The city first received a charter of incorporation from King John, who, on the 3rd of July, 1205, granted the city, with its port and all appurtenances, to his citizens of Waterford, with murage and all free customs, liberties, and privileges enjoyed by the burgesses of Bristol. Henry III., by repeated writs to the Archbishop of Dublin, and to his Lord Justiciary of Ireland, confirmed this grant; and in the 16th of his reign, by a new charter, granted the whole of the city to be held by the citizens at a fee-farm rent of 100 marks, with exemption from toll, lastage, pontage, passage, and other immunities.

Edward II., in 1309, confirmed the preceding charter, and in 1310 granted the citizens certain customs for murage for seven years, to assist them in fortifying the town. Edward III., by writ issued in the 2nd of his reign, directed that the mayor should be annually elected by the citizens, and sworn in before the commons, unless the Lords Justices, or one of the barons of the exchequer, might be in the city at the time. The same monarch, in the 30th of his reign, confirmed by charter all previous grants, and in the 38th and 45th extended the privileges of the port; in 1377 he granted the custom called Cocket, for ten years, to the citizens, for the repair of the quays and enclosing the city. Richard II., in 1380, confirmed the charter of Henry III., and in the following year granted the corporation licence to sell wine, and, in 1385, all the customs of things sold here for 24 years, to be expended on the fortifications of the city.

Henry IV. confirmed all previous charters, and also granted certain annual sums from the cocket, for strengthening the walls; and Henry V. confirmed all previous grants made by his predecessors, and by charter, in the 1st of his reign, appointed the mayor the king's escheator; to have, with the commons, cognizance of all pleas of assize, and other privileges and immunities, which were confirmed by Henry VI. in the 20th of his reign, who also granted £30 per ann. from the fee-farm rent, to be applied for 30 years to the repair of the walls and fortifications. Edward IV. granted the citizens a charter, conferring some additional privileges, among which was that of bearing a sword before the mayor; and Henry VII. granted the mayor and corporation the power to have a gallows and a prison, and appointed the mayor and bailiffs justices for gaol delivery in all cases of felony, treason, and other crimes. Henry VIII., Edward VI., and Mary, severally granted confirmatory charters; and Elizabeth, in the 9th of her reign, by letters patent, granted the privilege of electing the mayor and bailiffs annually, and of choosing a recorder, town-clerk, sword-bearer, and various other officers.

In the 16th of her reign, Elizabeth granted the citizens a new charter, constituting the city, with all lands belonging to it, a county of itself, under the designation of the city and county of the city of Waterford, ordaining that the corporation should consist of a mayor, two sheriffs, and citizens; and by another charter in the 25th of her reign, the same queen granted to the corporation the lands of the grange, Baltycrokeele, and the new town adjoining Waterford on the south side (containing 100 acres), with the abbey of Kilkellen and its demesnes on the north side.

In the 5th of James I., the citizens, who had refused to proclaim that monarch's accession to the throne, were served with a writ of Quo Warranto, to which they pleaded the several charters previously enumerated; and their plea with some small alterations and omissions, as "by the king's privy council were thought fit," was allowed; and the charter having remained in the hands of the monarch, as forfeited, was, after a disclaimer by the citizens in a Quo Warranto, restored by patent under the great seal of England, on the 26th of May, 1626, in the 2nd year of the reign of Charles I.

This charter was explained and amended by a supplementary charter granted by the same monarch, in 1631, and is now the governing charter. It confers upon the mayor and council the returns of assize, precepts, bills and warrants, the summons and escheats of the exchequer, and the precepts of itinerant judges; a grant of the city and various lands; with all other possessions of which it had formerly been seized, to be held for ever in free burgage at the usual rents; a grant of the site and precincts of the abbey of Kilculliheen, with all its possessions and numerous parsonages, to be held in fee-farm at the rent of £59. 1. 8. per annum.

The same charter granted also to the corporation, for ever, the harbour of Waterford, from the entrance between Rodgbank and Rindoan to Carrigmagriffin, and as far as the sea ebbed and flowed, with all its waters, soil, and fisheries; the office of admiralty and an admiralty court, reserving to the Lord High Admiral of England and Ireland all pirates' goods and wrecks of the sea; the power of taxing the inhabitants for all public charges and works; of forming themselves into guilds and fraternities, similar to those of Bristol; of taking murage custom, and of having a corporation of the staple, to be governed by a mayor of the staple and two constables; of holding courts or councils, once every week, for the conduct and government of the orphan children left to their charge by deed or will; of receiving the cocket customs and half the prisage of wine, together with all waifs, strays, felons' goods, and deodands, and of having a gaol under the custody of the sheriffs, and many other privileges.

Under this charter the government of the city is vested in a mayor, eighteen aldermen, eighteen assistants, a recorder, and two sheriffs (who altogether constitute the common council); a coroner, clerk of the crown and peace, a town-clerk, notary public, mareschal, water-bailiff, searcher, guager, sword-bearer, four serjeants-at-mace, constables, and other officers. The mayor is chosen from among the aldermen annually on the Monday after the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin, by a majority of the common council, and sworn into office before his predecessor, or, in his absence, before the council, on the Michaelmas-day following. The sheriffs are chosen at the same time from among the assistants, by which body the recorder is appointed; all the other officers of the corporation are chosen by the mayor and council, except the serjeants-at-mace, who are appointed by the mayor and sheriffs.

The mayor, the recorder, and the four senior aldermen are justices of the peace within the city and the county of the city, and also within the county of Waterford. The freedom of the city is inherited by birth, and obtained by marriage with a freeman's daughter, or by apprenticeship to a freeman; the citizens are exempted from all toll, lastage, portage, pontage, murage, and other duties throughout the realm. The city first sent members to parliament in the year 1374, apparently by prescriptive right, as no grant of the elective franchise is found in any of its charters; from that period it continued to send two members to the Irish parliament till the Union, from which time it returned only one to the Imperial parliament, till the passing of the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 88, which restored its original number.

The right of election is vested in the resident freemen, the £10 householders, freeholders, and in £20 and £10 leaseholders for the respective terms of 14 and 20 years; the 40s. freeholders retain the privilege only for life. The number of registered electors, according to the town-clerk's return to parliament on the 24th of Feb., 1836, was 1630, of which 646 were freemen, 885 £10 householders, 76 freeholders, and 23 leaseholders; but in consequence of many being registered in more than one capacity, the number polling at an election seldom exceeds 1150: the sheriffs are the returning officers.

The corporation hold a court of record before the mayor and recorder, or their deputy, on Monday and Friday in every week, or as often as may be thought necessary, for the determination of all pleas arising within the city and county of the city to any amount; a civil bill court, for the summary recovery of debts exceeding 40s. and not exceeding £10, in the first weeks respectively after the 6th of January, Easter, the 7th of July, and 29th of September; a court of conscience before the ex-mayor, who presides in it for one year after the expiration of his mayoralty, for the recovery of debts under 40s.; and a court in which the mayor is sole judge, held for the decision of all claims for wages to the amount of £3 by in-door servants, and of £6 by out-door servants; but these cases are frequently referred to the petty sessions.

The assizes for the county are held here twice in the year, the mayor being always joined in the commission. The quarter sessions for the county of the city are held usually about 15 times in the year, before four of the senior aldermen, among whom the mayor and recorder are always included. The charter also granted the corporation a court leet, with view of frankpledge, to be held twice in the year, and a court of admiralty; but neither is now held. The town-hall is a handsome building, recently erected in the Mall, contiguous to the bishop's palace: the front, which is of stone, is of elegant simplicity of design and of just proportion; the principal entrance leads into the public hall, which was formerly resorted to by the merchants as an exchange.

The court-house and the city and county gaols occupy a considerable space of ground near the spot where St. Patrick's gate formerly stood, and are handsomely fronted with granite. The court-house, which is in the centre, was designed and executed by the late James Gandon, Esq., on the recommendation of Howard, the philanthropist; the entrance leads into a hall, from which are seen the interiors of the city and county courts, which are well arranged and lighted, but on a scale too confined to afford suitable accommodation to the public.

The gaols, though of modern erection, are not well adapted for general classification; the city gaol comprises 14 cells, and the county gaol has a sufficient number of cells, with day-rooms and airing-yards (in one of which is a treadmill), to receive the average number of prisoners usually committed. The prisoners are clothed and employed in various kinds of work, and the females are under the superintendence of a matron. The penitentiary, or house of correction, built in the south-western suburbs in 1820, at an expense of £4990, occupies a spacious quadrangular area enclosed with a wall; at one extremity is the governor's house, round which are ranged the various cells in a semicircular form; behind the cells are gardens and ground in which the prisoners are regularly employed; there are in all 41 cells, with day-rooms and airing-yards, in one of which is a treadmill, adapted to four distinct classes; the whole prison is under a regular system of discipline and employment, and a school is maintained for the instruction of male prisoners.

County Waterford | Waterford City | Waterford City Topography | Waterford Trade | Waterford Harbour | Waterford Charter | Waterford Diocese | Waterford Churches | Waterford City Geology | Waterford Parishes | Waterford Schools | Waterford Hospitals | Waterford City Antiquities

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