Hereford City Heritage

The Mayor’s Chain

       The Royal Charters of the City of Hereford

Hereford’s place in the history books was assured over 1,000 years ago and many chapters have since been added. Not all of Hereford’s history is to be found in books however and amongst the most fascinating links with the city’s past are its numerous Charters, Proclamations and other manuscripts.

Hereford’s Royal Charters are among the finest in the country and bear testimony to the City’s long history.

The second earliest Charter is a grant of fee farm to the city by Richard l in 1189. It measures only 5.5inches by 4.5 inches (14 cm x 11.4cm) . A translation reads as follows:

               “Richard, by the Grace of God, King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitane and Count of Anjou, To all Archbishops, Bishops, Abbotts, Earls, Barons, Justices, Sheriffs, Ministers and all faithful subjects in France and throughout all England, health.

         Know ye that we grant to our citizens of Hereford in Wales the town of Hereford to hold in perpetuity upon their rendering forty pounds sterling per annum, and also they shall afford their assistance in fortifying that town. And for this grant they shall give to us forty marks in silver. Therefore we command that they hold the said town in perpetuity by the aforesaid rent of forty pounds per annum, with all its free liberties and free customs and all things thereto belonging. So that no sheriff of ours shall intrude in any wise upon them concerning any plea, quarrel or other thing relating to the aforesaid town.

Witnesses: H. Bishop of Durham; W. de St. Johanne.

Dated from Westminster the first year of our reign the ninth of October under the hand of W. De Longo Campo our Chancellor-elect of Ely.”

The following Charters and many others of great interest are in an excellent state of preservation and are housed in the Town Hall in cases presented on 1st June 1909, to the Corporation by Mr. W T Carless, Town Clerk.

       1189  -  Richard l

       1227,1256 - Henry lll

       1307,1314.1327,1331 - Edward l, lll

       1383,1393,1394,1399 - Richard ll, Henry lV

       1457, 1463 - Henry Vl, Edward lV

       1536 -  Henry Vlll

       1597 - Elizabeth l

       1619,1682,1690,1697  - James l, Charles ll, William & Mary, William lll

       1936  -  William lV

       1973,1974,1998,2000  - Elizabeth ll


Richard l

9 October 1189

Richard l concedes to his citizens of Hereford in Wales the holding of the town in perpetuity at a rent of 40 paid annually at the Exchequer. The citizens are to help in the fortifying of the town. They may hold the town in perpetuity on these terms with all their liberties and free customs, in such a way that no sheriff of the King shall intrude upon them in any plea, action or suit relating to the said town.



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Henry lll

23 March 1227

Grant to the citizens the right of holding annually a fair on the feast of St. Denis and the two days following. The feast of St. Denis falls on the 9th October. This fair is not to be confused with the customary May Fair which has its origin in a grant to the Bishop of Hereford and which became the perquisite of the municipality only in 1838, when the rights appertaining to the see were acquired by the corporation.

8 August 1256

Grant of return of writs. This reserves any right for the citizens to deal with pleas of the crown, that is, cases in which royal rights may be concerned.      

       Grant of exemption from arrest and of immunity from confiscation of goods of persons dying intestate, and confirmation in ancient customs.


A further grant by Henry lll bestows a Release or Pardon to the citizens 1267 by Prince Edward, eldest son of Henry, for all trespasses committed against him during the rebellion.

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Edward l


A Charter granted tolls in goods exposed for sale in the city to finance the proper repair of the defences.

21 September 1307

Inspeximus of a charter of 1280 confirming the charter of Henry lll.

16 September 1314

Inspeximus of earlier charters concerning pleas.

1. Charter of Richard l. 

2. Charter of King John, dated at Clarendon, 10 July 1215 confirming the above charter of Richard and forbidding interference from the county sheriff in pleas of action arising in the city, granting the right to have a Merchant Gild, and giving terms under which anyone not native to the city could acquire freedom from his lord and live free in the city. King John’s charter is a very important one, and it is fortunate that, though there is no original in Hereford’s series, the text can be recovered: - The right to a Merchant Gild was a right for the merchants of the town to act in association in regulating trade. This eventually gave the Gild control of a trading monopoly. Membership of the Gild became eventually equated with the freedom of the city that is with power for Freemen to enjoy the privileges appertaining to a borough endowed with chartered rights. The rights granted to citizens of sac and soc, toll and theam are really those which endowed them with powers of jurisdiction normally held by the lord of the manor, and so strengthened the citizens in a position approximating to lordship of the town as though it were their own manor. 

3.Charter of Henry lll, dated 23 March 1227, confirming the charter of John.

4.Charter of Henry lll

5.Charter of Henry lll extending privileges in respect of pleas.

Edward lll

15 July 1327

Inspeximus of Charter of 16 September 1314

28 January 1331

Inspeximus of Charter of 16 September 1314 and grant of further exemption from tolls. The Charter of John declared that citizens of Hereford and their heirs should be quit of tolls throughout England. The charter added additional exempted tolls to those identified by John’s charter. These exemptions apply not only to the King’s citizens of Hereford but also to inhabitants within the jurisdiction of the Bishop and the Dean and Chapter within the city.

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Richard ll

18 January 1383

Grant of pontage specifying tolls that can be levied on goods brought for sale into the town over the Wye Bridge.

29 January 1383

Grant in aid of the repair of Wye Bridge. 30 oaks from the King’s forest of the Haye near Hereford, to repair the bridge across the Wye, which bridge was recently broken by the force and speed of the water. He also gives stone from the quarry there, as much as will be wanted from 40 perches.

15 November 1383

Grant that the chief officer (Chief Bailiff) may be styled Mayor. He is to be elected annually, as in time past. The office of chief bailiff of the city, who was elected annually by certain of the citizens his brethren according to well-established and approved custom, differed in no particulars from that of mayor. Only the name is changed by this charter, probably to bring Hereford into line with towns of similar status whose chief officer was so styled. The title of mayor of Hereford was indeed employed before this date in sundry royal instruments so this charter merely regularized the use of a title of status.

2 February 1393

License in Mormain. Because they have no house in which to hold courts the King grants license that the Mayor and Commonalty may acquire the messuage now held in burgage tenure of the crown by Thomas Chippenham and others. It is of the yearly value of 60 shillings. Alongside this license is the gift, made in 1392 by Henry Catchpolle to Thomas Chippenham, William Bowode and Thomas Hoppeleye, of the “Bothehalle”, the property that the city held and used from this time for a long period as its official courthouse. The site and structure of this building is now incorporated in the hotel lying between High Town and East Street.

28 September 1393

Record of Roger de Mortimer’s grant of exemption from distraint.

3 September 1394

Grant of reprisals. The King grants, that if arrests are made in Wales and no deliverance given, the citizens may arrest in like manner any person belonging to Wales, found within the city and liberties, until satisfaction be made for losses suffered.

23 June 1399

Grant of right of the goods of felons etc., The Mayor may be a Justice of the Peace. The effect of this privilege was to empower the city to hold its own sessions (Quarter Sessions) for the hearing and judging of all matters touching the keeping (or breaking) of the King’s peace.

Henry lV

20 November 1399

Inspeximus of earlier charters.

1.     Charter of 1 March 1379, which was an inpeximus of charter of 28 January 1331, which was an inspeximus of charter of 16 September 1314.  

2.     Inspeximus of charter 15 November 1383.

3.     Inspeximus of charter 2 February 1393.

4.     Inspeximus of charter 3 September 1394.

5.     Inspeximus of charter 23 June 1399.

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Henry Vl

16 October 1457

Grant of exemption from liability to serve as collectors of taxes except within the city.

Edward lV

18 November 1463

Inspeximus/confirmation of charter Henry Vl.

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Henry Vlll

20 July 1536

License in Mortmain. Granted to the Mayor and citizens license to hold lands to the yearly value of 40 marks. In 1535 Richard Phelips tailor and draper of Hereford, and several time its mayor, gave to his city a considerable endowment of landed properties so that the rents might afford an income and so make it possible for the tolls to be reduced. This license was obtained in accordance with his wishes so that the city might enjoy the benefit of his gift.

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Elizabeth l

       19 August 1597

Charter of Incorporation. Confirmation of former charters and incorporates the city of Hereford by name of mayor, alderman and commonalty, thus providing the city with a true constitution as a body politic with its attendant rights. The Corporation is to hold the city by returning 40 yearly to the Exchequer. The governing body of the city is to consist of a common council of 31 members among which are the mayor and aldermen. It is to meet at the Guildhall for the transaction of the city’s business and for elections – the mayor is to serve for a year. Officers are to be appointed, among them a chief steward (The Earl of Essex is appointed under this charter for life), a town clerk and serjeants at mace. Further clauses of this long document ratify earlier privileges… The mayor and aldermen are to be Justices of the Peace; The mayor is to be coroner of the city; The Corporation may hold 3 weekly markets and 2 annual fairs and have a Gild Merchant controlling trade and admission to the Freedom of the City.

This Charter is elaborately illuminated. The initial letter is 8 inch (20.3cm) long by 7 inch (17.78cm) wide and has in the center a well executed miniature likeness of the Queen arranged in Robes of State. The Royal Seal is very handsome and well preserved (as is that to the Charter of James l in 1620).

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James l

12 July 1619

Charter of reincorporation. Acknowledges all former charters and reincorporates Hereford in name of Mayor, Aldermen and Commonality.

Charles ll

The governmenmt called in the governing charters of all cities and corporate towns governed by Whig officers after the discovery of the Rye House Plot. A new charter reserved to the King the confirmation of the appointment of the Chief Steward, Aldermen and the Town Clerk.

28 April 1682

Charter of Re-incorporation. This eroded some of the privileges granted previously – they were restored by William lll.

 A Proclamation , issued by James ll, shortly before his ‘abdication’, restored the former Charters.


William and Mary

5 April 1690

Grant of Fair. Grants 3 days fair at Easter. This Charter is especially notable for the very fine seal believed to be one of the best remaining in this country.

William lll

14 June 1697

Charter of Re-incorporation and Restoration. An additional fair was granted, in February for 2 days. This left the city with 4 fairs in the year (February, Easter, June and October). Under this charter the city was governed until the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835, which laid down statutory provision for the constitution of such municipalities to retain their status as incorporated borough.

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William lV

3 June 1836

Confirmation of right to courts of Quarter Sessions. The language, for the first time, is English. By the Courts Act of 1971 the Courts of Quarter Sessions were abolished and replaced from January 1972 by a system of Crown Courts sitting locally.

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Elizabeth ll

23 November 1973

Charter confirms upon the District of Hereford the status of Borough. In recognition of its ancient status, this charter revives and ratifies the traditional title and status of borough. It is an enabling instrument by which the city keeps its right to have a mayor.

1 April 1974

Charter ratifies to Hereford its ancient title of city

1 April 1998

Charter Trustees (Hereford) Order 1998. Local Government Re-Organisation creates The County of Herefordshire District Council, which takes on the District Authority duties and responsibilities previously carried out by Hereford City Council. The Civic, Ceremonial and Mayoral function remains with a new body –

The City of Hereford Charter Trustees. The Charter Trustees may elect one of their number to be city mayor and another to be deputy city mayor and they may, subject to provision made under Her Majesty’s prerogative or under any provision of a charter granted by Her Majesty exercise any powers to appoint local officers of dignity.

1 April 2000

The City of Hereford Charter Trustees became a Parish Council –Taking the title Hereford Town Council.

11 October 2000

Her Majesty re-confirmed the ancient title of City for Hereford; Thus the Parish Council regained the title of Hereford City Council.

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