Manorial records, Customs and Tenure

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The feudal system of land management & inheritance, ranged from 12th to 20th century. Had King at top, then Tenant in Chief, then Lord of the Manor, then Manorial tenants

Manor - residence, single adminsitrative unit of estate; dstinguised by having a court; various sizes, c.19,000 manors.

Rectory Manor - parish church's endowment of land; after the dissolution some became 'peculiars' and some given to individuals.


  • Manorial Documents Register estd 1920s, all but three have a digital index.
  • Records gave proof of ownership of land and these are now held in many locations inc. local archives.
  • Most docts in Latin to begin with, from 17th cent on is better, in 1733 use of English in courts became common.
  • Include any document generated by the management of a manor eg: about boundaries, surveys, maps, customs, manor court.


On anything that affects the Lord's property and land eg: damage to crops by stock, damage to hedges, ditch maintenance, simple disputes between tenants, entry and marriage fines.

Officers of the court:

  • Steward
  • Baliff - ran the estate.
  • Reeve - collected rents, served by tenants and all took turns.
  • Hayward and Woodward.
  • Affeerors/Assessors - set fines at court.
  • Constables and Tithingmen - policed community.
  • Husbandman - farmed the land.
  • Farmers - rented.

Documents inc:

  • Extent - list of what made up the manor, inc. rents and services and total vlaue. Declined from 14th c and replaced by rentals and terriers.
  • Custumal - survey of obligations of Lords and tenats.
  • Accounts - income and expenditure, kept by Steward or Baliff.
  • Court Rolls - manor court records.


Two types of tenants - 1) freeholder - held land not farmed by Lord 2) Customary tenant - had to come to court as often a 3x week, worked Lord's fields c. 3 days a week.

Land measurements:

  • Tenament - room/s forming separate residences.
  • Croft - fenced off, arable land often with a dwelling.
  • Acre - varied.
  • Bovate - amount that could be ploughed in 1 year.
  • Fee - needed to support a knight.
  • Hide - needed to support a family, 60-180 acres.
  • Vergate - about half a hide, = 2 of Danlaw's ox-gallons, a tax assessment more than an area.

Laxton Open Fields - retains the old field systems and is now protected land.

Suit Roll - list of landowners allowed to attend court.

Beating the Bounds - tradition that recognises boundaries, you walked the boundary.


  • Length often written in 'lives' not just years.
  • Many copyhold properties could be bought/sold/left in wills like freehold. Or, when everyone on the copyhold died the Lord could decide to rent again or add it to his estate. (all land transfers went through the Lord)
  • Copyhold tenure abolished in 1926 and then held under Law of Property Act 1922.
  • Decline from 1830s as 'enfranchisement' was encourgared - you became free of manorial rents and services, the grant of conveyance begins 'This Indenture...'

Court Baron:

  • Every 3 weeks.
  • Dealth with offenses against the Manor; recorded surrender and admission of Copyheld land; recorded matters effecting the agricultural community; recorded terms by which a property was held; recorded collection of death duties (heriots) and fines, election of officials.
  • Presentments - insturctions of things to be done int he community, fines could be imposed if not done.
  • People used it to establish claims to inherit property.
  • Records included roll books, orders, pains and bylaws (often involved with social life and customs, largely agrarian in nature and helped maintain good relations between people), survey and terriers.
  • Survey - identified name and locations of parcels of land, listed tenants owning land in the Manor, details of land worked by Lord, location of warrens, often field names and no. of acres, needed a skilled surveyor to draw. Could be small strips of land but you could therefore by land with smaller outlay than needed today.
  • Quarter Sessions took more of the issues later on.

Court Leet:

  • More about enforcement of law and order, appointment of constables and tithingmen.
  • Often every 6 months.
  • Inc. Frankpledge = list of adult, able bodied men.
  • Will list jurors.
  • Some still exist but power was eroded to other courts. Can continue on with interesting social customs.


  • Important part of the Manor. Not owned by one individual but managed by the Lord.
  • Rights of commons would be dertermined by Manor Court.
  • Lord and tenats were duty bound to carry out regulations in regards to common land.
  • Tenants knew their rights - Pasture (to pasture cattle), Piscary (to fish), Turbary (to take turf for fuel), Pannage (allow pigs to roam and eat acorns), Estovers (allow collection of wood for house repair or fuel), Herbage (to pasture grazing animals).
  • Encroachment - tenants could enclose 'intakes' of land, often accepted on paymemt of rent to Lord, were done on 'the waste'

By the end of the 19th century many Manor Courts stopped and copyholds were converted to freeholds. Lords can still exercise rights to markets, extract minerals and have sporting rights.