The Barnstaple Charters

A subject for considerable argument is that concerning the 'Charters of Barnstaple'. A tradition is that King Athelstan gave the town its first charter in about 930 AD, but this document is not truly recorded. However, since the town did have burh-witan status, the conclusion is that a charter must have existed. The people of Barnstaple have always made sure of playing on this tradition, and in 1344 an inquisition was held at Barnstaple (an earlier one was held at South Molton) before Hamon de Dereworthy and John de Baumfield (Justices of the King), and in the presence of the Sheriff, Walter de Horton. A traditional 'body of 12' stated on oath that "the Borough of Barnstaple now is, and always was, time out of mind, a free Borough.......", and that the town had other specific liberties (that were listed). One of "the 12" was William de Loriawell..

It is a reasonable conjecture that officials, and even the 'jury', were richly entertained and given suitable gifts. However, those up in London were not to be outsmarted and Edward noted that the men of Barnstaple had been "artfully and craftily busying themselves about those things which by the inquisition before named was found to be our damage and prejudice"! A third enquiry was held at Torrington, and there it was found that the King (and others!) would lose out by confirming the status! This, however, does not appear to have made one iota of difference to our men of Barnstaple, and the message seems to have gone out that "business is as usual" - self-appointment of mayors included! A snook was cocked!

Barnstaple - Town on the Taw, Lois Lamplugh, Phillimore, 1983.
Barnstaple Records, Chanter & Wainwright, 1899.

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