Winchelsea Court Book (1824-1828) by Malcolm Pratt. Published by Sussex Record Society in 2016

Informations and Summary Proceedings before His Majesty’s
Justices of the Peace for the Ancient Town of Winchelsea


This volume [ESRO WIN 237A] was commenced by Charles Arnett soon after his appointment as Winchelsea's assistant overseer. It is a record of many of the cases in which he was involved which were brought before Winchelsea's magistrates during his period of office and is almost entirely in his hand. Of the four transcriptions included in the present supplement this is the one most closely associated with the parent volume for over one third of the ninety-five entries are reproduced there. However, reading them together in chronological order rather than occasionally among the documents related to individual paupers provides an infinitely better insight into the complexities and demands of Arnett's job. We find him initiating, or at least noting, appearances in court resulting from anti-social behaviour, settlement, bastardy, abuse of tax commissioners, theft of parish property, pauper employment, provision of poor relief, threats to his own person, failure to pay the poor rate, wilful damage to the poorhouse, assault, vagrancy, provision of sureties for court appearance, property occupied by paupers at parish expense and even acting as the rector's agent in the enforcement of tithe payments including those demanded of paupers, Of these the transcription shows that the most common were cases related to the maintenance of illegitimate children and failure to pay the poor rate. Arnett, who had previously been a clerk and a schoolmaster, was appointed without legal experience and made a note on the inside of the front cover of three recent statutes which might help him in his work. The first became law in 1820 and he recorded its title as 'An Act to remedy certain inconveniences in local jurisdictions and to authorise local justices to commit to the county gaol'. In Winchelsea's gaol book, also reproduced here, we find this authorisation being regularly implemented. Arnett also noted the Recognisance Act of 1822 and the Vagrancy Act of 1824. As is made clear when cases appear, recognisances were financial commitments made by defendants and those prepared to stand surety for them, to ensure court appearance when required. The amounts involved were large and are likely to have brought considerable hardship to those concerned should the defendant have failed to attend.