Page:History and characteristics of Bishop Auckland.djvu/24

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their homes numerous families, whose fathers had occupied the same farms for several generations; and the increasing multitudes of the poor began to resort to the more populous towns in search of that relief which had formerly been distributed at the gates of the monasteries.

Meanwhile, mendicants wandered in crowds through the country, and, by their numbers and importunities, often extorted alms from the intimidated passenger. To abate this nuisance a statute was enacted in 1547, which provided that, " Whosoever lived idly and loiteringly for the space of three days, came under the description of a vagabond, and was liable to the following punishment:—Two justices of the peace might order the letter "V" to be burnt on his breast, and adjudge him to serve the informer two years as his slave. His master was bound to provide him with bread, water, and refuse meat; might fix an iron ring round his neck, arm, or leg; and was authorised to compel him to labour at any work, however vile it might be, by beating, chaining, or otherwise. If the slave absented himself a fortnight the letter "S" was burnt on his cheek or forehead, and he became a slave for life; and, if he offended a second time in the like manner, his flight subjected him to the penalties of felony. Two years later this severe statute was repealed. In 1552, for the first time, a legal provision was made for the poor. For that purpose the churchwardens received authority to collect charitable contributions, and the Bishop of the diocese was empowered to proceed against the defaulters. During the fourteenth year of the reign of Elizabeth, 1572, an Act was passed by which assessments were to be levied in every parish for the relief of the poor; and this has generally been considered as the foundation of our existing poor laws.


From the period of the Boldon Buke to the time of Bishop Beck little is written or known of Auckland or its Castle. At that time, however, we come to an important epoch in its history, viz., the time when it began to assume the appearance and proportions of a castle, though, unfortunately, there is only a portion of one year's records preserved during his episcopate, that of 1308, and in which there is only one single item bearing on the subject—

Payment to Galfrid the Bailiff of Aukland for building the chapel of Aukland, £148.

This sum is equal to about £2,000 of our present money. Under the splendid episcopacy of this Bishop the palatine power is said to have reached its highest elevation. The Court at Durham exhibited all the appendages of Royalty, the most powerful Barons doing homage, and filling the offices of state; and the appearance of the prelate in public was that of a military chief. Auckland, too, felt the reflection of his splendour, and partook of his munificence.

Graystanes says, respecting Bishop Beck, "that he constructed the Manor-house of Aucland, with a chapel and chambers, in a most sumptuous way, appropriating to the chaplains for ever, to serve in the said chapel, the Church of Morpeth; but, upon his death, Ralph Fitzwilliam, the Lord of Graystock, recovered the patronage of the said church by a suit at law; and his presentee having been admitted and instituted by the Bishop the chapel remained unendowed." Godwin de Presulibus, translated by Mickleton, says:— "This Bishop did sumptuously build and incastellate the ancient manor place of Auckland He built the great hall, wherein were divers pillars of black marble, speckled with white. He built also the great chamber, and many other rooms adjoyning, and erected a goodly chappell there of well-squared stone, and placed in the same a Dean, and twelve Prebendaries, viz., one of Auckland, another of Auckland and Binchester, four of Eldon, one of Shildon, one of Witton-upon-Weere, one of West Auckland, and one of Hampsterly, one of Byers, and one of Escomb, allotting the quadrant on the west side of the castle (likewise built by him) for their habitation." Leland, who wrote during the early part of the 15th century, says:—"There was a very ancient manor place belonging to the Bishops of Duresme at Akeland.