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Duration 33:34

The Manorial Documents Register

Liz Hart, from the National Advisory Service, provides an introduction to the various types of manorial records and offers a practical guide to using the Manorial Documents Register.


I thought what I’d do in my talk today would give you a brief introduction to the Manorial system and the types of records created from it. And then some background information about the Manorial Documents Register itself.  Then I thought I’d show you how to use the Manorial Documents Register – both the paper format and the online version – and then tell you about future projects involving the Manorial Documents Register.

So, what is the Manorial system? Well it’s a system of land holding and administration which dates back at least as far as the Norman Conquest. But it was in the succeeding centuries that it took hold across much of England and the lowland of Wales.

It’s quite hard to give a single definition of what a ‘Manor’ is but in general terms they were landed estates of varying sizes, administered by their lords as a single unit.  The lord provided protection to their tenants in return for their services and rents.  The precise nature of these mutual obligations was defined and regulated by the custom of each Manor as it evolved over the years in its own court – an institution that lay at the heart of the manorial system.  It’s generally agreed that in the absence of a manor court, a property could not properly be termed a ‘manor’.  So the lord or his steward presided over this court with tenants as jurors.

The court defined and regulated conditions of tenure decided such matters as rights of the Lords and tenant over common wasteland,  the making of by-laws and the appointment of minor officials.  In some cases, it might also have jurisdiction over petty offences such as trespass, brawling or theft, and sometimes even higher criminal offences.

Therefore manorial records are an important source of information about people, communities and places in England and Wales.  These records date back to the twelfth century and survive in increasingly large numbers from the fourteenth to the twentieth century, and subjects covered by them include: agriculture; land ownership; crime; industrial development; urban growth and diet; as well as the wider topics of family, house and local history.

So what are manorial records? Well they created from the administration and customs of the manorial system. Records include: court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents and books of every description relating to the boundaries, franchises, wastes, customs or courts of the manor.

Now what I thought I would do is briefly describe the different types of records – the main ones – and how they can be helpful with your research.

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Now this is an example of a court roll for Whitehall up in Cumbria. Court rolls were produced by the manor courts and they’re going to be of most interest to you as they contain information about tenants and other inhabitants of the manor.

Now the Manor Court, or Court Baron, administered the customs of the manor including the settlement of dispute amongst tenants, including boundary disputes and local quarrels and the transfer of copyhold land. I thought I’d better explain what ‘copyhold’ is. So, copyhold tenants were restricted in what they could do with their land and needed permission from the Manorial Court to inherit, sell, sub-let, buy or mortgage their property.

Now these transactions were recorded in the court rolls and a copy was given to the tenant as proof of title to this piece of land.  And also what else will be recorded in the court roll will be if a new tenant took over a piece of copyhold property, he had to pay an entry fine to the Lords, so that be recorded. And when a copyhold tenant died, a payment called a ‘heriot’ had to be made, so that also would be recorded. And so you’ll get the transfer of property through the generations which would be recorded in the court rolls as well as the legal disputes.

The problem with court rolls is they won’t record – unlikely to record – sub-tenants or any who lacked any formal connection, unless they had infringed manorial custom; like taking wood or turf from the commons without a license or fishing illegally. So they might appear then.

Now some manorials also have the right to hold a ‘court leet’ which was required to meet twice a year; and this allowed the lord to punish a wide range of minor offences, not directly connected with the customs of the manor. And so this included: women engaged in brewing and men and women involved in brawls or who drew blood.

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Now this one – it’s not the clearest image – but this is in a street for the manor of Richmond in Surrey. And what it does, it gives details of the immurements or fines that individuals had to pay for the Court Leat and this from 1642, just really before the outbreak of civil war. And, right at the bottom it says, “Item of … ” and it’s Doctor Olden and he’s being fined for an assault and affray on a constable for fighting and he’s drawn blood; right at the bottom it says he’s drawn blood.

And sort of in the middle, it’s sort of slightly blurred, I’m afraid, it says, “Good Wife Hughes”. She’s fined as a common scald and brawler to the annoyance of her neighbours and disturbance of the peace. And what you do find is in the margin, sometimes you get sort of little annotated notes and I’ll come over here so … This is ‘The Good Wife Hughes’ and in here it says she takes arms, so they just annotate it, so there’d be sometimes interesting little extras that they’ve written in.

Now, another type of record was surveys, and these were really designed to give an overall view of the land holding of a manor at a given time. Now a reason for survey could be the advent of a new manorial lord, either by inheritance or purchase, and it usually contains a list of the tenants and their holdings as a record of the obligations owed by the tenants to their lord. And occasionally within the survey, you’ll get a presentment by the jury – those who have conducted the survey – relating to the customs of the manor.

Now these rights refer to the frequency of court meetings, the entitlement of tenants to timber and line from the manor, but also what they’ll note is the customs of inheritance of land.

Now this is an example for, again, for Richmond, it’s from a parliamentary survey and it talks about the inheritance of land and in this case it’s passed to the youngest son and, in the absence of a son, it’s passed to the youngest daughter. So it’s something to bear in mind when you’re looking at court rolls and the transfer of land that one shouldn’t assume that always goes to the eldest son so you’ve got to bear in mind what the custom was of that particular manor.

Now, another type of manorial record is a rental. This is a Cornish one from the – I think it’s the 18th century, I can’t see so well from here. And what it is, it lists the annual rent paid to the lord by freehold and copyhold tenants; and this is a good way to track down freehold tenants because they’re not usually mentioned in court rolls. What it does is it included their name, details of the property or land that they held, by what tenure and for what rent. And in these ones it gives the name of the property, the tenant and then the following lives; and it also gives the relationships between the various tenants. And what’s quite interesting here, it gives the age of each of the tenants and occasionally it will tell you when they died, so it’s quite good in following, if you’re doing family history, following it through.

And then later records include maps. Now, maps were quite expensive to make so you don’t really find them too early, but I’ve got an example of a 16th century map and I have to say it’s more akin to a picture than a map because it isn’t to scale. And in this case this is a 16th century map of Leathley, in Yorkshire; and why it was done, it was drawn out to define boundaries which were in dispute between the lord and his tenants. So it was quite a, a colourful document. But maps normally contain information on the type of land in the manor, the wood or the parkland, and later ones like this one, which is 1772, this is the Manor of Chertsey, this will also provide you with the features, the roads, the forests, the fields. And if you’re very lucky it will also tell you which parishes the manor covers and also the boundaries of the other parishes beside it. And sometimes it will also name the tenants on that map.

And another type of record, which I haven’t got an example of but I’m going to show you a site where you can find this information, is manorial accounts. Now these are useful for, I think, for economic historians more; but what they’ll do is give you an idea of the money coming into the manor between the lord and the local official who managed it, so that gives you an idea of the wealth of the manor.

But I have to say, sadly, manorial records are an under-used resource. Now one of the reasons may be its language or handwriting. The manorial records were drawn up using standard conventions and the general format can be learned. Court records were in Latin until 1733, except for a brief period during the English civil war when they’ll be in English. But what I have to say is if you work with the later documents first, you can learn the format and then go back to go forward, going to the earlier records, and then it’ll be easier to understand how they work.  But we do have online tutorials here at The National Archives to do with Palaeography and Latin so that’s sort of worth bearing in mind, have a go at those.

Now, what I want to show you is the Cumbrian manorial records – this is a web guide to using manorial records. So you’ve heard me speak but you can actually go and have a look at these records. And I did have it up but I can’t seem to find it so … [Shows image] Now, this is very helpful because what they’ve done is they actually created guides and they’ll tell you which records will be most helpful with your research. So they’ve got sources for family history and then they list the various types of records that would be of most use to you with your research. So they do one for family history, local history and property as well as environmental; which is very helpful so we can go back to that …

What they also have, which I think is very helpful, is, if you click on the gallery, what they do is they provide you with an example of each type of record and then – and I’ll show you – I’ll show you a court record, a court roll, which I showed you earlier. This is the Manor Court of Whitehall. So this is the original document, and then what they’ve done is got a transcription and a translation, so you can sort of learn to follow the format that they’re using, and at the end it tells you what it was about – quite handy.

… So there’s an account which I didn’t have a copy of. All this information is available and I’m going to show you the Manorial Documents Register online and you can access this from our website.

Now there is another website. If you’re interested specifically in court rolls, this is a project that took place for Conisbrough court rolls and what they’ve done is they’ve selected specific court rolls linked to national events like the Black Death, the Peasants’ Revolt, to look and see how it affected people in the locality … And then these are the various documents that they have transcribed; and it’s similar in … that’s the original document there which I won’t click on but I can show you later at the end and then they’ve transcribed it. But what also they’ve done is created a database behind it so that you can actually search by subject or by name of an individual as well; so that’s something that’s new that’s been developed, but unfortunately only for Conisbrough court rolls and they’re still looking for funding to take it forward to do the rest of the court rolls. Because it’s one of the … it’s a very good series of records – it’s almost complete. So that’s quite a good one to work with…

So, thought perhaps I’d better ask; has anybody used the Manorial Documents Register before? Or heard of it? [Show of hands] Just you? Had anybody heard of it before? [Show of hands]  One. [Laughter] Okay. Well, thank you. Well, what I … So this is for the most of you who won’t know, so I’m sorry if others have heard this before.

The other problem for people in locating is actually in locating manorial records. It’s often assumed that Manorial records would just be located in the local record office, but this isn’t always the case. Manorial records for one manor alone can be scattered amongst different local record offices, privately held family estates, cathedral and college collections, as well as national repositories such as the British Library and ourselves here at The National Archives. And that is why the Manorial Documents Register is such an important asset for researchers, for both family and local history, as well as the legal profession for which it was originally set up because it brings all this information together in one place.

So what is the Manorial Documents Register? Well, it’s an index to the nature and location of surviving manorial records for England and Wales and what it does is it allows researchers to identify all records relating to a particular manor or place, wherever they may be preserved and as I said before, it’s really important because it brings all that information together in one place. Now it was established in 1926 to enable the legal profession to trace documents relating to a certain type of property record, specifically copyhold.

Now, its origins lie in the Law of Property Act 1922, which, amongst other things, abolished copyhold tenure. Since proof of title to copyhold property can only be found in manorial documents, it was recognised that such documents required official protection and that a register should be compiled to record both the ownership and location of these documents. Manorial records were therefore place under the care of the Master of the Rolls and a set of manorial documents rules was issued for their protection and preservation.

Now, The National Archives on behalf of the master of the rolls is now responsible for the maintenance of the MDR – which I call the Manorial Documents Register, just to abbreviate it – and the administration of the rules. I thought I’d just briefly mention what the rules are … There are really four of them but I’m only going to mention the main one which is, which I think is, perhaps the most important, is that no manorial records may be removed from England and Wales without the permission of the Master of the Rolls. In practice this is never granted. However, before 1926 records did go overseas and so you’ll find quite a lot in America, but this has protected them and that’s why I think we’re quite lucky. And that’s why manorial records are really special because they’re the only group of records, apart from public records, to have any statutory protection. So it helps keep them, I think, probably better preserved and more of them, one might expect.

Now, another important rule is that records are defined by the rules as to what manorial records should be entered on to the Manorial Documents Register. Now I’ve already mentioned this before but I will repeat it. So its court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers and documents of every description really relating to the administration of the court – the manorial court. But what is specifically excluded from the MDR and in the definition of the rules are documents connected with a title of the Manor, including deeds, grants, conveyances and legal records. These are not recorded on the Manorial Documents Register. So only the records that are noted and defined by the rules here are placed on Manorial Documents Register.

As I mentioned before, the MDR allows users to identify manors in each county in England and Wales only. To find out what records survive for those manors and locate them. Now, originally the MDR was a paper-based index and as I mentioned, it was setup in 1926 and there was a manorial documents committee, which was based here at the public record office, and it was established to gather information to compile the register. So what they did is they advertised in the press looking for all owners of manorial records and they used other sources to identify owners, such as the Victoria County Histories of England, Kelly’s Post Office Directories and two lists of owners of Manors compiled by the Board of England Revenue and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. So the committee wrote to all these people and requested that they supplied them with basic details of the documents in their possession and the information was returned on special pre-printed forms known as ‘returns’. Their formats varied over the years but it looks a little bit like this.

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This is a 1950s return. Now these are kept here at The National Archives and they are in the record series ‘HMC 9’. In 1959 the Historical Manuscripts Commission took over responsibility for the Manorial Documents Register and what they did was transferred this information into these little red binders and I’ll show you a picture of those in a moment. So we transferred into these.

Now about ten years ago we started the revision, computerisation, upgrading of the Manorial Documents Register on a county by county basis and I’ve listed here all the counties that have been computerised so far. So it’s all the counties in Wales plus the following counties in England, which is Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cumberland, Hampshire, Isle of White, Lancashire North of the Sands, Middlesex, Norfolk, Surrey, West Midlands and the three Ridings of Yorkshire. However, the remaining counties are still only available by visiting our search room or writing in with an enquiry – that’s the paper format.

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And this is what it looked like in November 2007 – my colleague kindly posed for the photograph. I’m not sure how keen she will be that I’ve shown it to everybody now. The front bit – this little bit here – this is the parish index and then … this is the manor index … But, perhaps as many of you are aware, National Archives has undergone somewhat of a transformation and so the Manorial Documents Register was microfilmed and the microfilmed version is available in the map and large document reading room.

So, what I thought I would do now is look at the non-computerised version first and show you how to use that, and then go onto the online version. But as I mentioned you’ve got the, you’ve got a parish index and a manor index. Now, the parish index is arranged by the historical pre-1974 county, arranged alphabetically by parish name within each county. It’s really there to give a rough indication of the manors in a particular parish and there’s an important thing to remember about manors – a parish can include one or more manor; manors can cross parish boundaries and they also can be divided into islands of property across a wide area, so it’s something to bear in mind. Now, the idea of the parish index is just to give you a rough indication and I would recommend using the Victoria County History volumes as well, because it’s only a rough indication.

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So this is a copy of a parish index. The important thing to know is that the parish is in the centre of the slip, near the top right-hand corner is the manor name. The top name – Water Andrews – is actually an alternative name because it says, ‘see also: Rookey’. Now ‘Rookey’ is the authority name and that’s a name that you’ll need to use when you go and look at the manorial index. What you do find is that because manors have existed for such a long time, they have lots of variations in names over the years. But that’s the authority name, so ‘Rookey’ is what you would look for when you go to the manor index. And this is what a manorial index looks like – this is the slip. It’s not going to be very much different from the microfilm version. And in the top right-hand corner is the name of the manor and then in the left-hand corner is the parish. In the middle is the description of the documents themselves, plus the dates and at the bottom is the repository.

Now … and if you’re very lucky you’d get a collection reference, but as you can see these are a little bit out of date because the Greater London Record Office is now the London Metropolitan Archives, and that’s what you do find. On the back of the slip will be information about where the information came from – whether somebody wrote in, an owner or custodian, or whether it’s from a list from a repository to inform us about these records.

There’s something that’s really important about the Manorial Documents Register – it’s not static, it’s growing and changing all the time. And this is through collections being catalogued that we don’t know about and of course the sale of manorial records through auction houses and eBay so we monitor that and so we note when things change hand. And part of the rules means that owners are meant to inform us if they change hands or if they move. And we also get … and we have something called a local accessions exercise where various repositories write and inform us what they’ve received over the year and that’s how we keep a track of some of the manorial records when they’ve been brought in. And of course, because it’s not on microfilm, any update or new edition to the register is going to be added to a folder which you’ll find near the microfilmed version.

Now, computerisation and the online version is not really a simple act of transferring the information from the paper slips to the electronic database. What we want to do … these are what we see as the benefits and I’m going to demonstrate this when I show you how to use the Manorial Documents Register online. As you saw, manors have various names so we choose an authority name. But what it allows us to do online is you can search both the alternative names and the authority name and it will bring it all up for you. And also, we’ve also tried to put variants in spelling as well, so that will help.

And we also want to improve both the quality and the quantity of the information there. So, as you saw, some of the information’s out of date. The record office named the record office without a date. We want to give you accurate collection references so you can order up the documents and also be accurate in the records themselves, because the slip I showed you isn’t one of the common ones. What you’ll find is mostly something saying, ‘Manorial records – 15th to 19th century’. It doesn’t really tell you very much – doesn’t tell you whether it’s a court roll, a survey, an extent. And what we do is we break that all down for you on the online version. With projects, what we do is we look at uncatalogued collections and search those for records so we can make more information available and we also contact private owners and make sure that the information is up to date.

And of course, it means that we can search better. So instead of just being able to search by the name of the manor, you can now search by parish, by county, by document type and by date. So it’s giving you something extra to be able to search the online version. And of course it’s available online – you can do it from home. You no longer just have to rely on coming in here, or writing in with an enquiry. Of course, it’s easier to keep it up to date so that we can make sure … where they’re located is up to date because quite often private owners sometimes deposit their records at local record offices , so we can let you know where it all is and keep you up to date with that.

Now, I’m going to demonstrate the online version. This is the homepage of the Manorial Documents Register. What it does is – it’s the welcome section – it reminds you which ones, which of the counties, have been computerised so far. So only those can be searched on this database. And then it’s a reminder at the bottom as to what records are included on the Manorial Documents Register and then this little button, ‘find out about using manorial records’, that will take you to the Cumbrian manorial records website that I demonstrated earlier. So that’s where you’ll find out about different types of records and what would be most helpful with your research.

There are two searches – you can do a basic search. See, if I do ‘Stepney’, have I spelt that right? No. [Laughter] What it does is the blue link will take you through to all the records. There are 55 records noted for Stepney. Underneath is the alternative or the alias, so it’s also known as ‘Stubborn Heath’. If we click on this, the earliest records are noted first and then we just scroll down through. What I should say about each entry is, if you click on the Guildhall Library, this will take you through to Archon and this will give you information about the repository; its opening hours, what the access conditions are, particularly for private owners or private collections. So that’s something to bear in mind – sometimes you need to make an appointment.

And at the bottom will be the record reference. That will be the reference that you would order if you wanted to look up a document itself.  And if I scroll down through … it gives you an idea of where the records are held. Perhaps one mightn’t expect Stepney records to be held in Devon Record Office, but this will be related to who the Lord of the Manor was because it changed hands a number of times so it’ll be wherever the family who had those records … wherever they deposited them. And then there’s a reference to the ‘NRA’ which National Register of Archives, I don’t know … have any of you heard of the National Register of Archives before? Yep? Okay, well for those who haven’t, that’s an index to the location of British manuscripts in the UK and overseas.

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And this is an example of an NRA Catalogue. What it does it provides a list from the repository and why I would recommend looking at that as well … as you noted, the Manorial Documents Register only records those records which are defined as manorial records but there may be other material that might be of interest to you if you’re researching Manorial records: title deeds, legal records. And it may be worth looking at the collection.  And what it means is that that could be a family-run estate collection and so it might be worth looking at it as well.

So this really gives you an idea of the range and scope of the records that are held, and then what I’ll do is I’ll also show you the advanced search. Now as I mentioned before, this offers us more variety in the searches that we can do. Now you remember me saying that it now allows you to search by alternative names, just not the authority name? So this is one – ‘Isan Hampstead Latina’ in Buckinghamshire and we’ve searched under the alternative name and it’s brought it up. It’ll allow you to go back in and again you can see the large range of records that survive and it lists all the various names for that particular manor.

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Okay. And then we could do a county search and you can also search by keyword and these are all the records that have boundaries in them for the bounds,  the bounds of the manor. But what it will do it’ll only bring up those particular records relevant to the search. There may be other records for that particular manor but as you specified that it’s a particular document type, that’s all it’ll bring up. And you can also do it by year. This is sort of a new, improved version because it didn’t use to work properly before but now it does, and what it will bring up all those records which cover those dates. So if somebody’s specifically interested in a particular period they can do their searches.

Now the other important thing about Manorial Documents Register is the little help icon and there is a set of, sort of, definitions of what a manor is but there’s also one which is frequently asked questions and so as I’ve been talking, ‘What’s a Manor?’ ‘What are manorial records?’ ‘What is copyhold?’ which is quite a popular question and also, ‘How do you search for the descent of a manorial title?’; that sort of thing. All that information is there, available on the website. And also there’s a glossary to help you with the various manorial terms, in particular popular one is ‘terrier’ – description of a manor which follows a topographical arrangement. So it gives you the option to find out what all these various terms are.

Now, I thought you might be interested in the project side of the Manorial Documents Register. So I briefly want to mention how we go about them. We no longer have the capacity to undertake these projects by ourselves, so we work in partnership with a number of organisations building on existing working relationships with archives and other organisations.

If I talk about some of our latest projects – the Surrey and Middlesex project was undertaken with Royal Holloway, the University of London, Surrey History Centre and The London Metropolitan Archives and that was funded by the Mark Fitch Fund. And then the one with Cumbria – that was Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire North of The Sands – that was lead by the history department at Lancaster University and that was in partnership with The National Archives, Cumbria Archive Service, Friends of Cumbria Archive Service, Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society and it was funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. And part of the remit was to produce that online version of how to use Manorial records.

Now our latest project, completed this year – June 2008 – and that’s the Berkshire Buckinghamshire county project. And again, this is sort of mixed funding, privately funded, so we had again the Marc Fitch Fund which is a charity and then we had funding from Buckinghamshire Record Society, Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society, Buckinghamshire Family History Society and also the funding bodies of Berkshire Record Office and also The National Archives. So you can see we work with a number of different partners.

Now, we have no timetable for the computerisation of the remaining counties, we just take each opportunity as it comes along, but our two latest projects for this year – we’ve just started Hertfordshire, and we’re hoping that will finish April/May next year. And we’ve also started Dorset, which is a part-time voluntary project, so we imagine that will take about three years to complete. And we’re currently in discussions to possibly do Essex as our next county.

We’re working our way, very slowly I’m afraid, but we’re getting there, to make the Manorial Documents Register up to date and online.

Thank you very much for listening to me.