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Frequently asked questions

What is a manor?

What are manorial documents?

How can the MDR help with family history?

What is copyhold?

How can I find out who is the current lord of the manor?

How do I trace the descent of a manorial title?

How can I register my manorial title?

How can I find out who owns the manorial rights?

What is a manor?

PDA Harvey in Manorial Records gives three meanings of the word manor; "a residence", "a unit of estate administration" and "a piece of landed property with tenants over whom the landlord exercised rights of jurisdiction in a private court". It is the third definition which has been applied in compiling the Manorial Documents Register. Many of the secondary sources listed in the general bibliography provide further definitions.

For the purposes of the Manorial Documents Register the definitive proof of the existence of a manor is the survival of records produced by the manorial court. The Register notes the location of manorial records and its purpose is to guide users to the location of these records. The manor name information within the Manorial Documents Register is not designed to be a definitive list of all manors which existed but only records the names of manors for which documents were, or may have been, created in order to enable those documents to be entered on the Register. Therefore, the lists of manors and manor names compiled should not be regarded as a definitive register of all manors that may have existed. The Manorial Documents Register records the existence of documents, not the existence of manors.

What are manorial documents?

According to the Manorial Documents Rules, manorial documents are defined as "court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents and books of every description relating to the boundaries, wastes, customs or courts of a manor" but they exclude "deeds or other instruments required for evidencing the title to a manor or agreements or draft agreements relating to compensation, or any documents which came into being after 31st December 1925".

For the purposes of the Manorial Documents Register and for the sake of users certain exceptions have been made to these rules:

  • records created by manor courts which continued to meet after 1925
  • estate rentals have been included where collection circuits continued to be organised by manor
  • records relating to compulsory enfranchisement and extinguishment of manorial incidents, both in The National Archives and related correspondence and papers found in private archives
  • Parliamentary surveys

Therefore, the inclusion of a record in the Manorial Documents Register does not necessarily indicate that it is legally defined as a manorial record for the purposes of the Manorial Documents Rules.

How can the Manorial Documents Register help with family history?

Manorial records may be of use once a family has been traced back to the early eighteenth century or earlier, particularly when few parish records have survived for an area. The Manorial Documents Register can then help to establish the whereabouts of records for specific manors or manors within a parish. The Register does not include information concerning the people or places which may be referred to in manorial documents. A visit must be made to the relevant record office to examine the records themselves.

Not every village in England was part of a manor and not all residents of an area were necessarily tenants of a manor. However, should you suspect that an ancestor was a manorial tenant, in particular a copyhold tenant, the court rolls and court books of that manor for the right period may prove invaluable. The surrenders and admissions of copyhold tenants include information about deaths of tenants and their heirs. Court rolls and court books are sometimes, but not always, indexed and are likely to be much more useful if you are able to work back from a date at which it is known an ancestor was a manorial tenant. Rentals and surveys may also be useful and include both copyhold and freehold tenants.

Many manorial records were written in Latin until 1733 and are often abbreviated. For further information about using manorial records for family history, and help in interpreting them, see the bibliography.

What is copyhold?

Copyhold tenure, as opposed to freehold or leasehold, was a form of landholding peculiar to manors. Copyhold tenants were restricted in what they could do with their land and needed permission from the manorial court to inherit, sell, sublet, buy or mortgage their copyhold property. These transactions, referred to as admissions and surrenders, were written down in the formal record of the court, that is the court roll or court book, and a copy of the entry given to the new tenant as proof of title. The term copyhold therefore derives from the fact that the land was held by copy of the court roll. Copyhold tenants were also subject to certain customary payments. For example, when a new tenant took over copyhold property he had to pay an entry fine to the lord of the manor and when a copyhold tenant died a payment called a 'heriot' had to be made. Copyhold was abolished by the Law of Property Act 1922.

How can I find out who is the current lord of the manor?

The Manorial Documents Register is not a register of title to lordships and we do not collect or record information concerning the ownership or descent of manorial titles. The Manorial Documents Register is therefore of little use in tracing current or previous manorial lords. As far as we are aware, no such register of manorial lordships exists.

How do I trace the descent of a manorial title?

The Manorial Documents Register is not a register of title to manorial lordships and so is of little help in tracing the descent of manorial titles. Although they do not provide current information, there are other sources which may help, such as the published volumes of the Victoria County Histories of England, the earlier volumes of which contain detailed manorial histories, and Kelly's Directories, both of which should be available at a good reference library. In addition, as a result of the Law of Property (Amendment) Act 1924, the Manorial Documents Committee was supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Board of Inland Revenue with a considerable amount of information about the existence of manors and the ownership of manorial titles. This information, which largely relates to the 1920s, is held here under the reference HMC 5/6-8, and is available for public inspection.

How can I register my manorial title?

The Manorial Documents Register is not a register of title to manorial lordships and we do not seek to record information concerning the ownership of manorial titles. As far as we are aware, no such register of manorial lordships exists.

A voluntary registration of a manorial title with the Land Registry was, until recently, possible. The Land Registry keeps an index of registered lordship titles. A Practice Guide giving details of the information held in the Land Registry's index of relating franchises, and the procedures that need to be followed to obtain such information, can be downloaded from the Land Registry website www.landregistry.gov.ukExternal website - link opens in a new window

How can I find out who owns the manorial rights?

The Manorial Documents Register cannot provide help with tracing the owners of manorial rights apart from providing details of the whereabouts of potentially useful manorial documents. The Register is of no use in answering enquiries concerning common land. The National Archives Domestic Records Resarch Guide No 95 Common Lands is a useful guide to sources available here and Dudley Stamp and WG Hoskins The Common Lands of England and Wales (London, Collins 1963) may also help.

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