Sheffield Church Burgesses

In 1297 Thomas de Furnival, as the Lord of the Manor of Sheffield, granted lands to the town’s freeholders for an annual rent of £3 8s 9 ¼d.  The income from these lands provided funds to help the town support the parish church and its priests, to maintain local roads and bridges and to give support to individuals and worthy causes.  The freeholders who administered the land and donations became known as the Town Trustees.

After the death of Henry VIII in 1547, his son Edward VI became king and was determined to ensure that England remained a Protestant country. As part of his plan to remove all traces of the Catholic faith from England and to improve the state of the royal finances, Edward seized land and property whose income supported priests who said prayers or masses for the dead. Causing great distress, in 1548 Edward confiscated these and other lands that had been bequeathed to the Town Trust for the benefit of Sheffield.

Edward died when he was only fifteen; in 1553 his half-sister Mary Tudor became queen and immediately set about restoring the Catholic faith. On behalf of all the inhabitants of Sheffield, William Taylor and Robert Swyft petitioned Queen Mary who revoked the confiscation. On 8 June 1554 Mary granted a Royal Charter giving the lands in perpetuity to the ‘Twelve Capital Burgesses and Commonality of the Town and Parish of Sheffield in the County of York’. The first twelve burgesses were named in the Charter, which stipulated that vacancies should be filled by ‘discreet, reputable and honest men’.

The custom evolved so that each successive burgess takes the number of the first burgess in the original list whom they are replacing and adds to it their own. In 2000 there had been 20 number 4 burgesses, the latest being 4.20, and 28 number 6 burgesses (6.28). In 2003 the Charter was amended to allow the appointment of women, the first being appointed in 2006. In 1557 the rental income from the returned lands amounted to £30.5s.5d. (£30.27p); the Trust now has an annual income in excess of £1 million to give to organisations within the parish of Sheffield.