The Parish of Hornsey

The land ownership and holdings of early manors (see The Manor and Sub-Manors of Hornsey) probably defined the borders of Hornsey Parish which contained the bishop of London’s Manor and the Prebendal Manor of Brownswood. To the north of the parish was Friern Barnet and Finchley, both part of the Bishop’s great estate.

A variety of manors

Tottenham, to the east of Hornsey parish, included a variety of manors. Those abutting Hornsey were Ducketts, formed in the 13th century and the lands belonging to Saint John of Jerusalem to the south. These were separate from the single manor of Tottenham that divided in 1254 into the four manors, Pembrokes, Bruces, Daubeneys, and Mockings. These were reunited in the early 15th century when John Gedeney, alderman and draper of London became the owner.

The Prebendal Manor of Stoke Newington to the south of Tottenham and east of Brownswood also formed part of the demesne of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1086. To the west of Brownswood and south of the bishop’s manor was the Manor of Newington Barrow (or Highbury), owned by Knights Hospitaller, as the Priory of Saint John of Jerusalem, Clerkenwell, which later formed north Islington.

The Prebendal Manor of Cantelowes in the parish of St Pancras abutted the west side of the Manor of Hornsey. These manors must have determined the parish boundary in the thirteenth century when a church was built in the village of Hornsey on the Bishop’s manor.

This description excludes the uncertain origins of two southern detached parts of Hornsey ancient parish embedded in Stoke Newington parish, and a northern detached part in Friern Barnet Parish, which were transferred to Friern Barnet and Stoke Newington in 1901.

Civic administration

The division of the parish between the Bishop’s Manor of Hornsey, its three sub-manors and the Prebendal Manor of Brownswood meant that the five manorial courts had a civic role in the administration and governance of the parish. However, the parish was first and foremost an ecclesiastical unit of administration and its governance subject to the ecclesiastical courts of the Diocese of London and meetings of the Vestry at the Parish Church.

Types of Manorial Courts

Manorial courts were of two sorts; the View of Frankpledge, including a Court Leet, and the Court Baron.

The View of Frankpledge was a twice-yearly inspection of the system of tithing, under which each group of ten men had a mutual responsibility for their own good behaviour. The Court Leet imposed fines on individuals not belonging to a tithing or if the View of Frankpledge had been broken; it also appointed the local constables to ensure that law and order was upheld.

The Court Baron was held much more frequently and administered the regulations set down as the custom of the manor. It dealt with debts, trespass, and disputes between tenants. However, its most significant role was to record the admission to, or surrender of, land within the manor.

The Church Courts

The parish as an ecclesiastical unit was subject to the Church Courts. Although there seem to be no records of offences against Church law by the inhabitants of Hornsey trials would have been heard in the Consistory Court of St Paul’s in London. The matters dealt with would have included incest and marriage within prohibited degrees, fornication and adultery, non-observance of holy days and non-payment of Easter offerings, and excommunications.

Civic function of Hornsey Parish

The parish also had a civil function. The Rector of Hornsey and the parish officers were the nucleus of the early parish organisation and administration. By custom, inhabitants of the parish had the right to be summoned to a meeting, or Vestry, each year at Easter, and other times as necessary, at which they chose churchwardens, approved their expenses and decided on a church rate to run and maintain the building.

These inhabitants were usually the most important, wealthiest and substantial landholders or tenants in the parish, who, in the Vestry made by-laws and generally held the other parish officers to account. By the late sixteenth century the parish had become basic unit of local government, operating under the scrutiny and approval of the county magistrates in the quarter sessions. This administrative role of the magistrates continued until The Local Government Act of 1888 passed the administration of local government to the new County Councils.

Changes in local government

The Poor Law Act, 1834, and the Highways Act, 1835, marked the beginning of modern municipal local government throughout the country. Following the 1835 Highways Act, the Hornsey Vestry set up a committee for Public Health and Drainage in 1853. This committee only had a short life as it was replaced, in 1854,under the provisions of the Act by a Highways Board with municipal offices in Southwood Lane, Highgate (see A Brief History of Hornsey Town Hall).

This was effectively the beginning of municipal local government in Hornsey. The boundaries of the parish stayed virtually the same until 1865 when the southern portion, around Stoke Newington, became an autonomous district called South Hornsey.

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