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Guide reference: Legal Records Information 7
Last updated: 28 June 2004

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide if you are looking for details of who owned land in England and Wales, or for details of changes in the ownership of land, particularly from the 13th century up until c1930.

The National Archives has records of titles to land which were enrolled at the central law courts. It has never been compulsory to register title in this way, therefore it is by no means certain that you will find the records you are looking for at The National Archives.

For changes of ownership of land in England and Wales from 1990, contact the Land Registry.

2. Essential information

2.1 Enrolments of deeds in the courts of law 1227-c1930

Many purchasers of land chose to try to register their title to the land with the records of the courts of law, both central and local. They could do this by using a fictitious legal dispute, or simply by paying a fee to have it enrolled among the records of the court. Enrolment is the system whereby a copy of a deed or a title is registered either centrally or locally. Title is the means by which a person has legal possession of their property.

After 1535, conveyances of land The transfer of legal title of property from one person to another. by one particular method, known as bargain and saleA form of conveyance of real property from one party to another, for a monetary consideration, which legally had to be enrolled at a local or central court., had to be enrolled either centrally, or locally at the Quarter Sessions County magistrates (Justices of the Peace) sitting quarterly to try civil and criminal offences..

2.2 What information do the records contain?

The information you may find varies depending on the type of record you consult. They may contain details such as:

  • the details of the buyer and seller
  • the whereabouts and nature of land
  • what is being paid for
  • the conditions for purchase
  • the details about previous owners

Before 1733, the records are likely to be in Latin and they can be legally complex.

3. Enrolments in Chancery 13th century-c1930

3.1 The records

From the 13th century, the backs of the Chancery Close Rolls in C 54 were used to enroll private deeds, for a fee. The majority of enrolments of deeds at The National Archives before 1536 can be found in this seriesa grouping of records held by The National Archives, based on common function or subject.

From 1536, all conveyances of land The transfer of legal title of property from one person to another. by means of bargain and sale had by law to be enrolled by one of the law courts or by the local clerk of the peace. This requirement could be avoided by using other methods of land conveyance instead of bargain and saleA form of conveyance of real property from one party to another, for a monetary consideration, which legally had to be enrolled at a local or central court..

After the Land Registry was set up in 1862, registration of deeds on the Close Rolls dwindled.

Private deeds continued to be enrolled on the Close Rolls until 1903, when the series of Close Rolls was replaced by the Supreme Court Enrolment Books in J 18. Use the original indexes in the Map and Large Document Reading Room to locate records in J 18.

From 1850, the enrolment of deeds poll of change of name became frequent, and from 1930, little else was enrolled.

3.2 How do I search for deeds in the close rolls (C54)?

The number of finding aids in the table below will help you locate records in the close rolls in C 54. They are arranged by initial letter only (generally by the name of one party), so you may need to scan through several pages of entries.

For further arrangement of the rolls and how the finding aids work, look at the introductory notes in C 54 and C 275 paper version of the catalogue available at The National Archives.

Date range Deeds Access
1227-1509 Calendarscalendar - a list, usually in chronological order, in which a detailed summary of individual documents is provided of Close Rolls (printed) Open access
1509-1837 Name indexes to grantees (buyers) and sometimes places - Rolls Chapel C 275/12-85 : Open access
1837-1848 Name indexes to grantors (sellers) - Rolls Chapel C 275/85-88 : Open access
1573-1902 Name indexes to grantors (sellers) - Enrolment Office C 275/89-169 : Open access
1903- Name indexes to grantors (sellers) - very few Open access
1559-1567 Calendar of enrolled deeds IND 1/9455-9457
1689-1820 Deeds enrolled for safe custody C 275/205

3.3 What to do once I've located an entry in the finding aid?

Once you find a likely entry you can convert the old reference given in the finding aids by searching our catalogue using the advanced search by regnal year within C54 or browsing C 54 by regnal year.

You should end up with a document referenceA unique set of letters and numbers identifying a document in The National Archives.  for example C 54/4 for the year 9 John 1207-1208.

4. Other court of law records

If you have looked in the close rolls (C 54) but could not find an entry, try other court of law records. There is no single overall index of names or places.

Browse our catalogue to locate document references within:

  • CP 40 for Court of Common Pleas: Plea Rolls
  • CP 43 for Court of Common Pleas: Recovery Rolls
  • JUST 1 for Eyre Rolls
  • KB 27 for Coram Rege Rolls, King's Bench
  • KB 122 for Judgement Rolls of King's Bench (after 1702)
  • E 159 and E 368 for Memoranda Rolls of the Exchequer
  • E 13 for Exchequer Plea Rolls
  • E 315 for Miscellaneous Books of the Exchequer
  • CHES 29-30 for Plea Rolls of the Palatinate of Chester
  • DURH 13 for Judgement Rolls of the Palatinate of Durham
  • PL 2 for Close Rolls of the Palatinate of Lancaster


 

5. Private conveyances by final concord

Final concords, or fines, were a popular device for the conveyances of land The transfer of legal title of property from one person to another.

Final concords were conveyances of land by means of a legal action (normally fictitious after 1300), that resulted in a copy of the final agreement, or concord, between the purchaser and the seller being filed with the records of the king's court and open to public inspection. This final concord was normally written out three times on a single sheet of parchment. One of these three copies - 'the foot of the fine'- was kept by the court as a central record of the conveyance.

Consult the feet of fines (1182-1833) in:

Those for the Palatinate of Chester are enrolled in CHES 32; those for the Palatinate of Durham are in DURH 11 and those for the Palatinate of Lancaster are in PL 18.  For further search advice, read our guide on land conveyances by feet of fines.

6. Private conveyances by common recovery

Another fictitious legal dispute was the common recovery A type of conveyance of land by means of a fictitious legal procedure, most commonly used to break entails.. This was in use from the 15th century and was often used to break family trusts that had been set up to prevent an heir selling off the family property

Before Easter term 1583, recoveries are enrolled on the Plea Rolls of the Court of Common Pleas in CP 40.

From 1583-1835, they were enrolled on a separate series of Recovery Rolls in CP 43. Use contemporary finding aids referred to in the catalogue description of CP 43 which may note:

  • the names of the parties in the case
  • the county
  • the relevant membrane number within the roll

Browse:

  • CHES 29-30 for recoveries for the Palatinates of Chester
  • DURH 13 for recoveries enrolled in the Palatinates of Durham
  • PL 15 for recoveries enrolled in the Palatinates of Lancaster

7. Records in other archives

Search Access to Archives (A2A) to see what is held in local archives. There may be:

  • local deeds registries (not just for titles) which existed before 1862
  • property transactions in some cities and boroughs recorded in municipal records

Consult the register at the Land Registry district offices for registration of land for records of: 

  • voluntary registrations (from 1862)
  • voluntary registration from 1897 (which was extended throughout counties of England and Wales)
  • compulsory registration (from 1990)

8. Further reading

The publication 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.

Nathaniel Alcock, Old title deeds (Phillimore, 2001)

Alan Dibben, Title deeds (Historical Association pamphlet, 1971)

Guide reference: Legal Records Information 7

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