The Old Corporation
Malmesbury - History
Founded in 937 by King Athelstan, the ‘Commoners of Kings Heath’ or ‘Old Corporation’ was started as a way of giving those that had fought for Athelstan a reward in the form of land from Kings Heath (Malmesbury Common). This land was in turn passed down to descendents of these freemen, a tradition that continues until the present day.
Malmesbury’s members of parliament, of which it used to have two, were once chosen by the Old Corporation itself, for a period of almost 600 years. As a result, the elected High Steward had massive amounts of power which has led to corruption in the past. This was most endemic in the 18th century, when Old Corporation members and High Stewards paid others in the organisation to vote for particular candidates to represent Malmesbury at parliamentary level. On other occasions, the fees and receipts of the Old Corporation members were questionable, seats in the organisation certainly had a ‘price’ that increased greatly over the period. This system came to an end with the 1832 Reform Act.
The organisation is still run by a High Steward, as it has done since its inception, who is elected by the town’s Commoners. Its members have existed for over 1000 years in direct descent of those men who fought for Athelstan, making it one of the most exclusive ‘clubs’ in the world.
Hodge, Dr. Bernulf., A History of Malmesbury (5th Edition; The Friends of Malmesbury Abbey, Minety: 1990).