From a talk by Dr. Colin Shrimpton.
Collecting in the Rents in the North Parts – a fascinating glimpse of the difficulties the Earls of Northumberland experienced in collecting their rents from the late fifteenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries.
Before this period, the lord himself would travel from estate to estate, being accommodated and richly entertained at the tenants’ expense. After the mid-eighteenth century, the estates were managed by a resident administration. Between this time the administration was itinerant, and rents were collected twice yearly, after the Lady Day and Michaelmas audits. These raised about £8-9,000 every six months.
The estates of the Earls of Northumberland were huge. Apart from the estates in Northumberland, they owned a lot of land along the Tyne valley, in Cumberland, and in Yorkshire. Despite this, the administration comprised just two officials, the Receiver-General and the Auditor, supported by a few servants. Clearly, collection from individual tenants would have been impossible, so the area was divided into three sections, each containing “principal” tenants, who dealt directly with the Earl’s administration. The principal tenants held 21 year leases. They paid the Earl a fixed sum, but charged the tenants a rack rent, at great profit to themselves. However, the system brought the Earls as much as they wanted.
The job of Receiver-General was to ensure that the rents were collected. The person appointed needed to be educated, honest, young and unmarried, since the Earl wanted him to wholly apply himself to the Earl’s needs. It was not a sinecure: one man spent 254 days in a year travelling in the north on the Earl’s business. The Auditor oversaw the audit and managed the local officials, including the Constable, Bailiffs and Stewards. The Stewards were the Earl’s law officers. They formed part of the Earl’s Standing Council which gave legal advice on property disputes and other matters for a fee.
Generally, the administration would travel from London to York to collect from the estates in Yorkshire. Then to Cockermouth across the old Roman road, roughly following the present A66, across difficult mountainous and forested country, and to Carlisle to collect the Cumberland rents. They then travelled along the Tyne Valley to Newcastle and Alnwick. Whenever possible they would travel by river, and there were areas where it was necessary to hire local guides. Bad weather at the Michaelmas audit would cause delays, and they would never travel on Sundays. During the seventeenth century the route changed to a clockwise direction, and they cut the number of stops. Approximate journey times were: London-York 7 days; York-Cockermouth 3 days; Cockermouth-Alnwick 6 or 7 days. At Cockermouth and Alnwick they would stay in the Castles, where they were expected to entertain the principal tenants royally. However, the administrative expense account seems to have been very generous, and local dignitaries would provide venison and fish.
The most important part of their equipage were the horses. These were tough geldings, very well cared for and as fit as possible. This was necessary as good-looking animals formed part of the Earl’s prestige. If a horse was injured on the road. it would not be destroyed, but would be put into the keeping of a hosteller, and picked up when they were well.
The money was collected in coin. A teller was employed locally, one at each centre, receiving £2 10s. The money needed weighing and testing, as there was always some adulterated money. The coin was put in leather bags, which were locally produced by glove makers. It was carried on sumpter horses hired at York, with a special saddle, also made locally.
Carrying all this money was clearly dangerous. The administrative group was small, usually just 5 people and 7 horses. They were all armed, carrying 4 pairs of pistols, a carbine and a musketoon, all of which could be fired from horseback. They would hire local guards for protection, and, especially in the sixteenth century, families were delegated to protect the money. This changed because of the Civil War. While fighting was going on, it was easy to get money through, but the Earl experienced huge losses, because of defaulting. There was also a particular problem with the Scottish soldiers who, having destroyed Tadcaster, 77 buildings in Tynemouth and stripped Warkworth of all its lead, demanded £1,500 from the Earl. He was also obliged to pay parliamentary troops to keep Wressle safe.
After the war, the troops remained unpaid and idle, and there were increasing problems in transporting coin, and the system changed to the use of bills of exchange. These were bought at Newcastle or York, and cashed in London. This continued except for a short period in the 1660’s when the monies were transported by the King’s wagons.