What are Manorial Records?
A vital resource for local historians
By Sue Flood and Carol Futers
The Manorial Documents Rules first issued in 1926 describe manorial documents as ‘court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents and books of every description relating to the boundaries, wastes, customs or courts of a manor’. The records can date from the 12th century and many survive in unbroken series right up to the 20th century. The earliest surviving records in Hertfordshire are those for the manors of the Abbot of St Albans dating from 1237 and the latest are those for the Manor of Park (in the parish of St Stephens, St Albans) which continue until 1936.
They are a vital resource for the study of local history in all its forms as they can shed vivid light on the lives of ordinary people, local communities and places in the past. Manorial courts combined the functions of a local ‘parliament’, a small claims court and a land registry and their records give unique glimpses of the lives of ordinary men and women. Many pre date the existence of parish registers and are an important, but underused, source for family historians. They are written in Latin prior to 1733.
All estates through its individual manors were managed in order to provide an income for the lord, both as money from rents paid by the tenants and surplus goods which would be sold or sent to the lord’s household for food. Income also came from the manorial court from such items as entry fines paid by tenants for any transactions taken to the court for approval.
All of this activity created a formal series of records drawn up for a specific purpose. Many followed a set format and they can contain an enormous amount of detail.
Drawn up annually often by the reeve or bailiff who needed to account for all the money he has received or spent. They list the corn and livestock and what resources remained in hand and how much cash was due to the lord or from the lord to the official.
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.
A valuation of the manor often drawn up after the death of a lord.
A description of the holdings of a manor which follows a topographical arrangement.
A list of tenants with the amounts of rent (either in cash or produce) due from each.
A list of fines imposed at the manor court often given to the local official who was responsible for collecting the money.
The formal record of the manorial court. These are kept in various ways – one manor per roll or sometimes several manors per roll written up in the order the steward made his way around a large estate. Sometimes drafts survive which contain the notes made by the steward while the manorial court was in session. These are usuallypaper books which were written up as a fair copy later either in parchment rolls or books. By the eighteenth and nineteenth century all the records were being kept in court books which are sometimes indexed by name.
COPY OF COURT ROLL
A copy extract from the roll recording the admission of a tenant into land belonging to the manor. This came to be regarded as a title deed providing the evidence of a tenant’s right to enter his holding and on what terms.