Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: May 13, 2020
Webpage updated: May 13, 2020




Any reader of Plymouth history will at some time come across references to the 'Black Book', the 'White Book' and the 'Widey Court Book'.  This explains the origins of the 'Black Book.'

Officially known as the "Town Ligger", the 'Black Book' is the most important of the surviving Municipal Records of old Plymouth.  It takes its name from the dark colour of its leather covered, oak board binding.  The large book contains 360 leaves of thick paper and the fly-leaf is inscribed 'Jesus Christus, Liber maioris et Communitates burgi de Plymouthe in Com. Devon'.

The earliest entries in it refer to 1540 but there are copies of King Henry's charter and of a number of other ancient documents relating to the Town.  In most cases, these are now the only copies in existence.

It seems to have been intended that the book would record all matters of note relating to the community, proclamations, bye-laws, acts of parliament, guild orders, assessments, mayors and freemen.  It also includes a record of deeds of private properties which were registered with the Town Clerk.

Of major importance is the inclusion of national and local events of under each mayoralty down to 1709.  The list of freemen ends in 1658.   Amongst these events are the three times the Town was burned by the French and Bretons, in 1377, 1400 and 1403.

Extracts from all these Books were published by Mr R N Worth FGS (1837-1896) in a "Calendar of the Municipal Records", 1893.

Next in importance to the 'Black Book' is the 'White Book'.