History of the Borough
4: From 1205 to 1630
Following the granting of its first charter in 1205 Huntingdon received a further sixteen charters during the years up to 1630. Most of these simply confirmed and consolidated the town's existing rights, but occasionally new rights were granted. The 1349 royal charter, for instance, allowed the burgesses to build a prison. The main aim of the 1363 charter, was to allow the burgesses to confiscate stolen property: a power they made the most of during the 1381 agricultural revolts, as the uprising was particularly serious in Huntingdonshire.
The burgesses soon had so much power that a separate class-within-a-class emerged, the bailiffs, who did all the real work, making sure the market's regulations were being followed, checking the weights and measures being used, and punishing offenders. There were only two bailiffs at any one time.
This informal hierarchy was officially recognised in the twelfth charter, granted by Richard III in 1484, which decreed that from now on Huntingdon's bailiffs and burgesses should form one legal body, the 'corporation.' Incorporated status meant that the town was now a legal entity in its own right, and could sue or be sued in legal cases through the Town Clerk. Before 1484 it had been necessary to sue every burgess separately, an expensive and time-wasting procedure. The new corporation was named 'The Bailiffs and Burgesses of Huntingdon,' the two bailiffs appointed being the equivalent of a modern Mayor and Deputy Mayor. A common seal was also granted, for use in attesting official documents.
Other officers of the borough included:
- the chamberlain or treasurer
- the coroner, who investigated strange deaths, on behalf of the King
- the town clerk, first mentioned during the 15th century, who kept the borough's records, gave advice to the bailiffs, and who often did the work of other officers whenever there was a vacancy
- the recorder, who wrote down the decisions made by the borough. After 1630 the recorder's role was more that of a legal expert or solicitor to the borough.