THE "WINTERSTOKE HUNDRED"
The name “Winterstoke” is well known in this area of Somerset; there is a Winterstoke Road in Weston; there was a Lord Winterstoke, one of the Wills Family and there was a steam engine on the Great Western Railway called Winterstoke.
So what was the Winterstoke Hundred?
The “Hundred” was a sub-division of the Shire and its establishment dates back to Anglo Saxon times - it had Military, Judicial and Administrative functions and it is believed that the term meant an area of 100 taxable hides of land; each hide capable of supporting one family. Above the Hundred was the Shire under the control of the Sheriff The division into hundreds is generally ascribed to King Alfred All Hundreds were divided into “tithings” which contained 10 households.
In the “History of Somerset” Collinson declares that “the Hundred of Winterstoke took its name from the ancient, but now depopulated, village of Winterstoke which was derived from a remarkable spot called Winthill in the parish of Banwell, where according to tradition a bloody battle was fought between the Danes and the Saxons.”
In the medieval Hundred of Winterstoke, Banwell was the capital Manor and the “Court House” which stood on the ground now occupied by Banwell Abbey was the Judicial
Centre covering, according to Domesday, 27 towns and villages (later rising to 41). (see the map dated 1645).
There was a Lord of every Hundred (appointed by the King) and in the case of Winterstoke, the Bishop was the Lord of Banwell. In the 12th Century the Court of the Hundred was held once a month and was attended by the Lord’s Steward, the priest and the reeve and four men of each manor; an assembly in our Hundred which would have numbered at least 150 people; out of these 12 were chosen as a jury, presided over by the Lord’s Steward. The Court tried criminals, settled disputes and witnessed transfers of land. Sittings were increased to fortnightly but an ordinance of 1234 reduced this to every 3 weeks.
The Manor had other duties; for instance, we find that many people were fined in the Banwell Court for brewing a lower quality of beer than that allowed and also to persons who sold short measure of bread. Actions for trespass were also settled in the Manor Court; further small debts were recovered.
Examples of punishments levied by the Banwell Court included :
In April 1362, Thomas Day of Churchill was fined sixpence for drawing the blood of William Suel and John Stanford. John Tunor and others were fined for breaking the assize of ale. From Banwell, David Walssh, Katherine Wilteshire and others were fined for drawing blood against the peace. John Worm was fined one penny for detaining 6s 8d due to Matilda, Executrix of John Sutton.
One woman was ordered to walk barefoot three times around the church for some small misdemeanor.
Some rough justice was delivered, as the Church Accounts show payments for the construction of stocks and a “Kuken stool”, the latter being used to duck scolding wives and dishonest tradesmen in Banwell Pool.
The Manor Court was a democratic body possessed of very considerable power, and not afraid to use it. In 1370 they ordered the Reeve of the Lord Bishop to clean out Banwell Yeo River before the next Court.
Twice a year, special courts were held known as “hundredum magnum” (in accordance with Magna Carta of 1217). This was the Sheriff’s turn, primarily to see that all who ought to be were in the “frank-pledge” All men over 12 years old were joined in groups of 10 households – this unit under a leader known as the “tithing-man” was then responsible for producing any man of that tithing suspected of a crime. If the man did not appear then the whole group was fined ( The Saxon frank-pledge required all free adult males to be responsible for the good conduct of each other and to band together for the community’s protection. By the 13th century it was the unfree and landless men who were so bound).
More serious crimes, such as murder, were referred to the County Sheriff. In the twelfth century, King Henry II introduced a new system of paid professional judges who traveled around the country to try serious crimes, and this developed into regular sittings of Assize Courts; eventually only held in Taunton and Wells. In the medieval period the Shire or County Court became established at Ilchester where a County goal was built.
In military matters the Hundred was responsible for raising Militia and in 1569 a Royal Commission by Queen Elizabeth I recorded that a substantial force was mustered by the Winterstoke Hundred.
The importance of the Hundred Courts declined from the seventeenth century and most of their powers were extinguished with the establishment of County Courts in 1867. Our Parish Magazine of 1906 commented on the change and noted that in the Hundred Court “the justice of the country side was done speedily and with great fairness, for the seven people from each manor would supply the local knowledge needed and the jury of twelve chosen from the whole assembly could be trusted to be impartial”.