How to look for records of... Manors and manorial records
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1. Why use this guide?
This is a guide to finding records of manors held by The National Archives. 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, predominantly before the 1920s, 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
Records from a single manor can be scattered across a number of archives and institutions, held in both public and private hands and sometimes both. At The National Archives, manorial records, as with all of our records, are among the records accumulated by government departments and courts, though some have been regrouped into new series since their arrival in our repositories
This guide will help you to understand the records we hold and how to search for them.
Until 1733, manorial records are likely to be in Latin and, both before and after that date, in handwriting that can be difficult to read. In general, the manorial records held by The National Archives cannot be viewed online, though a small number are held in our online image library.
2. What is a manor?
The manor was a landed estate originating in the Middle Ages. It was administered by and for their lords, with dependent tenants living on the land, and its business was carried out in the manor court before the steward. Manors varied in size, from a few acres within a single parish to manors covering several whole parishes, and even parcels of land scattered across several parishes but not adjacent to one another. They were, however, administered by their lords as a single unit.
To see examples of manorial records, with transcriptions in English, and further information on life on a manor, visit the Conisbrough Court Rolls website and Cumbrian Manorial Records. https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fass/projects/manorialrecords/gallery/index.htm
3. Manorial records and starting a search
Manorial records for any given manor may be held in several different locations. They may be in private collections, local archives and record offices or national record repositories including The National Archives. The National Archives only holds manorial documents that at one time or another had been in Crown hands, were acquired from duchies or had passed through a central court or government department, such as Chancery or the Office of Land Revenue Records and Enrolments.
If you are looking for the ownership and location of manorial documents for any of the historic counties in England and Wales, the best place to begin a search is in the Manorial Documents Register (MDR). You can search by the name of a parish, manor, county, document type and /or by date.
The online MDR provides a bespoke search of The National Archives catalogue. Our catalogue holds descriptions of our own records and those of more than 2,500 other archives across the country. When viewing catalogue search results, keep your eye on the ‘Held by’ line which will indicate whether the record is held here or at another archive. If you find a manorial record held here, your search may return a National Archives’ catalogue reference and/or a Manorial Documents Register reference. Only the former is orderable (that is, can be used to order the document itself) so MDR references need to be converted into orderable references but there is no formula for doing this and much depends on a familiarity with our catalogue references. For more help with this and detailed advice on using the online MDR please read our guide to Accessing the records of the Manorial Documents Register.
You can also try an ordinary catalogue search. There is more detailed advice for searching specific areas of our own collections, using ordinary catalogue searches, in the following sections of this guide.
The manorial system never covered the whole country and so there are no manorial records for some areas. Where they do exist, the survival rate and comprehensiveness of records varies.
4. Manorial court rolls, c1200-1954
Manorial court rolls are the records of manorial courts dealing with matters over which the lord of the manor had jurisdiction. They are held at local archives around the country as well as at The National Archives and should not be confused with the records of the central law courts at Westminster.
Court rolls record the proceedings of public, franchise, manorial and other local courts. The principal courts were the court baron and court leet.
The court baron was the court of the chief tenants of the manor. It was responsible for the internal regulation of the local affairs within the manor. The court was attended by all those free tenants whose attendance at court was a condition of their tenure, and by customary tenants. Customary tenants, the most significant of which were copyholders, held land by an agreement made at the manor court which was entered on its roll, a ‘copy’ of which was regarded as proof of title.
A court leet exercised the peace-keeping jurisdiction of the sheriff’s twice-yearly tour of the hundred courts and dealt with minor criminal offences.
4.1 What information do manorial court rolls provide?
Manorial court rolls contain a wealth of information, often about ordinary people, at the base of the economic pyramid, and covering local issues, including:
- cases of transferring property rights, notably copyhold tenure
- occupation of land at a given time
- the enforcement of law and order, including cases of minor disputes and debts, theft or petty assault
- the regulation of agricultural affairs such as the allocation of strips of land
- the enforcement of bye-laws about common land, ditches and crops
- the enforcement of labour services
- the election of local officials
- the obstruction of highways and watercourses
- the name of the lord of the manor
The variety of business conducted in manor courts declined in the 18th century and they became primarily concerned with the surrender of and admittance to copyhold land.
4.2 How to search for manorial court rolls held at The National Archives
The series references below are for record series which consist almost entirely of manorial court rolls. Click on the series references to search the respective series by year or year range and by name of county or other place names:
Other record series that have been identified as holding manorial court rolls, and which you can search by place name and “manor”, restricting by date range where necessary, include series ADM 74, C 116, C 171, CRES 5, CRES 34, CRES 35, DURH 3, E 315, F 14, J 90, LR 3, LR 11, MAF 5, PRO 30/26, SC 12, TS 19 and WARD 2.
4.3 Pre-1700 court rolls
There are additional finding aids held at our building in Kew for pre-1700 court rolls, though generally speaking the online Manorial Documents Register should be the first place you conduct a search:
- The List and Index of Court Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office (Lists and Indexes VI, Kraus Reprint, 1963). Use the place index in this publication to locate the area you are researching.
- For records in SC 2 search under ‘General series’
- For records in DL 30 search under ‘Duchy of Lancaster’
- Use the printed but unpublished Union place name index to Court Rolls, which is on open access at The National Archives for finding other court rolls at The National Archives.
- M Ellis, Using Manorial Records (PRO, 1994). Contains guidance on locating document references for manorial records.
4.4 What format do the court rolls follow?
The heading of a court roll usually gives the type of court, the day of the week and date expressed with reference to a saint’s day, the regnal year and possibly the name of the official presiding over the court.
There is no set pattern for the recording of the business of the court. However, essoins (excuses) will typically be listed first, followed by the names of the jury, and then presentments (lists of matters to be dealt with by the court).
During the medieval period the proceedings were generally written on parchment rolls. It became increasingly common from the 16th century onwards for court rolls to be written in book form.
Very often a court roll or book will include the proceedings of more than one manor.
5. Manorial accounts, c1200-1851
Accounts of income and expenditure by the steward, bailiff or other manorial officials are known as ‘minister’s accounts’, also referred to as manorial accounts.
The main series of records containing manorial accounts at The National Archives are:
- SC 6 and DL 29
- E 372, E 364, or E 199 may contain accounts for manors temporarily held by the Crown
- LR 6-LR 7 and LR 12 may also contain accounts from Crown manors
The following publications, held in the library and reading rooms at our building in Kew, may help you to locate records:
- List of Original Ministers’ Accounts held in the Public Record Office (Lists and Indexes V, VIII, and XXXIV, Kraus Reprint, 1963) for topographically arranged lists. There is a Supplementary Series II (Kraus Reprint, 1967) to locate records in series SC 6 and DL 29.
- List of the Lands of Dissolved Religious Houses (Lists and Indexes Supplementary Series No. III, vols. 1 to 7, Kraus Reprint 1967). An index to accounts of royal officials who took control of the possessions of the dissolved monasteries in the 16th century.
- M Ellis, Using Manorial Records (PRO, 1994).
6. Surveys, extents and maps, c1200-1851
Among the most detailed records of manors are the manor ‘extents’, documents compiled whenever a manor changed hands. These include details of the tenants themselves, their holdings and can even include their names, as well as the value of rents and the services and goods produced on the manor. Other kinds of surveys exist for manors and there are numerous maps of manors within our collection too, though few manorial or estate maps survive for the period before 1600.
Search with the name of a manor (including the word ‘manor’ itself) and the following words to uncover some of the available records:
Clink on the links below to narrow your search by series, searching with the terms indicated:
- SC 11 and SC 12 – various manorial surveys, mostly pre-1685 but up until 1800s – search by placename (manor, village, parish) or county
- DL 29 and DL 42-44 – records of the Duchy of Lancaster some of which include details of estates on land held by the Duchy – search by placename (manor, village, parish) or county
- E 36, E 142, E 164, E 315, E 317 – records of the Exchequer and related bodies including, in series E 317, parliamentary surveys of crown manors taken after 1649 which lists the names of tenants – search by county (often in an abbreviated form, such as Berks, Hants or Lincs) or by individual
- LR 2 – within this series are audits of the revenue generated on Crown lands – search by county (often in an abbreviated form, such as Berks, Hants or Lincs)
In addition to the kinds of catalogue searches suggested above, you can search for documents at our building in Kew using the List of Rentals and Surveys and other analogous documents preserved in the Public Record Office (Lists and Indexes XXV and Supplementary Series IV Kraus Reprints, 1963 and 1968). It provides full document references for records in the series listed above.
You may also find extents of manors amongst the records of Inquisitions Post Mortem, which were local inquiries into valuable properties, conducted to establish any income and rights that might be owed to the Crown and to establish who the heir should be. Read our guide to the records of inquisitions post mortem for more advice.
7. Manorial lordships and titles
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.
7.1 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.
7.2 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.
7.3 Tracing of manorial titles
Since the MDR is not a register of title you cannot use it alone to establish the ownership of a manorial lordship. You can of course use it to locate documents which may themselves, once consulted, help you to trace the descent of a 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.
8. Further reading
Search the British History Online website. This is a digital library created by the Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust containing core printed primary and secondary sources for the medieval and modern history of the British Isles.
Look at the Lancaster University and Nottingham University guides to using manorial records.
Until 1733, the records are likely to be in Latin with difficult handwriting, so first time users should begin by consulting one of the guides listed below.
Some or all 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.
Read Using Manorial Records by Mary Ellis (Public Record Office, 1994)
Dorset Manorial Documents: A Guide for Local and Family Historians by Mark Forrest (Dorset Record Society, 2011)
Mark Forrest with Helen Watt, Manors and Manorial Documents after 1500 (British Association for Local History, 2022)
PDA Harvey, Manorial Records (British Records Association, Archives and the User No 5, 1984) Should be available soon as an ebook
M Bailey, ‘The English Manor c.1200-c.1500’ (Manchester University Press, 2002)
‘Manorial Records in Cumbria and Lancashire: A User’s Guide’ by Angus Winchester, et al (Lancaster University, 2013)
RE Latham, ‘Hints on Interpreting the Public Records, IV, Ministers’ Accounts’, The Amateur Historian, Vol 1, No 4 (1953)
Peter B Park, My ancestors were manorial tenants (Society of Genealogists, 1990)
D Stuart, Manorial Records, an introduction to their transcription and translation (Phillimore, 1992)
E Gooder, Latin for Local History (Longmans, 1982)
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