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Leighton Market Toll Dispute of 1835

Town Hall and Market Square in 1798
Town Hall and Market Square in 1798 [Z50/72/38]

In 1835 a dispute arose, which was eventually taken to the Bedford Assizes and known as Talbot and others versus Archer, over the payment of tolls at Leighton Market. Tolls were owed when livestock were bought and sold and went to the toll collector who leased his position from the tenant of the Manor of Leighton Alias Grovebury. The dispute generated a lot of documents, all preserved in the Kroyer-Kielberg archive at Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service [KK913-921]. It was evident that this was seen as the tip of an iceberg in the town as comments in KK918/3 below make clear.

A number of people were cast as defendants including a Quaker named John Grant. He then wrote to the tenant of the manor, Chandos Leigh, arguing that he had been an inhabitant of Leighton "for near Seventy Years, and from the time of my being a Copyhold Tenant of the Lord of the Manor, having always understood that such tenancy was an Exemption from any impost for Tolls of cattle bought, and untill of late no Toll has been demanded" [KK313/3]. A list of those owing tolls shows the wide area of people the markets and fairs attracted [interestingly John Grant is not included]:

  • John Archer of Eastwick [Essex];
  • John Atkins of Seymour Mews, London;
  • Samuel Bull of Winslow [Buckinghamshire];
  • William Cowley of Tring [Hertfordshire];
  • Joseph Griffin of Wing [Buckinghamshire];
  • Joseph Hill of Potsgrove;
  • John Horwood, place unknown;
  • Keys, place unknown;
  • Robert King of Eynesbury [Huntingdonshire];
  • Thomas King of Leighton Buzzard;
  • John Odell of Toddington;
  • Henry Simons of Bushey [Hertfordshire];
  • Robert Turnham junior of Leighton Buzzard;
  • Jonas Witch of Potsgrove

Cattle at the market about 1900
Cattle at market about 1900 [Z1130/72]

The case for the opinion of counsel [KK918/1] stated that tolls were payable on cattle, pigs and sheep bought and sold at the market at the rate of a penny for pigs and calves, eight pence per twenty for sheep two pence for cows "and so on". The previous holder of the right to collect tolls was man named Saunders on a year by year basis but without a formal lease. His son then continued after his death. "Formerly and till of late years the Tolls used to be paid on the cattle sold in the Market without any dispute but of late years many persons have refused to pay. the documentary evidence of the Grant of this Market merely mentions the Tolls but not the amount or the persons by whom they are payable whether buyer or seller but it has universally been the custom for the buyer to pay those Tolls and not the Seller". When tolls had not been paid Saunders used to distrain livestock to compel payment "which after keeping and being at the expense of feeding for a considerable time and finding that the purchaser does not send and redeem them by payment of the Toll due he returns them under the idea that he would not be justified in selling them and is consequently the loser". Thus steps needed to be taken to enforce the toll as "by reason of the difficulty of getting the Tolls Mr.Saunders holds back his Rent or a great portion of it so that Mr.Leigh will in the end be a serious loser". Before 1833 no record of defaulters had been kept but in the two years since "there are not less than 150 persons who have purchased cattle in the Market from whom various sums are now due for Tolls amounting to only a few shillings or pence in many cases and in none to more than £6 or £7". Leigh wished advice on the following points:

  • Could Saunders distrain livestock  - the answer was that he could distrain within the precincts of the market;
  • Who should be plaintiff in any legal action - the answer was it should be the Trustees of Chandos Leigh (George Talbot, Rev.Theophilus Leigh Cooke and Sir Edward Hyde East) as tenants of the manor under the Dean and Chapter of Saint George's Chapel, Windsor;
  • Could actions be maintained against the buyer of the livestock - the answer being that they could

In the case to advise upon evidence [KK918/3] it was stated that John Archer was a cattle jobber who kept a large number of calves at Leighton Buzzard and was "one of a ring of buyers who have combined to resist payment of tolls", a pencil note stating that David Lee Willis and Jeremy Willis, nonconformist solicitors in the town sent their clerk around to gather signatures for this "ring". Archer was a defendant in a similar case in 1833 at Bishop's Stortford [Hertfordshire], where he lost. The writer felt that opposition to the payments was due to a "spirit of radicalism and resistance to all established rights" which sprang up shortly after the Great Reform Act of 1832 [the first step towards eventual universal enfranchisement]. Interestingly the document notes that John Grant might be called as a witness by Archer and that "he is one of the most Jesuitical fellows that can be"!

Market Square and High Street on market day about 1900
Market Square and High Street on market day about 1900 [Z50/72/109]

The judgement [KK919/32] was made in favour of the plaintiffs and huge costs of £259/1/- were made against the hapless John Archer.