The Colyton Chamber of Feoffees* was created in the middle of the 16th Century and has served the people and Parish of Colyton ever since, providing a range of public services, local administration and charitable acts in an unbroken line for nearly five hundred years.
While many of its local public service functions were gradually taken over down the centuries by the Parish Council and/or subsumed by local public administration, the Chamber continues to deliver its charitable function, dispensing grants and loans to worthy local causes and in cases of personal individual hardship.
The Chamber came into being following a notable event which occurred in 1539 when Henry VIII executed the Marquis of Exeter and seized his estates, including the Manor of Colyton, which were duly ‘escheated’ to the Crown. Colyton was a wealthy town and twenty well-to-do citizens subsequently went to the King and requested that they be allowed to purchase the seized estates for 1000 marks (a little less than a £1000). The King agreed, subject to the proceeds being used for ‘good, godly and commendable uses’.
A deed of ‘feoffment’** was signed on 6th January 1546 and the Colyton Chamber of Feoffees established by Royal Charter. The King also granted the Feoffees the management of local fairs and markets at which a Court of Pie Powder could be held – a system for administering on-the-spot justice. So began an early form of local government in Colyton. In 1547 the Chamber appointed a Bailiff to administer its affairs and keep meticulous records of meetings and accounts.
These continuous records, reflecting the history of an important Devon town over nearly half a millennium, are recognised as being of national social and historical importance. They are the subject of a joint collaborative bid by the Colyton Parish History Society and the Chamber of Feoffees to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant to enable the records to be digitized and transcribed, so preserving them and making them more easily accessible to the public and to facilitate academic research.
The Feoffees have supported many public initiatives, beginning with the founding of Colyton Grammar School in 1546. An early water supply was introduced in 1641 when they arranged for ‘spring water to be channelled into a leat (ditch), cut through meadows and collected in a ‘large underground tank’ which is still in existence. They were also instrumental in creating a local fire brigade in 1641. Street lighting was introduced in 1858, again at the Feoffees’ instigation. A new Town Hall was built in 1927. Throughout, grants were made to the needy of the Parish for the purchase of food, fuel and blankets and also in support of academic and sporting pursuits by young people.
Further information about the Colyton Chamber of Feoffees including i) arrangements for hiring the Town Hall and ii) how to make a grant application to the Chamber are available on the Town Hall website.
* The name ‘Feoffee’ is derived from late Middle English or Anglo Norman French and means a trustee invested with a freehold estate to hold in possession for a purpose, typically a charitable one.
** ‘Feoffment’ or ‘to be enfeoffed’ – is an historical feudal law term for a person to whom a grant of freehold property is made.
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