In medieval times the king’s justice was administered by royal justices going around the country on an itinerary, or ‘eyre’, to deal with both civil and criminal matters. The eyres took place at irregular intervals: there were only 11 in Surrey between 1198 and 1294. They ended at the end of the thirteenth century and were replaced by regular, rather than occasional, visits by itinerant justices – the assizes. These justices visited selected assize towns at least twice a year in rotation on a ‘circuit’.
The 1235 Surrey Eyre was held by William of York, Ralph of Norwich, William de Insula and Hugh de Playz from the 6th to about the 22nd October 1235, at Southwark. The roll recording much of the proceedings of the Eyre has survived, the earliest to survive from a Surrey Eyre, and is a rich source for thirteenth-century local history. The history of the roll and how it eventually finished up in the Public Record are described in Volume 1 of the publication referred to below.
The eyres were concerned only with cases that for various reasons had not been dealt with by local courts.
The publication in 2002 by the Surrey Record Society of their volume 37, an index to the 1235 Surrey Eyre, marks the culmination of work that was started at least as early as the 1950s by C.A. F. Meekings, a scholar of international reputation, who has written several other major volumes published by the Society.
The first part of The 1235 Surrey Eyre, an introduction by C.A.F. Meekings, was prepared for the press by David Crook and published as SRS volume 31 in 1979. This volume gives comprehensive background information to the Surrey eyres in general as well as that of 1235. It has an biographical appendix which gives details of the most important Surrey persons concerned in the eyre (including all grand assize electors and jurors), most of whom are mentioned in a number of entries in the roll, together with the eyre justices and the sheriffs and deputy sheriffs holding office between 1229 and 1235, a total of almost 120 persons.
The second part, published in 1983 as SRS volume 32, is the transcription of the eyre by C.A.F. Meekings, re-edited by David Crook with a translation. The texts of 599 pleas (Civil and Crown) are set out, each followed by a translation.
The index gives numerous references to Epsom and Ewell, more for the latter, which is to be expected: Ewell was bigger than Epsom in 1235. However, the majority of them involve the biographical appendix in the first part and note that certain people, not necessarily living in Epsom and Ewell, had witnessed deeds relating to properties there. Other references are in the notes to the text of the second part, so that there in fact few references to Epsom or Ewell in the actual transcript of the eyre. A couple are worthy of mention:
One of the Crown Pleas (No.494) records that:
William, son of Eylota, was drowned by the wheel of the mill of Ewell. The price of the mill (wheel) is (12d), for which Joel the sheriff is to Answer. (12d). Judgement: misadventure.
This is an example of an object causing death (the mill wheel), being declared a ‘deodand’ – a thing to be given to God. It, or its value, was forfeited to the Crown. With the coming of the railways there was a fear that complete trains might be forfeited, and deodands were abolished in 1846. Joel the sheriff, would have been responsible for seeing that the owner of the millwheel paid its value over to the Crown.
There is a brief reference to Epsom in No. 501:
Geoffrey Smith of Cuddington, Osbert Freware, William Halssmith, Richard Mackerell and William, son of Raghenilda are thieves of sheep and other things, so they are to be exacted and outlawed... William and Richard were in the tithing of William de Norreis of Epsom, so it is in mercy.
Although there is so little relating to Epsom and Ewell in the records of the 1235 Eyre, there is much of interest concerning other parts of Surrey, and the SRS publications taken as a whole, with explanatory material, notes and biographies of Surrey personalities, provide a mine of information on medieval Surrey. The importance of the 1235 Surrey Eyre is set out in Dr. David Robinson’s article, ‘Crime and Punishment in Surrey’ that was published in Surrey History 4v (1993). Dr. Robinson has kindly made helpful suggestions on this article.