How to look for records of... Land and property ownership: conveyances by feet of fines 1182-1833

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1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide for advice on how to find ‘feet of fines’, documents held at The National Archives that record details of land and property changing hands between 1195 and 1833. Medieval feet of fines are particularly significant as they are often the only surviving record of a conveyance. The use of fines was a means of creating a legal record of land ownership.

A small percentage of these records are available to view online but, in most cases, to see them you will have to either visit us in Kew or, if you can locate document references, order copies. However, you may find that to locate document references you will also need to visit us – there are calendars and indexes held in our building that may prove essential in your search.

For Welsh feet of fines please contact the National Library of Wales.

2. What are feet of fines?

Feet of fines are court copies of agreements following disputes over property. In reality, the disputes were mostly fictitious and were simply a way of having the transfer of ownership of land recorded officially by the king’s court.

The agreements were normally written out three times on a single sheet of parchment – two copies side by side and one copy across the bottom (the foot) of the sheet, separated by an indented or wavy line. The purchaser kept one copy, the seller the other and the final copy – ‘the foot of the fine’- was kept by the king’s court as a central record of the conveyance. Using one piece of parchment separated in this way gave protection against fraud or forgery as only the genuine copies would fit together – like a jigsaw.

3. The records and what they tell us

Before 1290, agreements reached in court were often recorded on the plea rolls but were sometimes recorded elsewhere. From the reign of Edward III, all feet of fines made in the central courts were made in the Court of Common Pleas.

The feet of fines can prove invaluable for finding information about changing land ownership where other records are not available.

Fines, also known as final concords, are written in a standard form. They are mostly in Latin until 1733, except for a short period between 1650 and 1660 where English was used.

3.1 Information in a foot of fine

Final concords always begin ‘Hec est finalis Concordia’ – ‘This is the final agreement’.

The fine opens with the date, given by regnal year, legal term, and names of the judges. Regnal years and legal terms can be converted into conventional dates by using CR Cheney’s Handbook of Dates.

The key word to look for in the text is INTER, after which the names of the parties are given.

Other abbreviations used include ‘q’ or ‘quer’- the querent, and ‘def’ – the deforciants.

The property description is formal and not intended for use as a detailed guide to property boundaries.

The sum of money given is, by the 14th century, no longer the actual purchase price but a guide price to the value of the property on the open market.

After 1489, the date on which the fine was ‘proclaimed’ (announced in court) is endorsed on the back of the fine.

3.2 Key terms

Querent – purchaser
Deforciant – seller
Concord – final agreement

4. How to get a search for deeds started

Often the fine is one of a series of conveyancing deeds, some of which may give more detail about the property. These deeds were private documents and are usually kept in local and private archives, although some have ended up at The National Archives.

For deeds at The National Archives search our catalogue using ‘ancient deeds’ or ‘modern deeds’ as your search words. To find the locally held deeds, refine your search results using the ‘Other archives’ filter in the left-hand panel on search results pages. You can also try searching by family name or locality with the word ‘deed’ or ‘deeds’.

Some abstracts of and calendars to feet of fines are online – try searching using ‘feet of fines’ and a county name.

5. How to find feet of fines before 1509

Medieval feet of fines made before the royal courts of law 1195-1509 are in record series CP 25/1 (though feet of fines run from 1195, there are some earlier concords in this series dating back to 1182). Read the series description in the catalogue for a full account of how these records were created and are arranged.

5.1 Starting your search with a person or place

The best way to start looking for a particular person or place is to use the calendars to feet of fines produced by local history societies – these have their own indexes of people and places. Calendars for some periods and counties are available online. Try an online search for ‘feet of fines’ with a county name.

There is no single comprehensive index of people or places but there are some miscellaneous indexes covering particular periods and counties, mainly compiled in the 17th century, in IND 1/7178-7232.

Useful websites include:

You should find that an entry in a calendar gives you the reference to the original document (CP 25/ followed by other numbers). If you find an abstract of a document on a website you may not need to see the original document.

5.2 Starting your search with a county

If you can’t find what you need using the calendars, browse CP 25/1 in our catalogue. Most series are arranged by county and then in rough chronological order.

There is a subseries called Diverse, varied and unknown counties. This contains files:

  • which relate to property in more than one county – ‘divers counties’ files
  • where the county is not obvious – ‘unknown counties’ files
  • where they were omitted from the main county sequence – ‘various counties’ files

To find all the fines relating to a particular county for a particular period, all these sub-series should be checked.

When you find the right item, make a note of the reference which will be CP 25/1 followed by another number. With this reference you will be able to visit us at Kew and order the original document. Alternatively you can enquire about having copies made and sent to you.

6. How to find feet of fines from 1509-1833

The documents for this period are in series CP 25/2, and are filed in a number of groups by county, regnal year and legal term.

Post-medieval fines were normally taken out in addition to other types of deed transferring the property.

6.1 Starting your search with a person or place

There is no single comprehensive index of people or places, but there are some miscellaneous indexes (mainly compiled in the 17th century) covering some periods and counties, in IND 1/7178-7232 and in IND 1/17217-17268 and IND 1/7233-7244.

You can also try looking for a particular person or place is to use the calendars to feet of fines produced by local history societies – these have their own indexes of people and places.

Abstracts of and calendars to feet of fines are available online for some periods and counties. Search online for ‘feet of fines’ with a county name.

Useful websites include:

6.2 Starting your search with a city

Some cities may be listed by name. Search CP 25/2 by the name of a city.

You can, alternatively, browse the subseries in CP 25/2 for subseries of towns and cities.

6.3 Starting your search with a county

If you can’t find a calendar covering the county and period you are interested in, use the contemporary chronological indexes to the related Notes of Fines in CP 26/1-14 to identify which feet ought to survive for a particular county in CP 25/2.

  • Step 1: Browse the catalogue descriptions of CP 26/1-14 to identify records by period and county.
  • Step 2: Consult the notes of fines (allow three working days for this as the records are stored off site) – the notes are arranged by regnal year and legal term and then, within each term, by county, with separate groups for fines relating to properties in more than one county. As with the fines themselves, the index entries are in Latin until 1733. Until 1759, each entry gives the name of the querent (purchaser), the name of the deforciant (vendor) and the name of the place(s) where the property lay. After 1759, only names of county and parties are given.
  • Step 3: Once you have found a reference, browse CP 25/2 by hierarchy to find the subseries covering the county in question. Select the subseries and browse it by hierarchy to locate a document by regnal year and legal term (Michaelmas, Hilary and so on).

7. Wales and the Palatinates of Chester, Durham and Lancaster

Feet of fines and related series for Wales, formerly in WALE 2, WALE 3 and WALE 6, are now in the National Library of Wales.

Feet of fines for the Palatinates are in their own series. For

  • Chester (1280-1831) browse CHES 31 by regnal year
  • Durham (1535-1834) search DURH 12 by date
  • Lancaster (1377-1834) search PL 17 by date (the date relates to the session in which the fine was levied in the Palatinate Court of Common Pleas)

8. Further reading

Some of the publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

  • RE Latham, Feet of Fines, The Amateur Historian, Vol. I, No. 1 (1952)
  • J Kissock, Medieval Feet of Fines: A Study of Their Uses, The Local Historian, Vol. XXIV, No. 2 (1994)
  • NW Alcock, Old Title Deeds (Phillimore, 1986)
Guide reference: Legal Records Information 2