Newbury's Civic History

Reproduced form the 200 Mayor Making and Civic Service Booklet

IN 1568 when Queen Elizabeth 1st visited her Newbury manor, the town laid on a grand welcome; the bells rang out and the streets were sanded. Recognition for the Borough came on 28 May 1596 when the Queen granted its first known charter.

This document gave the town certain rights and benefits to be a "free borough of itself". It ordered that a Court of Record be held every Tuesday in the Guildhall, which stood in the Market Place. Four lawyers were appointed to assist with the proceedings, known as the Corporation of Newbury, a group of officials were appointed to govern the town, consisting of a Mayor, a High Steward, six Aldermen and twenty-four Capital Burgesses. One Alderman was also chosen to act as Justice of the Peace, who could, in conjunction with the Mayor, decide any cases except those of murder, or loss of life or limb.

Although the position of High Steward was a job for life, the Mayor was elected each year, on St. Matthew's Day. The Charter names the first Mayor of Newbury as Mr . Bartholomew Yate and the first High Steward as Sir John Wolley, who was the Queen's Latin secretary. To this day, Newbury has an annual Mayor Making ceremony, which takes place in May.

Of the four annual fairs granted to the town, the only one that remains today is the Michaelmas Fair in October. The original fairs were held on the Day of Annunciation (25 March), St John the Baptist's Day (24 June), St. Bartholomew's Day (24 August) and St. Jude's Day  (28 October). Each fair had its own court, called a Court of Pie Powder (meaning dusty feet), which settled any disputes arising from the trade at the fair. The Corporation had to pay an annual sum of 3 to the Exchequer, for the right to keep tolls and fees raised from the fairs.

Alterations to the Charter were made by later monarchs, but Newbury's status as a Borough remained largely unchanged for the next four centuries.

 In 1974 reorganisation of local government, Newbury Borough Council ceased to exist. Twelve Charter Trustees were appointed to preserve the rites and ceremonies of the Borough and, from their ranks, a Mayor was selected each year.

It was not until 1997 that Newbury regained its own Council. There are now twenty-four elected Town Councillors, six from each of the town's four wards (Falkland, Northcroft, St. John's and Turnpike). The Mayor and Deputy Mayor are elected by their fellow councillors and hold office for twelve months.

On the walls of the Council Chamber in the Town Hall, there are large boards bearing the names of all Newbury's Mayors since 1596. They are a reminder to today's Mayor and townspeople that Newbury has a long and distinguished civic history.