A Brief History of Hedon


After the invasion of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror, Anglo-Saxon Holderness became a Norman Seigniory. Early in the 12th century a settlement already existed at Hedon. As records show, in 1138 the then Lord of Holderness, William-le-Gros, granted a "toft of land" in the town of Hedon to the hospital of St. Leonard in York.

William-le-Gros lived in a fortified manor at Burstwick. He had realised that Hedon, lying at the head of a navigable waterway leading to the Humber, would be an ideal site to create a port to serve his Seigniory of Holderness. The port was built and prospered so rapidly that by around 1160 Hedon had been granted a Charter by Henry II giving the Burgesses of Hedon many privileges equal to those granted to York and Lincoln. In many ways Hedon was an early days "New Town" being based from the start on a grid system of streets rather than by random growth. The grid pattern remains little altered in the centre of the town in the year 2001.

St. Augustines ChurchThe Charter granted by Henry II in 1158 was confirmed by one granted by King John in the year 1200, so the year 2000 saw the 800th anniversary of that Charter, a fact that was celebrated in the town. The residents became Burgesses, which meant that they were "free men", allowed to practice their trades freely and buy and sell property within the Borough, whereas the men, women and children living outside the Borough were still under the severe feudal laws of the Lords of the Manor.

The Burgesses of Hedon decided to build a substantial and lasting memorial in thanksgiving for their newfound prosperity. The building of the present church of St. Augustine was commenced in 1190, on the site of a smaller church on Market Hill. Still standing today, the King of Holderness, as it is known, dominates the landscape of South Holderness. 

The demand for larger ships was Hedon's undoing, as the larger vessels could not navigate up and down the narrow Haven. Some of the merchants developed land at the mouth of the River Hull at a village called Wyke, where deeper water could accommodate the larger vessels. After Edward I purchased land at this developing port of Wyke, it became known as the "King's town upon Hull", now the city of Kingston-upon-Hull.

In an endeavour to attract merchants and trade back to Hedon the Burgesses applied for a Charter of Incorporation, which could provide greater privileges and benefits to them. This was finally granted by King Edward III in 1348. This meant that Hedon would be self-governing, no longer under the jurisdiction of the Seignior. This Great Charter gave the Burgesses of Hedon the right annually to elect ten Aldermen and two Bailiffs, and from the ten Aldermen to elect one of them as Mayor. The names of the great majority of the holders of this ancient office are known and are detailed on framed scrolls in the Council Chamber. The Charter also gave Hedon the right to have a Coroner and a Recorder. Uniquely the Court in Hedon, presided over by the Mayor, appointed the churchwardens and, apart from the appointment of the Vicar, had jurisdiction over all the churches in Hedon.

Despite this Charter of Incorporation making Hedon a self-governing municipal borough, the trade of the port was reduced to local craft, mainly barges. Eventually even that ceased and the Haven silted up and was abandoned as a waterway.

However, Hedon still played an important part in the affairs of the country by returning two Members of Parliament. The first two were returned to Parliament in 1295. For many years after that, no further Parliaments were summoned but from 1537 to 1832 the town was represented by two MPs. Following the passing of a Reform Act, the Town of Hedon lost the privilege of having its own Members in Parliament. Some of those who represented the Town achieved eminence in national government. One was Prime Minister for a day; one was Minister for War; one a Secretary to the Treasury; several were First Lords of the Admiralty; some became Lord Privy Seal and three circumnavigated the world in search of trade routes for the benefit of the nation.

Town HallThe Town Hall, situated on St. Augustine's Gate and still in use today, was built in 1693 through the auspices of Henry Guy, an illustrious MP for Hedon. The previous Town Hall, or Guildhall, was sited on Market Hill, which was the original centre of administration. Henry Guy also presented what is known as The Great Mace to the Town. The Town Council remain the proud owners of what, especially for the size of the town, is a magnificent collection of silver, including what is believed to be the oldest civic mace in the country. Many of the pieces of silver were given to the town by its Members of Parliament, some pieces are known to have been "lost" over the years when they were regularly passed from one person to another for safe-keeping.

It is fair to say that the practice of giving gifts to the town by prospective Members of Parliament led to it becoming known as a "rotten borough". The remnants of many of the Charters are on display in the Mayor's Parlour in the Town Hall. Most, sadly, were damaged many years ago while stored in a room which had a leaking roof, at St. Augustine's Church. The need to conserve documents etc. was not of great importance in years gone by.

On the 31st March 1974 the ancient town of Hedon lost its Borough status and many of the powers and responsibilities that went with it. This was a consequence of the passing of the Local Government Act of 1972 - from 1st April 1974 it became a Town Council with the same powers and responsibilities as Parish Councils. The members of the last Borough Council fought hard to retain the status of the town and, as a result and unlike many other Borough and District Councils that lost their identity, it was able to keep and use its civic regalia, retain the office of Mayor, keep ownership of the Town Hall and the silver collection as well as keep control of other matters of importance to the town.