The Wirral Hundred


A Hundred was  -

(a)  a geographical division of a shire

(b)  that area's organisation for administration, tax collection, justice and provision of men for military service.  Each month there was a meeting, the Hundred Moot, at a central place (in Wirral, most historians state that it was at Thingwall, a few state it was at Willaston).  Originally, every adult male landowner was obliged to attend; later it was only representatives of the holders of certain estates

- relaying the king's orders down to the villages and ensuring obedience
- collecting revenue for the king
- the Hundred Court settled criminal matters and private disputes.  Some sources state that the Shire Reeve visited each
Hundred Court twice yearly. 
military provision
- it is believed that landholding was a requirement for military service.  Anyone holding less than 5 hides was not eligible
to fight.  Anyone holding 5 hides or more was obliged to provide military service

Around the 8th century, Shires were divided into Hundreds; Cheshire had 12 Hundreds.  One of those was called Wirheal.  The name Wirheal is found in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle dated 895.  The Domesday Book (1086 AD) called this Hundred 'Wilaveston' (this later became 'Willaston').  This name was in use for over a century, but the name then reverted back to Wirheal.  Around 1360 AD, King Edward III reduced the number of Cheshire Hundreds to seven by amalgamation and by a small redistribution to neighbouring

In areas of England controlled by the Danes, Hundreds were called 'Wapentakes'.  Another regional word for Hundreds was 'Wards'.

There are several theories regarding the meaning of the word "Hundred".  Many historians settle for a Hundred being an area which had 100 'heads of households'.  Society was rigidly structured and the count may not have included households comprising of serfs, villeins, bordars, cottars or other lowly classes.  Thegns and other landowning classes would be included in the count.

Other theories about the meaning of "Hundred" are -

(1)  a group of estates totalling 100 hides  (Cheshire had 1200 hides and - originally - 12 Hundreds)

(2)  an area containing 100 families, regardless of their class

(3)  an area containing 100 villages, Wirral had only 31 but was given Hundred status due to its unique shape

(4)  an area which could provide 100 able bodied men of war

(The Wirral Hundred had an area of approximately 100 sq. miles, but this is coincidental and is mentioned only to prevent confusion.)

Whatever the correct definition, settlement and population growth soon caused the word "Hundred" to lose its original context.

The king's official for a shire was a Reeve ('Shire Reeve' became 'Sheriff'). Below him, a Hundred-man headed the Hundred.  Below him, a tything-man headed ten households.

The functions of the Hundred organisation gradually eroded over the centuries as other bodies (e.g. lords, mayors, police, etc.) took over the responsibilities.  The role of Wirral's Hundred Court in dispensing justice was abolished by the County Courts Acts Amendments Act 1856. Hundreds were eventually abolished by the Local Government Act of 1894.

Sources -

Mortimer,   History of the Hundred of Wirral, 1847

Sulley,   Hundred of Wirral, 1889

Ormerod,   History of Cheshire, 1819 revised 1882

Hewitt,   Wirral Peninsula, 1922

Stewart-Brown,   Wapentake of Wirral, 1907

Young,   Perambulation of the Hundred of Wirral, 1909

Cam,   The Hundred and the Hundred Rolls, 1930

Stenton,   Anglo-Saxon England, 1971  (....Wirral library card number needed, then search for 'hundred')

Community Web Kit provided free by BT