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Repository Cheshire Record Office
Level Collection (Fonds)
Reference ZCH
Title City of Chester Charters
Date c 1175-1974
Description Henry II re-affirmed trading rights enjoyed by the burgesses of Chester in Dublin since the time of Henry I c.1175-6 (ZCH/1); (ZCH/5) dated c.1190-93, confirms the citizens' guild merchant ; (ZCH/4) attributed to the same period confirms the citizens' liberties and free customs, a charter later referred to as the earl's 'magna carte' ; (ZCH/7 dated c.1208-18, confirms to the earl's men of Chester sole right of trading in the city ).
The term 'citizen' was being extensively used before Edward I's charter of inspeximus and confirmation dated 12 June 1300 (ZCH/13) granted Chester to the citizens on payment of a fee farm of £100 per annum. Other privileges granted in 1300 included the right to try Crown pleas before the mayor and bailiffs, the power to elect coroners and permission to build on vacant places and take the revenues arising therefrom.
In 1354, (ZCH/18) Edward the Black Prince granted further privileges including the mayor's appointment as escheator within the city and the conferment of admiralty powers over the river Dee from Chester to Arnold's Eye near Hoylake; also, the city boundaries were defined for the first time.
Other medieval charters included grants of the murage for such purposes of completing a tower on the Dee Bridge (ZCH/25) and remissions of part of the fee farm rent because of the destruction of the harbour through the silting up of the river Dee, causing Chester's impoverishment (ZCH28-31).
The "Great Charter" of 1506 (ZCH/32) incorporated the city and granted inter alia that henceforth Chester be separate from the county of Chester with the exception of Chester Castle and Gloverstone and styled 'county of the city of Chester'; that the citizens may yearly elect a mayor, twenty four aldermen and forty common councilmen (one alderman being elected to the office of recorder), two sheriffs, two coroners and two murengers; hold courts and make ordinances; assign places for selling fish or flesh' also that the mayor and aldermen who have been mayor, shall be justices of the peace .
A charter of 1836 (ZCH/43) empowered the citizens of Chester to continue holding a separate court of quarter sessions.
The achievement of arms borne by Chester until 1974, (ZCH/44) was granted and confirmed by William Flower, Norroy King of Arms in 1580, during the herald's visitation of that year. An endorsement on the grant made by William Cowper, mayor in 1754-55, claims that the arms were first granted by Edward III in 1329 and confirmed by Richard II in 1394, but this cannot be verified from a contemporary source. The 1580 grant was confirmed by Richard St George, Norroy King of Arms in 1613 and the city's motto 'Antiqui Colant Antiquum Dierum' ('Let the Ancients worship the Ancient of Days'), written on a fold of the document, can probably be attributed to him .
A civic badge was granted to the mayor, aldermen and citizens in 1959 (ZCH/45).
Chester's two most recent charters were granted in 1974, consequent upon the Local Government Act, 1972, which came into force on 1 April 1974. Chester lost its separate identity as a county borough; its area was enlarged and it became one of Cheshire's eight new districts. The charter granted on 15 May 1974 gave the district borough status, so that it might elect a mayor (ZCH/46); the charter granted on 28 May 1974 conferred on the borough the title 'City of Chester' (ZCH/47). From the end of the fourteenth century, Chester's charters take the form of letters patent, sealed with the Great Seal or (up to 1506), a seal of the County Palatine of Chester.
Extent 45 documents
Administrative History The City's charters contain the history of Chester's emergence as a unit of local government independent of the county of Chester, as successive privileges were obtained from the Crown and the Earls of Chester. The earliest charters from the Crown relate to external matters, for example ZCH/1. Charters from the Earl of Chester relate to internal matters, for example the three charters of Earl Ranulph III. The earldom of Chester, created c.1077, reverted to the Crown in 1237 after the death of Earl John 'le Scot' and in 1301, Edward I created his heir Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester. For the remainder of the medieval period, whether a charter was granted by the king or earl, mainly depended on whether or not the earl was a minor. The burgesses of Chester acted as a corporate body from the end of the twelfth century. As successive privileges were granted, a machinery of government evolved which received formal recognition in Henry VII's 'Great Charter' of 1506. With minor amendments, this charter remained the basis of Chester's government until the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835, introduced councils elected by the ratepayers.
Related Material After local government reorganisation, Chester was required to apply for a new achievement of arms, but the arms granted in 1977 preserve many of the features of the old arms, with suitable additions relevant to the new city. This grant, which is on display in the Council Chamber of Chester Town Hall, also incorporates the grant of a new civic badge. Illustrations of Chester's achievements of arms may be seen in G Briggs, Civic & Corporate Heraldry, 1971 and Chester Official Guide, 44th edition, [1981].
Transcripts and translations of the charters granted up to 1574, are contained in R H Morris, Chester in the Plantagenet and Tudor Reigns, [1894], pp.480-552. A summary of each charter is contained in Margaret J Groombridge, Guide to the Charters, Plate and Insignia of the City of Chester, [1950]. However, recent research has attributed dates different from those of Morris and Groombridge to most of the undated charters: these dates and explanatory notes are included in a typescript list of the charters which may be consulted in the City Record Office.
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