What other records of the manor can help me understand more about my manorial tenant ancestor?

In this blog I discuss the other main types of documents which may survive for a manor, however generally their survival rate is lower than for court records.

Custumals, Terriers, Extents and Rentals

These four documents were all different types of land surveys and can provide details of the size of the manor and individual land holdings. They are much less likely to survive that court records and in general prepared less frequently, most commonly being prepared when a new Lord took over a manor.

Custumals

These recorded each tenant and their holdings along with their customary obligations as set out in “the custom of the manor” or the rules of the manor. These could include the duties or services landholders owed to the Lord of the Manor and vice versa. Tenants may be named along with details of their land holding along with the rent, payment in kind (produce etc) and labour services (work) due by them to the Lord.

They would also include such details as how many cattle each tenant could graze on the common land, how much timber they could take from the woods, what heriot was due on the death of a tenant etc.

The began to exist from the 12th and 13th centuries more commonly for large monastic manors but may survive for smaller manors.

Their content should however be considered alongside other records, particularly as over time labour services were commuted to a cash payment (see quit rent below). The contents provide evidence of the legal and theoretical obligations of the Lord and tenants not necessarily actual ones.

Terrier

This was a topographical survey of all the land held by the manor along with a list of tenants and a description of their land holdings.

Extent

These evolved from custumals from the 13th century as a result of Lords of the Manor becoming increasingly aware of the profits to be made from their land. The extent provided more accurate information.

The Extent was a more detailed list and valuation of every building and piece of land on the demesne (the land retained by the Lord of the Manors), but also included every labour service and rent due from tenants. Many Extents go further and cover all of the manor or large areas of it and not just the demesne (similar to a Terrier).

Extent from the Manor of Gomshall Tower Hill Surrey History Centre Ref: G85/8/21

They follow a set format, with the most valuable property first (most often the Manor house and demesne land), followed by the larger land holdings down to the smallest. The extent provides the yearly amount of rental income expected not a capital value of the land/property.

From the 14th century the Extent became less descriptive with the emergence of the Rental/Rent Roll.

Rentals/Rent rolls/Quit rent

From about the 14th century lists of tenants and the amount of rent in cash and/or produce they paid were recorded in Rentals or Rent rolls.They can set out in detail exactly what was to be demanded of every landholder/occupier on the manor.

They records generally include the names of the landholder and occupier (if different), a description of the land and sometimes details of the previous landholder/occupier. They include the amount each tenant paid and if there is an unbroken run over several years they can provide evidence of when, where and for how long an individual or family (where land was passed through the generations) remained in the manor.

Those listed were usually copyholders but some manors also included leaseholders and freeholders. Where a Lord held more than one manor, the rentals for several manors may be grouped together in one Rental. This can provide evidence of tenants moving between manors held by the same Lord, possibly where there were gaps in the labour market in one manor over another.

Quit rents may also be included in the Rental but may be recorded in a separate document. Quit rents where those rents where labour services had been commuted into a monetary value and a cash payment was made in lieu of labour services.

Presentments

From the 16th century when large swathes of monastic land were sold following Henry VIII’s break away from the Catholic church, Courts of Survey would be held. Tenants were bound to attend these courts to answer the Articles of Enquiry or questions about their landholdings. Such enquiries or questions would form the Presentments and may include:

  • Details of how a tenant inherited their holding along with future inheritance provisions (was there a custom of the manor for inheritance such as to oldest son/youngest son etc)
  • Entry fines/heriots due and conditions when land was to be forfeited to the Lord of the Manor
  • Relief due by freeholders for alienation (transferred) or inheritance of land
  • How frequent courts were held, their practices and procedures
  • The officials of the manor
  • The rights the Lord retained e.g., fishing, hunting etc
  • Lord’s right to profits of any treasure found on the land/wreckage of ships along their foreshore, and right to minerals
  • Existence of Common land and the rights of the Lord and tenants over such land, such as the right to graze cattle etc
  • Rights of tenants to timber, building materials etc from the land
  • Existence of mills and who held them

Presentments can therefore provide a great deal of information about the size, organisation, customs and life of the manor.

These are not to be confused with presentments which may be found in the court rolls when a tenant was presented to the court for a wrongdoing.

Estreat Rolls and Relief Rolls

The fines or amercements imposed by the courts were also recorded in Estreat rollswhich include the names of the tenants, their offences and the amount paid, whilst the Relief Rolls record a tenant giving up the property and the new tenant relieving him of his obligations.

Extract from an Estreat Roll for the Manor of Gomshall Towerhill Surrey History Centre Ref: G85/10/45
For a Heriot       upon the surrender of John Cleese of his Copyhold Cottage in Cranley to Elizabeth his Wife & after to Wm Smith 8d and for a Relief               8d in all.  (0 – 1- 4)      the said Elizabeth & Wm Smith for their ­­­­­___ of admittance to the said Cottage(2 – 10- 0)

Manorial Accounts / Compoti

These provide details of the assets of the manor, along with income and expenditure. They can also provide an insight into the local economy and economic working of the manor. These were carried out annually, usually after Michaelmas, by trained scribes and were audited.

One side recorded monetary receipt and expenses; whilst the other side recorded goods such as grain and livestock. Where accounts are highly detailed other goods such wine, beer, ales, cider, clothing, fabrics etc. These records were often very descriptive. Early records, where they survive, like this one for the manor of Gomshall Towerhill dated 1288, are written in Latin and can be difficult to read.

Surrey History Centre Ref: G85/8/15

Overtime these evolved to much more like the type of financial accounts one would think of today.

Miscellaneous – examples

Searching the archive catalogue for the manor you are researching may uncover a vast array of other records such as Stewards papers – these often include the Stewards hand written notes from court proceedings noting surrender and admissions to land which can be very useful before 1733 because these will most likely be in English whereas the court records will be in Latin.

Legal papers may be found such as these I found amongst the papers for Gomshall Towerhill Manor concerning grazing rights dated between 1789 – 1795 (Surrey History Centre Ref: G85/18/5-6). This contained two files, the first is award granted in the Case of Lynn and Hooker dated 5 May 1789. This is an award made by the Assize court and it my first thought were that it may have been an appeal from the manorial court. However, the second file contains various other papers from the same case and is a case from the court of common pleas. It is a case concerning the grazing of sheep Shere Heath and Combe Bottom. It is held with the manorial records but does not appear to have been a manorial court case.

I also found a bundle of correspondence relating to heriots and quit rents dated between 1850 – 1880 (Surrey History Centre Ref: G85/16/25), comprising of two folders with 77 documents. The first document was a licence to have servants!

The rest of the documents were letters from tenants advising the Lord of the Manor of various matters, inc.:

•     complaints about hedges etc not been cut/ or being damaged/blown down and not been cleared away etc

•     Informing him of deaths of tenants

•     Asking to purchase land/rent land

•     Asking if certain properties fall within the manor and if any rent arrears

•     Letters asking to enfranchise their land

•     Enquiring about quit rents due on properties bought by ‘outsiders’

•     Quit rental of holdings

•     Letters from solicitors regarding enfranchising property/land

•     Letters sending payments for quit rent/heriots

•     Agreements to enclose

•     Loose papers setting out rents received

If your ancestor was amongst such papers then they may provide more of insight into the character of the person, their handwriting and their role/position in the manor.

This is just a selection of the records available for a given manor, there are countless more records available and searching the catalogue for the relevant archive holding the records for the manor you are interested in, not just under the name of the manor by the name of the family/families who held the manor should provide details of what is available.

The above hopefully provides a good sample of what may be available and their use to the genealogist. I would say that all the records I have viewed during various research projects are of use in one way or another and many should be considered together to create a picture of an ancestor’s life on the manor. Where good runs of documents exist, through careful analysis of the various records,  generations of families can be identified and ‘pieced together’.

My next blog will look at Wills and probate records through which many manorial tenants left their property and land, whether copyhold, freehold or leasehold, to the next generation of their family.

Join the Your Family Through Time mailing List

Want to be notified of future blog posts, podcasts and more from Your Family Through Time?

Just enter your email address below and join the Your Family Through Time mailing list!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.