Another tier of local government!  The Court Leet

15/10/2019

The land opposite my house is managed, not by a parish, town, district, borough or county council, but by a Court Leet.   Court Leets were created by decree of the king who formally granted certain trusted lords with the legal authority to manage the tithings in the lord's manor. 

The group of tithings that were located within each manor had come to be called a leet, and hence, in the later Middle Ages these judicial powers came to be called court leet.

It is assumed that the Danby Court Leet has been in existence since medieval times.  Minute books dating back to 1726 are in possession, with names of Jurymen signed (some with an 'X' ) each year, bylaws created, fines imposed etc.  Danby Court Leet acts within the Manor of Danby which is about fifty square miles in area, with five villages, four hamlets and a Camphill Village Trust complex, also many farms.  The approximate population is 3,000. Danby Manor is situated in the upper Esk Valley and the area of common land over which the Court Leet holds jurisdiction is about 15,000 acres, mostly moorland, village greens and green lanes.  There are over 150 common garths ie ancient enclosures from garden size to one acre or more, also thirty common enclosures of field size, allowed for grazing during times of food scarcity.

Danby Court Leet is comprised of a Jury of thirteen local men who elect their Foreman; the Lord appoints a Bailiff who handles communications and keeps records and a Steward of the Court, who handles legal matters.  Within the Manor of Danby there are thousands of acres of Common Land which is owned by the Lord of the Manor, Viscount Downe. Danby Court Leet is responsible for the administration of this Common Land which consists of moorland, village greens, roadside verges etc. The boundaries are marked on maps kept at Danby Castle.

A Register of Common Rights is kept naming dwellings having turbary rights and farms having sheep rights. Turbary Rights permit the householder to cut turves and peat on the Common for his own use. Sheep rights attached to a farm allow the farmer to graze a certain number of sheep on the Common. When a farmer leaves he should write to the Bailiff relinquishing his sheep rights.  An incoming farmer should apply for the sheep rights. This keeps the records correct.  If farms are divided up the Court Leet will allot the sheep rights as they decide is fair.

There are many common garths and common enclosures. These are let and controlled by the Court Leet Jury. Water supplies, telephone and electric cables in the Common and other privileges such as improved access, cattle grids and garages are subject to annual fines which are collected in October.

No one is allowed to do any digging, fencing, planting, building, tipping or other disturbance on the Common without permission of the Court Leet.  Anyone infringing can be fined and caused to reinstate the Common to the satisfaction of the Court Leet Jury

Any person wishing to do work on Common Land must first apply, giving particulars to the Bailiff enclosing £1.00 (one pound) calling-out fee. The Jury will then consider the application.  At the Manorial Court Meeting, held in October at Danby Castle, new Common Right Holders are summoned to be sworn in by the Steward of the Court.