Bristol Corporation vs Morgan of Pill

Bristol’s history is littered with accounts of corruption and dodgy dealings. But from 1604 they almost met their match with a father and son at Pill, an inlet downstream on the winding River Avon home to river pilots and poor sailors.

Morgan owned land on the river, and was prosecuted & imprisoned for causing nuisances. From 1630 the baton passed to his son, a worse offender. Charged with preventing ships by removing mooring posts used by ships awaiting high tide to enter the port. He also built a house in front of an ancient tree used for mooring. Privy council ordered him to replace the city’s posts and demolish his house or be imprisoned.

Somehow Morgan got a rehearing and Archbishop of York, the Chief Justice of Common Pleas investigated. Corporation entertained him sumptuously, sailed to Pill and condemned Morgan’s behaviour. He claimed posts were essential to save mariners lives in storms so removal risked shipwrecks & could set precedent for other bad landlords.

Morgan then built a fort with houses selling tobacco and beer so was also accused of encouraging drunkenness and crime. The archbishop praised Bristol for its lawfulness & care for the poor. Morgan was again ordered to demolish his house, the corporation offering him £30 to relocate. Bristol assizes was also to investigate the growing settlement adjoining, claimed to be entirely alehouses.

In 1631 Bristol asked Somerset justices to suppress the alehouses. Some of the tenants were served with a writ of rebellion in 1633, arrested and imprisoned.

In 1634 Morgan was prosecuted by the Court if Exchequer fir charging ‘duties’, interfering with mooring posts and encouraging unlicensed alehouses, so defrauding customs.

He built another house on the shore, obstructing men towing ships into port. After 2 years litigation he was ordered to demolish all but his house, for the use of ferry customers. Bristol corporation was allowed to re-erect mooring posts.

But by 1637 Bristol petitioned Privy Council as Morgan had not acted. Despite ordered by Somerset justices, the alehouses were still there. Privy council had allowed them to remain out of charity to the poor tenants.

It seems by 1640 the alehouses were demolished but the next year Morgan complained to the House of Commons over this. In 1652 complaints were made of new buildings again interfering with river navigation. Morgan was ordered to demolish them but refused so Bristol again sought legal resolution.

In 1657 sailors and shipwrights of Pill wrote to Somerset justices claiming it would ruin the lives of 50 people, asking the order to not be enacted, that they would ‘perish under hedges’

The final outcome is unknown.

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