A Short History of Colyton Chamber of Feoffees

Colyton Chamber of Feoffees was established in 1546. In 1539 King Henry VIII executed his cousin Henry Courtenay, Lord of the Manor of Colyton and Marquis of Exeter, for treason and seized his estates.

Historically Colyton was a wealthy town and in 1546 local landowners and yeomen went to the King and negotiated with him to purchase the lands seized from the Lord of the Manor for a 1000 marks (just under £1000). The King agreed subject to the proceeds from these lands being used henceforth for “good, godly and commendable purposes.” A Deed of “Feoffment” was signed on 6 January 1546 and the Chamber was established by a Royal Charter which remains a prized possession of the Feoffees today.

The Chamber‘s responsibilities also included management of local fairs and markets at which a Court of Pie Powder (“pie poudre” in Norman French – literally meaning “dusty feet”) could be held. This was a system for administering on-the-spot-justice. For centuries the Feoffees provided effective local public administration for Colyton, instigated public services and delivered charitable acts. Today the Feoffees continue to work alongside the Parish Council which was established by Act of Parliament in 1894.

In 1547 the Chamber appointed a Bailiff Robert Ffollet to administer its affairs and to keep meticulous reports of meetings and accounts. Today these archives provide an unbroken record of the social history of the Parish and a rich source of information for academics. The Charter was translated into English in 1792 by Samuel Palmer and all the Feoffees’ records have now been digitised by Colyton Parish History Society following a successful grant application to the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2015. Digital copies of the records are now available for study in Colyton Heritage Centre.

Among the Feoffees first acts was the founding of Colyton Grammar School. In 1612 they paid for Old Church House in the Market Place in Colyton to be refurbished to provide accommodation for themselves and the School. Both remained there until 1927 when the School moved to new premises in Colyford. Among the Feoffees’ far sighted achievements were provision of an early water supply for the town which was introduced in 1641 when the Chamber arranged for “spring water to be channelled into a leat (ditch), cut through meadows and collected in a large underground tank” which still exists. A supply of fresh drinking water was made available in 1880. This was maintained by the Chamber until 1964 when it was taken over by the then East Devon Water Board. The Feoffees were also instrumental in creating a local fire brigade in 1641. Colyton fire engine is now in the Museum of London. Street lighting was introduced in 1858. Over the centuries the Feoffees have paid for repairs to public buildings such as Chantry Bridge and contributed to the Church’s appeals for the restoration of the Lantern Tower, repairs to the West Window and the cost of electrifying the church clock. A new Town Hall was built in 1927 and is available for hire. In 2013 the Chamber purchased a convenience store to help maintain the economic vibrancy of the town centre.

Throughout their history the Feoffees have made donations to the needy of the Parish for the purchase of food, fuel and blankets. They have always supported local youngsters through apprenticeships and with help to purchase the tools of their chosen trade. Today there is an increasing emphasis on making donations to support academic and career enhancing pursuits by young people. The Chamber also makes loans to local organisations to enable them to improve facilities for the benefit of the Parish community.

The Chamber appointed its first lady Bailiff in 2013 and became a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) in 2016. At the end of 2021 it appointed its first lady Feoffee.