James the First's Charter


Dover Harbour, in the year 1606, at the request of James I., was surrendered by the Corporation and transferred by Royal Charter to a separate and permanent body. The Corporation, undouljtedly, owed the loss of this part of their ancient inheritance to their repeated appeals to the Crown, during the reign of five Tudor Sovereigns, for money to make and maintain the harbour at Archclifif Point. Owing to the response to those appeals, the's financial interest in Dover Harbour had grown to large dimensions. The carefully drawn preamble of James's precisely expressed Harbour Charter, after referring to the harbour as having been for many ages " noted and famous," further stated that at certain times it had fallen into such decay as any ship could scarcely enter it, further adding that the Tudor monarchs had expended many thousands of pounds in maintaining and repairing the harbour. That preamble clearly indicates that the King had come to the conclusion that the revenues and the control of the harbour should be taken from the Corporation on the principle that " he who pays the piper has the right to call the rune. " For tl:at reason the King had called upon the Corporation to surrender all their rights in the Harbour, which they did by a deed which received the assent of the Common Council on the roth of June. 1606, with the exception of the Corporation retaining their rights, granted by the Charter of Queen Mary, to licence boatmen to land and embark passengers on the shore and the right of Dover ships to free harbourage. With the exception of these shreds of authority, all else connected with the control of the harbour was surrendered ; and the Charter of James I., dated 6th October, 1606, vested the control of the Port in " eleven discreet men," called the Guardian or Warden and Assistants of the Harbour of Dover. They were constituted a body corporate, of whom the first was the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports during the tenure of his office, the second the Lieutenant of Dover Castle, and the third the Mayor of Dover, both during theiv tenure of office ; and the other eisht named in the Charter were Sir Francis Fane, Sir George Fane, Sir Thomas Hartflete, Sir John Boys, Sir Edward Boys, Matthew Hadd, Henry Heyman, and \\illiam Monyng, Esquires, the last eight being appointed for Hfe or during good behaviour, and their places, when vacated, to be filled by the votes of the majority of the other members of the Commission. The Charter also conveyed to the Warden and Assistants the whole of the harbour, all the reclaimed land up to the cliffs below Snargate, together with the Pent and all reclaimed land on the shore outside the Pent Wall and on the shore as far as the Moat Bulwark under the Castle, the whole estate being conveyed by the Charter to the ^\'arden and Assistants, as a free gift, "' as of the King's Manor of East Greenwich," but without any rent or Knight's service whatsoever, or any liability to account, the sole condition being that the estate should be used for the benefit of the harbour. Such, briefly stated, was the deed of separation between the Town and Port, carried into effect in the year 1606. 

After the generation, to which the first members of this Commission belonged, had passed away, in due course the Eord ^^'arden, the Lietueiiant of the Castle, and the Mayor of Dover for the lime Ijeing formed three of the " eleven di.screet men " who had the control of the Harbour, but it does not appear that, during the existence of that Commission, from j6o6 until 1861. beyond those three e.\-officio members, the majority of the Commission ever found a Dover man who, in their opinion, was •' discreet " enough to be appointed a Commissioner of Dover Harbour. The only representation which the town of Dover had on the governing body of the Harbour was the Mayor for the time being. That was the only means of insight that Dover people obtained into Dover Harbour affairs for 255 years. If the intentions of James 1. and the Lord Warden in 1606 in so thoroughly divorcing the town from the port was good, it would be difficult to find in history a case where good intentions so utterly failed in bringing forth good results. 

About five years after the new body under James I.'s Charter took charge of the thoroughly up-to-date harbour, Parliament considered the conni.ion of the works so good and the revenue from its reclaiuud land and harbour dues so ample that they refused any longer to levy the Passing Tolls. With good business management, the upkeep of the harbour might have been paid for out of its revenue, but how eight Kentish gentlemen, who seldom came near Dover Harbour, could assist in its management it is difficult to imagine. It is a matter of history that the Lord Warden did not attend a Harbour Board meeting for more than a hundred years after the date of the new Charter, so that, practically, the management of the Harbour during that period was left to two men, the Lieutenant of the Castle and the Mayor, the former having all the power, and the latter, if a time-server, as some of the Mayors were, had the plunder. For instance, the first Mayor, who was an ex-officio member of the Harbour Board under the Charter, received as a gift from his brother Commissioners a large piece of reclaimed land, on which he built his residence, on the west .side of Strond Street, where Trinity Church now stands. The whole of Strond Street and the eastern side of it was Harbour property, and is so still, but those who secured the leases of the ground around the basin, by some peculiar favour of the Commissioners, owned all the quays as their private property, and it is not surprising, with such a policy, that the governing body should have had an insufficient revenue for the upkeep of the Harbour.
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