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1622-3: Thomas Hobson disputes with Thomas Oliver, chandler, over title to land in the fields of Chesterton and Cambridge and his right to wheat and barley, sown and harvested by Oliver


Thomas Oliver versus Thomas Hobson in the Vice-Chancellor's Court

In August 1622, Oliver brought an action for restitution against Hobson, alleging that the latter’s servants had carried off more than £40 worth of his crops from five acres to the north-east of the town. Abutting a road called Millway and fields owned by Chesterton parsonage, Trinity Hall and St Catharine’s College, the land was his by descent from one Thomas Carrow, gentleman. In reply, Hobson agreed he had removed the wheat and barley but that was because he, not Oliver, had lawful title to the land, leased to him by Carrow in settlement of a debt.  The exact location of the land - its proximity to Cambridge and the jurisdiction of the Vice-Chancellor's Court in consequence - also became a matter for dispute. Oliver asserted and Hobson denied the court’s authority.

In accordance with usual procedure, Hobson’s interrogatories questioned the reliability and expertise of Oliver’s witnesses; for instance, whether they gave their statements voluntarily, what they and therefore their testimony was worth, and their personal involvement in the dispute.

One witness, John Thurrold of Chesterton, recounted arriving in the fields with his reapers in the early morning, his own land laying adjacent to Oliver’s, only to see Hobson’s men carting away the shucked grain. Another, Henry (or Richard) Parnell, a local yeoman, had ploughed the fields for Oliver but reported them to be Hobson’s because of Carrow’s debt. Helpful evidence of this kind, probably contrary to Oliver’s expectations, was rewarded by his opponent. Parnell received a bequest in Hobson’s will . A third, William Alleyn, a gentleman, said he had measured the distance from the land to the river gate of Magdalene College and found it to be just short of eight furlongs, within the University’s territorial jurisdiction of a mile. 

The case was ongoing in July 1623 but a gap thereafter in the surviving fair and rough Act Books prevents us learning how it ended.

The documents digitised here comprise:


• Act Book entries recording the progress of the case, 5 August 1622-11 July 1623 (classmark: UA VCCt.I.48)

• Allegations of Thomas Oliver, 26 August 1622 (classmark: UA VCCt.III.26/179) and 27 September 1622 (classmark: UA VCCt.III.26/181)

• Allegations of Thomas Hobson, 20 September 1622 (classmark: UA VCCt.III.26/180)

• Interrogatories of Thomas Hobson for witnesses of Oliver, undated [1622] (classmark: UA VCCt.III.26/182)

• Personal response of Thomas Hobson, 8 October 1622 (classmark: UA VCCt.II.22 f.104r)

• Depositions of John Thurrold of Chesterton, Henry Parnell senior of Chesterton and William Aleyn or Allen, gentleman, witnesses of Oliver, March 1623 (classmark: UA VCCt.II.22 ff.110v.-115v).

Except for entries in the Act Books, all records are transcribed. Latin abbreviations have been extended; spelling and punctuation transcribed as seen. 

For an outline of the jurisdiction and procedure of the University courts, and the methodology employed in presenting records online, see the introduction to this CUDL collection.



C.H. Cooper, Annals of Cambridge Vol. 3 (Cambridge, 1845), p. 234.