Henley-in-Arden has long been a market town, and the origins of the Guild date back to the mid-14th century: always closely identified with the Chapel of St John’s, which was built in 1367, it is likely that the Guild was formed around that time. The current Guild Hall was built in the mid-15th Century, probably replacing an earlier hall or building somewhere on the site.
A Guild was a religious fraternity or craft organisation offering charitable and mutual assistance. Henley’s was the Guild of the Holy Trinity, St John the Evangelist and St John the Baptist, and supported religious amusements such as mystery plays and feasts. Members of Guilds could be drawn from all classes, including men and women, and were under the control of a Master who was elected annually. Its income was drawn from fees, contributions, land, houses and legacies.
Ralph Boteler – Lord of the Manor from 1443 to 1473 and a liberal benefactor of the Guild and the town – is believed to have been the founder of Henley’s Guild, and is said to have rebuilt the church and obtained a charter for Henley. Under Henry VIII and Edward VI however, religious institutions were closed and their lands sold by the crown. In 1547, when the Guild was dissolved, it had lands and possessions worth £27 16s 3d.
The property was disposed of during the following years, with the Hall being described in surviving documents as becoming ‘ruinous and decayed’ and then used for many years as a butcher’s shop. The hall was purchased by Lord of the Manor William Fieldhouse in 1915, who restored it and revived the Court Leet (the medieval local justice system). The property was granted to the inhabitants of Henley in 1957, when a Charitable Trust was formed to look after it.
The first-floor hall is where the revived Court Leet meetings take place. Over the fireplace are the arms of Ralph Boteler: the Latin motto on the lintel ‘Pax Huic Domui’ is from the bible and translates as ‘Peace be to this House.’ Several other shields and coats of arms of the Lords of the Manor are displayed on the building. In a case on the 17th century refectory table are the emblems of the Manor, a copy of the Court Rolls, the mace dating from King Henry VI and the Constable’s truncheon. There is also a clock dating to 1790 made by local clockmaker and High Bailiff, Isaac Court, whist on the walls are boards displaying the names of the Lords of the Manor, High Bailiffs and Honorary Burgesses.
Annually, on the evening of the second Wednesday in November, the Steward summons members of the Court, the Court’s Jurors, burgesses and members of the public to attend the Court Leet’s Annual Meeting in the Guild Hall. Reports from the various officers of the Court are presented and the annual elections for the Court officers are held. In medieval times the Court Leet dealt with the transfer of land, the customs of the manor, petty nuisances, crimes and trading offences. Today, the Court is mainly ceremonial, maintaining the traditions and history of the town.
More information: www.henleygh.co.uk
Henley Guild Hall Roof Appeal
£120,000 has to be raised NOW to save our iconic and much loved Guild Hall from falling into disrepair. It is the jewel in the crown of Henley-in-Ardenʼs historic and beautiful High Street.