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The Court Leet and Court Baron of the Manor of Henley-in-Arden
The courts are a relic of Henley's feudal past. The Court Leet had jurisdiction over petty offences and civil affairs and was empowered to inflict fines and other punishments: the Court Baron dealt mainly with the transfers of property and land within the Manor. The Courts met jointly and all members of the Court were required to be present or be subject to a fine. The Steward was appointed by the Lord of the Manor and the burgesses of the town elected the officers of the Court each year. The names of the officers varied over time, but those currently elected are the High Bailiff, Low Bailiff, Mace Bearer, Constable, two Ale Tasters, two Brook Lookers, two Affearors, a Butter Weigher and a Hayward. The Town Crier is appointed by the Steward and the Chaplain by the High Bailiff. The records of the Court still exist from 1546, though the names of its High Bailiffs date back to 1477 and its Lords of the Manor to the Norman Conquest.
In 1974 most such courts were abolished by Act of Parliament as being defunct and obsolete, other forms of local government having been introduced in the 19th century: only 16 named courts were allowed to continue, one of which was Henley. The Court Leet continues to meet annually on the second Wednesday in November to elect its officers. It also administers the Guild Hall Trust, which owns the Guild Hall and other property in the town, including the land between the Guild Hall Garden and the river.
The Court Leet is presided over by the Lord of the Manor, Mrs. Robin Hardy-Freed, daughter of the American lumber millionaire Mr. Joseph Hardy of Nemacolin, Pennsylvania. The latter bought the title at auction in London in 1992 and has shown great interest in and affection for Henley. Through his generosity the Guild Cottage has been renovated and he has provided substantial sums to create a Heritage Centre for the town and its visitors.
In the present day the Court Leet seeks to act as guardian of the history and traditions of the town. It also promotes causes and activities for the general good of the community: recent instances have included the initiation of Henley Heart Start, a major involvement in town activities during Millenium Year (including a significant contribution to the Millenium Window in St John's Parish Church), raising funds for the Tsunami Appeal and producing the Beaudesert & Henley-in-Arden Directory 2006.Current Court activities include the re development of the Guild Hall Riverland Garden, and the establishment of an association to be known as ' The Friends of the Guild Hall'.
OFFICERS OF THE COURT LEET
Lord of the Manor
Robin Hardy Freed
Steward of the Manor
Derek Sharman JP
Former High Bailiffs: HN Welch, B J Jackson, A S Halliwell, R D Bridgewater, D K Sharman JP, J Latham, D Bainbridge, A Robson, W H Collins, K A Ford, G J Trinder, R Holding.