hundreds

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hundreds were the principal subdivisions of most English shires from before the Conquest and for many centuries afterwards. Their approximate equivalents in Northumberland, Durham, and Cumberland were called ‘wards’, in six Danelaw shires ‘wapentakes’. Hundreds are first mentioned by name in the laws of Edmund (c.940); it is likely that they derive from a somewhat earlier reorganization of local government. The adoption of the new term ‘hundred’ suggests recognition of the Carolingian centena as something of a model. The late Anglo-Saxon hundred was simultaneously a jurisdictional, a fiscal, and a military unit. Through most of the Middle Ages, the jurisdictional function was predominant. The hundred court usually met every three weeks, was attended by a variable number of freemen from the component villages, and exercised petty civil jurisdiction. On two of these occasions each year the sheriff attended to regulate the frankpledge system and then criminal justice was done. Hundred courts had a long decline until Victorian legislation (especially an Act of 1867) dismantled them. A few hundred courts were important through serving developing but unchartered industrial areas, e.g. Salford. Many more hundreds kept significance as recognized areas of authority, for petty sessional divisions or, ultimately, rural district councils.

James Campbell