"The history of Laugharne Corporation goes back over six hundred years, to a Charter granted by Sir Guido de Brion the Younger in the 1290s. There are few records from the earlier days, but there are documents such as accounts and a survey made in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. There are also minute books from 1711 to the present. In 1810 the Charter was missing and a search made: the Charter is held in the Carmarthenshire Record Office so the search was obviously successful.
The Charter gave the Burgesses of the Town the right to choose a Portreeve every six months, to act as a magistrate and to receive the tolls. The Burgesses - men over 21 years of age - are entitled to be made by reason of inheritance, by being apprenticed to a Burgess or by inhabitance in Laugharne for three years.
The Grand Jury of the Court Leet and Court Baron, consisting of twenty-one Burgesses, headed by a Foreman and presided over by the Portreeve, conducts the business of the Corporation. The Jury meets every fortnight on a Monday; the Recorder writes the minutes, which are signed by all Jurymen present at the end of each meeting. There are two larger Courts, one on the first Monday after Michaelmas and the other after Easter. These are referred to as Big Court and May Court, though the latter is usually in April. Originally these Courts were held to elect a new Portreeve and select a Grand Jury for the next six months, in accordance with the Charter. The Portreeve is still elected at both Courts, though the May Court election is now a formality, and most serve for two years. The Jurymen are chosen at Big Court, and the Common Attorneys and Petty Constables appointed for the following year, rather than for just six months. At both these Courts the Burgess Roll (now over 500 names) is read and attendance noted. The outgoing Portreeve appoints the Foreman and the Bailiff. The Foreman appoints the Common Attorneys and the Petty Constables are chosen by lot. In earlier days the Common Attorneys kept the accounts and presented them at the end of the Corporation year; these are now kept by the Recorder. They collect the rents due to the Corporation. The Constables originally were to keep order in the Town, but their duties are now mainly ceremonial, except for overseeing the turning in of farmers' cattle onto Corporation land and assisting at the Common Walk held every three years. For this they get the rent of a parcel of land known as Constables' Piece, near Hill's Farm. The Portreeve also has a plot of land, the Portreeve's Field.
The Common Walk, or beating the bounds, is held every three years on the Bank Holiday which replaced Whitmonday. The walk starts early in the morning from the Town Hall after refreshments provided by the Corporation. Several hundred walkers led by two flagmen and two halberdiers take part over a cross-country route over 20 miles long. Two mattock men are tasked with marking various places along the walk, and two Petty Constables bring up the rear to make sure that gates are closed and there are no stragglers. Refreshments are provided again at about nine o'clock and midday. The route is very difficult in places, particularly if the weather has been wet, and especially so along the bank of the estuary from St. Clears to Whitehill Down. Along the way are twenty-six 'hoisting places' where a walker is asked its name; if unable to do so he or - mainly - she is hoisted and smacked on the rump.
Another regular event is Portreeve's Sunday, on the Sunday after Big Court. The Portreeve holds a Breakfast (cold meats, bread and butter, coffee and tea) for some 200 guests, with some speeches, followed by a procession to St.Martin's Church for morning service. After the service the procession returns to the Town Hall where the Portreeve's Chaplain says a short prayer. Many then repair to one or other public house for further refreshment.
The Corporation holds a considerable amount of property in and outside the Town, both residential and agricultural. There are three large areas of common land, which are divided into strips. These are rented at very low rates to seventy-six senior Burgesses. On the death of a Burgess the next senior Burgess resident in Laugharne takes it over. Other properties, also leased at very low rents, include a number of houses, gardens, agricultural holdings, two public houses and the Dylan Thomas Boathouse.
In 1843 the Corporation petitioned Parliament in respect of a Bill which would have disfranchised the shareholders, saying that the 76 had always voted in the Conservative interest. This seems to have been successful, and in 1883 the Municipal Corporations (Unreformed) Act allowed Laugharne and Malmesbury to continue as before, but as if a scheme of the Charity Commission were in operation.
The Corporation is now a registered Charity, and its lands are subject to a scheme of the Charity Commission which came into force in May 2003. The scheme allows the Corporation to continue its custom of charging low rents, though not as low as they were originally. Much of its property has now been sold, as the interest earned is considerably more than the rents, and the money invested. The income, after expenses, is spent on various charitable purposes in the Township".
The Corporation has given over £30,000 to various people and organisations in Laugharne over the last five years. The main beneficiaries have been the Rugby Club (nearly £6,000), the Boat Club (over £2,000), Youth Club (nearly £900), St. Martin's Church (£1,000), Pre-school (over £1,000), the Festival Committee (£2,000), Corran Singers (nearly £900), Sea Scouts (£1,650), It's a Knockout ((£1,100), the Milleniium Hall (£5,500), and the Orchard Play area (£2,500). Smaller amounts have been given to the Youth Drama Group, Laugharne Players, Llansadurnen Church, the Congregational Church, the Laugharne and Dyffryn Taf schools, the surgery, Taf Triathlon, skeet shooting and badminton teams, the WI, Senior Citizen's Club and to one or two youngsters on expeditions overseas.
The Corporation hopes to continue its good work in the future within the restraints of falling income as a result of the financial downturn.
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