William Rogers and William Gilbert, beer tasters of Watford
William Rogers of Elizabethan Watford lost his elder brother when Thomas sailed away to Holland and eventually the new world of America on the Mayflower. William, however, remained on the family farm in Watford.
The early 17th century in England saw the last of a tradition - the Manor Court. For centuries, the Lord of the Manor often won the right to hold court in the parish, called Court Leet. He held authority over the tenants of the parish for small infractions against rules of how the tenants should live and work.
When court was called, the lord's representative swore in a jury and made appointments to assist the court in carrying out its functions. In 1627 for example, for the first court held by the new Lord of Watford Manor, George Clerke, William Rogers was one of 15 jurors sworn in, along with other neighboring farmers such as William Sabin jnr and Gifford Naseby. Gifford Naseby was elected as constable for Watford. Elected as one of the beer tasters for this session was William Gilbert. In one of the court’s judgements, John Marriott was fined 6 shillings and 8 pence for overstocking the common fields of Watford with one cow.
The Manor Court session of 1648 was the last held by Sir George Clerke before he died, King Charles I was beheaded in London, and the Civil War in England reached new heights. Jurors included William Rogers and William Sabin. William Rogers was elected and sworn in as keeper of ale for the parish. In other actions, the court found that the wife of Edmund Wright had picked peas against the order of the court and was fined 5 shillings.
Presumably, the lucky beer taster would automatically be granted tasting rights! But the position held other authorities that made the beer taster, or “conner”, an important and respected position. He was obliged to test the strength and quality of all locally-brewed ale and ensure it was good and wholesome. Watford, like most towns across England, had its own breweries, because the product did not keep for long periods or travel well. The beer taster and keeper also ensured the local ale was sold at a fair price and could adjust prices according to quality, and report breweries acting in any underhanded manner.
Another rather more famous beer taster – John Shakespeare, William’s father.