How to look for records of... Manorial documents and lordships and how to use the Manorial Documents Register
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
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1. Why use this guide?
Use this guide in tandem with the Manorial Documents Register (MDR) to learn what the register is and and how to make the best use of it. The MDR is an invaluable tool for locating records created by manors (landed estates whose origins lie in the medieval period).
Manorial records are a vital source for local, social, family and economic history. These records can reveal historical information about local areas in England and Wales before the 1920s and going back centuries, including details of:
- the community living on the manor and its social structure, including the division of households
- local agriculture
- the tenure and transfer of property among tenants
- disagreements between tenants
- markets and trade more generally
- industrial developments
The MDR it is not a register of title to manorial lordships and we do not collect or record this type of information.
2. What is the MDR?
The Manorial Documents Register (MDR) is maintained by The National Archives, on behalf of the Master of the Rolls, as a record of the whereabouts of manorial documents. It provides brief descriptions of documents and details of their locations.
The MDR was set up as a consequence of the 1922 Law of Property Act which, by abolishing the form of land tenure known as ‘copyhold’, brought to an end the last meaningful function of manorial courts. However, since proof of title to former copyhold land was in many cases contained within the books and rolls of manorial courts, it was essential that these records be preserved. To ensure that manorial documents were properly preserved, the Law of Property Amendment Act 1924 placed manorial documents under the charge and superintendence of the Master of the Rolls. The records to be protected were later defined in the Manorial Documents Rules (see section 4) as: ‘court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents and books of every description relating to the boundaries, wastes, customs or courts of a manor’. Deeds and other evidences of title therefore lie outside the scope of the MDR.
The 1924 Act established a right of access to manorial documents for persons with an interest in former copyhold land who may require manorial documents to prove title. However, there is no statutory right of access for the purposes of personal research.
For the purposes of the MDR the definitive proof of the existence of a manor is the survival of records produced by the manorial court. For more information on the types of documents included in the MDR see our definitions page.
You can search the MDR online for all the counties in England and Wales. The MDR online is far more detailed and accurate than the original paper indexes and can be searched by manor, parish, type of record, or by date, to identify the relevant records.
3. How to search the MDR
You can search by:
- manor name
- parish (for England only)
- historic county
- document type
There are two search types on the homepage for the Manorial Documents Register. You can:
- search by manor
- searching for manorial documents
There is more advice on searching the MDR elsewhere on our website.
The indexes of the MDR are divided into two parts:
1. The Parish Index: identifies the names of manors associated with parishes, as the two are not always identical. It is arranged by county and alphabetically by parish name within each county.
2. The Manor Index: is arranged by county and then alphabetically by manor name within each county. The Manor Index does not contain a reference to all manors known to have existed. If no records are extant, the manor may not be mentioned in the index.
4. Understanding search results for ‘search by manor’
Any of the above searches will return a list of manor names, which match your search terms. If you have more than one manor in the search results you can sort by ‘Title – ascending’ to see them arranged alphabetically.
The initial search results will provide the name of the manor with its location (parish and county) and if no records are known to survive for a manor, at this stage you will see the following phrase “No records known to survive”.
The next stage is to select a manor by clicking on the link.
Once you have selected a manor the information is divided into two sections:
- View details of this record creator
View details of this record creator
This provides details about the location (place and county) of the manor and (if available) the history of the manor with links to any online related resources.
This section provides a list of all the documents associated with this manor name. It is arranged in chronological order with the earliest first.
A typical manorial record entry will contain the following information:
- a short description of the document(s)
- where the document is held
- the date range of the document(s)
- a unique catalogue reference – the format of the reference will be different for different archives and institutions but is usually the key to requesting and viewing records
The following references may also be included:
- ‘Annual Return’ means the information drawn from The National Archives’ Accessions to Repositories survey (many archives regularly take in new records to add to their collections – this process is known as accessioning. Every year, The National Archives collects information about new accessions from 250 archives across Britain and Ireland. This is known as the annual Accessions to Repositories’ survey)
- MI [Manorial Information] means that the information regarding the location of the document is held on file. For further information, please contact the MDR team OR private: enquiries to The National Archives: Archives Sector Development
- NRA number e.g. NRA 18628. This indicates that a catalogue of the collection including the document is filed in the National Register of Archives (NRA) located at The National Archives. Users of the MDR researching a particular topographical area may find it helpful to consult the NRA lists, as they may contain references to records which, although not strictly manorial in nature and therefore not included in the MDR, may nevertheless prove useful to their research
What can I do now?
Not every document noted on the MDR will be available for research. You should always check with the relevant repository first before making a visit to view the document.
5. Manorial documents rules
The Master of the Rolls issued the first Manorial Documents Rules in 1926, at the same time that the Manorial Documents Register was itself commissioned.
Full copies of these rules, which have been amended several times, can be obtained from us, but the most important provisions are as follows:
- No manorial documents may be removed from England and Wales without the permission of the Master of the Rolls. In practice this is never granted
- Owners or custodians of manorial documents are under an obligation to provide the Secretary of the Historical Manuscripts Commission (HMC) and Head of Archives Sector Development at The National Archives with brief details of any documents in their possession for inclusion in the MDR. Any change in ownership of manorial records must be notified to him
- Owners or custodians are required to ensure that any manorial documents for which they are responsible are kept under safe and proper conditions
- Should the Secretary of the HMC not be satisfied with the conditions in which documents are being stored he can direct the owner to place the documents on deposit in a repository which has been approved by The National Archives for this purpose. This will normally be the appropriate local record office
6. Manorial lordships and titles
6.2 Manorial lordships and documents
The law of property acts did not abolish manorial lordships and manorial lordships may be bought and sold, but a new lord is not automatically entitled to documents relating to the manor, unless these have been specifically conveyed to him. The case Beaumont v Jeffery (1925) established that the lord of a manor could sell the lordship while retaining ownership of any documents in his possession relating to the manor. Conversely, it was also established that manorial documents could be disposed of by the lord while the lordship itself could be retained. A new lord is not entitled, as of right, to obtain copies of documents relating to the manor to which he has acquired the title, although these may be purchased at the discretion of the owners or custodians, normally an archive repository. A manorial lord is entitled to those documents created in the period during which he is the lord.
6.3 Manorial lordships and registration
The MDR is not a register of title to lordships and we do not collect or record information relating to the owners of manorial titles or manorial rights and information concerning the conveyance of a title will not be recorded in the MDR. The MDR need only be informed of a transfer of a manorial title should the conveyance include a manorial document or documents, as defined by the Manorial Documents Rules. No register of manorial lordships is maintained and therefore there is no obligation for owners to register a manorial title.
6.4 The Land Registry and manorial lordships
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 and a guide to this index (Practice Guide 13), explaining the procedures for searching the index, can be downloaded from the Land Registry website.
Basic background information about manorial titles and rights can be found in another Land Registry guide (Practice Guide 22), also available to download from the Land Registry website.
6.5 Tracing of manorial titles
Since the MDR is not a register of title it is of no direct help to those who wish to trace the descent or ownership of a manorial lordship.
Although unlikely to provide current information, there are other sources which may help, such as the published volumes of the Victoria History of the Counties of England, the topographical volumes of which contain detailed manorial histories, and Kelly’s Directories, both of which should be available in any 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 detail relating to the existence of manors and the ownership of manors. These lists of manors and owners of titles, which do not go much beyond the 1920s, are held here under the reference HMC 5/6-8. They are available for public inspection at The National Archives.
7. Manorial rights and common land
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. Neither is the MDR of any assistance in answering enquiries concerning common land. For more information see the Common lands research guide.
8. Glossary for Manorial Documents Register
Below is a list of definitions for the types of documents you can find in the Manorial Documents Register.
|Document type||Definition||Descriptive term|
|Account||Manorial accounts of various officials such as reeves, bedells and bailiffs. They are often described in the Latin as compoti. Where the official is not identified, the documents are described as ‘ministers’ accounts’. Accounts of receivers, chamberlains and farmers have not be included on the Manorial Documents Register since these officials presented their accounts under the administration of estates rather than manors. Therefore, they are not manorial documents. Later accounting records, such as cash books, day books and ledgers if they relate to an individual manor are included. Manorial accounts are usually in Latin and use many abbreviations. They are unlikely to contain information about specific individuals.||account(s), account roll(s), ministers’ account(s), (named official’s) account(s) eg reeve’s account, account book(s), cash book(s), ledger(s), particular of accounts|
|Artefact||Objects such as steward’s rods and rattles which may have survived with manorial records or have been deposited in repositories individually.||steward’s rod (or the name of the specific object)|
|Boundaries||Descriptions of boundaries and papers, correspondence and notes relating to manorial boundaries. Used where the record is not a formal perambulation. See also: Perambulation, Inquisition, Legal papers, Map||bounds, boundaries, description of boundaries, papers/notes/agreement/corresp rel to boundaries|
|Call||Call rolls and call books, a type of manor court attendance register. See also: Suit||call roll(s), call book(s)|
|Correspondence||Correspondence, usually stewards correspondence, occurring as more than a single item. The subject(s) of the correspondence must be included in the description field. Correspondence relating to the title to the manor is not included on the Manorial Documents Register.||correspondence rel to + subject|
|Court book||Formal record of the manorial courts when kept in a volume. Documents describing themselves as court books may only be minutes (rather than formal records) or documents which do not include the record of sessions of the manor court. These have still been described as court books. See also: Court roll, Court file, Minutes, Presentment,Verdict||court book(s), index(es) to court books|
|Court file||Formal record of the manor court in file form. The file should include the other papers relating to that particular session of the court e.g. warrant(s), suit roll, jury list, presentments, returns of petty constable. See also: Court roll, Court book, Minutes, Presentment,Verdict||court file(s)|
|Court procedures||Volumes and papers containing forms of oaths of officers, forms of keeping court, articles of enquiry to be used at all courts, specimen documents.||formulary book, form(s) of oaths of officers, form(s) of keeping courts, forms of articles of enquiry…|
|Court Roll||Formal record of the manor court, whether in roll-form or on sheets of paper. See also: Court book, Court file, Minutes, Presentment,Verdict||court roll(s), index(es) to court rolls|
|Customs||Lists of customs and papers, notes and extracts relating to customs. Used where the record is not a formal custumal. See also: Custumal, Survey, Inquisition, Legal papers||list of customs, papers/notes/extracts/abstract rel to customs|
|Custumal||An early type of survey which consists of a list of the manor’s tenants with the customs under which each held his house and lands. See also: Customs, Survey||custumal(s)|
|Enfranchisement||Papers, files and deeds relating to enfranchisement of copyhold land, resulting from a series of permissive Acts of Parliament in the 19th century, and also to 20th century compulsory enfranchisement. Used for records in The National Archives in series MAF 9 and MAF 20. Although specifically excluded from the Manorial Documents Rules, these have now been included for the sake of completeness. See also: Incidents||For papers in private collections – papers and correspondence rel to enfranchisement, deed(s) of enfranchisement
For MAF 9 – deed(s) and award(s) of enfranchisement of copyhold land
For MAF 20 – file(s) of evidence relating to enfranchisement of copyhold land
|Essoin||Documents separate from the court roll, listing the essoins, or excuses for non-attendance at court. See also: Call, Suit||essoins|
|Estreat||Documents which list the fines (customary payments) and amercements (penalty payments) imposed by the manor court to be collected by one of the manorial officials.||estreat(s), estreat roll(s)|
|Extent||A type of survey in which every item has a valuation attached to it. Extents take their form from the extenta manerii, and will always describe themselves as extents. They date mainly from the mid-13th century until about the mid-14th century. After this date they are rare but may still be found. Extents attached to Inquisitions post mortem are not included in the Manorial Documents Register. See also: Survey||extent(s)|
|Incidents||After compulsory enfranchisement of copyhold land in the 1920s, certain charges and interests in the lands still remained. They were known as manorial incidents. These could be extinguished by payment of compensation by the tenant or copyholder to the lord of the manor. Used for papers relating to manorial incidents, particularly papers relating to compensation for extinguishment of manorial incidents. Used for records in The National Archives in classes MAF 13 and MAF 27. Although specifically excluded from the Manorial Documents Rules, these have now been included for the sake of completeness. See also: Enfranchisement||For papers in private collections – papers and correspondence relating to extinguishment of manorial incidents
For MAF 13 – certificate(s)/agreement(s) of compensation for extinguishment of manorial incidents
For MAF 27 – certificate(s) of determination of compensation for extinguishment of manorial incidents
|Inquisition||Enquiries into specific matters for example, boundaries, commons, or customs, other than the court of survey. The subject of the inquisition must be included in the description field. Inquisitions post mortem are not manorial documents and are not included. See also: Survey, Boundaries, Customs||inquisition(s) rel to + subject|
|Jury||Lists of jury in the manorial court. Also used for charges to the jury which are articles of enquiry for a routine court rather than a court of survey or inquisition. See also: Suit, Call||jury list, charge to jury|
|Lease||Used for registers of leases and bundles of leases which are only included on the Manorial Documents Register when they occur as a bundle or small group. Leases of the manor as a whole are not included on the Manorial Documents Register. See also: Surrender and Admission||leases, register(s) of leases/leaseholders|
|Legal papers||Papers relating to legal matters such as disputes between the tenants and lord over rights and customs. The subject of the dispute should appear in the description field. Disputes over title to a manor are not included. See also: Customs, Boundaries||legal papers rel to + subject, incl …(eg case for opinion, case and opinion, depositions)|
|Map||Maps and plans of a manor. The basic description is ‘map’ and no other details such as scale or surveyor are given. If the map has been drawn up to illustrate a particular aspect of the manor such as the location of commons or the extent of encroachments this has been added to the basic description. Maps may accompany surveys or rentals. Numbers included on maps often relate to tables of references which list field names, tenants and acreages. Ordnance Survey maps, although not manorial documents, have been included where they have been marked to show manor boundaries. Volumes of estate maps have not be trawled for maps of manors or parts of manors. See also: Survey, Boundaries, Rental||map(s)|
|Minutes||Minutes taken at sessions of the manor court. See also: Court roll, Court book, Court file||minutes, minute book(s)|
|Pains||Documents containing a list of ordinances or orders upon the breaking of which, an amercement (payment), or ‘pain’, is imposed. For example, “that the beck which runs between the lordships of Scampston and Wintringham shall be sufficiently scoured and dressed…..as often as it is necessary, by those who ought to do the same on pain for every rood thereof in default 6d”. These documents are sometimes catalogued as ‘ordinances’ in repository lists. By-laws, serve a similar purpose to pains but are more general. By-laws list the ordinances but do not include a specific pain or penalty. For example, “No one shall let their pig roam on the crops”. By-laws are included under the keyword pains but described as by-laws in the description field. See also: Customs||pains, pains book(s), list of pains laid, by-laws|
|Particular||A description of the manor often written by the steward, and accompanied by a valuation. It is distinct from a survey made by a court of survey. Printed sale particulars of manors are not included on the Manorial Documents Register. See also: Survey, Valuation||particular(s), particular and valuation(s)|
|Perambulation||A document created as a result of the practice of perambulation, or ‘beating’ the bounds of a manor. See also: Boundaries, Survey||perambulation|
|Presentment||List of matters to be dealt with by the court. Drawn up by the jury, sometimes in advance of the court. Includes the phrase “we present that…..”. Used for presentments which are separate from the court roll. Because the headings of both types of documents may be very similar, care must be taken to distinguish presentments from court rolls. See also: Court roll, Court book, Court file||presentments(s)|
|Probate||Used for documents including wills, inventories and administrations created when a manor had its own probate jurisdiction; in other words was a ‘peculiar’ of probate jurisdiction. See also: Will||wills, inventories, administrations, probate register(s), probate act book(s), papers rel to probate|
|Rent||Used for a document which lists tenants and their rent taken in a given year. These terms should be used for accounts of rents due/received, and arrears of rent/chief rent due/received. See also: Rental, Survey, Tenants, Residents||rent roll(s), account(s) of rents due/received, account(s) of arrears of rent(s) due/received|
|Rental||A rental is a document listing tenants and rents payable, often used repeatedly over a period of years. Where an estate contained a group of manors, estate rentals, although not manorial documents, have been included for the information they may contain on manorial tenants. A further description of the subject of the rental may be included. For example, copyhold, cottage rents. See also: Rent, Survey, Tenants, Residents||rental(s)|
|Residents||Resiant rolls, lists of resiants (residents) and lists of inhabitants. See also: Rental, Rent, Tenants, Suit, Call||resiant roll(s), list(s) of resiants/residents, list(s) of inhabitants|
|Steward||Use for documents created by the steward of a manor including steward’s memoranda books.||steward’s memoranda book(s), steward’s papers incl…|
|Suit||Lists and rolls of tenants who owe suit to the court. See also: Jury, Call, Tenants||suit roll(s), list(s) of suitors|
|Surrender and Admission||Surrender and admission was the process by which transfers of copyhold land were made in the manorial courts. Tenants of copyhold land were not free to do as they wished with their land. Copyhold tenants had to seek the lord’s permission to buy, sell, inherit, sublet, exchange or mortage their land. Land would be surrendered into the hands of the lord and the next tenant admitted. This procedure was written down in the court roll, and the tenant given a copy of the relevant entry as proof of his tenure. Hence the name ‘copyhold’ for land held by copy of the court roll. The keyword is used for bundles, or groups of surrenders only, admissions only, and surrenders and admissions together, which may also include conditional surrenders and powers of attorney to surrender. It is also used for registers of surrenders and admissions, indexes to such registers and lists of surrenders and admissions. Only where this type of document appears in numbers of more than 10 have the been included in the Manorial Documents Register. In this number they may be regarded as working papers, perhaps gathered together by the steward. Documents in smaller numbers and single items have not been included and are regarded as title deeds. Surrenders and admissions may copy court roll and estreat. Most documents so listed will have been checked to ensure that they were not copies of court rolls or estreats of fines and amercements.||surrenders, admissions, surrenders and admissions, register(s)/list(s) of surrenders and admissions conditional surrenders, powers of attorney to surrender, index(es) to register(s) of surrenders and admissions list(s)/register(s) of surrenders to the use of a will|
|Survey||A survey is a written description of a manor consisting of descriptions of boundaries, customs and a rent roll. A special court called a court of survey was held, a jury empanelled and a list of questions or “articles of enquiry” drawn up. The presence of these components of the survey is included in the Manorial Documents Register in the document description. The documents mainly follow the format suggested by Fitzherbert and Norden. ‘Survey’ has not be used as a generic descriptive term. ‘Custumal’ and ‘extent’, which both describe types of surveys, appear as keywords in their own right. Commissions to survey and articles of enquiry for survey, where these survive as separate documents, have been noted on the Manorial Documents Register. See also: Map, Survey, Parliamentary, Extent, Terrier,Particular, Perambulation, Custumal, Rental, Rent,Inquisition, Valor||survey(s) + (presentment, bounds, rent roll), commission to survey, articles of enquiry for survey.|
|Survey, Parliamentary||Surveys of Crown and escheated manors made during the Commonwealth period, in preparation for the sale of Crown lands. The documents are in The National Archives but copies will occasionally be found among collections of family and estate records. They are in English as opposed to Latin and follow a standard format. They are not manorial documents but have been included in the Manorial Documents Register because of their usefulness. See also: Survey||survey|
|Tenants||Used for lists of tenants, including lists of copyholders or freeholders. See also: Residents, Rental, Rent, Suit, Call, Jury||list(s) of tenants, list of copyhold tenants, list of freehold tenants|
|Terrier||A terrier is a description of a manor which follows a topographical arrangement. See also: Survey, Extent, Rental, Rent, Map, Particular||terrier(s)|
|Valor||A valor is a document which sets out the income and expenses of an estate in summary form, sometimes showing how much each manor could be expected to provide. Valors were based on manorial and receivers’ accounts. See also: Valuation||valor(s)|
|Valuation||Use for documents found separately from, although often alongside, particulars. See also: Valor||valuation(s)|
|Verdict||Documents containing the verdict, or conclusion of the jury after deliberations on court business. Files or bundles separate from the court rolls. They often relate to ownership or inheritance of land. For example, “we the jury aforesaid find that Jane Dewes died since the last court and that Jane Dixon is next heir to all that messuage…..”||verdict(s)|
|Will||Registers of wills or bundles of wills which have been used in the administration of copyhold land. In particular, where a will has been used in the process of a surrender to the uses of a will. Single wills are not included. See also: Probate||will(s), register(s) of wills, index(es) of wills|
|Wreck||Used for papers and volumes which contain details of wrecks and the profits thereof.||wreck book(s), papers rel to right of wreck|
9. Further reading
Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ shop. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ Library to see what is available to consult at Kew.
W H Aggs and H W Law, ‘Handbook on copyholds, manorial incidents and perpetually renewable leaseholds’ (Sweet & Maxwell, 1925)
M Bailey, ‘The English Manor c.1200-c.1500’ (Manchester University Press, 2002)
A W and C Barsby, ‘Manorial Law’ (Legal Research and Publishing in association with the Manorial Society of Great Britain, 1996)
M Ellis, ‘Using manorial records, PRO Readers’ Guide No 6′ (PRO, 1994)
P D A Harvey, ‘Manorial Records’ (British Records Association, 1999)
N J Hone, ‘The manor and manorial records’ (Methuen and Co, 1912)
Christopher Jessel, ‘The law of the manor’ (Barry Rose Law, 1998)
Denis Stuart, ‘Manorial records: An introduction to their transcription and translation’ (Phillimore, 1992)
Helen Watt, ‘Welsh manors and their records’ (National Library of Wales, 2000)
Mark Forrest, ‘Dorset Manorial Documents: a guide for local and family’ (Dorset Record Society, 2011)
Angus Winchester et al, ‘Manorial Records in Cumbria and Lancashire: a user’s guide’ (Lancaster University, 2013)