid Cecilia have made ordained
and constituted and in my room by these presents have put the
to me beloved in Christ John Eyrycke and William Manbie my
true and lawful attorneys jointly and severally to enter in my
stead and in my name upon the aforesaid cottage or tenement
with its appurtenances and full and peaceable possession therein
to take and afterwards to deliver full and peaceable possession
and seisin of and in the same cottage or tenement with its appurte-
nances to the aforesaid Robert or his in this behalf certain attorney
according to the tenor force form and effect of this my present
writing indented then completed for him holding and to hold
satisfied and approved all and v/hatsoever my said attorneys in
my stead and in my name shall have done or either of them shall
have done of and in the premises by these presents IN WITNESS
whereof to this my present writing indented I the aforesaid
Cecilia have affixed my seal dated the seventh day of February
in the fifth year of the reign of our Lady Elizabeth by the grace
of God of England France and Ireland Queen Defender of
the Faith

by me Cecyley Pickerell
Recognised before me John Gybon
in my Chancery the day and year above written."

The use of the word " cottage," to describe the Hall and
premises of the Corpus Christi Guild lying on the West side of St.
Martin's churchyard, is somewhat strange. It may be due
merely to legal conservatism, the parcels being copied from the
original conveyance to the guild, when there was nothing but
a cottage on the land, only the names of the tenants being brought
up to date. Or it may be owing (as Mr. S. H. Skillington
suggests), to a desire to minimise the importance which the


Leicester authorities attached to the premises thus conveyed.
Certainly, the real meaning of the transaction was not allowed
to appear on the surface of the deed. In any case it seems that
the Conveyance must have included the whole of the old guild
premises west of St. Martin's churchyard. This is shown
by the endorsement written on the back of the Conveyance,
which is much earlier than the other endorsement, and must
have been made soon after the execution of the deed, the hand-
writing being contemporary. It is also proved by the general
circumstances of the case, and especially by the corroboration of
the Borough Records. In the Chamberlains' Accounts for the
year 1562-3, there is an entry referring to wine drunk at the
" possession-taking of the Hall," and it is also noted that a
certain sum was paid to Mr. Manby, one of the • attorneys
mentioned in the Conveyance, " that he laid out for the purchase
of the Hall," and that -^2 13s. 4d. more was paid to Mr. Recorder
for the same Hall, " that he laid out and for his pains." The
sum then paid to Manby is stated by Kelly and North to have
been jTio. A further payment oi £'j 9s. 4d. was made to Manby
in 1565-6, and also some " arrearages " of the Hall were paid,
stated by Kelly to have amounted to -^5 los. 8d. The total
amount of the purchase money cannot be exactly ascertained, but
does not seem to have been large, and, if the figures given above
are correct and exhaustive, did not exceed ;^25.

The title of the Corporation was further confirmed in 1589
by the Charter of Queen Elizabeth, wherein she granted to the
Mayor and Burgesses of Leicester, " the chantry of Corpus
Christi Guild v>^ith its lands let to R. Hawkes and T. Bate," and
the " guild called Corpus Christi Guild." The lease to Hawkes
and Bate expired at Lady Day, 1595, and the lands and tenements
comprised therein then fell into the possession of the Leicester
Corporation, subject only, as appears from the Town Chamber-
lains' accounts, to a small yearly payment of 7s. 9d. The particu-
lars of the lands and tenements are set out in the Corporation's
Rental for the year ending Michaelmas, 1595.

It is said by Nichols that all the possessions of the Corpus
Christi Guild were purchased from King Edward VI by R.obert
Catlyn, of Beby, in Leicestershire, aftenvards Chief Justice of


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England, He does not, however, give any authority for this
statement, which seems inconsistent with Queen EHzabeth's
grant to the Leicester Burgesses. Among the particulars for
grants of the reign of Edward VI, filed at the Augmentation
Office, there is, however, a request dated 8 July, 3 Ed. VI, by
Robert Catlyn of London and William Thomas, to purchase the
farm of parcel of the possessions of the late guild or chantry of
Corpus Christi in the town of Leicester. It would seem there-
fore that, if this grant were carried out, Catlyn and Thomas,
or their nominee, took a lease for years only of part of the
Guild's possessions, leaving the freehold in the Crown.

The buildings seem to have occupied the four sides of a
square, with an open court in the centre. On the North, fronting
the street, stood the Hall of Corpus Christi, 62 feet long by 19
broad : on the West lay the Parlour, with rooms over : on the
South were the Kitchens, and on the East, facing St. Martin's
church, were the residences of the four chantry priests. These
four houses are alluded to incidentally in the Guild's rental for the
year 1525-6, where the following entry occurs : " Mending of the
Chantry wickett and iiij keys, vjd " : from which it appears

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Online LibraryC.J. (Charles James) BillsonMediaeval Leicester → online text (page 6 of 21)