The Palatine Courts

Palatinates existed in England from medieval times, growing in the decades following the Norman conquest, when various earls or bishops were granted palatine power that is they were granted powers usually exercised by the Crown holding their own common law, equity and criminal courts.

Where were the courts?

There were palatinate counties: Chester, Durham and Lancaster. The Palatinate of Chester was a portion of the Earldom of Chester; the Palatinate of Durham was presided over by the Bishop of Durham; and the Duchy of Lancaster was created from the Earldom of Lancaster, when the Earl became Duke in 1351.


In Chester, the Exchequer court which continued from the 15th century to 1830, was the localised court of Chancery.

Records for the Chester Palatine are held at The National Archives in series CHES. For example:

CHES 29-30 for Plea Rolls

CHES 29-30 for recoveries

CHES 31 for Feet of FInes

CHES 11-16 for Chancery records

CHES 17 for Eyre rolls


The Durham Palatine also held their own court of Chancery from the 15th to 1971 although all othr jurisdictions ceased in the 19th century. Royal officials could only conduct an eyre in Durham following the death of the bishop before the appointment of his successor.

Again the records are generally held at The National Archives. The few surviving eyre rolls can be found in JUST 1 by searching “Durham”, whilst other records are held in the series DURH. For example:

DURH 13 for Judgement Rolls and enrolled recoveries

DURH 12 for Feet of Fines

DURH 1 -5, 9 & 21 for Chancery records

The University of Durham also holds some records.


In Lancaster the palatine courts were held from the 15th century to 1875 save for Chancery jusridiction which continued until 1971. Its records can be found at The National Archives in series PL.For example:

PL 17 for Feet of Fines

PL 15 for enrolled recoveries

PL 2 for Close Rolls

PL 6, 7, and 9 – 12 for Chancery records

PL 27 for depositions in common law cases

Court of the Duchy of Lancaster

There was also a Court of the Duchy of Lancaster from medieval times when the Duchy of Lancashre was held by the Monarch or a close relative. The Duchy Chamber of Lancashire had equitable jurisdiction over Duchy property and those records are held at The National Archives in series DL between the 13th century and 19th century.

This is the last of my series of blogs on the courts of England and Wales.

Watch out for future blogs on an array of subjects coming soon.

High Court of Admiralty (1160 to 1875)

Being an Island, England has a long history as a seafaring nation, little is it any wonder that piracy was once a significant problem and that disputes arose in the maritime industry.

The High Court of Admiralty was established around 1160 as a civil court with a criminal jurisdiction being established by Act of Parliament in 1535.

Criminal matters included piracy and murder; civil matters included the condemnation and sale of enemy ships (‘prize cases’) including those captured by privateers under Letters of Marque first issued by the High Court of Admiraty in 1293 and abolished in 1856 (although only usually issued in times of war). Letters of Marque enabled privately owned ships (known as privateers) to capture enemy merchant ships which when then be brought before the admiralty courts for condemnation and sale.

Following the Restoration in 1660, civil business was split between an Instance Court (dealing with matters concerning cargo, collisions, salvage, seamen’s wages claims etc) and Prize Court dealing with the a sale of a ship, confirming it was a prize, and how how that prize money to be shared.

Around the same time, the criminal jurisdiction of the High Court of Admiralty, particularly in cases of piracy and murder, was transferred to Admiralty sessions at the Old Bailey until 1834 when it was transferred to the Central Criminal Court.

Also established from the 17th Century were Vice-Admiral Courts in nineteen maritime counties around England and in the British Colonies which represented the High Court of Admiralty in those areas and dealt with local admiralty cases. Appeals from these courts were to the High Court of Admiralty.

Appeals in civil dispute cases (other than ‘prize cases’) from the High Court of Admiralty were heard by the High Court of Delegates between 1535 and 1833. The High Court of Delegates was a court in which appeals were made to the Crown in Chancery where they were heard by Commissioners appointed by letters patent under the Great Seal.   Appeals from the Prize Court were heard by a Commission of Appeals in Prize until 1833.

In 1834, both appeal courts were abolished. Appeals were then to be heard by the Privy Council’s Judicial Committee until 1876 when Appeals jurisdiction transferred to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Admiralty became part of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice in 1875 follwed by part of the Queen’s Bench Division in 1880.

The Cinque Ports of south east england,  predominantly in Kent and Sussex, with one outlier of Brightlingsea in Essex, however retained their ancient rights of local Courts of Admiralty and continues today although it dits only rarely with the last full sitting being in 1914. This court is presided over by the Judge Official and Commissary of the Court of Admiralty of the Cinque Ports. A High Court Judge who holds the appointment of Admiralty Judge normally holds this office.

The records for Admiralty courts are held in series HCA at the National Archives. With most surviving files dating from the 17th to the mid-20th century they name many merchant seamen however before 1733, they are likely to be in Latin.

Criminal proceedings records

Criminal case records between 1535 to 1834 are largely to be found in series HCA 1 and indexed by persons’ and ships’ names. There are gaps in the recods however from 1539 to 1574.

These records contain lists of prisoners, bails and bonds, jury panels, indictments and depositions.

Series HCA 13/98, 99 and 142 contain criminal examinations whilst warrants relating to execution of judgement are held in series HCA 55 for the period 1802-1856.

Between 1834 and 1844 records will be found in the CRIM series and from 1844 to 1971 in the ASSI series.

Instance proceedings

For Instance cases from 1524 to 1864 there are act books or registers that provide brief summaries which can be found in series HC 3, 5, 6 and 7 with each volume from 1786 haivng an index of ship’ names.

Original files between 1629 and 1943 (although some as early as 1519 can also be found) are in series:

  • HCA 13 which contains examinations and answers which are in English.
  • HCA 15-20, 23, 24, and 27 which contain variously affidavits, allegations, answers, decrees, and exhibits.

There are indexes to ships’ names from many cases since 1772 in series HCA 56.

Prize proceedings

Prize proceedings cases are mainly held in series HCA 8-11 and 30-32 with records of prize appeals in series HCA 41, 42, and 48.

Vice-Admiralty courts

These records (including those in some colonies) from the 17th to the 19th centuries can be found in series HCA 49 whist records of appeals can be found in series DEL and PCAP.

Very few records have been published but there are a number of finding aids to assist the researcher a TNA including their research guide

It should also be noted that from the 19th century, some cases were held in county courts or by justices of the peace.

My next blog, which will be after a break for summer, will be looking at other courts which perhaps receive less attention unless your are researching in those areas – the Palatine Courts of Chester, Durham and Lancaster. In the meantime if you need help with your research please contact me

The Bawdy Courts

The Ecclesiastical courts or ‘Bawdy’ courts as they were nicknamed due to the type of cases they often dealt with were in integral part of the court system governing our ancestors until the mid 19th century.

Historically the Church and its officers played an important and central role in society claiming “anything to do with life or death was within their provenance of judgement” such that the church and government administration had become intermingled by the end of the 6th Century.

They were created in 1072 by William the Conqueror and governed by Canon Law rather than common law, to ensure that matters which concerned the church – in respect of clergy, religion and morality, spiritual discipline or sin – were dealt with separately to the civil and criminal matters dealt with by the secular courts.

Their jurisdiction included ‘criminal’ matters (known as ‘Office Business’) and civil matters (known as ‘Instance business’), which included those causes between individuals involving a moral element such as marriage issues (separation/annulment/obtaining a licence); disputes regarding the legitimacy of a child; granting probate/letters of administration; sequestration and recovery of tithes, rates and offerings; removing from or depriving clergy of their position; granting faculties for physical alterations to churches; and non-litigious business such as granting professional licences (curates, preachers, churchwardens, parish clerks, schoolmasters, midwifes, physicians, surgeons, apothecaries, watchmakers, undertakers, notaries – anyone who held a position of influence on the lives of parishioners), marriage licences and the granting of probate or letters of administration.

Little wonder the records of these courts provide a huge scope for research with perhaps far many more of our ancestors being involved in such court proceedings than one might think either as plaintiff, defendant, witness, or court official.

Usually found in diocesion or local record offices, the records available, to a certain extent, depend on the court process by which a case was heard: the plenary procedure (instance and office cases) and testamentary procedure (probate case) were “conducted almost entirely through written documents” whilst those cases dealt with through the summary procedure (office cases) where conducted in open court with the defendant and any witnesses giving oral evidence.

There were several ways in which proceedings began:

  • By churchwarden presentments at Visitations; or
  • By the courts own motion, resulting from responses to the Articles of Enquiry sent out prior to a Visitation; or
  • By an individual issuing a Libel (written statement of case) if the case was a civil one; or by a promoter (a third party) preparing a Querela/Informatio. If the case was a criminal one (whether plenary or summary procedure applied), the Judge would then prepare a citation or citation mandate which was ‘served’ on the Defendant. Where the defendant did not resolve the matter, the plaintiff, through his proctor would issue an Article.

In plenary proceedings the defendant would then submit his responsa personalia or personal written statement responding point by point to the Libel; in summary proceedings, the defendant was brought before the court to give an oral answer “as to the truth of the charges articled against him” under ex-officio oath (abolished in 1641).

If the defendant denied the allegations against him, in plenary proceedings, the plaintiff would then provide written interrogatories to be answered by witnesses in written depositions. The defendant then had the opportunity of asking written questions of the witnesses, by way of interrogatories and written replies. These could be followed by further additional positions in writing by both parties.

In summary proceedings, witness attestations for the prosecution were heard (from 1854 oral evidence could be heard from witnesses in ecclesiastical courts) after which the defendant could question the witnesses by way of interrogatories and replies (written) and produce witnesses of his own, known as compurgators, in support of his denial of the ‘common fame’ (this remained the case even after 1641 when the use of compurgators was technically abolished).

There would then be sentencing. In both procedures these were written: in plenary proceedings a definitive sentence was written (two documents were produced, one for each party) and read out in the presence of both parties; in summary proceedings the sentence was pronounced in open court, usually by a penance being imposed, which was then set out in a schedule of penance or confession or a decree of commutation of penance.

In a testamentary dispute the procedure was a little different. When a will was brought to court for the grant of probate, a caveat could be entered by anyone who had an interest in the estate of the deceased, such as a creditor. This would prevent probate been granted. An allegation could then be entered. The proceedings then following the plenary procedure with witnesses providing written statements and answering interrogatories of the opposing party. The final decree or ‘sententia’ would then be pronounced.

The above court records form the Cause Papers which were often bound together under the title of the case i.e. “Processus, X contra Y” although some repositories may have types of documents bound together rather than cause papers, i.e. books of depositions, boxes of libels,  citations etc arranged by year.

The genealogical information available in any of the cause papers will differ depending on the type of case. It is however worth considering each type of court record alongside the different types of cases to understand their use in family history. It must also be remembered that until 1733, many court documents, particularly procedure records such as Act books, Cause books, Visitation records, and sometimes the libel, personal answer and depositions, were written in Latin adding a further difficulty in reading the records.

Palace of Winchester, Home of the Bishop of Winchester before being destroyed by a fire in 1814

Cause papers

Churchwarden’s presentments and Articles of Enquiry and replies

Office or ‘criminal’ cases often came about through Churchwarden’s presentments when those who were suspected, either by his own knowledge or complaint made to him by parishioners, of committing a ‘criminal’ offence such as “fornication, adultery and bridal or pre-nuptial pregnancy whereby neighbours counted the months between the wedding and baptism, and eagerly reported any discrepancies” were presented to the church court, often at a bishops visitations. Such cases may also be brought before the court of the courts own motion as a result of replies to the bishops Articles of Enquiry sent out prior to his visitation.

Such cases may also include those who have entered into an irregular marriage, those who failed to attend church, those who failed to have a child baptised, those accused of fighting in church or in the churchyard (‘brawling’ cases) and pew disputes.

The Churchwarden presentments and articles of enquiry and replies can in themselves be as interesting as the court records themselves although they were largely of a standard format.

An Articles of Enquiry I found dated 1764 was a pre-printed list of 13 questions: the first 10 concerned the church property, services, registers and essentially the business and fabric of the church; only the last three concern the parishioners, benefactions and misconduct of church officials. In this example I looked at there were no concerns raised in the replies.

Similarly, a Churchwarden’s presentment from Ewhurst dated 1729, written in English, to the Bishop’s court held at Basingstoke, is again a typed standard form asking about the Church, the Ministers, Parishioners and Churchyard. We are told that the Minister “Does his duty as usual being presented for neglect several visitations past” and that in terms of Parishioners “None presentable as known”. Unfortunately the earlier visitation does not appear to have survived so I was unable to identify what the Minister had previously been accused of.

Libel/allegation/article; Citation/citation mandate; Responsa personalia

The libel in plenary proceedings or allegation in testaments proceedings, would include the name, place of residence and occupation of the plaintiff along with the name and place of residence of the defendant. The name and status of the judge is also given. It would then set out the allegations against the defendant.

The citation set out the name of the defendant, their place of residence, parish, county and diocese (to confirm the courts’ jurisdiction) along with a brief description of the charge against them and date when they are to attend court.

Examples of citations from the Consistory court of the Bishop of Winchester

There was a ‘brawling’ cases between Henry Arnold of Stockbridge, Curate and John Goddard of the same parish. The papers comprise: Citation dated 29 Jul 1791; Allegation dated 2 Dec 1791; Deposition – John Elton dated 11 May 1792; Deposition – William Tongues dated 11 May 1792; Response to allegations dated 25 Nov 1791; Deposition of Christopher Bishop dated 5 May 1792; Deposition of William Lawrence dated 4 May 1792; Articles promoted against the Def dated 7 Oct 1791.

Another case was a disciplinary case between James Atkins and Thomas Batcherlor of Hound, Churchwardens, and Richard Hickley of the same parish to compel Mr Hickley, who was a previous Churchwarden, to restore the ancient road and footways leading through the churchyard.

Hampshire Record Office (HRO) reference: 21M6/C9/20

The documents include: Citation dated 23 Feb 1798 and sworn statement of service 23 Mar 1798; Deposition dated 4 Jun 1790; Allegation dated 27 Nov 1789; Citation dated 9 June 1789, There is then a later Citation to compel Mr Hickley to produce church books dated 23 Feb 1798; Personal Answer dated 7 May 1790. It would appear this second case in in respect of the payment of church rates and the parish accounts.

There was also a case concerning a tithe dispute (subtraction of tithe) between Richard Baker of Botley, rector and John Allen of Bishops Waltham in 1804. The documents only consist of two citations: an initial citation followed one Vis a modis because the defendant failed to respond. As there are no other documents it cannot be said with any certainty how the case concluded but it may be that Mr Allen simply settled the matter without need for further intervention.

Occupations were sometimes provided such as in the case found at Hampshire Record office from 1827 of a wife seeking a separation from her husband on the grounds of his adultery: Kezia Yalden v John Yalden. The Citation states “John Yalden of Winchester in the County and Diocese aforesaid Miller” it gives the time and date when he is to attend court, “to answer the said Kezia Yalden the wife of the said John Yalden in a certain cause of Divorce or separation from Bed Board and mutual Cohabitation on the grounds of adultery”. What this does not tell us is how long they had been married and whether they had children. Knowing their names, where they were from and the husbands occupation shouls help trace their marriage register entry and search for any children in the baptism registers.

This is at a time when divorce was only available to those the wealthy by Act of Parliament, the Church however was able to make provision for a legal separation but this did not mean the parties were legally free to remarry. If therefore either party were found to remarry, it is likely (unless the burial register entry was found for the other party) they were committing bigomy.

If a defendant could not be found, a further citation would be issued to be fixed to the door of the accused’s house and/or the church door, and in some diocese by having the citation read out in church during service. If the defendant did not respond they would be declared in contempt of court and if they still failed to respond they would be declared excommunicate. These records are unlikely however to provide any additional genealogical information that the original citation as they are essentially procedural documents.

When the defendant responded, they would provide a personal answer in which little genealogical information may be provided other than the defendants name. It was rare to find details such as place of residence, age, occupation specifically stated, however these may be evident from the content of the document, particularly where they were pertinent to the case. For example, in a marital dispute case (nullity, separation, alimony, marriage contracts etc) matters such as age, occupation, income, family status and other family members, may be pertinent to the case and matters which need to be accepted or denied. The answer was not a deposition, but a simple acceptance and/or denial of the allegations made, setting out the defendants’ version of events in support of a denial.

These initial documents therefore will provide basic genealogical information which would confirm an ancestor’s whereabouts at the time and a possible insight into their life and events pertaining to them depending on the type of case. They can start to ‘put flesh on the bones’ of names, dates and locations.

Apearing before the Bishop

Depositions/Attestations/Interrogatories and replies

These documents (and in some cases evidence produced (see below) are likely to provide the most genealogical information although again this will depend on the type of case.

Witness evidence in all procedures before 1854 were taken in private and written down verbatim. They provide basic information about the witness including their name, occupation, place of residence, marital status if the witness was female. It is also likely to include details of how they know the parties, any relationship to them, the witness’s places of residence over several years and the length of time they lived at each, particularly if they lived in other parishes.

They may also include details regarding wealth, of both the witness and the parties involved, and any other relevant circumstances of the parties. Wealth was often asked about as an indicator of reliability. Other information could include: family history they know about the parties particularly in marital or testamentary disputes; land use, crop yields and livestock may be detailed in tithe disputes providing an insight into day-to-day life; details of an individual’s life, conduct, reputation, ‘gossip’ etc may be asked of a witness in cases such a defamation, heresy, clergy lapsing in duties etc.

Particularly in tithe dispute cases witnesses were often elderly and claimed to have lived in a place for many years (e.g. being over eighty years of age and having lived in the same parish for over 60 years). Such evidence can provide details of events such as births, marriages and deaths at times before parish registers or where they are missing. Their evidence often included details of the tithe custom going back several generations to the deponent’s father, grandfather etc providing their names and possibly details such as their occupation and place of residence if relevant.

In testamentary disputes, witness evidence may provide more details surrounding the death of the testator particularly of any illness which lead to the death. Where the case involves a question as to the testator’s capacity to make the will, witness evidence as to the testator’s soundness of mind at the time of making the will, would be taken from those who witnessed it. Because of the wide remit of testamentary disputes brought before the courts, witness evidence in testamentary disputes may provide more genealogical information than such evidence in other types of disputes often revealing details of three or more generations of a family to determine relationships and rights to inherit, such as a relative of a widow who had died without issue and had been left out of a nuncupative will or where a testator was unmarried and next of kin were distant relatives.

These can all provide not only genealogical information but social, local, land and property history, all putting flesh on the bones shedding much light into an ancestor’s life and persona. They may provide information, which is not found anywhere else, such as the deposition I found in which the deponent says “he saw the Defendant the said John Goddard take a paper out of his pocket & put on his spectacles & began reading it” very few records would record that a person wore reading glasses!. Although of course information in witness statements should be cross-checked with other records where possible. Whilst witnesses were required to sign (or put their mark) as to the truth of their deposition, it is unlikely they were infallible.

It should also be noted that witness evidence was signed by the witness with their signature or mark – an indicator of literacy. An illiterate witness would of course be unable to read the written statement, another reason to give caution to their contents.


Cases such as irregular marriages, coming before the court via Churchwarden presentments can include exhibits such as an extract from parish register where the parties married and signed by the incumbent or curate which confirms a marriage. This is particularly useful if the parish register itself has not survived.

Other exhibits commonly used as evidence which may be found amongst the cause papers or in separate exhibit/evidence books include deeds, extracts from baptismal registers, testimonials from the clergy, wills, inventories and/or probate accounts. I looked at an example of an Exhibits book at Hampshire Records Office which included an index at the front of the book.

The documents it contained were all handwritten copies of documents with many written in Latin, others in English, and some a combination of Latin adn English.

They included wills, copies of entries in a poor rate book, and numerous other documents many of which appear to be of the same sort, beginning “To Christian People to whom those present shall…”. ­

Also copied in to the book were witness statements or response to questions such as this example from the 4th August 1690 in which Thomas Croucher of Sheldon near Winchester describes the property he held at the time the poor rates were made and in which he names to two Churchwardens at the time (written in a mix of Latin and English):

HRO Ref: 21M65/C4/2

Most of these records, including the index itself, were very difficult to read and I am unsure what most of the documents were, although names and locations can be identified in many of them so it may be worth taking some time to identify and translate them.

Such documents can support statements provided by the parties and witnesses lending weight to the accuracy of any genealogical information, but the exhibits themselves, also provide genealogical information and can further help build a picture of an ancestor’s life.


The written sentence in plenary proceedings, known as the definitive sentence, provide a narrative of the proceedings, the allegations, the depositions and evidence considered, the findings of the court and the sentence imposed. It is essentially a summary of the case and deliberations of the judge. It is unlikely to include any additional genealogical information, but where a sentence is the first record of a case found, then it will provide the names of the parties and any witnesses and should provide clues as to what other records may be available for the case.

Documents following sentence

Depending on the sentence imposed there may be other records which can provide yet further details which, may not necessarily provide genealogical information, but may shed further light on the life of an ancestor. Firstly, the ‘losing’ party would be liable for the costs and a Bill of Costs would be assessed or taxed and delivered to the paying party with a monition or warning to pay. Failure to pay could result in further proceedings which would be brought as an ‘office’ case details may then emerge about the financial circumstances of the paying party.

A sentence of excommunication required a statement of to be read out in church. This document will not provide any additional genealogical information than in the records detailed above, however it will provide details of the parties involved, type of proceedings and allegations and reasons for excommunication. If this is the first document found in an ecclesiastical case, then it will provide clues as to other documents and information which may be available.

Further, excommunication had legal implications which may explain why other, non-ecclesiastical court records, cannot be located for an ancestor, such as: a will which was rendered invalid by a sentence of greater excommunication and which may then result in a testamentary dispute on their death; or a burial record – a Christian burial could be denied whilst excommunicated.

An excommunicate could be absolved, anything up to ten years later in which case a statement would be read out in church. Copies of the two statements – of excommunication and of absolution – can be found amongst court registry papers or in separate excommunication books.

Records pertaining to other sentences such as monition, penance and suspension ab ingress ecclesiae which basically amounted to a temporary excommunication or sentences against clergy such as suspension (and sequestration), deprivation, deposition and degradation, will not provide any further genealogical information but will of course confirm the sentence was carried out and add yet further information to the ‘story’ of an ancestors life and may explain why an ancestor who was once a clergyman was later found to be, for example, an agricultural labourer (deposition and deprivation essentially stripping a clergyman of his livelihood and future as a clergyman).

Cause books

These books record the progress of a case through the court but largely lack any detail save for the case name and some brief details, being procedural rather than descriptive, and thus lacking in genealogical information although they may provide clues as to documents available.

Act/Court books

These record the daily business of the court, often with different books being used for different proceedings: Diocesan Act Book/Muniment book/Registers recording non-contentious business such as ordinations, grants of licences, commissions, resignations, revocation of appointments etc; Office Act book; and Instance Act book.

The entries generally provide only short summaries of each case dealt with in the day, providing names of parties, brief allegations, decision and sentence. They are therefore less use from a genealogical perspective but may provide a starting point for research, providing clues as to what other records there may be and where (dates etc).

The following examples are from the Diocese of Winchester, namely a Draft Act book (12 March 1743 to 7 July 1767) (HRO Ref: 21M65/A2/1) and an Act Book (14 Jul 1863 to 31 Oct 1876) (HRO Ref: 21M6/A2/7). In both cases they largely comprised lists of names of Deacons and Priests who were ordinated including the colleges they attended, licences to preachers:

They also included granting of licences to teach; resignations and deaths of clergymen alongside a new clergyman being appointed following their resignation or death:

The Act Book also included authority for the solemnisation of marriages in a new parish:

Along with the consecration of new and additional churches and burial grounds and use of school rooms for religion services during repairs to the church:

Other entries include the execution/granting of leases which provide property details as well as the names of the parties. Sometimes further genealogical details were provided such as status and occupation, as found in this example:

On May 3, 1744, in the Draft Act Book there is an entry for Nicholas Whitaker being appointed “Keeper vc of the Clinke Prison”

The Act Book also includes a record of the death of the Bishop – the Right Rev Samuel Lord Bishop of Winchester on 19th July 1873.

Ecclesiastical court records, whilst can be difficult to use, particularly prior to 1733 when they are most likely to be in Latin, can be a good source of genealogical information, particularly where parish registers and records may be missing or damaged, confirming where an ancestor lived and, depending on the type of case, details of their life at the time of the claim which may provide clues to other records which may be available, adding flesh to the bones of genealogical information.

In my next blog I will discuss what records may be available for pre 19th century research akin census substitutes.

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The Origins of our Legal System (Part 3)

Over the last two weeks we have explored the how our legal system developed from early history to Anglo-Saxon codes and an attempt to unify legal system. The Anglo-Saxons introduced the first King’s Council, the Witan, and disseminated many central law codes however local traditions still took precedence in many areas. So how did the Norman’s change this?

National Portrait Gallery; no. 4980(1); King William I (‘the conqueror’) by unknown artist

After William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066, he made a few changes to the legal system, perhaps the most significant being the separating of the lay and ecclesiastical courts, so that from this time on two distinct legal systems existed: state law and canon law.

Crime and misdemeanours were dealt with locally, the frankpledge replaced the tithing (although based on the same/similar principles) and Trial by Battle replace trial by Order.

The courts which were already in existence continued and thrived but under a more unified system and dealt with both criminal and civil matters, as well as the administration matters akin to local government today.

Manorial courts

Lords grew in power through grants of sac and soc; they controlled the local administration of justice.

Many crimes and misdemeanours were dealt with at a local level by the manorial court Leet such as breach of the peace. In particular it was responsible for the effective working of the system of Frankpledge. Whilst this system began to decline from the 14th century, even up to the 16th century, some manors ‘clung on’ to jurisdiction in cases of petty theft, affray or drunkenness.

The regulating and administering the affairs of the manor was the responsibility of the Court Baron. It was this court which enforced local customs, dealt with minor civil disputes such as boundary disputes and debts, and the transfer of land and property rights, most commonly customary or copyhold land.

Manorial courts crossed jurisdiction with the Hundred Courts.

Hundred Court

Over time, the principal functions of the hundred became the administration of law and the keeping of the peace. By the 12th century, the hundred court was held twelve times a year. This was later increased to fortnightly, although an ordinance of 1234 reduced the frequency to once every three weeks.

In some hundreds, courts were held at a fixed place; while in others, courts moved with each sitting to a different location. Many hundreds came into private hands, with the lordship of the hundred being attached to the principal manor of the area and becoming hereditary.

Sheriffs Court

On a county basis, local justice was administered by the sheriff, the dominant law officer of the Crown, through his court also known as the Sheriff’s tourn. The court was held twice a year, within a month of Easter and within a month of Michaelmas. Every person who was a freeholder was expected to attend at least one of these courts annually. The court heard presentments (complaints) that involved felonies, larceny, arson, minor criminal cases and quarrels between neighbours.

The tourn was the bi-annual inspection of the hundreds of his shire made by the sheriff in medieval England. During it he would preside over the especially full meetings of the hundred court (more normally three-weekly) which met during the tourn at Easter and Michaelmas.

Curia Regis and General Eyre

Over the next century, criminal justice was gradually transferred to the Crown, starting with the Curia Regis – the Latin term meaning “royal council” or “king’s court” (replacing the Witan). The central governing body of the Kingdom of England.

However it was the Plantagenet who reigned England from 1154 to 1485, who truly transformed the English legal system.

Henry II

National Portrait Gallery; no. 4980(4); King Henry II by unknown artist

Henry II, in 1166 sent out two judges from the Curia Regis to the Sheriff courts to align all the court with the King’s Central court, creating the General Eyre. These Royal judges went out “on circuit” at irregular intervals, to all the counties of England, except Durham and Chester where the royal jurisdiction. The aim was every seven years but in practice less frequently. They took the law of Westminster, both civil and criminal, everywhere with them, both in civil and in criminal cases.

The royal courts controlled them local customs, which were paid lip service, and often rejected as unreasonable or unproved: common law was presumed to apply everywhere until and unless a local custom could be proven.

Henry II also introduced the jury system doing away with the old systems of swearing on oath and trial by ordeal.

Richard I and Quarter Sessions

Sheriffs gradually acquired a reputation for dishonest practices and embezzlement. When Richard I returned from the Third crusade in 1195, he believe his sheriffs had abused their authority whilst he had been away so he commissioned knights from every shire, to assist in keeping the peace. Known keepers of the peace until 1327, when Edward III first referred to them as Justices of the Peace (JPs), they took over many cases previously heard by the Sheriffs.

The City of London sessions (the Old Bailey) were held in rooms specially hired for the purpose or in Newgate, the ‘notorious prison’ used to house prisoners from at least the end of the 12th century. The Old Bailey, named after the street besides the new prison, soon became popular as the scene of hanging of those sentenced to death. The last ‘beheading’ in the country took place outside the prison in 1820.

By the 13th century, three central courts—Exchequer, Common Pleas, and King’s Bench—applied the common law. Although the same law was applied in each court, they vied in offering better remedies to litigants in order to increase their fees.

Court of Exchequer

Originally oversaw the collection of taxes and dealt with any claims concerning Royal Revenue, but later became an equity court (see later). To bring a claim in the court of Exchequer, there had to be a real and genuine connection to royal revenue.

Court of Common Pleas

This court developed from the King’s Council to deal with claims concerning property and debt between individuals other than the crown.

Edward I (reigned 1272–1307)

National Portrait Gallery no. NPG 4980(6) King Edward I by Unknown artist

Often known as “the English Justinian” introduced several statutes which an important influence on the law of the late Middle Ages. Edward’s civil statues amended unwritten common law and remained the basic statue law for centuries, albeit it often supplemented by specialist statute enacted to meet temporary problems.

Four statutes in particular where:

  • Statute of Westminster (1275) making jury trial compulsory in criminal cases and altered land law
  • The Statute of Gloucester (1278) limiting the jurisdiction of local courts and extended the scope of actions for damages.
  • Statute of Westminster (1285) bringing about four main changes: created and fixed the legal estate of fee tail or entail in land (previously a custom of landed gentry); it made land an asset from which judgement debts could be paid; it freed restrictions on appeals to high circuit courts; and it improved the law of administration of assets on death.
  • The Statute of 1290 or “Quia emptores terrarum” (“because sellers of lands”) stopped subinfeudation, that is the granting of new feudal rights by land holders other than the crown. Those holding freehold land as a result of subinfeudation would be able to deal with their property free of any interference from the original grantor.

Assize courts

In 1294 Edward I suspended the General Eyre replacing them with the Assizes although isolated Eyres did still continue until 1374.

Specialist Equity Courts

The Court of Chancery. Illustration for The Illustrated London News, 14 January 1843.
Source: Look and Learn History Picture Archive (

From the 14th century specialist courts began to emerge as a result of a growing litigation culture and failure of traditional remedies being appropriate. These were the equity courts:

  • Court of Chancery – the oldest Equity court in the English legal system and remains a division of the High Court.
  • Court of Requests (1483 – 1640’s).
  • Court of Star Chambers (1485-1641).
  • Court of Augmentation (c.1530 -1554) which specifically dealt with disputes and royal revenue following the dissolution of the monasteries.
  • Court of Exchequer – which developed from the common law court of the same name.

Other specialist courts also developed such as (for more infomation see my blog from last year on the Central law courts:

  • High Court of Admiralty (to be covered in more detail in a later blog)
  • Court of Wards and Liveries which was developed by Henry VIII which most only administered a system of feudal dues but which also had responsibility for wardship and livery issues
  • The Privy Council also developed from the Curia Regis and was a legislative, judicial and administrative body, essentially an advisory court of the Crown
  • Palace Court

Petty Sessions

Following the introduction of poor laws Quarter Sessions became increasingly busy and over burdened. They no longer had sufficient time to deal with all the business in the quarterly sessions. From the 16th century therefore Justices began to meet between quarter session to deal with more minor criminal offences and conduct routine business. This could be by a single judge acting alone or two or more JP’s meeting together. These became known as the Petty Sessions.

And so, save for the introduction of Petty Sessions, by the end of the 14th century our legal system, which remained in place until 1875 for civil proceedings and 1971 for criminal proceedings was born!

Today it is often thought our legal system is out of date, but in reality our current legal system is in its infancy compared to what came before.

Next week I will consider what happened to the Ecclesiastical Courts following the division of State and Church law by William the Conqueror.

The origins of our legal system (Part 2)

Last week we left off with the early course Anglo-Saxons who established a number of Kingdoms in England – Kent, Wessex, East Anglia, and Mercia – with overall ruler of England. Individual rulers established their own codes such King Aethelbert of Kent who issued his own codes between the years 597 and 602, being the oldest surviving written codes and was written in the vernacular so as to be accessible to all (who could read).

Aethelbert’s influence stretched across much of England, certainly as far North as the Humber giving him the status of a Bretwalda, a “chief King” who held supremacy over kingdoms other than his own. Having converted to Christianity following the arrival of Augustine in Canterbury he became the first Christian Anglo-Saxon King, and it was this influence and his relationship with Augustine which led to him establishing his codes most likely drafted by or with the help of Augustine himself. The codes were unlikely to be new and innovative but more likely old laws being set out in legislation which made then the King’s own laws, taking influence from the way Roman’s created law codes.

Monetary fines or payments where the prime penalty for feuds thus law enforcement was a major source of royal income. The aim of the early laws was largely to protect the church, religious values and establish and maintain stability. These fine or payments were based on a person’s monetary worth which varied according to status, with not just every person, but every part of a person having a financial worth – for example the loss of a big toe cost ten shillings; the severing of a foot fifty shillings; damaging genitalia was valued at 300 shillings or three ‘person prices, a ‘person price’ or leodgeld was the price paid for killing someone.

These financial penalties were set out in detail in Aethelbert’s code, listing injuries from top to toe. This was essentially Aethelbert legislating the ancient customs of the kingdom and the Anglo-Saxons. Injustices were brought by the injured party or their family not the Crown and this system of compensation rather than bloodshed was seen as a means of controlling feuds and restoring peace.

Such codes were not enacted alone, Aethelbert had a ‘council’ of influential and hist status men he consulted with including the Archbishop of Britain and the Bishop of Rochester.

Later Anglo-Saxon Kings of the C7th and C8th enacted their own codes in their own kingdoms. This increasing involvement of the Crown in the administration of justice the notion that crimes were against the King’s peace began to emerge bringing ever more severe penalties and the introduction of mutilation and execution as punishments.

Then in the late C8th and C9th came the Vikings, bringing with them Danelaw to their extensive settlements and the impact of Scandinavian law into the English Legal System. I the meantime Anglo-Saxon laws continued to evolve most notably in the late C9th by Alfred the Great.

King Alfred (‘The Great’) by George Vertue
Given by the daughter of compiler William Fleming MD, Mary Elizabeth Stopford (née Fleming), 1931
National Portraot Gallery NPG D23582

He had a reputation as a wise and just King. Having become a Bretwalda himself over Wessex, Mercia, and London his people looked to him for intervention in disputes and his judgements were highly praised and admired, however his judgment was in such demand he delegated to ealdormen and reeves who were required to be wise and rather than legal experts.

His expanding kingdom required a harmonisation of legal practice, and this was central to his ambition for his people. Late in his reign, most likely around 890, Alfred introduced his own immense and resonant code of law of dombac. At the heart of his code was mediation and compensation with punishment being reserved largely to second and subsequent offences save for treachery against one’s lord or king which remained a capital offence although those accused of such parties could seek to clear themselves by and oath equivalent the lord or king’s “wergild”, or compensation. It was thought that even traitors would not take such an oath lightly. Alfred was praised for his laws and legal enforcement which spread peace across his kingdoms.

It was suggested, by William of Malmesbury (the foremost English historian of the 12th century) that the system which later became known as “Frankpledge” was first instigate by Alfred the Great, creating hundreds and tithings and under which every man was responsible for the behaviour of his neighbour.

Alfred was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward, who in turn was succeeded by his son, Aethelstan, who after conquering he last remaining Vikings in York, became the first King of England in 927 and following a defeat over the combined Scots and Viking forces in 937 at Brunanburh he became the first King of “All Britain”.

Aethelstan was determined to eradicate criminality and proclaimed several law codes over his entire realm. These codes brought increasingly severe penalties and punishments such as: stoning for male thieves with later punishment introduced of death followed by a public display of their corpse; female thieves would be burned. Conscience did however succumb when it came to younger offenders. Capital punishment was initially limited to those over the age of 12 years later increased to 15 years of age.

The last major influence on the law before the Norman invasion was King Canute (aka Cnut or Knut) who was a Danish King ruling from 1016 to 1035.

Whilst Canute had invaded and conquered England, he did not change the landscape, displace Anglo-Saxon nobles, or divide society, legislating for his Danish and English citizens without distinction and acknowledged differences between Danelaw, Wessex, and Mercia.

Canute’s codes were created to provide protection for the forests, raise revenue, eradiate heathens, discourage crime and protect life and property. Compensation was the main penalty for victim with fines due to the King for most offences. Subsequent offences would attract increasingly severe punishments such as mutilation punish the body as well as the soul.

How were laws enforced in these times?

It as the Anglo-Saxons who developed a network of courts, from the Manor and Village courts or “Folk Moots” to the Burhs (Borough) Hundred and Shire courts or “Moots” and the Royal Court known as “Witan” or “Witanagemot” where the King (either alone or with his Ealdormen) gave judgement in person.

Folk moot – “moot” meaning meeting.

These were essentially tribal councils.

Hundred moot and Shire Moot

The hundred-moot, the court of the hundred, was gradually restricted to lords, stewards, priests, reeves, and four men from each township. It also contained a body of twelve men who heard arguments, which committee later emerged as our petit jury. This court also enforced tithings, group of ten or twelves men responsible for the good behaviour of each other.

The shire-moot was attended by ealdormen, bishops, lords, and shire-reeves. In these courts precedence was given to the pleas of the Church, or kings, and complaints involving individuals, pleas known as “common pleas”.

There were no law enforcement officers/police officers at this time. Legal proceedings were usually started in two ways: accusation – the victim orally accusing someone; or by the frankpledge system whereby members of a tithing would present names of suspected criminals. Much depended on accusation and admission to denial.

If they made a decision of guilty then the lord would decide upon a punishment. If the folkmoot could not reach a decision the accused would then have to take a trial by ordeal.

Trial by Ordeal

The trial by ordeal system essentially passed the judgement of innocence or guilt over to God. In the Saxon period there were four main ordeals that a person could be put through to allow God to either protect them (if innocent) or forsake them (if guilty). They were:

1. Trial by Fire (or hot iron) in which the accused would hold a red-hot iron bar and then have their wounds dressed. If after 3 days their wounds were healing it was considered that God had protected them and they were innocent, if their wounds were infected God had forsaken them.

2. Trial by Hot water in which the accused would retrieve an object from the bottom of a pot of boiling water. Their wounds were then bound and inspected 3 days later.

3. Trial by Cold water in which the accused was thrown into a local pond or lake. The water represented purity, therefore the guilty would be rejected and would float; unfortunately, the innocent would be accepted into the pure water and could well drown.

4. Trial by sacrament (or blessed bread) was mainly used for the clergy and involved the accused praying that if they were guilty, they would choke on a slice of bread, they would then eat the bread and if they survived, they were innocent.

There was no separation of law and ecclesiastical courts until the time of William, which meant that most of the court business was of an ecclesiastical nature. The church accepted the system of compensation and compurgation, assigning various values to its own ranks and priests.


Its primary function was to advise the king on subjects such as promulgation of laws, judicial judgments, approval of charters transferring land, settlement of disputes, election of archbishops and bishops and other matters of major national importance. The witan also had to elect and approve the appointment of a new king. Its membership was composed of the most important noblemen, including ealdormen, thegns, and senior clergy.

There was no separate ecclesiastical legal system. Most routine ecclesiastical disputes, for example over tithes, marriages etc were dealt with in the Hundred courts, whilst Synods would deal with Church litigation.

In cases concerning land, charters, deeds, documents, and local knowledge would be relied upon but if these were not available the methods of oath or trail ordeal (as discussed above) would be employed. The acceptance of an oath made by an accused to his innocence depended on the individual. If the accused was a person of good reputation, then the oath itself may suffice, if however, they were not, his oath would be tested by compurgation that is the accused would also need to find a requisite number of witnesses prepared to provide statements as to his innocence given under oath.

There was however still no law of all England. Despite the development of law codes, regional variations continued with local customs often trumping these central law codes. However, the ground was set for the incoming Normans and a more unified legal system which I will take a look at in my next blog in this series.

The origins of our Legal System (Part 1)

Like many lawyers (whether solicitor or barrister) I studied for a Law degree (mine was a combined Law and Business degree and believe it or not a Law degree is not required to qualify as a lawyer!). Studying for my law degree I learned the various aspects of the law of England and Wales, including the basics of contract law, land law, constitutional law, law of Tort amongst others, whilst the Legal Practice Course provided the skills required to implement the law and work as a solicitor.

Whilst my studies included how the law had developed through statute and case law, none of this study taught me the origins of our legal system. This is something I did not require to practice as a solicitor in the 21st century, however moving into family history and house history research and looking at old court records I realise that understanding the history and development of our legal system is part of understanding these records and the influence the legal system had on our ancestors.

This blog will therefore be the first of a series of blogs looking at the history and development of the legal system and its impact on our ancestors.

The laws of England and Wales, be they criminal or civil, have their origins in common law.

What is meant by common law?

The term “common law” was originally used to distinguish between the general law of the church which applied to everyone and local laws or customs which existed in different parts of the Christian world. Over time, the term common law came to represent those laws set down by ancient use and by judges setting precedents when determining cases. These laws apply to everyone and are distinct from the laws laid down by local custom and parliament in statute although many of those statutes have their origins in common law.

In England it was not until the Anglo-Saxons established themselves that a unified legal system began to emerge. The legal system inherited by the Anglo-Saxons was based on a mix of Celtic law and Roman law.

Celtic law could be said to be “prehistory” because little is really known about it. It is thought Celtic law would have centred around kinship and contractual relations which would have been similar to Roman laws and/or Germanic laws. Much of what is thought to be Celtic law is based on early medieval Irish and Welsh law.

Murray Rothbard in his book “For a New Liberty” (Macmillan publishers 1973, page 250) describes the Celtic system in Ireland:

“The basic political unit of ancient Ireland was the tuath. All “freemen” who owned land, all professionals, and all craftsmen, were entitled to become members of a tuath. Each tuath’s members formed an annual assembly which decided all common policies, declared war or peace on other tuatha, and elected or deposed their “kings.” An important point is that, in contrast to primitive tribes, no one was stuck or bound to a given tuath, either because of kingship or of geographical location. Individual members were free to, and often did, secede from a tuath and join a competing tuath”

Following the Roman invasion in the first century Roman law was imposed in England, at least in relation to Roman citizens. It could be argued Roman law was perhaps the most influential, reflected by the continued use of Latin in our legal documents until 1733 and the continued use today of Latin legal terminology in our legal system, particularly in common law.

Under the Romans, England (aka Britannia) was ruled by a Governor or Legatus Augusti pro praetore appointed to Emperor in Rome. England was divided into tribal capitals to oversee local government in each area. Towns and communities were governed by a consul of around hundred capital members from whom four magistrates would be elected each year and two members would be elected to serve in the office of duumviri, mainly concerned themselves with administering the law which was set out in edicts or codes.

“Map of Roman Britain” by Emil Reich is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

In most towns, most of this work of the local consuls took place in the basilica building where legal cases would also be heard. Criminal law was generally dealt with by the Governor whilst civil cases would be largely dealt with by the local councils. Law was complex with several sets of law existing alongside each other. Roman law differed between those who were Roman citizens and those who were not, whilst it is likely Celtic law also continued to operate.

Punishments varied according to the crime and a person’s class. Whilst for a serious crime a member of the upper classes may have been deprived of their citizenship and some of their property, for a similar crime a poorer man might be given the death penalty or be sent to the mines.

However, wills and the problems of inheritance took much of the time of the justice.

Judges were given great freedom in how they dealt with cases in indeed whether or not to deal with a case, there was no legal obligation to judge a case. In general, a judge would consider all the evidence and rule in the way that seemed just.

Judges were specialists or experts on law so would often consult jurists about technical aspects of a case, although he would not bound by the jurist’s advice. At the end of a case, if the judge was undecided or not clear, he could refuse to give judgment by swearing that it was not clear.

This Roman legal system, which continued to evolve in many other countries, disappeared in England after the Romans left in the 5th century with the Anglo-Saxons bringing with them their own Germanic legal system.

The Anglo-Saxons brought with them and produced their own laws, known as “dooms”. It is from these Anglo-Saxon laws that our present legal system originates, the original Anglo-Saxon law having grown and adapted over centuries with influences Scandinavia, the Normans and the involvement of the different Christian Kings.

“map from ‘[History of England. Vol. I. Anglo-Saxon period. [With maps.]]’.” is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Of course, in the early periods Anglo-Saxons established a number of Kingdoms in England – Kent, Wessex, East Anglia and Mercia. There was no one ruler over all of England. Thus, traditional laws were spread widely by word of mouth whilst individual rulers established their own codes such King Aethelbert of Kent who issued his own codes between the years 597 and 602, being the oldest surviving written codes and was written in the vernacular so as to be accessible to all (who could read).

Rulers/Kings were responsible for law and within their Kingdoms with monetary fines or payments being the prime penalty for feuds thus law enforcement was a major source of royal income. The aim of the early laws was largely to protect the church, religious values and establish and maintain stability.

The protection of the church and religious values, as with many aspects of our ancestors’ lives, formed the basis of the English legal system and its development for many centuries, arguably until the 19th century when civil registration was introduced and the ecclesiastical courts lost much of their responsibility and work to the secular courts, in particular in relation to matrimonial cases, probate, defamation and tithes.

In my next blog I will take a closer look at the Anglo-Saxon legal system and enforcement of law, which is truly where the origins of our present-day system lay.


My path to house histories

Do you live in an old house and every wondered what stories it could tell you about its inhabitants and it surroundings? Do you live in a newer house and wonder what came before it? Was your house built on the footprint of an earlier one?

Ever wondered where your ancestors lived? What type of property they lived in? How did they come to live in the house they did? Who owned it before them? Does the house provide any links to your earlier ancestors?

I grew up in an old farm house, known as Weeland Farmhouse, Hensall in North Yorkshire (although I believe the name has now been changed to Hensall farmhouse) built in the early 18th century which l my parents bought when I was aged 4! Even though I was very young, I remember the small narrow staircase hidden away behind a wooden latched door in the old kitchen which I was always told had been the servants stairs to their quarters. My brother and I used to run up and down them. They never led anywhere by this time as above it was the bathroom and the old door at the top of the stairs had been blocked off by the bathroom floor. These photos are from abuot 1998.

As I child, I always imagined the house had originally been something like the old tv programme “Upstairs Downstairs” but I’m sure it wasn’t really! My parents lived there for 32 years (I lived there for 22 years) and spend all that time renovating it. Sadly the area is subject to mining subsidence which greatly devalued the property when they came to sell it (that was 13 years ago). Further modernisation has now be carried out by the current owners and the house is beyond all recognition to when I was growing up there, which in many ways I find very sad but there is no denying the property perhaps looks the best it ever has! Current images can be seen here:

I must admit I left it too late to think about researching the history of the property whilst my parents owned it – at that stage I was single, no ties, working as a solicitor and only dabbling in my own family history. At the time they sold it I was also going off on a major sailing adventure – the Clipper Round the World Yacht race which changed my life forever not only did I meet my husband but for the first time ever in my then 38 years of life, I moved to live away from Yorkshire to the wooded county of Surrey! This in turn led to my change of career into professional genealogy.

There is however no wonder I have always had a fasination with old properties. Growing up in one, living through many years of its renovation had to have rubbed off on me! So when it came to buying a property in Malton, North Yorkshire, where I was working it was no suprise that I was drawn to the older properties! The first one I looked at funnily enough needed a lot of renovation! Alash however that one was just not to be – the sellers wanted too much for it in my opinion. So I bought the next best thing – a Grade II listed building which had already been renovated and modernised.

And whilst I may no longer live there, I simply can’t part with the house – I now rent it out (although sometimes I could do without all the joys and stressed that come with being a landlady of a old property!😂😍)

The property is a three storey mid terrace stone-built cottage which was once part of a Malton Manor (with the land on which it was built probably having previously being part of Old Malton Manor), part of which still exists today in the area and is still owned by the Fitzwilliam Estate.

The properrty was first listed as Grade II on the 10th June 1974 and is described along with the neighbouring property:

“Probably two shops formerly, now two houses. Late C18, with C19 alteration. Coursed dressed sandstone, with raised quoins at left end; brick end stacks to pantile roof. 2-storey 2-window front. Passage entry with board door in centre. Similar door to No.36, to left of 4-pane sash window in altered opening, beneath long timber lintel. No.38 has mid C19 shop front of pilasters with imposts, narrow fascia and moulded cornice; board door with divided overlight to right of square-paned window over rendered riser. 4-pane sashes in moulded frames, with painted stone sills and flat arches of voussoirs”.

It is interesting that ther description begins “Probably two shops” because the front window certainly representative of the old shop style windows and my mum tells me she remembers passing by the properties when she was young on the way to the seaside and recalling them being shops! And looking at the census returns many of the occupiers in the street in the 19th century were tradesmen who may well have worked from home along with grocers and the like.

However, a map dated from 1730 shows properties along Old Maltongate

and a further map (found on the same website) with an associated “Particular of the Houses and Garths within the Burrow of New Malton” dated 1732 which lists the houses, occupiers and type of tenancy within the “Burrow” of New Malton” lists forty five occupiers of Old Maltongate of which fourteen were desribed as freeholders, suggesting my property was in existance at this time although of course, my house may have been built later that century on the site of an older property, only a deeper investigation into the estate record held at North Yorkshire County Record Office would help determine this (but living in Surrey this is proving difficult to undertake at present). The records they hold include:


  • Title deeds relating to Malton 1639-1945, New Malton 1568-1908, Old Malton 1710-1935;
  • Wills, settlements and mortgages 1828-1898;
  • Manorial records relating to Old Malton, New Malton manor courts 1730-1902;
  • Estate records including terriers valuations and surveys 1593-1870;
  • Rentals for Malton 1712-1902;
  • stewards’ and agents’ account books 1750-1924;
  • Malton estate accounts, vouchers and rentals 1750-1924 including Derwent Navigation accounts 1805-1855;
  • tenancy records 1750-1904;
  • building and repair records 1780-1903;
  • roads 1802-1886;
  • taxation records 1797-1913;
  • sales catalogues 1853-1953.
  • Enclosure records for Malton 1731-1775; Old Malton Moor, parliamentary enclosure 1790-1812;
  • Civil parish and borough records including rating and valuation in Old and New Malton 1822-1849;
  • Custumal roll of the borough of Malton 1921.
  • Malton and Scarborough turnpike road 1798;
  • Old Malton and Pickering turnpike road 1786-1814;
  • Maps and plans of the Malton estate 1770-1901;
  • drainage plans 1804-1813;
  • historical plans n.d.; Ordnance Survey maps 1854-1911;
  • architectural drawings 1799-1929;

Of course a lot of the history of the propery and its occupiers for the last 200 years can be established from census returns, electoral registers and the lovely pack of deeds I hold!

Abstract of Title from 1974

The Deed dated 1st January 1926 is a deed entered into between, on the one part “The Most Honourable Lawrence Marquis of Zetland and Sir Edward Wallis Duncan Ward Baronet G.B.E, H.C.B, K.C.V.C., of No.5 Wilbraham Place Sloane Street Chelsea late a Colonel in His Majesty’s Army” (“the trustees”) and on the other part, “The Right Honourable William Charles De Meuron Earl Fitzwilliam” (“Lord Fitzwilliam”).

What we learn from this deed is that at the time it was entered into, the property was settled land, settled “by the Will of the Right Honourable William Thomas Spencer Earl Fitzwilliam dated 2nd October 1895 except…….subsisting limitations of the settlement made by the said Will of the Right Honourable William Thomas Spencer Earl Fitzwilliam’s English and Irish Settled Estates” and that the property included in the deed (in England and Wales)“was vested in Lord Fitzwilliam as to freeholds in fee simple”. The deed also gave Lord Fitzwilliam the power to appoint new trustees.

So, we already have details of four individuals which are of genealogical importance. Firstly, the names, status (inc. previous occupation leading to army records) and addresses for the two trustees. Secondly, the full names and status of the two Fitzwilliam men and that Earl Fitzwilliam had property in England and Ireland. What it does not tell us is the family connection between Earl and Lord Fitzwilliam, one would assume they were father and son, but not necessarily, the terms of the settlement set out in the Will would need to be checked although other genealogical records, such as birth records and census records, could provide the necessary information. Unfortunately, there is no copy of the Will attached to the papers. We do know that the Will was dated 2nd October 1895 and therefore that Earl Fitzwilliam died sometime between 1895 and the making of the deed in 1926.

The next entry is dated 11th September 1928 “The said SIR EDWARD WILLIS DUNCAN WARD died on this day in Paris”. This information is ‘gold’ to the genealogist, not only does it give us the day this man died but where. This is invaluable when trying to search for his death record, particularly because when I searched for him on the Ancestry website[1] there is no death record for him, although there are two records of his burial, one is a link from the Find a Grave website which stated he died in England[2], the other is a record of his burial[3] which only provides his date of burial. Research in France may be required to find his record of death.

The next entry is the appointment of a new trustee on the 23rd November 1928, “CHARLES TULIN HENNAH of Richmond Yorkshire late a Colonel in His Majesty’s Army” so this again provides some genealogical information for this man – name, status and where he was from.

The next entry is dated 11th March 1929 “The said Lawrence Marquis of Zetland died on this day at Aske Richmond, Yorkshire” so again we have a date of death and place of death which will help to find or corroborate any death record, probate record and burial record.

The next entry is the appointment of another new trustee on the 20 March 1929, “SIR EDWARD SIMONS WARD Baronet of Berkley House Hay Hill London”. More genealogically invaluable information – name, status and address. Note the surname, Ward, and his location, London, it is likely this is a relative of the first trustee who died in 1928 (above). Further research, civil registration, census records, probate records etc, would confirm this.

The next entry is another death, this time of the recently appointed trustee, Sir Edward Simons Ward, on 21st July 1930 and again it provide his place of death “died at Meopham in the County of Kent”, perhaps he had other property in Kent where he was staying when he died? Or a relation? Another address to research for this man.

Interestingly after his death they appoint two trustees in his place on 1st August 1930 “JOHN NESTON DIGGLE D.S.O. of Wentworth in the County of York a Lieutenant Colonel in His Majesty’s Army and WADHAM HEATHCOTE DIGGLE D.S.O. of Eden House Malton in the County of York a Lieutenant Colonel (Retired)”. These two new trustees are no doubt related but further research (civil registration, army records etc) would confirm this. Given the second is retired, I suspect they are father and son but of course the further research would confirm their relationship. Their addresses would help the further research or confirm any research already conducted.

The next entry is interesting as it is a Resettlement by Supplemental Deed dated 19th April 1933, and is essentially a marriage settlement, whereby Lord Fitzwilliam, with the agreement of the trustees, settles part of the estate to “The Right Honourable William Henry Lawrence Peter Viscount Milton the son of Lord Fitzwilliam of the second part Olive Dorothea Plunkett of the third part….(being a Resettlement made on the intended marriage of the said Viscount Milton and the said Olive Dorothea Plunkett)”.

So, we now have information about the next generation of the Fitzwilliam family, Lord Fitzwilliam’s son, along with the name of his intended wife and starting date after which details of their marriage should be searched for.

Within the deed of resettlement there is also mention of a Deed of Disentail entered into on 27th December 1932 between Lord Fitzwilliam and Viscount Milton and Ralph Frederick Pawsey but there are no other details. This would suggest that Viscount Milton and Ralph Pawsey had a future interest in whatever property was the subject of that Deed which they have gave up. Ralph Pawsey is appointed a joint executor of the Will of Lord Fitzwilliam (1st August 1930) along with “The Right Honourable George Richard Baron Bingley….and Dermot Henry Doyne”. Unfortunately, no other information is provided for these three men at this stage so whilst this is a record of their existence there may be little genealogical value without further research.

Of further interest is the next entry dated 11th October 1933 in which Lord Fitzwilliam sells the settled land he had retained to his company “EARL FITZWILLIAM’S MALTON ESTATE COMPANY” in the sum of £349,998 by way of shares.

Lord Fitzwilliam then dies on 15th February 1943 and his Will and a Codicil dated 23rd August 1931 (which is mentioned in the Abstract but with no details) were proved in the Principal Probate Registry by “The Right Honourable George Richard Baron Bingley and Ralph Frederick Pawsey the survivors of the Executors”. So, we know where to where the Will was proved and when which will help in obtaining a copy. The Will is likely to be of important genealogical value, providing details of family members and relationships.

George Richard Baron Bingley then dies on 11th December 1947, no place of death is provided but these details would help trace or confirm his death. There is then a Deed of Appointment dated 5th April 1948, in which Ralph Pawsey, the remaining executor, appoints new trustees (there are no details of the deaths of the previous trustees or their retirement of appointment) including himself, “HUGH MYDDLETON PEACOCK of The Ferry Peterborough in the County of Northampton Esquire and ARTHUR RALPH KEEPING of Barnsley in the County of York Solicitor”.  Again, this provides names, status and addresses/locations, all details which are vital to genealogists in tracing ancestors.

We next find out that Ralph Pawsey “died at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London” on 18th August 1953, further important information if he was an ancestor. Also regarding his death with have documented the proving of his Will on 7th December 1953 in the District Probate Registry at Wakefield (helpful information for obtaining a copy of his Will) with probate being granted to “Thomas Arthur Pawsey and Arthur Ralph Keeping both of Barnsley Yorkshire Solicitors”. This information is interesting as it is likely that Thomas is the son of Ralph and we know he was living in Barnsley so again great information for him if he was an ancestor, as too is the fact he was a solicitor working with Arthur, a trustee appointed in 1948 (above). This gives a lead into occupational records of solicitors.

Epitome of Title 1980

This is an Epitome of Title relating to 36, 38[4], 40, 42 and 44 Old Maltongate, Malton. This is a row of terraced cottages. In addition to the Abstract of Title from 1974, this Epitome includes:

  1. Deed of Exchange dated 15 March 1968;
  2. Conveyance dated 14 February 1975;
  3. Conveyance dated 28 November 1979

The Deed of Exchange was entered into between Milton (Peterborough) Estates Company and the Earl Fitzwilliam’s Malton Estate Company to exchange land between the two estate companies, it does not name any individuals and there appears on the face of the deed to be no obvious relationship between the two companies or the individuals/families behind them. However, when we look at the signatures of the Directors for the two companies on the last page of the deed, the director of both companies is the same, it is very clearly the same signature. Reading some of the history about the Fitzwilliam Estate on their website[5], we learn that “Fitzwilliam Malton Estate (FME) is the trading name used by Milton (Peterborough) Estates Company for the company’s interests in Malton. Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland, grandson of the last Earl Fitzwilliam, and his son and heir, Tom Naylor-Leyland, look after the interests of this company” so the genealogist would be well advised to conduct research into the Milton (Peterborough) Estates Company. The deed does provide the company’s address to help with such research.

From local knowledge, previous research I have carried out and from the Fitzwilliam Estate website I know that in 1948 William Henry Lawrence Peter Viscount Milton (also known as Peter Wentworth Fitzwilliam, the 8th Earl)[6] died without a male heir, so the Estate was divided up to represent the interests of different parts of the family; and that the “Fitzwilliam Malton Estate is the freehold owner of much of the commercial heart of Malton and represents the family interests of Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland who, with his son Tom, is taking his family’s work for Malton into its fourth century”[7].

The Conveyance dated 19 February 1975 is between “Milton (Peterborough) Estates Company  …(herein after called ‘the Vendor’) of the first part HUGH MYDDLETON PEACOCK of…. And ARTHUR RALPH KEEPING of…. (hereinafter called ‘the Trustees’) of the second part and RYEDALE DISTRICT COUNCIL of…”. This is the sale of the premises of 36 to 44 Old Maltongate to the local Council thus the property is no longer subject to the trust, the sum paid by the Council (£8,500) would vest in the trust in its place. In the circumstances this conveyance is of little genealogical value save in researching the history of the various properties rather than individuals.

The Council then sells the properties to Broadmanor Limited on 28 November 1979 for the sum of £11,000. Again the genealogical value here is in the history of the properties rather than individuals.

Conveyance and Mortgage Deed dated 1 July 1980

This is the first document relating solely to my property, number 38. It is the sale of the property by Broadmanor Limited to Lindsay Charnock and Gloria Charnock. Both documents provide the current address for the Charnock’s and the Mortgage deed confirms that Gloria Charnock is the wife of Lindsay. The property itself is also now known as “Lilac Cottage”.

Both documents contain the signatures of Mr and Mrs Charnock. Their signatures are witnessed by Malcolm A. Foggin Solicitors Clerk of 123 Welham Road, Norton, Malton. One may be mistaken in thinking this is the address of the solicitors he works for; however, I know this is his home address. I mention this because of my personal interest, in that I worked with Malcolm Foggin from 2005 until his retirement in 2008 and I know he spent his entire career working for the same firm of solicitors. No other information of genealogical value is provided.

Legal Charge dated 23 April 1987

This is of genealogical value to the extent that it is a further mortgage between Cedar Holdings Limited and Mr and Mrs Charnock and confirms they are still living at the address.

Conveyance dated 1st July 1988

Mr and Mrs Charnock sold the property on the 1st July 1988 to Clive Howard Thompson and Joanne Mary Burkill and their previous address is given. Their relationship status is not provided but the previous address for them both is the same, suggesting they are most likely an unmarried couple

Abstract of Title 1991

This 1991 abstract begins with the conveyance and mortgage from the purchase by Mr and Mrs Charnock from 1980. There is then further reference and further documents relating to the further mortgage they took out in 1987. A copy of the Credit Agreement itself is attached which provides further information on their names, in so far as we learn Mrs Charnock’s first names are Gloria Selina. This could be of vital importance to a genealogist in distinguishing between two people who may otherwise have the same name. We also learn from the agreement that their neighbour at number 40 is Marie Lockerbie, she has witnessed their signatures on the agreement.

We then have copy of the conveyance from 1988 (above) and a copy of the mortgage deed entered into by Clive Howard Thompson and Joanne Mary Burkill in 1988, which provide no extra information.

We then find my suggestion that Mr Thompson and Ms Burkill were an unmarried couple confirmed with a copy of their marriage certificate dated 1st July 1989. This if of course a vital piece of information for the genealogist, providing their ages, occupations, residence at the time of their marriage which interestingly is not given as 38 Old Maltongate which they had bought the year before. The certificate provides separate addressed for them both prior to marriage, Mr Thompson’s address being their previous address as given in the conveyance from 1988 and Ms Burkill’s a completely new address. Perhaps this is her parent’s address? Their father’s names and occupations are also provided.

The next document is then a further legal charge this time in their joint married names dated 2nd March 1990 which confirms they still live at the property.

Conveyance dated 8th July 1991

This is the sale of the property by Mr and Mrs Thompson to Mr and Mrs Bowes. With this conveyance (an abstract of title above) the property is registered at the Land Registry. The conveyance provides the names of all parties and their respective addresses prior to completion of the sale. No other information of genealogical value is provided.

Registered Land Documents

Following the property being registered, the records are minimal providing little in the way of genealogical value save for someone researching the history of the property and wanting to know who lived there. The ‘Official copy of the Register Entries’ provide the name(s) of the owners and information relating to the property itself with only one other owner between Mr and Mrs Bowes and myself.

There is of course so much more to research and learn about the property and its role in the local and social history of Malton and hopefully one day I will complete a full house history it (before I sell it).

WHilst I may not be able to research my own property at the moment for geographical reasons all this did spark my interest in house history to which I am now bringing my professional knowledge and skills to. A house history is far more than just the bricks and morter, it is the people, their families, their occupations and their lives along with the social and local history background whch makes up a complete house history (which as ever is all subject to the survival of records).

If you would like your house/property or an ancestors house/property resaerching, being is a house, pub, work place or other building, then pleae contact me to discuss further or go to my contact page to book a zoom or telephone call.



[3] Brompton, London, England, Cemetery Registers, 1840-2012

[4] My property




A-Z of Genealogy – All about the U, V, W, X, Y and Z’s

This week sees the last of my blogs all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research. This week they begin with the letters U, V, W, X, Y and Z’s


UBI – Where, When

UBICUMQUE – wheresoever

UNDIQUE – from all parts, on all sides, everywhere

UNICUS – only, sole

UNQUAM – ever

UPHOLDER – undertaker

USITATUS – customary, accustomed

UTERINE – born of the same mother but by a different father

UXOR – wife

UXORATUS – married man

UXOREM DUXIT – married (a wife), took a wife


VAGRANCY – being without regular employment or settled home

VASSAL a feudal inferior of tenant or a MESNE TENANT, of a TENANT-IN-CHIEF or of the King.

vendico/are – to claim

vendo/ire – to sell

Venit – come

veredictum/i – verdict(s)

vicarium – parish

videlicet (vz) – namely, to wit, that is, thus

vidua – widow

viduus – widower

VIEW OF FRANKPLEDGE a system of mutual responsibility for the maintenance of law and order, usually consisting of around ten households

villanus/i – villein(s)

VILLEIN tenants who occupied lands on condition of performing services for the lord of the manor

virgata/ae – virgate(s)

VIRGATE a measurement of land

VISITATION – official inspection of the parish bythe Bishop or his representative, the Archdeacon

visus franciplegii – view of frankpledge

Vocare – To call

Vocat – He calls


Wapentake – the equivalent of the HUNDRED in parts of the DANELAW

WARDSHIP – control and use of land od a tenant who is a minor; guardianship of an infant heir until the heir attains the age of majority (historically the age of 21 years)

WASTE – inferior land used for a common purpose

WAYWARDEN – Parish office responsible for the maintenance and repair of highways

WHIM – winding engine worked by horses or steam

WIDOW’S BENCH – share of husband’s estate the widow was entitled to claim for like or until she remarried (usually a third, sometimes a half)

WITNESSES – Godparents

WOODWARD – manorial office charged with the protection of woodland


X – sometimes used as an abbreciation for Christ


YARDLAND – measure of land the size of which varied greatly from area to area

YEOMAN – freeholder cultivating his own land; an occupying owner; small/medium farmer generally


ZINZIBER – ginger

ZONA – belt, girdle

ZONARIUS – girdle-maker

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All about the T’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter T.

TABERN – Cellar under a building

TABERNA -inn/tavern

TABERNARIUS – innkeeper

TACKMAN – Manorial officer responsible for collecting rents and fines due to the Lord

TALENT – a weight and denomination of money

TALLAGE – an arbitraty tax levied by the Normans early Angevin Kings on towns and DEMSNE lands of the crown

tandem – at length

TANTRELL – Idle, unsettled person

TANTUM – so much, so greatly, so; only, merely

TAPSTER – Archaic term for for someone who sells beer/ale

TASTATOR 9CERVISIE) – ale taster

TEMPLUM – Church

TENANT-IN-CHIEF – a LORD holding his land directly from the King.

TENANT AT WILL – tenants who paid a rent and whose tenure was entirely dependent on the good will of the lord

TENATURA – feudal holding, tenure, tenement

tenebat sibi pro termino vito sue – he/she held (it) for him/herself to the end of his/her life

TENEMENT – parcel of land occupied by a tenant

tenens/entis – tenant

tenens custumarius – customary tenant

teneo/ere – to hold

tenementum – tenement

TENTIO – holding a court

tenura/ae – tenure(s)

TENURE – the conditions upon which land was held under the FEUDAL SYSTEM by a VASSAL from a LORD who was a MESNE TENANT, a TENANT-IN-CHIEF or the King.

TERMINARIUS – Lessee (legal)

TERMINO – to determine, decide a case (legal); to terminate

TERRA – land, piece of land, tenement, strip; arable land; earth (as opposed to heaven)

terre arabilis – arable land

TERRIER – Topographical account of the manor, giving whereabouts and size of the lord’s and the tenants’ land

TESTAMENTUM – Will, testament


THEGN – a VASSAL, usually a manorial LORD, holding land by military or administrative services in Anglo-Saxon and early Norman England

TIED COTTAGE by a farm worker subject to his continued employment

TITHE – Ancient obligation of all parishioners to maintain their parish priest from the fruits of teh land in his parish (GREAT TITHES e.g corn, hay, wood; SMALL TITHES e.g. wool, fruit, eggs etc)

TITHING – group of usually 10 or 12 men under the FRANKPLEDGE system who were mutually responsible for the good behaviour of each member of the group

TITHINGMAN – one of a group of ten men with a mutual responsibility for their good behaviour

Totum illud – In total

TRADO AD FIRMAM – to farm, to let at farm (for a specified term and for a specified payment)

TRINKLEMENTS – Odds and ends, miscellaneous small belongings

TUMULATUS – buried

TUMULUS – tomb

TUN – vessel holding 252 gallons, usually of wine

TUNC – then

TUNC TEMPORIS – at that time

Turbary – Manorial right to cut turf.

TURNPIKE TRUST – Trust set up to build and maintain roads for which tolls were charged to use

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All about the S’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter S.

s solidus- shilling

sciant presentes et futuri – know (all men) at present and in future

scilt / scilicet – that is to say…

SCRIVENER – A clerk who wrote or opied legal documents

SCUTAGE – Annual payment of money to a feudal LORD to provide a military force in support of the crown

secundum consuetudinem manerii – according to the custom of the manor

seisina/ae – possession

seisin – possession of land or other property

semper – always

senescallus/i – steward

senex – man of old age

sepe – often

sepultat – buried

sepultatus errant/est – buried

SERF – an unfree labourer who was tied to working on their lord’s estate under the the feudal system

servicium/i – service(s)

sibi et heredibus suis – to him/her and his/her heirs

sicut – just as

sive plus sive – minus more or less

SOKEMEN – free tenants subject to the jurisdiction of the MANOR but owing little or no service to its LORD.

solus/sola – single

solvo/ere – to pay

SPECIALITY/SPESHALTY – legal term meaning “deed under seal” or “sealed contract”

SPUR WAY – horse-way through a man’s land along wich one could right by right of custom i.e. a bridleway

STANG/STONG – Rood of land

STEWARD – chief officer of a manor

STONEMAN – Waywarden – parochial officer responsible for the maintenance of highways

summa totalis – sum of the total

suit of court – attendance at the manor court

suit service – service rendered by attendance at the manor court

surrender – ceremony by which an existing tenant gave up a customary holding; usually followed by an admission

sursumreddo/idi – surrender

sursum reddit – he/she surrenders (gives the property up)

Survey – a written description of the boundaries of a Manor and the fields and properties within the Manor. It is not a map.

SYKE – area of common meadow, often damp

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All about the R’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter R.

Rape – An area of jurisdiction in Sussex

Recepta/ae – money(ies) received

RECEPTACULUM – part of a house which on the death of the owner or tenant was to be retained by the elderly members of the family residing there – supposedly one third of the house, but usually two rooms

RECOGNISANCE – Sum of money pledged as security by a bond for preforming an act or avoiding an offence – sum was forfeited if the act was not performed or the offence was committed

RECUSANTS – nonconformists – those who refused to attend the parish church, esp. Roman Catholics

Redditus – rent

REEVE – ‘foreman’ of the manor

RELICT – Widow/Widower

Relictae et executrices in dicto testament nominate – relict and executrix named in the said will

RELIEF – Payment made by an heir to succeed to a freehold inheritance, often the value of the annual rent

Remisse, relaxasse et quietclamasse – have remised, relaxed and quitclaimed

REMOVAL – removal of a person back to the parish of settlement, who was or was potentially a burden on the parish i.e. did or would require poor relief

Renatus – baptised

RESIANT – resident of a manor

REVERSATION/REVERSIO – Reversion (see below)

REVERSION – Return of land to the donor or grantor or his heir where there are no heirs to a fee tail at the end of a life tenancy or at the end of a lease

RIVULUS – stream/brook

ROD – aka a POLE or PERCH – a standard measure equal to about five and a half yards or sixteen and a half feet

Roda/ae – rood(s) (see below)

ROGUE MONEY – Payment by the constable of each parish to the High Constable of the county for the maintenance of the prisoners in the county gaol

ROOD – a measurement of land of about one quarter of an acre or 660 feet long or 40 square perches in area

ROPE MONDAY – the second Monday after Easter Day

ROTULATIO – enrolment, entry on a roll

ROYAL OAK DAY – 29th May – the anniversary of the Restoration (1660) once celebrated by wearing of oak-leaevs, recalling the Bosocobel Oak near Worcester, the hiding place of Charles II

R.R – Regni Regis/Regina – in the year of King/Queen….

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All about the Q’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter Q.

QUANDOCUMQUE – whenever, as often as

QUANDOQUIDEM – since, seeing that

QUANTOPERE – how greatly

QUARENTENE – a linear measure, a furlong

QUARTER DAYS – 25th March (Lady Day); 24th June (Midsummer); 29th September (Michaelmas); 25 December (Christmas)

QUARTER SESSIONS – General sessions court of the peace for the county, held quarterly dealing with both criminal matters (until 1971) and administrative business (akin to local government before they were established in the 1880’s)

QUASI – as if, just as

QUERELA – plea, suit, legal action; fine paid by tenants

QUERELO – to bring a legal action; to complain


QUILIBET/WUELIBET/QUODLIBET – anyone at all, anyone you like; each; everyone whosoever

QUIS/QUID – who? what? which?; anyone, anything; someone, something

QUIT CLAIM – release and disclaimer of all rights, interest and potential legal actions from a grantor to a grantee

QUIT RENT – annual payment to the Lord in lieu of services due

QUITTANTIA – immunity, discharge, quittance

QUO – where, whither; so that

QUOD – because; that; which, what

QUO WARRANT – a legal documtn requiring someone to prove their right to a claim of office or franchise

QUONDAM – formerly, in the past

QUONIAM – since, whereas

QUOQUE – also

QUOTIENSCUMQUE – as often soever as, whensoever

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All about the P’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter P.

PACK RAG DAY – Old May Day

PACK WAY – Narrow way along wich goods could only be transported by pask horse

PADDINGTON FAIR – A public execution at Tyburn in the parish of Paddington

PAID SITTING – payment made for the right to sit in a pew a church aka pew rates

pain – a rule/regulation of the manor

PALATINATE – Territory under the governance of a count palatine, usually an Earl or a Bishop, who enjoyed royal privileges and exclusive jurisdiction by way of Palatine Courts e.g. Durham

PANNAGE – payment made by tenants to the Lord of the Manor for the right to pasture pigs in the Lord’s woods

paterfamilias – the male head of the family or household

pater – father

PECULIAR – Ecclesiastical district exempt from jurisdiction on the bishop of the diocese

pena/ae – pain/penalty

PER DIEM – for each day

per homagium – by the homage

per virgam – by the rod

pertinentia/ae – appurtenance(s)

perquisitum/i – profit(s)

peto/ere – to claim

petivit admitti tenens – he petitioned to be admitted tenant

PETTY SESSIONS – Lowest court developed in the 18th century to remove some of the workload from the Quarter Sessons; types of cases inc. larceny, drunkeness, bastardy etc

PINDER – kept the manorial pound/pinfold

PIPE ROLLS – the record of the annual audit of the Accounts of Sheriffs and other debtors of the Crown “The Great Roll of the Exchequer”

Piscaries – fishing rights.

PIT MONEY – Customary fee for burial within the church

post meridiem – afternoon (pm)

postridie – on the day after

post ultimam curiam et ante hanc curiam – since the last court and before this court

post conquestum – after the conquest (1066)

POTWALLOPER – prior to 1832 a man entitled to vote by viture of having a fireplace of his own thus being classed as a householder

Pratum/prati -meadow

precept – order issued to the bailiff of the manor for the holding of a court

predictus – aforesaid

premissa predicta – premises aforesaid

prepositus/i – reeve(s)

presentatio/onis – presentment(s)

presentment – a statement by the jury of matters to be dealt with by the manorial court

prius – formerly

probatum – something proved

probatum fuit huiusmodi testametum apud – this will was proved at

PROVOST – Constable

proxima post festum sancti – next after the feast of st

puer – boy

puella – girl

PURGATORY – Receptacle for ashes beneath or in front of a fire

PUTRID FEVER – an Old name for a groupd diseases which included typhus and smallpox

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All about the O’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter O.

obitus – death


obolus/I (abrev ob) – halfpenny(ies)

Occidens – west

OCCUPO – to seize, occupy

OECONPMUS – Steward, Churchwarden

omnia bene – all is well

onus – burden, load; force, effect; charge(s) [in accounts]

OPELLA – shop, workshop

OPEN FIELDS – the major divisions, normally two or three, of the cultivated arable area of a medieval village outside the Highland Zone of England and Wales, in which one field each year in succession was left in rotation-fallow, the other one or two being communally ploughed and sown with winter and spring grains.

OPPORTUNUS – seasonal

AD OPUS – for the use of (a person)

ORBUS – orphan

ORREUM – barn, granary

Orrientem – east

OUTFANGTHIEF – right of a Lord of the Manor to pursue a thief beyond his own jurisdiction to bring him back for trial and if convicted to keep any forfeited goods

OVERSEER (OF THE POOR) – parich officer concerned with the administration and enforcement of the Poor Law between 1601 and 1834

OWLER – Smuggler

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All about the N’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter N.

NATALE – birth, birthday

natus – born

naturalia filia – illegitimate girl/daughter

NEC – Nor, and not

NEMUS – a wood

NEPOS – grandson, nephew, descendant

NEPTIS – niece

NICHIL/NIHIL – nothing

NINE – indefinite period between a week and a forthnight

nocte – at night

NOCUMENTUM – harm, injury, nuisance; harmful thing

noia/nomina – the names

NOMEN – name, title

nominates – named/christened

non – not

NOTHUS – bastard

noverint universi per presents (me) – know all men by these presents (that i)

nunc – now

NUNCUPATIVE WILL – a will declared verbally rather than in writing

Nuper – lately

nuper in tenure – in recent tenure

nupsit – married

NUTRIX – nurse, wet-nurse

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All about the M’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter M.

MAG – Halfpenny

MAGIS – more

magister/i – master(s)

MAINPAST – One for whom another is legally responsible

MALE – badly

MANADGE MAN – Itinerant seller of goods on creidt for household requirements

Mane – in the morning

manerium/i – manor(s)

MANOR – a landed estate, usually comprising a DEMESNE and lands held by VILLAGERs, BORDARs, or COTTAGERs and sometimes also FREE MEN, FRENCHMEN, RIDING MEN etc, which could vary in size from part of one village to several villages over a wide area; power over men (and women), ranging from civil to criminal jurisdiction; an estate in land giving authority and prestige; a land title giving superiority and gentility

MANUMISSION – the act of a feudal Lord that gave a villein his freedom

manus/us – hand(s)

manus domini – into the hands of the lord

marca – mark (6s 8d)

MARE – Sea, lake, mere

MARITUS – husband

matrimoniumsolemnizat – marriage solemnised

matrimonio conjuncti sunt – were married

MEDALE – Drinking feast after the Lord of the Manor’s meadow had been mown

MENSIS – Month

merchetum/i – merchet(s) – payment made for obtaining permission for a daughter to marry

MERCY – Amercement or Fine

Meridiem – southerly

messor/oris – hayward(s)

misercordia/ae – amercement(s)

messuagium – messuage/plot of land, usually with house or cottage and perhaps garden or outbuildings

MIGRO – to die

MILITIA – mustering of local forces comprising part time volunteers organised by county

MOB – Close-fitting cap with two lappets; a woman’s night-cap

MOETY/MOITY – Half share

MONETA – Money, coin

MOROR – to delay, remain; to dwell, live

MULIER – wife, woman

MURAGE – Tax levied for the building and upkeep of the walls of a town

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All about the K and L’s

This week I’m combining two letters, K and L, because words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter K are few and far between!


KAVEL – a ballot by which the working places in a pit are fixed; or strips of tillage lands in common fields

KEEPER – a person who attends to the sick and dying in place of a relative

KENNIN/KENNINE – a measure equivalent to half a bushel or two pecks

KID – a bunch of twigs, brushwood or gorse used for burning; To Kid is to bind up in faggots

KIDELLA – Fish-trap

KINE – Cows, usually dairy cows

KING ALE – Church ale

KING’S EVIL – Scrofula, a disease of the lymphatic glands, once thought to be cured by a touch from the King’s or Queen’s hand

KIRKMASTER – Churchwarden

KLICKER – someone who stands outside a shop to entice customers in

KNIGHT SERVICE – MIlitary service which a Knight was bound to render to the lord of the manor or crown as a condition of holding his land under the feudal system

KNOBSTICK WEDDING – Wedding of a pregnant woman compelled by the Churchwarden and attended by them in state

KNOWLEDGE MONEY – a gift from tenants to a new Bishop of Abott

KNOWN LAND – unenclosed land marked out by stones or natural boundaries to indicate ownership

Interesting to see the old meaning of KID! Perhaps today’s meaning as a slang for child originates from children being used to make the bunches of twigs etc?


LADDER – a flight of shelves, particularly for storing cheese

LAIRSTALL/LEYSTALL – a graev inside a church

LAKE – a type of fine linen which shirts were formerly made from

LAMMAS LAND – common land, arable of meadow, which was occupied for part of the year but after crops were harvested the owner(s) were able to use as pasture land

LANDLOUPER – a person who flies from the country because of crime or debt

LANDMALE – Reserved rent/annual sum of money charged on a piece of land by the Lord who held in Fee

LAND TAX – Tax on land payable between 1693 and 1963

LANSCOT – an assessment of land for the maintenance of the church

LARCENCY – Petty Larceny (theft) and Grand Laceny (Stealing property worth more than 12 pence

LATH – Barn

LEA – measure of yarn, 300 yards

LEASEHOLD – land let out in a way which was not restricted or governed by the custom of the manor

LEGALIA – laws, customs

LEGALITER – lawfully, legally

LEGANTIA – legacy, bequest

LEGES – laws

LEGGER – a man emplyed by a canal owner to push boats through narrow tunnels

Legitime procreates – lawfully begotten

LEGITIMUS – law worthy, of legal status

Legare – To leave/bequeath

LETTERS PATENT – document under seal of the state granting some privilege or authority or exclusive right to use an invention or design

LIBER – book (noun), Free (adj)

LIBERE – freely

LIBERI – children

L/l LIBRA/UM – pound £

LICENTIA – permission, authority, licence

LIFTING MONDAY – aka Hocktide Monday, when it was custom for men, in couples, to pift up and kiss each woman they met

LIFTING TUESDAY – when women returned the above compliment to men

LIGEUS – bound by allegience

LIGHTERMAN – the operator of flat-bottomed type of barge known as a LIGHTER

LIGNUM – wood, timber, beam, post

LITTEN- Churchyard

LOQUELA – suit, action, plea (legal)

LOQUELOR – to plead, implead, to confer, discuss

LORD – feudal superior of a VASSAL, a Manorial Lord

LORD LIEUTENANT – the Crown’s direct county representative first introduced in the 1540’s, responsible for raising and managing county MILITIA

It’s always interesting to se how the meaning of words has evolved through the centuries.

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All about the J’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter J.

At the start of last weeks blog I pointed out that ‘i’ should not be confused with ‘j’ and it is important to note this as ‘i’ and ‘j’ were often used interchangeably although as a general rule ‘j’ would be used as a consonant and ‘i’ as a vowel, with only ‘I’ being used as a capital letter until about the 17th century. Thus, John may be found spelt ‘Iohn’. Conversely ‘j’ would be used instead of ‘i’ where more that one ‘i’ ended a word and when writing in roman numberal i.e. ‘xii’ would be written ‘xij’.

Bearing this is mind, all the following words may be found spelt starting with an ‘I’ in early records.

JACENS – Lying, being, situated

JAM – Mow, at present, already, hitherto

JAMPA – Heath, gorse, furze

JOINTURE – Property settled on a woman at marriage which would become hers on the death of her husband

JONATHAN – An instrument used by smokers to light a pipe

JOSEPH – An ancient riding habit with buttons down to the skirts

JOURNEYMAN – a skilled worker, who has completed an apprenticeship, hired to work on a daily basis


JUDEX – Judge

JUDICIUM – Judgement, statute, right, jurisdiction, suit, trial, court

JUGUM – yoke, a measurement of land

JULIAN CALENDAR – Old style calendar in use in England and Wales before 1752 when new years day fell on Lady Day, the 24th March.

JUNCTUS – Joined



DE JURE – By rights, lawfully

JURE – Justly, lawfully

JURO – to swear

JURO AD/SUPER – To swear on or by

JURO PRO FIDELITATE – To swear fealty

JUS, JURIS – Law, right, due, privilege

JUS COMMUNE – Common law

JUSSUM – Command, order

JUSTE – Justly

JUSTICIARIUS – Judge, justice

JUSTIFICO – To justify, set right, to bring to justice

JUSTITIA – Sentance, punishment, justice

JUVENCA – Heifer

JUVENCUS – Bullock

JUVENIS – Young, young man

JUXTA – near to, beside, according to

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All about the I’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter I’s (not to be confused with J’s).

Iacentem – in Lying in

Iaceus – Lie (as in lying in/situated in)

ibidem – there, in the same place

Ibidem tente – Held there

Idem – The same (person or thing)

Ideo – therefore

Ille/illa/illud – That, he, she, it

IMPRIMIS – Firstly, in the first place


INCUMBENT – Parish priest

in cuius reite testimonium – In whose testimony

in cuius testimonium huic presenti carte sigillum meum apposui – in witness of which i have attached my seal to this present charter

INDENTURE – contract between two parties in which each kept and was half-cut along an indented line

inhumebat – buried

INGANENTHIEF – Jurisdiction over a thief caught in the Lord’s manor; right to try and fine such a thief

ingressus/us – entry(ies)

in dei nominee amen – in the name of god amen

in manus domini – into the hands of the lord

in manus domini manerii predicti – into the hands of the lord of the manor aforesaid

in matrimonium duxit – has married

innupta – female unmarred when she died

in perpetuum/ imperpetuum – forever

in plena curia – in open court

in primis/imprimis – firstly

in propria persona sua – in his own person

inquisitio/onis (INQUISITION) – inquiry

in respectu ad proximam curiam – adjourned until the next court

INTERREGNUM – The period when a throne is vacant between monarchs (due to death or abdiction before accession successor) i.e. period between the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the restoration of Charles II in 1660

interruit – buried

in tumulo sep – buried

INVENTORY – List of goods and chattels inc. tools of the trade and can include room by room descriptions of items drawn up on the death of an individual most likley to be found between 1530 and 1732 when they were compulsory

Ipse – Self, he himself, she herself, itself

Iste/ista/istud – this

Item (It/Itm) – Likewise, also, moreover

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All about the H’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter H.

HABEAS CORPUS – You may have the body – a write requiring a person detained by the authorities to be brought before a court of law so that the legality of the detention may be examined

habendum et tenendum – To have and to hold

HAIA – A Hedge

HALF BAPTISED – baptised privately

HAYWARD – Communal officer responsible for overseeing the making of hedges and the person responsible for regulating the cultivation of openfields and the use of the common generally

HEAD SUNDAY – Sunday after 6th July, known as Old Midsummer Day

HEARTH TAX – Tax introduced in England and Wales in 1662, colelcted between 1662 and 1689 (poor were exempt)

hec conventio facta inter – This agreement made between

hec est finalis concordia – This is the final concord

hec indentura facta inter – This indenture made between

HECKELL/HECKLE – Implement for combing flax or hemp

HECKLING – The refuse from hemp fibre

HEREDITAMENT – Property which can be inherited

hereditatio/onis – Inheritance

heredum et assignatorum suorum imperpetuun – Heirs and assigns for ever

HERIOT – Payment on teh death of a manorial tenant


HIBERNIA – Ireland

HIDE – Originally a unit, varying between 40 and 1000 acres, thought sufficient to support one family.

hiett/herriot/herryott – Heriot –A payment due to the lord of the manor on the death of a tenant

hiis testibus – (list of names) These being witness

HITCHED LAND – Part of the common field withdrawn by common consent from the customary rotation and used for some special crop

hodie – Today

HOMAGE – The tenants who attended a manor court ALSO oral acknowledgement by a tenant of his loyalty and feudal obligations to his lord

homagium/i – Homage(s)

homagium presentant/putant/dicunt quod – The homage present/confirm/say that

HONOUR – Aggregation of manors

honor/oris – honour

HORARIUS – Clock maker

HORREUM – Barn of storehouse

HOVELL – Shed, outhouse, framework for cornshack

HUER – Person placed on the Cornsih cliff to indicate to the boats stationed off land the course of the shoals of pilchards and herrings

HUGUENOTS – French protestants who fled persecution in France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (which allowed religious freedom) in 1685

HULT – Cottage or small house

HUNDRED – A unit of fiscal assessment and local government originally containing 100 HIDEs, intermediate between the county and the MANOR, roughly equivalent in size to the modern District; cantrefi in Wales

HUSBANDMAN – Usually a tenant farmer, distict from YEOMAN


I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All about the G’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter G.

GABLUM – Rent/tax

GAIR – An outcrop on limestone on uplands; a bright green grassy ares surrounded by bent (stiff wiry course grass) or heather; an irregular strip of green land running down side of a moorland hill

GALILEE – A porch or chapel at the entrance of a church

GANNER/GANGER – Beggar or poor hawker or a combination of both

GAN-WIFE – Female pedlar selling pins, laces, nick-nack, tin ware, brushes and othr domestic items from a basket

GARBA – Sheaf of corn

GARCIO – Boy, servant, groom, page


GARNER – A small barn for storing corn

GARTH – Enclosure, yard or garden attached to a house

GAUDEO/IRE, GAVISUM SUM – to use, to possess, to enjoy the use of, to enjoy, rejoice

GAVELCORN – service for redering a bushel of produce such as corn, for each VIRGATE

GAVELKIND – System of inheritance under which property was inherited equally by all sons, a widow receiving half instead of one third of her dower and under which a tenant could alienate his land at the age of 15 years

GELDUM – Tax, geld

GEMINI/E – twins (m./f.)

GENER – Son in law

GENEROSA – Lady, gentlewoman

GENEROSUS – Gentleman

GENITUS – Begotten

GERMANUS – Close blood relative, sibling

GERSUMA – Fee paid on inheritance of freehold land by a daughter

GESTUM – guests portion; allowance of meat and drink

GIBBETING – Hanging of executed criminals on public display as a deterant to others

GIRDLER – Maker of leather belts and girdles

GIRSOME – Fine payable on renewal of a lease

GLEBE – Land within a parish for the use of the parish priest

GNOTHUS – Bastard, illigitimate

GORA – Gore, Triangular piece of land

GRAMEN – Grass, pasture


GRANARIUM – granary

GRATIA – Favour, grace, mercy, pardon

GRATOR – to acknowledge, to give thanks

GRATUM – Goodwill, consent

GRAVA – Wood, grove

GRAVAMAN – Injury, oppression, grievance, accusation

GREAVE – Another term for Bailiff

GREENSMITH – A metal worker specialising in copper and copper alloys

GREGARIUS – Drover, cattle man

GRENA – A Green, village green

GREY BEARD – A brown stoneware spirit bottle

GROAT – A silver coin worth 4 pence in use between 1351 and 1662

GROINGES – Growings; land let out for arable use

GULA – Throat, gulley, watercourse

GULE OF AUGUST – Lammas Day aka Loaf Mass day, 1st August, making the start of harvest

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All about the E’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter E.

ECCLESIASTICAL COURT – heard matters relating to wills, defamation, divorce, failure to attend church, drukeness and undesireable behaviour before 1853

EDITUS – proclaimed, enacted

EIUS – his, her, its,; of him, her, it, this

EIUSDEM – of the same

EIUSDEM DIE – of the same day

EIUSDEM PERTINEN – belonging to the same

ENCLOSURE – conversion of open fields, common or waste land into enclosed areas of land

ENFEOFFMENT – a grant of land, forming a FIEF or HONOR according to its size by a LORD to his VASSAL to be held in return for FEUDAL SERVICE.

ENFRANSHISE – convert copyhold land into freehold tenure

ENTAIL – until 1833 real property could be “entailed” specifying how property would be inherited restricting it to particualr heirs

ENTRY FINE – a payment due when a new customary tenant entered land

EORUM – of them (m.)

EORUNDEM – of the same (m. plural)

EPISCOPAL – of a Bishop

EQUES – Knight

EQUITY (LAW OF) – the body of law which developed in the English Court of Chancery to provide a remedy for situations where the law is not flexible enough for the usual court system to deliver a fair resolution to a case

ESCHEAT – Reversion of land held in fee simple to the lord, typically when a tenant died without an heir, had committed an offence (i.e., a felony) which incurred forfeiture of his estate, or sometimes where the heir was a minor

ESPOUSAL – archaic word for marriage or engagement

ESSION – payment made in lieu of attending court in person

ESTRAY – domestic animals or swan whose owneer is unknown and which stayed onto another persons property becoming the temporary property of the Lord of the Manor

ESTREAT – collective term for fines and amercements imposed in the manorial court

ETAS – age

ETIAM – also, even, furthermore

EXAMINATION – sworn statement made before one or more magistrates as to a persons settlement, with a veiw to removing them from the parish

EXCHEQUER (COURT OF) – Court introduced in the time of Henry II originally to deal with matter of royal revenue but later dealt with many other kinds of business

EX NUNC – hereafter

EX TUNC – thereafter

EXTENT – Summary valuation of the manor and tenancies, including land, buildings, services and other income

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A – Z of Genealogy – All about the C’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter C.

CADDOWS – Bedding or blankets

CALENDAR – Catelogue of documents, with summaries of their contents

CALIVER – Light type of muskt

CAMPIPARS – to pay rent of land with a propertion of the crop

CAMPUS – (Latin) field, open field

CANON – Cleric possession a prebend for his support in a Catherdral or collegite church

CANON LAW – Law of the Church

CAPIAS – (Latin) writ/warrant for arrest


CAP MONEY – fine levied on a township and paid by the constable for bearch of the 1571 Act outlawing the wearing of woollen caps on Sundays and Holy Days

CAR. – Low unenclosed land, subject to flooding

CARR. – common land, especially marchy land

CARRE. – Hollow place which is moist and boggy/ a wood of alder or other trees in such a place

CARRIAGE – water-course, a meadow drain

CARTA – (Latin) Charter, deed

CARTULARY – Collection of Charters relating to a particular estate

CARUCUTE/CARACUTE – measure of land, as much as could be ploughed by one plough and eight oxen in a year (amount varies dependant on the type of soil)

CATALLUMCATELLUM – (Latin) Chattell, cattle

CATMALLISON – Cupboard round or near a chmney where dried beef and provisions were stored

CAUSEY – Causeway/path

CAZZONS – dung of cattle, dried and used as fuel

CELEBS – bachelor, unmarried

CENSUS – a count, which names and varying personal details, of every resident in the country taken every 10 years since 1801 (in the UK)

CESS. – Rate, tax or assessment

CHADFARTHING – Farthing paid as part of the Easter dues to hallow the font for christenings

CHAIN – a unit of measurment specifially length, being 66 feet or 22 yards

CHAISE MAYREZ – cart of transporting fresh fish

CHAMBER – any room in a property except the hall and kitchen

CHANCERY (COURT OF) – Court of the Lord Chancellor established in the 15th century to provide remedies in civil law cases not covered by the courts of common law

CHANTRY – Endowed Chapel

CHAPLAIN – Preist of a Chapel

CHARWOMAN – Cleaner or domestic worker usually employed by the house (as oppsed to a ‘live in’ domestic servant)

CHATTELS – Moveable goods and belonings including animals

CHATTLE LEASE – Leasehold farm or holding

CHEMINAGE – Toll charged on roads in royal forests during the calving season

CHEVAGE – Annual payment of the Lord of the Manor by each non-free tenant

CHIRCHELOFE – Bread given on Christmas day in Church to the poor

CHURCH RATE – tax imposed by the church on parishioners to pay of the upkeep of the church

CHURCHWARDEN – annually elected representative of parishioners responsible for the upkeep of the church

CIRCUMQUAQUE – (Latin) on all sides

CITATIO – (Latin) summons, citation (legal)

CITRA – (Latin) on this side, apart from, except, before, since

CIVIL REGISTRATION – the legal obligation to register of births, marriages and deaths since 1 July 1837 (in England and Wales)

CLAUSUM / CLAUSURA – (Latin) close, enclosure; right to enclose

CLERKS OF THE PEACE – responsible for record keeping in the Quarter Session courts

CLOSE – piece of land which is hedged, fenced or walled (known toady as a field)

CLOSE ROLLS – mandates, letters, writs etc of a private nature written to individuals in the Sovereign’s name which were folded or closed and sealed on the outside with the Great Seal

COFFER – wooden box or chest used for storing clothes and other valuable items, including money

COGNATUS – (Latin) kinsman, relative

CONATE – from the same maternal origin, related by blood or birth on the mother’s side

COMBE – Corn measure for four bushels or one sack

COMMON FINE – Fine payable to the Lord of the Manor

COMMON LAND – Manorial wasteland or land over which tenants had common rights to graze cattle etc;

COMMON OF TURBARY – Commonw right of cutting turf or other fuel

COMITATAS – (Latin) County

COMPOTUS/M – (Latin) account

COMPURGATION – Practice of acquiting an accused person on the oath of 12 or more persons testifying to the truth of his statement

CONSISTORY COURT – Court of the Bishop

COOCH HANDED – left handed

COPYHOLD – Manorial tenure when lend is held by copy of the manorial court roll

CORDWAINER – shoe maker

CORN RENT – cash annuity whose value depended on the price of corn locally

CORSELET – Body armour

COTTAGER – owner/occupier of a tenement which also had a croft, acommon right and a little land usually nor more than 8 or 10 acres

COURT BARON – Manorial court usually held three weekly to state the customs of the manor, to deal with and record deaths of tenants, surrenders of copyhold and leasehold property, admissions to such property, enforce payment of fines, heriots and other dues owed and performance of other services owed to the Lord of the Manor

COURT LEET – Manorial court usually held half yearly to deal with petty offences and civil affairs, incorporated the view of frankpledge under which the inhabitants of tithings where held responsible for any breaches within their tithing (a tithing being a group of 10 or 12 householders who were responsible for vouching for the good behaviour of their fellow members over the age of 14 years)

CROFT – piece of enclosed land for tillage or pasture, usually arable close to a house

CURTILAGE – court, yard or ground attached to or enclosed within a house

CUSTOMAL – written details of the custom so a Manor

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A – Z of Genealogy – All about the B’s

This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter B.

BAG – measure , particularly of hops, usually 2 & 1/2 cwt

BAGNIO KEEPER – a lesser known term for a brother keeper

BAILLIVUS/BALLICUS – Bailiff, official

BAL MAIDEN – a female mine worker

BANCUS REGIS/REGIUS – (Court of ) King’s Bench

BARKMAN – a worker who tanned leather using tree bark

BARQUE – a type of ship with three or more masts

BASTLE – a type of fortified farmhouse (esp. associate with Anglo-Scottish border regions in the C17th)

BATT MAKER – Maker of wool wadding used in mattresses

BAWDY COURTS – Ecclesiastical courts which heard cases relating to church administration, moral issues such as failure to attend church, probate, defamation, drunkeness, divorce for example

BAWKS – a hay loft

BEADLE – a minor town or lay church official with the power of punishing petty offenders

BENE – well, rightly, truly

BENFICIUM – Ecclesiastical benefice, living; feudal estate

BENEFICE – A church appointment or ecclesiastical living usually from property and income for carrying out church duties

BESTIA – farm animal; beast of the chase

BIDENS – sheep, ewe (strictly a two year old)

BIGA – a cart

BISHOPS TRANSCRIPTS – contemporoary copies of parish registers of baptism, marriage and burials sent annually the the archbishop from 1598 to the 1870’s although became less common after 1837

BLADUM – corn, cornfield

BOATSWAIN/BO’SUN – Ship’s officer in charge of rigging and sails

BOCCUS/BOSCUM/BOSCUS – wood; woodland

BONA – goods; revenue; income

BONA NOTABILIA – Notable goods (particulalry found in probate records)

BOOTCATCHER – a person at an inn who pulls off the boots of passengers

BORDA – a board; a cottage

BORDAR – villager holding less land than a villein


BOREAS – the north

BOS/BOVIS – ox, bull

BOTCHET – liquor made from honey and mead

BOTE – common right of taking timber from waste land of the manor for repair or maintenance

BOWHAWLER – a man who manually draws barges or small vessels along rivers or canals

BOWKER – a bleacher of yarn

BOWYER – a maker of bows


BRASARIUS – Maltster

BREVE – a writ

BRODE CHAMBER -broad chamber, probably the main living and dining room of a house

BROILING IRON – support for a cooking pot, like a gridiron

BURGAGIUM – land held by burgage-tenure ; burgage tenure ot payment

BURGUS – borough, town

BURLEYMAN – an office appointed to the manor for various local duties

BURRIARIUS – dairyman

BUSHEL – measure of capacity of about eight gallons (subject to regional variations)

BUSSELLUS – bushel (measure)

BUT AND BEN – a small two-roomed dwelling; the BUT was the kitchen or outer room, the BEN was the parlour or inner room

BUTT – a measure of liquid (usually wine or ale) equivalent to approximately 126 imperial gallons

BUTTERIS – a room where ale was brewed and kept; a cool storeroom for provisions and tableware

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

A-Z of Genealogy – All the A’s

Welcome to my first post of 2023. My intentionin the first half of this year is run a series of blogs on the A/Z of genealogy, family history and house history in which I will highlight and define a selection of perhaps some of the more obscure words or phrases. This will also include some more common/obvious words and phrases and some latin.

So, starting with the letter A, of course it has to be ANCESTOR and ANCESTRY (not just the company but ones own ancestry). I would hope these take no explaining?

AB HINC/ABHINC – from here, hence

AB INDE/ABINDE – from that time, thereafter

ABSTRACT – often found in relation to wills and administration records , these are a summary of the salient points of the will or administration (inc. names, relationships, place names, property, legacies, witness details etc)

ACCOMPTANT – An accountant (now obsolete)


AC ETIMA – and also

ACRAS TERRARIUM – acres of land

AD HANC CURIAM VENIT – at this court comes/to this court comes

ADMITTO/ADMITTERE – to admit (in manorial court records admitting to land)

AD OPUS ET USUM – to the use and behoof of

ADVERSUS – opposite, against, towards

ADVACO – to claim, to confirm, to appeal against

AETAS/AETATIS – age, period of time

AFFEER – to settle/assess the amount of an AMERCEMENT (see below)

AFFEERER/AFFERATORE – the officer of the manorial court who assessed AMERCEMENTS

AFFIRMA – to let to farm, to lease out

AGER/AGRI – field/fields

AGIST – to pasture/pay for pasture

AGNATE – a male ancestor on the fathers line

AGUE – acute fever (largely obsolete now but may be found on death records/inquest records etc)

AGNUS – a lamb

AISIAMENTUM – EASEMENT, right over another’s property

ALDERMAN – a senior councillor whose rank is just below the Mayor

ALIENO – to transfer by sale, to alientate (usually of land)

ALLEGATION – A formal statement setting the names, ages, marital status, places of residence of parties to marry along with an oath confirming there is no impediment to marriage, which would be required by the church, along with a BOND, in order to obtain a marriage licence (pre civil registration)

ALLOTMENT – the allocation of parcels of land under an ENCLOSURE AWARD

ALMERYE – a cupboard

ALMSHOUSE – Charitable organisiations which offered the poor and elderly accomodation

ALTERA DIE – on the next day

AMANUENSIS – someone who took dictation, a copier of manuscripts


AMERCIO – to fine, to amerce

AMERCEMENT – Fine/monetary penalty of a manorial court

AMITA – aunt

AMITTO/AMITTERE/AMITTMISI/AMITTMISSUM – to lose, surrender, handover/

ANILEPMAN – a small hoder or sub-tenant of a manor

ANNO DOMINI – in the year of our Lord

ANNO REGNI REGIS (DOMINUS NOSTRIL) (DOMINA REGINA) – in the year of the reign of (Our Lord King) (Our Lady Queen)

ANNOQUE – and in the year

ANNUATIM – every year, annually

ANNUS – year

ANNUUS – yearly, annual

ANTEDICTUS – aforesaid

APPARENS/APPERENTIS – clear, certain

APPENDANT – common land to be used only for grazing animals which was attached to an arable holding

APPENNE/APPTENCE/APPURTENANT – common land attached to a house

APUD – at, by, near, to, towards

AQUILO – North

ARABILIS – arable land

ARATRUM – Plough, plougland, measure of land

ARKWRIGHT – A skilled worked who makes chests or coffers

ARMIGER – someone who is entitled to bear heraldic arms


ARRIAGE – an office or futy which a tenant would carry out


ASSIGNATUS – assign, assignee

ASSISA – assize, standard (usually of price/quantity), action, claim, tax, cahrge

ASSIZE OF BREAD AND ALE / ASSISA PANIS ET CERVISIE – Statutory regulation/setting of the price of bread and ale with reference to the price of a grain

ASHMAN – a dustman

ASSISUS – fixed, assessed

ASSUMPTIO – feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (15th August)

ATTAINDER – forfeiture of someone’s estate by reason of there sentencing to death for treason or felony

ATTORNMENT – the tranfer of tenant’s HOMAGE and service to the new Lord of the Manor following the death of the previous Lord which would be entered in the court roll of the new Lord of the Manors’ first court after their inheritance/acquiring/succession to the manor

AURUM – gold

AUSTER – South

AUT – or

AUT…..AUT – either ….. or

AUTEM – but, moreover, however

AVA – grandmother

AVERIUM – cattle, livestock, draught animal

AVERUS – farm horse, drought ox


AVUS – grandfather

And lastly favorite I came across which is frequently still used today, but of which I never knew the origin, is AFTERMATH – herbage or herbaceous vegetation which was left after a hay harvest.

I would love to hear what obscure words and phrases you have found in your research –

So this is Christmas

Were has the year gone? Time really does seem to be flying now – although I think it probably is an age thing as my kids dont seem to agree!

I wonder if it was the same for our ancestors? I certainly remember and hear my own words echoing from my grandparents saying how the year seemed to have gone quick but as I child I no doubt said exactly the same as my children – some things just don’t change!

And what about how our ancestors celebrated christmas? Our christmas traditions of today – the christmas tree, decorations, present giving etc – stem largely from the Victorians it although according to Britanicca ( “fir trees decorated with apples were first known in Strasbourg in 1605” whilst the “first use of candles on such trees is recorded by a Silesian duchess in 1611”. The custom of the Advent wreath of four candles began in the 19th century but has roots in the 16th century when thetradition of fir wreaths with 24 candles (representing the 24 days before Christmas) was reduced the number to four originally involved a fir wreath with 24 candles (the 24 days before Christmas, starting December 1), but the awkwardness of having so many candles on the wreath reduced the number to four for easiness.

I thought I would investigate more about the origins of christmas and how our ancestors may have or indeed have not celebrated it, and found a great website

Christians generally think of the origin of christmas as being the birth of Jesus but the 21st of December, being the winter soltice, had been celebrated long before this much had the summer solstice. The winter solstice celebrated the start of the end of the darknes of winter and the start of the light returning (i.e. send of the short days adn the start of longer ones).

In fact until the 4th century when “church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday”, Easter had been the main christian holiday. It was Pope Julius I who chose December 25, that date commonly believed to ahve been chosen to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. It was first called “the Feast of the Nativity” which spread to England by the end of the sixth century. Once December 25 became widely accepted as the date of birth of Jesus, a connection was often made the between the rebirth of the sun and the birth of the Son by Christian writers.

The website describes how by the middle ages, christians would attend church and then celebrated “raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today’s Mardi Gras” and how “the poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief. Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined “debt” to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens”.

In the 17th century civil war year, Oliver Cromwell cancelled Christmas! But it was duly restored by Charles II after which Christmas in the 18th century appears to have been a similar occasion, revolving round food and drink, playing games, singing and entertainment. On a recent visit to the National Archives, I found two small books about Christmas past which I of course just had to get. They were first published in 1740 and 1820 respectively:

“Christmas Enterainments” starts in Chapter 1 by stating

“You must understand, good people, that the manner of celebrating this great Court of Holydays is vastly different now to what it was in former days: There was once upon a time Hospitality in the Land; an English Gentleman at the opening of the great day, had all his Tenants and Neigbours enter’d his Hall by Day-break, the Strong-Beer was broach’d, and the Black-Jacks went plentifully about with Toast, Sugar, Nutmeg, and good Cheshire Cheese; the Rooms were embower’d with Holly, Ivy, Cypree, Bays, Laurel, and Missleto, and a boucing Christmas Log in the Chimney …. the Tables were all spread from the first to the last, the Sire-Lyons of Beef, the Minc’d-Pies, the Plumb-Porridge, the Capon, Turkeys, Geese, and Plumb-Puddings….”.

Times had changed, the power of the Manors and their Lords had long dwindled along with it their christmas hospitality, perhpas because many Lords no longer lived on their manors but in the larger cities and towns which had emerged. However chapter 1goes on to tell us, according to the newspapers of the day “that several of the Gentry are gone down to their respective Seats in the Country, in order to keep their Christmas in the Old Way, adn entertain their Tenants and Trades-Folks as their Ancestors use to do…..I must also take notice to the stingy Tribe, that if they don’t at least make their Tenants or Tradesmen drink when they come to see them in the Christmas Holydays, they have Liberty of retaliating, which ia a Law of very ancient Date”.

The book describes how games such as “Blind Man’s Buff”, “Puss in the Corner”, “Questions and Commands” and “Hoop and Hide” are played whilst storytelling included stories of “Hobgoblins, Witches, Conjurers Ghosts, Fairies and such like common Disturbers” including one called “the Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean” being a bit a of darker version than the Jack and the Beanstalk childrens fairy tale of today including the infamous lines

I smell the Blood of an English Man;
Whether he be alive or dead,
I’ll grind his Bones to make by Bread”

“The Christmas Dinner” is the tale of a christmas dinner spent by the writer, Washington Irvine (American writer of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”, at Bracebridge Hall, a countryside Manor and describes how the event echoes christmasses of the past. He describes the jolity of the meal which included “a pie, magnificently decorated wth peacocks’ feathers” which was in fact a pheasant pie.

But these are of coures the christmasses of the wealthier society. The ‘ordinary’ or poorer members of society hardly celebrated Christmas until the Victorian perion, whilst they would attend church mnny businesses didn’t consider it to be a holiday. New Year had traditionally been the time to give gifts, but this changed as Christmas became more important to the Victorians.

The industrial revolution with its advancements in technology, industry and infrastructure, not only had an impact on society as a whole, it made Christmas an occasion that many more British people could enjoy.

The Victorian era saw the ‘invention’ of the Christmas card, the Christmas cracker, travel and the introduction of the railways making travel easier and more importance being placed on the family.

The idea of an indoor Christmas tree originated in Germany, where Prince Albert was born. In 1848 a drawing of the royal family celebrating around a tree decked with ornaments was published in the Illustrated London News which quickly led to the popularity of the decorated tree at christmas.

What about Santa? Did our ancestors believe?

Today we usually refer to the popular rotund, white bearded, red coated figure as Santa but he is sometimes also referred to as St Nicholas, a monk born in Turkey around 280 A.D. to whom Santa’s origins are said to trace from.

St. Nicholas gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. He became known as the protector of children and sailors. He first became popular in New York in the late 18th century when Dutch families gathered to honor the anniversary of the death of “Sint Nikolaas” (Dutch for Saint Nicholas), or “Sinter Klaas” for short (from which “Santa Claus” comes).

Father Christmas (aka Santa) had been an allegorical figure: a symbol of the Christmas season, rather than a mythical person. He had frequently been depicted as a merry old man presiding over festive parties, rather tahn a “gentle giver of gifts” (

‘Merry Christmas’, Kenny Meadows, Illustrated London News, 25 December 1847

The earliest evidence of Christmas personified can be found in the 15th-century carol, ‘Sir Christëmas’ of which the opening lyrics (as attributed to Richard Smart, Rector of Plymtree, Devon between 1435 and 1477) are:

Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
’Who is there that singeth so?’
’I am here, Sir Christëmas.’
’Welcome, my lord Christëmas,
Welcome to us all, both more and less
Come near, Nowell!’

The carol shares the news of Christ’s birth and ‘Make good cheer and be right merry.’

In 1822, a Christmas poem called “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” known today as “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.” was written by the Episcopal minister Clement Clarke Moore. The poem depicted Santa Claus as a jolly man who flies from home to home on a sled driven by reindeer to deliver toys. This image of Santa was immortalized in 1881 by political cartoonist Thomas Nast who drew on Moore’s poem to create the image we know today.

Have we lost sight of the traditional christmas our ancestor would have known? In some ways yes, but in other ways no. Whilst Christmas today seems to grow more commercial each year, save for the presents isn’t christmas still all about celebrating with family and friends with copious amounts of food and drink, singing songs, playing games and being merry? Some people still have to work of course – NHS, emergency services, hospitality for example.

Whatever you are doing this Christmas, I hope you have a good one.

Merry Christmas
a Happy New Year

My blogs will return at the start of 2023 Last blog of this year with an ABC of Genealogy, Family History and House History

Where did my ancestor live? Part 1 Tithe maps

Maps can be a very useful tool in both the family and house historian’s tool kit to research both people and the surrounding area, the landowners, occupiers, use of land and changes over time. In this first of three blogs looking at how differint maps and together with other resources can be used, I look at Tithe maps.

The Tithe Commutation Act 1836 allowed tithes (tenths) to be converted into cash payments. These payments were known as Tithe Awards (also known as apportionments or schedules) and were based on land values and the price of corn. The Tithe Commutation Act converted tithes into a tithe rent charge, which were finally abolished in 1936.

In most cases three copies of the award were made. One for the parish, one for the diocese and one for the Tithe Commission. The award provided details of landowners and occupies within each tithe district usually based on the parish boundary.

The tithe award also has a reference number to an accompanying large scale tithe survey map of the parish showing what land was occupied as well as features such as houses, parish boundaries and field names.

They can be found at TNA in series IR 18, Tithe Files, IR 29, Tithe Apportionments and IR 30, Tithe Maps. They are also usually found at County Record Offices.

The Tithe Apportionment Schedule includes Landowner’s name and address. Description of land held, and the amount measured in acres, roods and perches. Plot number showing where the plot is on the tithe map. Tenant’s/occupier’s names and the amount of tithe payable.

The Tithe records for my home village of Cranleigh are available at the Genealogist website[1]&[2] as well as at Surrey History Centre. The records available include the original tithe map[3] for the whole parish of Cranleigh dated 1842 along with the apportionment award and summary dated 26th July 1841[4]. They also include 36 altered apportionment[5] (including altered apportionments of already altered apportionments), 16 of which include their own maps[6]; and 6 separate larger scale altered apportionment maps. The records cover the period from 1841 to 1936 when the Tithe Act of that year introduced a landowner’s annuity scheme in place of the tithe rent charge; the annuity scheme was wound up in 1977.

The original tithe map is in the scale of 8 chains to 1 inch and both a black and white and colour copy are available at the Genealogist website. The colour map is most useful as it provides a key to various shaded areas which helps to identify the different landscape although some of the colours are now faded and difficult to distinguish. The features include dwelling houses, out houses, the church, mills, rivers, ponds, roads, woods, furze and orchards. However, the different uses of fields is not distinguished, in this case[7], on the map.

Certain properties and areas are named in the map, such as the common, Common House, Rectory, Park House, Knowle, New Park, High Park, Snoxhill, Vachery, Vachery Lodge, to name a few. Many of these areas and places remain today.

The first of the larger altered apportionments is dated 9 March 1871 and is in respect of land along the route of the London to Brighton and South Coast railway line (which opened on 2 October 1865), and those sections of each ‘plot’ or field purchased by the London to Brighton and South Coast railway company.

The remaining larger scale altered apportionments are for various areas in the parish from the years 1910, 1921, 1931 and two in 1932. These are all in respect of property development in the various areas.

It can be therefore seen just from the above brief overview of the various tithe maps that these alone illustrate change and development over a 90-year period. The apportionments, the altered apportionments and associated maps together provide a more detailed illustration of change and development over a 105-year period thus providing important information for both the local and family historian. Those tithe maps which were produced as a result of change and development, may help to identify when an ancestor’s property was built. Such change and development can also be illustrated if they are used in conjunction with other maps from the same period, such as the OS maps which were developed in the 19th century and may provide more detail to the tithe maps.

What is clear from the map is that every single piece of land is identified with a number corresponding with the apportionment (or altered apportionment) and therefore if an ancestor lived in the parish at the appropriate time, they should be found in the award. It must however be noted that it is only the landowner and occupier who are named i.e. the head of the family not an entire family. Of course, it may be the case that more than one generation lived together, in which case an ancestor may not be named in the tithe records. This illustrates that other records may need to be used in conjunction with tithe records, such as the 1841 census which will provide details of who else your ancestor lived with who can then be searched for in the tithe records. Other records such as registers of births, marriages and deaths, lists of electors and rate assessments may also be useful in identifying which ancestor may appear in the tithe records.

The apportionment begins with the preamble providing details of who is responsible for conducting the award, their address and position,

“Thomas Smith Woolley of South Collingham in the County of Nottingham having been duly appointed and sworn an Assistant Tithe Commissioner”.

It goes on to set out the extent and use of the land liable to tithes,

“…the estimated quantity in Statute Measure of all the Lands of the said Parish which are subject to payment of Tithes amount to Seven Thousand four hundred and ninety four acres which are now cultivated and used as follows (that is to say)

Four thousand and five hundred acres as arable land

Four hundred and ninety four acres as meadow or pasture Land and

One thousand and five hundred acres as wood

One thousand acres are the Common Land of the said Parish”

It goes on to provide details as to who is entitled to the tithes and the annual sum awarded,

“…I find that the Rector of the said Parish for the time being is entitled to all the Tithes arising from all the Lands of the said Parish…..

hereby award that the annual sum of One Thousand Four Hundred and Fifty Pounds by way of Rent Charge (subject to the provisions of the Act) shall from, the first day of October next preceding the Confirmation of the Apportionment of the said charge be paid to the Rector of the said Parish for the time being instead of all the tithes…”

The Apportionment Award itself is then set out in printed columns:

  • Landowners;
  • Occupiers;
  • Number referring to the plan;
  • Name and Description of the lands and premises;
  • State of Cultivation;
  • Quantities in Statute Measure;
  • Amount of rent charge apportioned up the several lands and payable to the Rector;
  • Remarks.

At the end of the award there is then a summary setting out:

  • Landowners;
  • Occupiers;
  • Quantities in Statute Measure;
  • Rent charge payable to the Rector.

It is therefore within the appointment that the most useful information is found both for local and family historians. Family history cannot truly be told without looking at the local history and being able to place ancestors in context of their home and surroundings.

In lectures 5 and 6, parish registers and parish records, I researched the Tickner family of Cranleigh and it was clear from those records that they were a large and prominent family in the area, with descendants still living in the area today. The tithe records provide further insight into their prominence in the area. John Tickner is named as landowner and occupier of what appears to be three ‘areas’ of land with field numbers 147, 88 – 110 (Barhatch); 65 – 87 (Fowles); 258 – 281 together with 813 – 816 (Park House). These include two houses with gardens, arable and pasture fields, meadows, underwood and a plantation. Each field is given a name. The “quantity is statute measured” is given for each field and with totals for each area given in A (acres) R (roods) and P (perches) along with the total Rent Charge payable given in £ (pounds) s (shilling) and d (pence) for the total lands:

‘Area’                          Quantity                      Rent Charge

Barhatch                     134  3  8                      27  12  6

Fowles                         114  2  11                    26   6   6

Park House                 216  1  3                      33   8   6

Total                            465  2  22                    87   7   6

This covers a large area of the east and north east of the village. What is interesting from this is that John Tickner was named as both the Landowner and occupier of all these lands suggesting he and his family worked this land themselves and did not rent any out. What the tithe record does not tell us is anything about John Tickner’s family: wife, children etc. Other records mentioned above would help provide this information such as the 1841 census. Interestingly, although John Tickner is listed in the apportionment as occupier of two properties, in the 1841 census he is not listed as living in Cranleigh but in the neighbouring village of Alfold. Also, for example,  in the 1841 census[8], the property known as Park House owned by John Tickner and where he is also listed as the occupier in the tithe records, was in fact occupied by the Stedman family, with the head of the household being described as an agricultural labourer. This nicely illustrates that not all ancestors will be named in the apportionment and how other records should and can be used in conjunction with tithe records.

Staying with this example, in the ‘Remarks’ column next to the fields listed under Park House in the apportionment, it states “AA21” which is the Altered Apportionment dated 29 September 1931[9]. This award illustrates change. All those fields and properties numbered 258 – 281 together with 813 – 816 in the original apportionment are now in new landownership, being split between 17 separate landowners. It should be noted that only landowners are listed by this time and are therefore presumably the occupiers. Unfortunately there is no census for 1931 as it was destroyed by a fire in 1942 so the best other records for this period to use in conjunction with the tithe record would include the registers of births, marriages and deaths, the 1921 census (to be released in January 2022[10]), the 1939 National Register and trade and telephone directories.

What the altered apportionment does not tell us is when the new landowners bought the land and whether they bought it from John Tickner or another. It does however tell us the size of each ‘plot’ or field which, from a local history point of view can provide evidence of changing field boundaries when compared to the size in the original apportionment. Land usage is unfortunately not provided.

On 2 September 1920 there was an altered apportionment[11] for the area known as New Park Farm owned and occupied by John King in the original apportionment, field numbers 771 to 812. This appears to have been an altered apportionment when new roads were starting to be built. The altered apportionment shows one of the fields being split into two by the new road with one landowner being named and the remainder plots being described as having various landowners suggesting the various fields having already been ‘sold off’ by John King.

This altered apportionment is itself altered by a further altered apportionment dated 21 August 1930[12]. This later altered apportionment further illustrates change and development of the area, setting out a new housing estate which had been built on a large proportion of the land once owned by John King. From the map and award together, it is possible to locate an ancestor’s home on this new housing estate. The award lists all the new house owners and their location on the separate tithe map which is scaled 1:2,500. Some of the new owners have other comments next to them which are helpful to the family historian; for example, Mary H. Barrodale (Spinster), Lieut. Col. A. C. Elliot, C.B.E, Jessie Jordan (Married Woman), Surrey County Council. There are then several fields just listed under the description of ‘various’ for landowners, which is not very helpful and other records would need to be searched for the owners and/or occupiers of those parts, including the earlier apportionment as they may still be in the same family ownership.

As with all historical records, tithe records only provide a snapshot of the occupation and use of land at a particular time but again as with many historical records, where a series of records exist as in this case, then changes and development can be followed over that period. Apportionments and altered apportionments provide evidence of change of ownership through time.

The summaries at the end of the apportionments  sets out the total acreage of land owned and/or occupied by each individual and can therefore also provide evidence of a family’s changing fortunes, for example through the size of acreage owned and its growth and shrinkage over time. Because each field is identified individually, and are numbered on the tithe map, patterns of field ownership/occupation can be plotted and can provide important information about the relationship between landowners and occupiers and the social and economic structure of the local community, particularly when used in conjunction with, for example, census returns which may help further identify worker-occupiers (as illustrated above in the example of John Tickner).

The tithe maps also provide locations for industries such as mills and mining. For example, the Tithe map for Cranleigh provides the location of two mills and in the 1841 census there are two millers listed but they were not the same as those listed as the owners or occupiers of the mills in the apportionment award. The two millers in the census are therefore likely to be employees. Again this illustrates that there are in fact many individuals not named in the tithe records because they are either not landowners and the main occupier, or they may be subtenants, lodgers, living with other family members etc. the majority of the population were in fact not recorded in the tithe records such as, “women, children, soldiers, students, lunatics, paupers, landless workers, itinerants traders and vagrants”[13], being just a few of the long list of those Kain and Prince refer to.

Where an ancestor is known to be of a certain occupation, for example an agricultural worker or farmer, and they are named in the tithe records, the type of land use described should give an indication of the type of agricultural labourer or farmer they were, i.e. arable land would indicate a crop farmer whilst pasture land would indicate a livestock farmer. Meadow land is likely to be land unused at the time of the survey possibly used in rotation for either pastureland or crop growth. It must also be remembered that the use of land was subject to constant change. For example, farmers would, as they still do today, rotate field usage by season or year to try and get the best of the land. Field boundaries may also have been subject to change for the same reason.

As well as land use and landownership/occupation information, Evans and Crosby[14] suggest that field names set out in tithe records are useful to the local historian. “Since the late 1940’s field names…..have been increasingly recognised as an important source for many areas of local history research”[15]. Tithe records were the first records to systematically record field names which, as with the study of place names and surnames, may provide some insight into the history of the area. A field name could derive from physical features of the land (which may be historic and no longer evident), historic events which took place, location, size etc. And whilst field names were subject to change and the recording of them subject to the usual idiosyncratic errors (accent, dialect, spelling etc) many “will be of great antiquity, perhaps dating from the early Middle Ages, or will relate to very specific features of land-use, topography or ownership”[16]. For example, John Tickner has fields called “Great Wood field” which lies adjacent to a wood and is the largest of the fields he owns surrounding the wood; and “Lime Kiln field” which was once probably the location of a lime kiln (further research into the local area history would confirm this); however many of his fields are simply named by their size such as “six acres” and “lower six acres”. There are however also names which describe the condition of the land, such as “Great Stoney field”, “Stoney Field”, “Little Stoney field”, “Bushey Copse”. “Marsh field”, “Flat field” etc.

Field names could however also include “lost man-made features and sites with archaeological potential… Names such as Old Hall Field, Banqueting House Meadow and Castle Hill can be a pointer to such locations”[17].

Evans and Crosby[18] also suggest that tithe maps, along with “very detailed and lengthy documentary research”[19] can form the basis to reconstruct medieval landscapes.

The tithe map and apportionment award together also provide a clear picture of the size of the glebe terrier, its location and occupation. In Cranleigh the Rector is recorded in the apportionment award as the landowner of 35 fields; 8 of which he is described as occupying himself including the church yard and rectory. The remainder of the glebe terrier is largely the central village area and surrounding fields.

Overall tithe records provide a rich insight into the local society and community at the time they were conducted and can be used to research changes over almost a century, as altered apportionment awards were made. Tithe records in themselves are unlikely to be able to assist in tracing an ancestral line beyond the 1840’s. They do not identify all individuals and therefore an ancestor may not be recorded in the tithe records. However, their use is in being able to ‘put meat on the bones’ of family history. Being able to identify where an ancestor lived and understand the surroundings in which they lived, can bring an ancestor’s character and life, to life. Tithe records “offer a wealth of detailed information on local landscapes and rural communities”[20] and together with other contemporary records can help reconstruct the society in which they lived.


E. Evans                      Tithes: maps, apportionments and the 1836 act: a guide for local historians & A. Crosby             (British Association for Local History 1997)

R. Kain & H. Prince               Tithe Surveys for Historians (Phillimore 2000)

J. West                    Village Records (Phillimore 1997)

G. Blanchard            Tracing your House History (Pen and Sword 2013)


[2] IR 29/34/40 and IR30/34/40

[3] IR 30/34/40/000 and 001

[4] IR 29/34/40/004 to 056

[5] IR 29 /34/40/058 to 181

[6] IR 30/34/40/AA11, AA19, AA2, AA21, AA24 & AA25

[7] Some commissioners did differentiate field use by tinting or colour

[8] HO 107/1045/9

[9] IR 29/34/40/131 to 133

[10] The genealogist website has available a 1921 census substitute collection which is essentially trade and telephone directories.

[11] IR 29/43/40/107 to 109

[12] IR 29/43/40/120 to 128

[13] “Tithe Surveys for Historians” by Kain and Prince page 124

[14] “Tithes, Maps, Apportionments and the 1836 Act”

[15] “Tithes, Maps, Apportionments and the 1836 Act” page 44

[16] “Tithes, Maps, Apportionments and the 1836 Act”  page 46

[17] “Tithes, Maps, Apportionments and the 1836 Act” page 49

[18] ibid

[19] Ibid page 51

[20] “Tithe Surveys for Historians” by Kain and Prince page 104

My Ancestors in the army

This is just an overview of three of my ancestors who served in the army in WW1 and WW2 and the rcords initially found. Further research, particularly in War Diarise is yet to be undertaken.

My Maternal Grandfather’s Army Service

My paternal Grandfather, Horace Huddlestone, always recited amusing tales of his time in the army during World War 2 but it wasn’t until my Grandmother died that we found some of his service documentation. These are the only documents/artefacts which are in my family’s possession.

The documents we have which contain specific details relating to my grandfathers service are:

  • Service/Pay book
  • Certificate of transfer to the Army Reserve Army Form X202B
  • Army Form Med 50A
  • Record of Service Army Form W5258
  • A newspaper article about ports being built in Scotland

As a bit of background, Horace was due to get on a ship to sail to serve in Japan, thankfully he fell ill whilst boarding the ship and ended up in hospital for a number of weeks. He was then stationed in Gareloch, Scotland.

These documents provide a whole host of information which is useful both in searching for more details about his time in service, his service career and the regiment in which and location where he served.

Service/Pay Book

  • His army number (14238482)
  • Where he enlisted
  • That he enlisted in the Territorial Army for the duration of the war
  • Description of him
  • Details of his training with the TA’s (from basic training to driver training)
  • Inoculations he was given
  • Next of Kin
  • Medical classifications
  • Details of leave he took

Certificate of transfer to the Army Reserve Army Form X202B

  • Army number
  • Rank (Driver)
  • Regiment (Royal Engineers)
  • Date his army reserve was confirmed from

Army Form Med 50A (amongst discharge information leaflets)

  • Rank (Sapper – nickname for a Royal Engineer)
  • Army Number
  • Name of Unit (9th Stevedore Company)
  • Date of discharge

Record of Service Army Form W5258

  • Army number (14238482)
  • Rank (Driver)
  • Regiment (Royal Engineers)
  • Dates of service (16/7/1942 to 5/1/1946)

A newspaper article about ports being built in Scotland (9th June 1945)

This is an article written post WW2 which provides details of ‘secret’ ports which were built by the military in Loch Ryan and Gareloch, on the West Coast of Scotland, for military export traffic and is where Horace was based during his service. This is quite a short article but provides an insight into the size of the ports and the type of ships Horace would have seen.

The most important information these documents provide are his army number, regiment, unit/company, rank and service dates. These details will help to identify any records available for Horace, however as his service was in WW2 any other documents relating to his service are not available to the general public as yet. In the service and pay book his health is detailed as:

2/5/40              A1[1]     

4/7/43              C2[2]     

22/10/45          B1 HS[3]

4/1/46              B1 HS

I know he spent some time in hospital prior to being posted to Scotland (as discussed above) but I have no other details. There are no details of this in the service and pay book and few hospital records for service men in WW2 survive.

Copies of his service records have been obtained  from the Army Personnel Centre. These confirm he spent his early career in military transport training before being to Shandon in Scotland which is a village on the sea lock, Gare Lock in Argyll and Bute from there he was posted to Faslane, better known as HMNB Clyde. His record also confirmed he spend time in Bellsdyke Hospital, Larbert, Falkirk, Scotland, being admitted on the 21st May 1945 where he spent 22 days before being posted to Stranraer, Scotland on the 12th June 1945.

An old postcard of the former Stirling District Asylum. Image reproduced from Wikipedia, public domain.

Bellsdyke Hospital was formerly known as Stirling District Lunatic Asylum. The records for the period the hospital was a military hospital are held at the National Archives (series W 222/879) although the discovery catalogue suggests the records date between January 1941 and March 1944 but it may still be worth examining them to see if they provide any further details.

I have not found any information in the papers that Horace received any medals for his service and none have been found amongst my grandparents’ possessions following their deaths. However, those who served in a military capacity between September 1939 and May 1945 in Britain, Malta and the British colonies were awarded the Defence Medal and anyone who had served 28 days’ service in uniform was issued the War Service Medal. On that basis, Horace should have received two medals however individuals had to claim their medals and I suspect Horace did not! Unfortunately, the medal rolls for WW2 are not available at TNA, but at the Ministry of Defence medal office. I understand that such medals can still be claimed and his army number, regiment, unit/company, rank and service dates would no doubt be required to do so.

Details of his regiment and unit would help locate any War diaries covering Horace’s service. These are available from TNA in series WO166 for forces stationed in the UK (Home Forces). They may also be available from the regimental archive.

Knowing the regiment allows a search for general information as to what kind of roles the Royal Engineers undertook at, for example, and/or by a search engine (such as google) search for the Royal Engineers. Knowing the unit should be able to narrow the search to the type of work Horace would have been involved in and knowing his rank narrows that to more accuracy. Whilst I have researched more about the Royal Engineers generally, I have been unable to find any information about his unit, 9th Stevedore Company.

My maternal Great (x2) Uncle (Grandfather’s side)

Also, during researching my maternal grandfather’s family I discovered my Great (x2) Uncle, Albert Huddlestone, had served in WW1. He enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps for the duration of the war. I found his service record (27 pages) on This provides a great deal of detail about his service career, not only the important details such as serve number, rank, and regiment, personal and family details but also details of where he was posted (Salonica), details of the ships he was transported on and the dates of those travels; details of his role in the RASC, which was an ambulance driver; details of medical history during his time of service (admittances and discharges from hospital) and periods of leave and a copy of his Protection Certificate and Certificate of Identity which was provide on his dispersal from the RASC.

All these details provide an insight into his service career and the details within it (rank, regiment, posting details etc) would help locate other documents which could provide even more details of his service career. Such as war diaries in series WO 95 at TNA. There is information available about the Salonica campaign at and at the Imperial War Museum

The documentation I do have does not provide details of any medals he may have been awarded and the medal rolls may therefore be consulted to determine this as at Medal Roll Index WO 327 at TNA.

My Maternal Great (x2) Uncle Army Service (Grandmother’s side)

During my research into the family of my maternal grandmother, Mary Oldfield, my mum told me that one of Mary’s maternal Uncles had gone into the army sometime around WW1 and had never been heard from again so was a bit of a mystery. He was Earnest Downing. I found him in the 1901 and 1911 census with the rest of his family. He was born about 1901 he would therefore have been too young to serve in WW1 and I could not find any record of him in the military in my searches on If he enlisted after 1921 then no records would be available online. However I tried a search on and found one record in the transcriptions of Army Book 358 (Royal Artillery attestations 1883-1942 Transcription). He is listed on page 123 and the following information is provided:

  • Regimental number 1017736 (There is also written above in red pen 1/2/95)
  • Whether the enlistment was for the regular army (R), militia (M), special reserve (SR) or Territorial Force (T) R
  • Full name DOWNING Ernest
  • Date of attestation 13/3/19
  • Age on attestation 18 5/12
  • Place of attestation Pontefract
  • Whether transferred to or from another corps and in such cases, the date of transfer 29/6/41 to A/A
  • Trade on enlistment Horseman on Farm
  • Parish, town and county of birth Barnlsey, Yorkshire
  • Next of kin (parents’ details to be written in pencil, wife’s details to be written in ink) (Father) Joseph, Castleford
  • Place and date of marriage
  • Place and date of birth of each child
  • Campaigns, wounds, medals or rewards of any kind India
  • Date, place and cause of discharge 15/8/44 to RASC (Royal Army Service Corps)
  • Rank and character on discharge
  • Rate of pension awarded
  • Address on discharge
  • Remarks – often gives details of prior service, often including a regimental number and date of enlistment Former no. 285053

This information would help locate details of his service record as it identifies his army number (and a former number), when he enlisted, where he was first posted, where he was transferred to in 1944. The writing in red pen above the regimental number is clearly added later to the original record and appears to be a date. By that time he would have been around age 94/95 years and therefore I would assume he was retired from the forces. It may therefore be that it is his date of death. A search for him with that date may assist in solving the mystery although as yet such a search has been unsuccessful! What it does tell us is that he did not die in WW2 but was still a member of the forces at that time. It would be worth checking the medal rolls for WW2 which are retained by the Ministry of Defence medal office and the Gallantry medals records, as cited in the London Gazette

As with my grandfather, as the majority of his service was spent after 1921 his service record is not available to the public, but may be obtained by next of kin with more limited information being available to anyone else who enquired provided he died more than 25 years ago (so if 1/2/95 is his date of birth his record would not be available to those until 2020.

We have his service number and know he served in India. It is not known how long he served in India and whether he was still there during WW2. The war diaries for South-East Asia Command at TNA in series WO 172 may assist with this.

If his service record could be obtained it may provide answers to some of these queries in any event and whether and how he progressed through the ranks It would also be interesting to see if any other family details were provided in his service record which may help trace any direct descendants and answer the question as to why his parents and siblings never heard anything more from him once he enlisted.

Unfortunately, I have not come across any ancestors who have served in any earlier wars/battles….yet!

[1] “able to perform any service”

[2] “Free from serious organic disease, able to stand service conditions in garrisons at home. Category C2, able to walk to and from work a distance not exceeding five miles and hear sufficiently well for ordinary purposes”.

[3] “Category B, free from serious organic disease, able to stand service conditions on the lines of communication in France or in garrisons in the tropics and in addition, if classified under B1. able to march at least five miles, to see to shoot with glasses, and to hear well” (HS being “Home Service”)

All grading descriptions taken from (12th January 2019)

Was my naval ancestor at Trafalgar?

The Battle of Trafalgar which took place on 21st October 1805 was only one of the battle which took place during the Napoleonic war, however it is the most famous and most written about, not in the least because it was of course the battle in which Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson was killed on his flagship HMS Victory, now one of the main attractions at the Historic Dockyards in Portsmouth, where there is also a dedicated permanent exhibition to him: a good place to start to research his life and career, including a time line of Nelson the man and Nelson the “Hero”. There is also the Nelson Museum in Monmouth.

There are “over a 1000 books” detailing the life of Nelson, “more than 20 films and television programmes” and countless online resources, including various letters written by him regarding his fleets’ movements, his concerns and thoughts and the day to day management of his fleet from 1804 to 1805 and a collection of 251 letters (representing a sample) he wrote to his wife over a fifteen all held by the Navy Records Society. These can provide an overall picture of the life of an officer or seaman sailing in Nelson’s fleet at the period, including the Battle of Trafalgar and the personal life of Nelson himself. There are similar letters written by Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood between 1794 and 1809.

But what about the countless other officers who served in the Battle of Trafalgar: both commissioned officers and warrant officers.


A list of some 1640 officers and men who served at the Battle of Trafalgar comprising of 7 files compiled alphabetically by surname. There is also a list of those officers killed and wounded. This is also therefore a good place to start to check if your ancestor took part in the battle. The list provides the name, rank, ship and “other clasps” (other medals) which they were entitled to, for example:

“GRAHAM Thos          LM         Victory

GRANTHAM Abrahm       Sailmaker Swiftsure

GRAY Francis          Mid        Orian         entitled to Venerable 16 Jan ?

GRAY Henry            Ord        Colossus “

Steel’s Navy List

Produced monthly from 1782 to 1816 and provided various lists, such as:

  • A full alphabetical list of the Royal Naval vessels, their commanders/captains and their stations;
  • A list of British was ships lost, taken or destroyed;
  • A list of enemy ships lost, taken or destroyed;
  • A list of Admirals, Commodores, Captains/Post-Captains, Masters and Commanders who lost their lives.

Whilst this list provides little detail it may help answer questions such as what happened to an ancestors’ ship where little or no other information can be found, or if records for an ancestor appear to end abruptly with no explanation.

List of Royal Navy Post Captains 1714-1830, version 4

Published by the Navy Records Society this is a list of 2830 men arranged by date of posting to the rank of post captain. It provides the following details:

  • Name;
  • Date of posting to rank of post captain;
  • In some cases date or year of birth;
  • The dates they were then later promoted through the ranks of Lieutenant, Commander, Rear-Admiral, Vice-Admiral and Admiral;
  • Month and year of death
  • Details of their fate e.g. retired, lost, died, superannuated.

This list can therefore again provide brief details of the career of those reaching the rank of post-captain and provide a starting point for further research. Paul Martinovich states:

“Dates of birth and death can reveal interesting information about the circumstances of an individual, and of post captains in general. Generally speaking, anyone who was posted before the age of 25 was either particularly lucky or well-connected, and often both. The youngest post captains were usually the beneficiaries of flagrant acts of nepotism by their admiral relatives”

Details of being decorated for their service may be found:  

NamePostedBornLieutCdrRAdmVAdmAdmDiedFate and comments
William Hargood22/11/905/17621/806/897/106/147/3012/1839KCB 1/15, GCB 9/31, GCH 31

There are other navy lists but I will not mention them further as they do not cover the period of the Battle of Trafalgar and generally cover much later periods.

Trafalgar Ancestors database

Published biographical sources have been used alongside muster rolls, service certificates, Greenwich hospital in-pensioner records, passing certificates and survey returns to create this database. It contains more than 18,000 individuals “all those who fought in Nelson’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar. This includes Royal Navy commissioned and warrant officers, ratings, supernumeraries and Royal Marines……..[which] over time aims to provide genealogical and service details about these individuals”, so again could be a good starting point for research providing basic information as can be seen in the example below:

Francis Gray

Ship: HMS Orion

Rank/Rating: Midshipman

Service details

Comments: From: Portsmouth

HMS Orion

12 June 1805 to 3 August 1805

Comments: Volunteer

Ship’s pay book number: (SB 447)

4 August 1805 to 17 October 1805

Rank/rating: Landsman

18 October 1805

Sources used

Catalogue reference: ADM 37/18

The database can be searched by surname only or by an advanced search including:

  • Last name
  • First name
  • Approximate age on 21 October 1805
  • Birth place
  • Ships name
  • Rating / rank

Patrick Marione’s The Complete Navy List of the Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815

This is available on CD and is described as “The Complete Navy List contains the names of more than 11,000 commissioned officers who served in the Royal Navy from 1787 onwards, up to those who entered the service before 1817. The information, which has been collected comprises individual’s careers, their personal lives, their parents and families, the honours and pensions they earned, and much more, and extends into what they did after the Great War”.

The Ayshford Trafalgar Roll by Pam and Derek Ayshford

This Roll contains the names and details of over 21,000 men who were on the musters of the British ships on 21st October 1805 (although still on the musters, some men had been discharged before the Battle), including:

  • The ship on which he served
  • Rank or rating
  • In most cases his age and place of birth.
  • Other details such as families, former trades, pensions, awards, medals, physical descriptions, pictures, injuries sustained, illnesses and date of death where records/documents survived.

CD includes a program which allows you to search and analyse the data in many different ways.


Nelsons’ Band of Brothers: Lives and Memorials by Peter Hore

In terms of biographical information, this book is a good starting point for those officer in command of the ships. It contains a short biography on each of those commanding officers, not only who took part in the Battle of Trafalgar, but also took part the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Copenhagen and the Baltic. It is important to note that Captain Thomas Hardy and Captain Thomas Fremantle are biographed in the sections “The Battle of the Nile” and “The Battle of Copenhagen and the Baltics” respectively, the remaining officers are biographed in the section “The Campaign of Trafalgar” suggesting that Hardy and Fremantle appear to be the only two officers who fought alongside Nelson for a number of years prior to and during his command in the Napoleonic Wars.

These biographies provide information as to where they were born/spent their childhood years, although they concentrate on providing a brief factual account of their routes into the Royal Navy, the ships they sailed on, under whose command they sailed, the ranks they held on each ship and thus their progression through the ranks. They provide details of their role in the Battle of Trafalgar and in some cases their relationship with Nelson himself. They also provide brief details of their careers after the Battle of Trafalgar, when they died and where they are buried. This is the “bare bones” of their career from which a timeline can be drawn for easy reference.

The Naval Biographical dictionary by W O’Bryne, 1849

This, as its title suggests, is an A–Z (by surname) dictionary of nearly five thousand naval officers, “whose names are contained in the ‘Navy List’ for January, 1845”. Its usefulness in terms of those who served at the Battle of Trafalgar is therefore limited to those still living and listed on that Navy List for January 1845 but if it is known an ancestor was still living at that time then it is certainly worth referring to.

Being an A – Z dictionary it is easy to search for an ancestor by their surname. Each man listed has a biography of their career (some longer than others!).

Going back to our Midshipman, Francis Gray, O’Bryne’s book provides brief details of his three brothers who he lost in the Navy and tells us he was married with two sons and three daughters. It details his career in the Navy from entering in 1803 as a First Class Boy on board the Pegase under Lieutenant Commander Edward Crouch.  He became Midshipman in 1805 serving on the Orion in the Battle of Trafalgar. It goes on to detail his continued service on the Orion until December 1813 and thereafter his service on board the ships Fortune and Venerable. It describes how “He had previously distinguished himself in the month of Oct. 1809, in jumping overboard when the ORION was refitting in Portsmouth Harbour, and rescuing the life of a boy named Edw. Simmons, who had fallen overboard, and could not swim” and how “On 7 of the following June, having passed his examination nearly five years, he was appointed Acting Lieutenant of the PIQUE…. to which frigate the Admiralty confirmed him on 26 of the next Aug”. It describes his further service assisting “Capt. John Marshall in the conduct of the Quarantine Establishment at Standgate Creek” and how he later “had the direction of the Police department of Chatham Dockyard” after which he “went, on half-pay for the purpose of joining the merchant-service, and has not been since officially employed”.

Royal Navy Biography by John Marshall 1760-1823

This comprises 12 volumes providing biographies of all Flag Officers, Superannuated Rear-Admirals, Retired Post Captains, Post Captains 1798 – 1806, Naval Operations of the Burmese War of 1824-26, Post Captains 1822 –1831, Commanders, Post Captains 1806 – 1811, and Post Captains 1812 – 1822, as extracted from the Admiralty list of sea officers. These records are somewhat difficult to navigate.

Anthony Gary Brown in providing a much easier reference index to Marshall’s work, states “the rather eccentric organisation of Marshall’s work that usually necessitates the researcher knowing something of the service seniority of a given officer in order to hazard which volume will contain his entry; and, even armed with this knowledge, a tedious amount of double-checking of Marshall’s own indices in the various volumes is usually necessary”. The biographies are similar in content to O’Bryne’s Dictionary although perhaps more detailed at the works do concentrate of the higher ranking commissioned offices on which they is perhaps more available official information than the lower ranking officers which can be found in O’Bryne’s Dictionary.

Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy by David Syrett and Robert L. DiNardo 1660-1815 (1994)

This is another A-Z list by surname of Commissioned officers who served in the Navy from 1660 to 1815, thus including the period of the Napoleonic wars and the Battle of Trafalgar.  It is based on the original work commenced by David Bonner Smith who was the Admiralty Librarian from March 1932 to May 1950. He died in December 1950 before completing the work which was then completed by the Royal Navy College, Greenwich, in collaboration with the National Maritime Museum. A number of versions of this original list have then been published over the years including a version by C G Pitcairn Jones published by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich in 1979.

The list is compiled from numerous sources including the Navy Lists and provides each officers rank(s), the year(s) in which he served in that/those rank(s), the date of retirement and the date of death.

The list is also available to search at The list is limited to Commissioned officer and therefore any Warrant Officers and lower ranking officers such as Midshipmen will not be included.

The Trafalgar Roll: The Ships and the Officers by Robert Holden Mackenzie (2004).

Originally published in 1913 and re-printed for the bicentenary celebrations of the Battle of Trafalgar in 2005 this book is arranged by ship and lists over 1,250 officers who served at the Battle of Trafalgar, including midshipmen, surgeons, clerks, boatswains and carpenters as well as commissioned officers, for 850 of which there are details of their careers. It also includes brief service history of every ship including the little schooner Pickle.

One of the aims of the TNA’s Trafalgar Ancestors project “is to eventually revise, extend and bring up to date Mackenzie’s Trafalgar Roll”.

Who’s Who in Nelson’s Navy by Dr Nicholas Tracy (2008)

This purports to be the very latest book containing biographies for two hundred Officers who served alongside Nelson in the Napoleonic wars. It is not limited to those who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar. The A-Z chapters make for easy reference to find an Officer.

“Each biography, of around one thousand words, describes the events in these men’s careers and sets their achievements within the context of the wars. Their early lives and promotions are detailed as well as their marriages and family lives. Indeed, the extraordinary web of personal and service relationships that emerges is one of the fascinating themes of the book”.

The Mammoth Book of How It Happened Trafalgar by Jon E. Lewis (2005)

This book contains around 70 first-hand accounts not just of the Battle of Trafalgar but of the period 1793 to the Battle of Trafalgar and the aftermath set out in four parts. The accounts are by officers of varying ranks and include some of those from the French and Spanish fleets as well as the British fleet.

It is of limited use to family historians given the small number of officers whose account contribute to this book but may provide a first-hand account by an ancestor. There are of course many by Nelson himself others are by Captains, Colonels, Midshipmen, Second-Lieutenants, along with extracts for ships logs.

Midshipman William Dillan, HMS Defence, writes on the 29th May 1974 when engaged with the French, writes:

“I had never seen a man killed before. It was a most trying scene…[gory account of how the man was injured]…The captain went over, and, taking the poor fellow by the hand, pronounced him dead”

As darkness fell and the fighting ceased until dawn he goes on,

“I selected one of the topsail halyard tubs on the forecastle, and coiled myself as well as I could inside of it, where I took a snooze which I enjoyed. And felt more refreshed when I woke by the tars than I should have done had I gone to bed: at least I thought so.”

And he goes on at the end of the battle,

“The number of men thrown overboard that were killed without ceremony, and the sad wrecks around us taught those who, like myself, had not before witnessed similar scenes that war was the greatest scourge of mankind”.

The battle itself is described in great detail and perhaps not to be read by the faint hearted but this and many of the other accounts set out in this book really put you in the sailors’ shoes and bring their experiences to life!

There are also a number of Appendix, one of which is entitled “Life and death in the Royal Navy, 1973 – 1811”, which includes accounts of life on board ship in the navy during this period, written by Ordinary Seaman, but which provide a good picture of general life on board.

Naval Chronicles and Naval Chronicle, 1799-1818: Index to Births, Marriages and Deaths by Norman Hurst 1989

A monthly publication from 1799 to 1819 which provided news of campaigns, promotions and some announcements of naval births, marriages and deaths with a list of those named in those publications in a chronological and alphabetical order under the sections Births, Marriages and Obituaries having being collated by Norman Hurst.

Other Publications

Publications such as the Gentleman’s Magazine and the Illustrated London News sometimes included stories and news of officers, as sometimes did local and national newspapers and journals. At an officer’s death it is almost certain that at least the local newspaper would have included an obituary, giving a summary of their career.

The above in no way provides a complete list of sources available, however they are perhaps the most useful in determining whether an ancestor took part in the Battle of Trafalgar, their ship, their rank, details of their career both before and after the Battle. There are also numerous books which provide a more general insight into the Battle of Trafalgar and serving in the Royal Navy in the late 18th and early 19th century which may also help provide an overall picture of the life a navy officer ancestor may have had such as The Trafalgar Companion by Alexander Stilwell and Trafalgar, The Men, The Battle, The Storm by Tim Clayton and Phil Craig.

Gunpowder Treason and Plot!

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.

By god’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

Guy Fawkes is perhaps one of the best known historical charaters in the history of England after trying to burn down the houses of parliament in 1605. He was to be executed on 31 January 1606 but before he was hanged he fell from the scaffold and broke his neck.

There is much written about Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot so I am not going to recount the events here. It is fascinating though that event of bonfire night and its traditions of burning the guy on the bonfire, whether you termed it a celebration or commemoration, has stood the test of time.

But what is known about Guy Fawkes’s life and family?

Guy fawkes was an educated man, being born and educated in my home city of York. He had three siblings, Guy being the second born being baptised in the church of St Michael le Belfrey, York on 16 April 1570. His elder siblings, a sister named Anne, died after only about seven weeks, his younger two siblings were Anne (b. 1572), and Elizabeth (b. 1575). Both were married, in 1599 and 1594 respectively

His parents were Edward Fawkes, a proctor and an advocate of the consistory court at York, and Edith. His father died when was eight years old and his mother went on to marry a recusant Catholic.

Antonia Fraser, in his 1996 (reprinted 2005) book  The Gunpowder Plot (published by Phoenix) it is suggested that Guy Fawkes did marry and have children but no supporting documentation has been found, as yet!

Given he had sistes who married, could you be related to Guy Fawkes?

What about his co-conspirators? Robert Catesby, John and Christopher Wright, Robert and Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Guy Fawkes, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham – could you be related to any of them?

My ancestor was a Clergyman

Anglican Clergy in the early 18th Century

The 17th Century saw the civil war years (1640-1649), commonwealth period (1649-1660) and restoration (1660) creating upheaval for Anglican Clergy. By the early 18th century their positions were more secure following the 1688 “Glorious Revolution” which held within the church “for the next century and a half”.

Anglican Clergyman were one of the few professions where most had attended Oxford or Cambridge University. Many were from landed gentry families or followed in their father’s footsteps and deemed honorary gentry. An Anglican Clergyman in your ancestry can often provide a portal to family history research in this period when other records can be scant.

Prosperity should not be assumed, as many in fact struggled financially. Their income was often dependant on the category of Clergy and associated source of their income:
Rectors, usually the most prosperous, “’held’ the living …they could retain it for life…[and] had a legal right to the associated income” often from farming the glebe land either by renting out the land and/or from tithes.

Vicars were ‘deputies’ employed by the rector and could be dismissed by the rector, and may have received some income from the living if the rector allowed him part of it, but his income may be solely from his agreed proportion of the tithe income.

Curates could be otherwise described as assistants, deputies or locums. They could be deacons or ordained priests paid a salary or stipend directly by the rector/vicar having no right to the tithes. Often, they were newly ordained clergy, waiting for someone willing to present them to a living or those without ‘connections’ (gentry or patronage) thus “unable ever to gain a living of their own”.

A deacon was also someone who assisted the priest similar to a Curate, however a deacon was not ordained and could therefore not administer the sacraments.

A reference to a clergyman ancestor may be found in several places, including parish register, parish records and in particular the record of the Ecclesiastical Courts.

Being awarded a living was not easy as this often depended on one’s parentage or knowing those with influence. An individual would be ‘presented’ to a living by a ‘sponsor’ or advowson and the bishop of the Diocese would then accept or deny the presentation. Bishops themselves held the advowson for some parishes.

Charles Easton

A Churchwardens presentment for Ewhurst 25th August 1729 found amongst the Ecclesiastical court records for Winchester Diocese, stated of the minister “Does his duty as usual being presented for neglect several visitations past”. A quick search in the parish registers for Ewhurst online8 found the Rector referred to was Charles Easton.

The aim of this project is to research the life of Charles Easton, examining specialist online resources, ecclesiastical court records held at Hampshire Record Office (HROM) and parish chest records held at Surrey History Centre (SHC). Parish registers will be examined to identify records of his baptism, any marriage and burial whilst probate records may offer further insight into his life. As a Rector it is likely that he would have left a will.

Charles Easton – Education and Qualifications

The Clergy Database

A search for “Charles Easton” giving no location details found two results, Charles Easton, BA, CCEd Person ID: 92963 and Charles Easton, BA, CCEd Person ID: 94006, with a comment on record ID 94006:

“FOSTER: s. Thomas, of Beachenstoke (sic), Wilts. pleb. HART HALL, matric. 25 Nov. 1698, aged 18; B.A. 1702, rector of Ewhurst, Surrey, 1714 (and his father rector of Beechingstoke 1670). See Foster’s Ind. Eccles.

If Foster is correct then his father is ID 94005

The Same as ID 92963”

The two records are the same individual graduating with a BA from Oxford in 1702, ordained as Deacon in 1703 and appointed Curate in 1705 Both positions were in the diocese of Salisbury. He was then, in 1707, ordained as Priest in the diocese of Winchester. Interestingly there is no record in the database of him taking a position as Rector of Ewhurst, however for the “Diocese of Worcester: data for the period 1540–1660 has been linked to people and locations; almost all data for the period 1760–1835 has been linked to people and locations.” Thus for the intervening years the link between people and places may be missing.

Education records

Both Charles and his father were found in the Alumni Oxonienses. His father was described as “cler. fil” meaning “clerical filius” or clergyman’s son, suggesting a third generation of clergymen. Charles was described as “pleb” meaning “plebeius” or “plebian” meaning common. This raises the question whether the entry in Clergy Database is correct as regards Charles’ father, although the entry does then state that his father was a clergyman. “pleb” in this context may therefore refer to his father’s own background, i.e. he came from a ‘common’ background as opposed to landed gentry.

From Thomas’s alumni record his approximate year of birth was 1637. Searching the parish registers online for his name and the year 1637 +/- 5 years found two possible baptism records in the Wiltshire collection one in 163517 the other in 163218, neither father is described as a rector.

In this era those wishing to become clergy or other learned professions would have had a basic education often at the local grammar school of which many were formed before the reformation. Thomas and Charles likely both attended their local grammar schools, Charles possibly being educated by his father in his infant years given education was dominated by the church.

Charles’s early years

Beechingstoke is a small parish in a largely rural community, being at about the midpoint between Pewsey and Devizes. According to the British History Online” website, at the time his father was appointed rector the glebe totalled 33 acres “of which meadow land lay in North mead, Fowl mead, and Scotchfall, while arable lay chiefly in Gold hill and Hatfield” and he would have had a house of two bays.

Beechingstoke Village and Parish

It is served by St Stephens in the Diocese of Salisbury and Archdeaconry of Wiltshire whose records are held at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre (WSHC) and are searchable at the Ancestry website, and on the Find My Past website.

St Stephen’s Church, Beechingstoke

A search for Charles Easton born 1680 +/- 2 years found a baptism record in Beechingstoke on 15 April 1680 including a date of birth, 24 March 1678/79 (the last day of the Julian calendar year (i.e., new year’s eve as it would be known today) and the day before Lady Day), and both parents, Thomas and Alice. There was an entry in 1674 for a Charles Easton with the same parents. The register dates between 1671 and 1741 is clear, well preserved and easy to read, sectioned into (in order) burials, marriages, and baptisms.

Families would ‘re-use’ names of children who had died and a search of the burial register between 1674 and 1680 found a burial record for the earliest born Charles on 10th October 1676.

His family

The clergy database provides details of Thomas’ career as a clergyman which began five years after the end of the commonwealth period. He was first Curate at Lyneham, Wiltshire (appointed 9 October 1665) and just over a month later was also appointed Curate at Alton Priors, Wiltshire (appointed 16 November 1665). He continued as a Curate for five years until being instituted Rector at Beechingstoke on 9 November 1670. Lyneham is about 36 miles north of Alton Priors which is itself only 3 and a half miles north east of Beechingstoke.

Thomas did not rest at being simply a rector, in 1671 he was appointed Preacher and licenced to preach in the Diocese of Sarum, better known today as Salisbury hence enabling to preach anywhere in the diocese not just his own parish and he went on to be appointed Curate at several locations. He was firstly appointed Curate again for Alton Priors in 1677, in 1680 he was appointed Curate at Alton Barnes/Priors, Overton and Fifield. Overton is about 3 miles west of Fyfield. Having several supplemental incomes in this way certainly give the impression of a hard working devoted clergyman.

A search of the parish registers for Beechingstoke from 1670 for a period of 40 years found only six pages.

Charles was the fourth of Thomas and Alice’s eight children. A wider search in the Wiltshire series found no other siblings.

The clergy database gives Thomas’s death as 17 September 1712. A search at the Ancestry website found he was buried the 8th September 1715 in his own churchyard, the entry confirming he had been the Rector there for about 44 years. The burial record was also found for Charles’ mother. She predeceased his father, being buried on 20 December 1708.

Being a Rector, it was likely Thomas left a Will. An online search found in his will in two collections one being the original Will with Inventory attached, the other being the Copy transcribed into the Court register. His will dated 7th December 1714/15 and proved in the Consistory Court of Salisbury on the 14th September 1715 names four children, Robert, Elizabeth, Elnor and Charles, and two grandchildren, Thomas and Charles, who are sons of Robert. Elizabeth is referred to as Lye, however the wife of Thomas’ son in law Richard Lye is Elnor. Searching the “Wiltshire, England, Marriages, 1538-1837” collection35, Elnor married Richard Lyn on 6th February 1704 in the Parish of Manningford Bruce whilst Elizabeth married Nathaniel Lye on the 7th November 1711 at Beechingstoke. Perhaps Richard and Nathaniel were brothers? These details confirm the information found in the parish registers and that the entry in the clergy database for Charles and his father is correct.

The inventory provides a description of the Rectory in which Charles was raised. It appears to have had three chambers (bedrooms) in/off the main living rooms, a bed above the Buttery and a bed in the stable. During Charles’s formative years (1680-1690) there would have been 2 adults and 7 children living at the property between five bedrooms so the conditions, depending on the size of the rooms, would have been comfortable and not cramped.

Charles’s career

Curate at Fyfield

The clergy database states he was a “Cure at Fyfield”. He was ordained a deacon on 23rd May 1703 at Salisbury Cathedral. “Cure” was used to mean “carer of souls” and as a deacon he would have assisted the rector but not be able to administer the sacraments. This was his first step onto the ladder of becoming an ordained priest. Deacons, in this era would progress to ordination as a priest although there were no rules or timescales as to when the transition would happen.

Map showing locations and proximity of Beechinstoke, Fyfield and Burbage, Wiltshire

Fyfield is a small village and parish approximately 8 miles north east of Beechingtoke and 28 miles north of Salisbury in the Archdeaconry of Wiltshire, where his father had been appointed curate at twenty three years earlier. A search of Fyfield in the The clergy database found that in 1680 the rector was Sam Gwyn appointed simultaneous to Thomas’s appointment being his first appointment as rector. Following his death in 1695 Thomas Shaw was appointed rector, also his first appointment as rector where he remained until 1711. As a seasoned clergyman, Thomas as curate would have been able to assist and guide them and perhaps Charles was actually appointed “Cure of Fyfield” in place of or in addition to his father as curate.

Curate at Burbiche/Burbage

Charles remains in that role until the 24th October 1705 when he was appointed Curate at Burbiche (also known as Burbage) in Wiltshire in the “Peculiar of prebend of Hurstbourne and Burbage and dean of Salisbury”.

Burbage, according to Gibson and Raymond was under the jurisdiction of the prebendal peculiar of Hurstbourne and Burbage and according to British History Online, a church has stood at Burbage since 1086.

It is again close to where Charles grew up, being 11 miles east of Beechingstoke and includes the villages of Burbage and Durley village, and the hamlets called Ram Alley and Stibb Green. It was under the jurisdiction of the archdeacon of the prebendary of Hurstbourne and Burbage until 1847 with presented vicars to the dean of Salisbury for institution. In 1341 the Rectory estate “included 1 carucate and all the tithes from Burbage parish. Part of the estate was later assigned to the vicar of Burbage, and in 1840 the prebendary held 40 a. and most of the tithes of the parish”.

Appointment as Priest

Charles stayed at Burbage until he was appointed priest (ordained as a Preacher) at a Chapel in Chelsea, which was then in the Archdeaconry of Middlesex, Diocese of London on 21 December 1707, however his ordination record was found at Hampshire Record Office (HRO) amongst Ordination papers for the Diocese of Winchester set out in a well preserved hard back book. Some of the entries are in faded ink and very helpfully the entries are written in latin with an English translation underneath. His entry, with his signature, was found at page 51:

“Vicesima prima die Decembres Ado Domini 1707 [Twenty first December 1707]
“I Char Easton B.A before my admission into holy orders of a Priest do declare that I will be conformable to the Litergy of the Church of England as by Law established, witness my hand. Ca Easton”

No records could be found for Charles at Chelsea having examined the records for the Archdeacon of Middlesex records held at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), and the Winchester diocesan records held at HRO. Powell, in his manuscript notes “Ewhurst Rectors” states Charles was Curate to William Whitfield at Ewhurst from 1708 to 1715 when Charles was appointed Rector. This is also born out by entries in the parish registers for Ewhurst, which are signed by Charles as Curate from 1710.

Parish of Ewhurst

Charles was then admitted, by commission to institute, Rector of Ewhurst on 8th November 1714 where he spent the rest of his career.

Ewhurst Parish Boundaries

His appointment should be recorded the Bishops’ Registers and Act Books held at Hampshire Record Office48 (HRO), unfortunately those for 1714 are amongst several missing50. Further, the visitation book(s) for that year held at (HRO) is also missing.

Ewhurst is a village and parish in the heart of rural Surrey bordering Shere to the north, Ockley and Abinger to the east, Cranleigh to the west and the County of Sussex to the south, 12 miles south-east of Guildford and 11 miles south-west of Dorking. The chief occupation was agriculture.

Replies to the Bishop’s visitation to the Archdeaconry of Surrey in 1725 provide an insight into:
“Charles Easton, rector [1714-] July 3, 1725 (21/M65/B4/1/3/244-5]

  1. Area The parish of Ewhurst is about 5½ miles in length and about 14 in circumference.
  2. Population There are in the parish about 120 families, and about 530 souls.
  3. Marriages &c The number of marriages, one year with another, is about 4, of births about 12, and of burials about the same number.
  4. Patron The patron of the living is the Lord Chancellor of England.
  5. Chapels There is no chapel in the parish of Ewhurst.
  6. Lecturer There is neither lecturer nor curate in the parish.
  7. Papists Neither any Papists or Papist
  8. Dissenters Neither are there any meetings of dissenters of any denomination, and but one family of Anabaptists, and one mane that is a Presbyterian.
  9. Gentry &c There is not any person in the parish of any distinction.
  10. Schools There in no endowed school in the parish, but on small school taught by Thomas Sayer of the same parish.
  11. Charities There is but one charity belonging to the parish, which was conferred on it many years since by Henry Smith of £6 yearly, to be distributed by the minister, churchwardens and overseers from the parish.
  12. Post-town Dorking is the next post-town.”
Ewhurst village showing the Church, Rectory and Glebe

The church of St Peter and St Paul dates from the 12th century. Alterations were made in the 15th century and in 1838-9 repairs caused the central tower to collapse damaging the Chancel thus the church was almost completely rebuilt.

Amongst Ewhurst parish records held at Surrey History Centre (SHC) was a survey of the Glebe prepared by Charles on 26th September 1729 showing a total Glebe of 55 acres 2 rood 18 perches (60 acres 3 roods 19 perch inc. hedges).

On 18th July 1693, it seems the then Rector William Whitfield agreed a lease the tithes for 21 years to the principal landowners in the area, Richard Sayer, William Ryde, Timothy Butt, Thomas Knight, George Knight, Henry Gosden, George Worsfold, Walter Longhurst and Edmund Mitchel, at a rate of 2s 4d in the pound and an agreed amount of their produce. There was also set out an agreement for the “church dues” and “surplus fees” not granted in the lease, including an ‘offering’ of 2p yearly at Easter from every member of the congregation and fees for burials, churching a women (blessings given to mothers after childbirth) and marriage licences; Great and small tithes could be payments in kind at the discretion of the Rector. The estimated income at that time was £1,400 per year from rent.

Church of St Peter and St Paul, Ewhurst today

Given Charles became Rector in 1714/15 this lease and agreement would have expired on his institution. However, the first account of tithes from his period as Rector was found in 1736 when there is a ten page account “from what to how much several estates in this parish were raised to the Tythe at the meeting of the parish upon the occasion March 14 1736”. Tithes were then calculated at 2s 6d in the pound and the accounts comprise two columns, one of rent and one of tithes the totals of which were £1575 17s 0d (rent); £197 5s 10d (tithes). Charles total income from these sources therefore totals £1773 2s 10d which in 2017 would have be worth between approximately £208,862.97 to £209,616.02, quite a substantial income and providing Charles with no doubt a very conmfortable living.

There were no other entries by Charles regarding his income, the next entry was for tithe income in 1742 when William Bickerton had been instituted as Rector. The total income from tithes was then £195.

Unfortunately, no presentments prior to the one in 1729 referred to at the start were found at Hampshire Record Office, especially none to identify why Charles had previously been presented for neglect. Further there are no parish records, in particular vestry minutes, available at SHC for the period Charles was Rector which may have thrown some light on his time there and behaviour. Vestry minutes are only available from 1819.

As Rector his duties would have included holding services every Sunday and Holy Communion at least three times a year, conducting baptisms, marriages and funerals and visiting ill parishioners. He would also have had important clerical duties conducting vestry meetings and overseeing the roles of the parish officers, responsible for management of local affairs such as charity, employment, the poor and administration of poor law, repair and maintenance of the church, repair and maintenance of the road and election and appointment of parish officers. He would therefore have play and major role in the lives of his parishioners and the local community.

The parish registers were examined to establish whether they could provide any insight into his character through any little notes or comments he may have made against entries, but there were no such comments. The records were standard for the period providing only basic information save where fees were received for marriage licences or “breaking ground” for burials, the amounts were noted. The last entries in the registers by Charles were the baptism of “Mary D. of Jas & Mary Shrubb “on 27th Oct 1740/41; the marriage of James Baker and Elizabeth Willet on 23rd Oct 1740/41; and the funeral of Simon Balchin 18th Nov 1740/41. There is nothing in the parish registers to suggest he neglected these duties.

His death

There was no mention of his death in his entry in the clergy data base and nothing to suggest he left Ewhurst to preach elsewhere.

Amongst the ecclesiastical court records examined at TNA a record of Charles successor being instituted at Ewhurst was found. His successor, William Bickerton was instituted on 20th February 1740/41, narrowing the time of Charles death to one month (13th January to 19th February 1740/41). This is also confirmed by the parish registers and in the manuscript notes “Ewhurst Rectors”. Charles would therefore have been 62 years old when he died and had by that time spent half his life at Ewhurst.

A search for his burial registers in the “Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812” collection found no record of his burial, nor did a search in the Wiltshire collection. Like his father, it was probable that Charles left a will. The search therefore turned to Wills.

Wills proved in the ecclesiastical courts of Surrey are held at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) are are digitised on Ancestry. A search of his name in Ewhurst found his will dated 13th January 1740/41 with probate granted in the Commissary Court of Surrey on 25th April 1741/42. Although he was still Rector of Ewhurst when he made his will, his address was Bristol at the time.

His Will states his brother Robert had predeceased him, leaving a wife Mary and two sons, Thomas and Charles. He goes on to instruct his executors to buy and distribute a marble bound copy of the book ‘Pious Country Parishioner’ to every parishioner in Ewhurst. This was a book instructing parishioners how to spend their lives in a religious and acceptable manner. This would have been quite a grand gesture and possibly gives an indication of his relationship with his congregation. On the one hand this could suggest his fondness for his parishioners; on the other it may be an indication of a dwindling commitment to the church and religion by his parishioners being one last attempt by Charles to preach to them.

The remainder of his estate was left to his joint executors, Richard Lye of Beechingstoke (his brother-in-law) and Elizabeth Lye of Bristol (his sister, a widow). Perhaps she looked after him in his dying days? There is no mention of any wife or children of his own, so it appears he remained a bachelor.

A search of the parish registers for Bristol and a general search for his name (including variants) and the year 1740 found no burial record for Charles. His place of burial and exact date of death therefore remain unknown at present.

Considering the records examined, Charles appears to have led a comfortable life as the Rector of Ewhurst. The presentment which piques my curiosity and caused me to research his life, suggests he had neglected some of his duties during his time there but not in a way which affected his role there. Perhaps the lack of additional comments or information found in the parish registers could indicate he was someone did his job but perhaps did not push himself to do more than was required.

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My ancestor was a shoemaker

Joseph Turner, was my great (x3) grandfather on my maternal grandmothers’ side of the family. He was born in Darton, Yorkshire on 26 December 1820 to Joshua Turner and Sarah Turner (nee Crossley), being the sixth child of eleven (six girls and five boys). He was baptised on 4 February 1821 at All Saints Church, Darton, Yorkshire.

Darton, Yorkshire

In 1881 Darton was described as a “parish and village and station on the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway, 3 miles north-west from Barnsley, 8 south-west from Wakefield and 12½ east-south-east from Huddersfield”.

Joseph’s father, Joshua, was a farmer.

When Joseph was a child there was an endowed school in Darton for both boys and girls which was a free school set up by George Beaumont in 1688. There was also a Sunday school. This meant that education would have been available to Joseph as a child, although I have no documentary evidence to confirm whether he did attend school.

I have searched the online catalogue for school records for Darton in this period on the West Yorkshire Archive Service website and there do not appear to be any records available.

What I do know however is that Joseph did not follow in his father’s footsteps and become a farmer. It may be that his parents wanted more for Joseph (and his siblings) and he may have gained some form of education in between no doubt helping his father on the farm. In 1841 Joseph is listed in the census returns as living at Anchors Yard, Knottingley, Pontefract, West Riding of Yorkshire where, at the age of 20, he was a shoemaker’s apprentice, living with Charles Abson, Shoemaker.

Given his age, he would by this time have been coming towards the end of his apprenticeship. Apprenticeships for skilled workers were 7 years, usually ending at the age of 21, thus he would have begun this apprenticeship at the age of 14 (in 1835). Apprentices worked under a master. Charles Abson is not described as a master shoemaker, however given Joseph appears to be living with him at the time the census was taken it is most probable that he was Joseph’s master.

Having searched the West Yorkshire Archive Service catalogue again in various ways, I have not been able to find a record of his apprenticeship indenture unfortunately. It is not known therefore how Joseph chose this trade and/or his master was found. Knottingley is about 25 miles north east of Darton where his parents stayed until their respective deaths.

Map showing the area of Dalton near Huddersfield, and Knottingley near Pontefract, West Yorkshire

Knottingley is described in 1837 as “a very extensive village, which has been long noted for its great production of excellent limestone…the limestone rocks and deep-wrought quarries present a romantic appearance, contrasting beautifully with the verdant fields and hanging gardens, the smoking kilns, and the numerous sloops and boats riding on the bosom of the river and canal”. A more geographical description is given in1881 as “a township and ecclesiastical parish formed from the parish of Pontefract….3 miles east-north-east from Pontefract and 171 from London, situated on the south bank of the navigable river Aire”.

Plan of the Aire and Calder Canal dated 1774

Because of its location, Knottingley was an important inland river port until 1699 when the river Aire was made navigable up to Leeds. However its main industry until into the 20th century continued to be boat building. “The crossing over the [river] Aire at Ferrybridge was of importance for many centuries. A bridge was built there in 1198, and another to replace it two centuries later. Located on the Great North Road linking London with York and Edinburgh beyond that, [Knottingley] became an important staging place for the coach traffic on that route. The traffic continued to develop, until in 1804 the government had to build a wider bridge over the river to accommodate it. The new bridge was designed higher to allow easier passage of the barge traffic on the Aire and Calder Navigation”.

It seems therefore that Knottingley was a bustling small town, which may be reflected in the section of the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway line being opened in April 1848 creating a joint station at Knottingley for the Great Northern and the Lancashire and Yorkshire railways.

In reality however there was poverty, squalor and disease, with a lack of adequate drainage and sewerage facilities, and polluted and insufficient water supply. Anchor Yard where Joseph was living and learning his trade from 1835 to 1842 was a densely populated area between Aire Street and Back Lane/ The Croft, where the problems were particularly acute with open gutters, cesspools and refuse heaps.

“Knottingley also had a reputation for hard living. With over 40 liquor outlets in the town vending their wares to a motley band of ‘outsiders’ such as mariners, commercial travellers and transient visitors, all supplementing the demands of the local inhabitants, there must have been some lively times at Knottingley during the mid-nineteenth century. Indeed, a resolution in the Select Vestry Minute Book for the 24th November 1840 records, “that the Constable convey to the publicans the request of the Select Vestry to discontinue fiddling and dancing in their houses.” Such an environment is likely to have been a rather a shock and eye opener for Joseph coming from a much more rural area!

Aire Street, was a major shopping street, with for example, bread bakers, drapers and tailors, a currier, shoe makers, a nail maker, a basket maker and a whitesmith as well as housing the traders families and many mariners and their families.

Shoemaking was an ancient local hand craft with most villages having their own shoemaker. A shoemaker was also be known as a cordwainer. Shoes were “made to order” for individual customers. It gradually grew into a cottage industry with workshops or “factories” breaking the shoemaking process down and shared between different people: for example, “clickers” who cut around the shoe pattern, “closers” or “binders” who sewed the uppers of the shoe together, “blocker” who shaped the instep and “riveter” who attached the sole to the uppers. This was particularly the case in towns which were rapidly growing as a result of the industrial revolution.

Tools of the trade

By the time Joseph was an apprentice there was some mechanisation with machines being adapted to making boots in particular as a result of the increased demand for boots during the Napoleonic war years (1803 to 1815) however it was not until the late 1850’s when mechanisation lead to the start of shoemaking factories being opened. This was a result of the first practical sewing machine being invented in 1846 and gradually being adapted to stitch leather. However it was not until the 1920’s that most village shoemakers had changed their business to become cobblers: the difference being that a shoemaker would make new shoes from scratch whilst a cobbler would repair shoes. Joseph’s trade was therefore still in demand in the 19th century, particularly in more rural areas, but would no doubt have become increasingly challenging as his career progressed with the growth of factories, mechanisation and transport links making mass produced footwear less expensive than hand crafted.

A victorian shoe factory

As an apprentice shoemaker, he would have been trained in the art of making shoes and boots by hand. He would have received training in every stage of the shoemaking process:

  1. Constructing the last – the wooden shape around which the shoe would be shaped;
  2. The pattern would be made;
  3. The parts of the leather uppers would be cut out using a clicking knife;
  4. The leather uppers would be sewn together;
  5. The complete upper would then be moulded round the last;
  6. The leather soles and heels would be attached to the uppers;
  7. The complete shoe would then be finished by trimming, polishing and removing it from the last

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How our ancestors were educated (or not!) (Part 2)

Without any formal schooling, how how else were our ancestors educated and and what records may exist?

Many of our ancestors would have learned their trade through practical experience.

Apprenticeship Indentures

A written contract binding the apprentice to his or her master was a bipartite agreement or Indenture  and was nearly always a private arrangement between the master and the parent or guardian of the child. Indeed, the master was frequently a friend or relation or found on personal recommendation. Some trades kept apprenticeship very much in the family, and their expertise became the monopoly of a small handful of connected families.

Parish indentures were important documents (required from 1601), sworn before a Justice of the Peace by the overseers and the churchwardens. Two copies were made, one for the master and one for the parish. The master had a legal obligation to feed, clothe and impart the mysteries of his trade for the duration of the contract. By the 17th century the system had been expanded to include not only children of the poor and needy, but also the children of the middle classes and even gentry who found themselves under economic pressure. Typically, children of the latter would be bound out to manufacturers, merchants and the professions.

1563 Statue of Artificers first required written contracts for apprenticeships although official records were not retained until later. From 1710 to 1811 masters paid stamp duty for taking on apprentices. Details of the stamp duty paid were recorded in apprenticeship books. Search the apprenticeship books from 1710 to 1811 (IR 1) on (charges apply) by name of master.

The apprenticeship books are divided into Town Registers (London) and Country Registers (elsewhere), depending on where the stamp duty was paid. There are original indexes of masters to some of these registers, available to view online, in IR 1/74–79.

If the apprenticeship was in Middlesex or one of the home counties the duty may have been paid in London and the details entered in one of the London registers.

The payment could be made at the start of the apprenticeship or any time up to one year after the expiry of the indenture.

Indexes to apprenticeship books (1710–1774) can be browsed on

Freedom Admission Papers / Freedom Admission Books

A freeman of a company would usually have proceeded to the Freedom of the City of London. The “alphabets” to Freedom Admission Papers (1681-2, 1688-1783) and Freedom Admission Books (1784-1940) provide an in important centralised Index to City of London Livery Company members and apprenticeships.

They are arranged chronologically by the surname initial and are deposited at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA)16 and have been made available online (up to 1925)

Freedom admission papers can record many biographical details about the individual to whom Freemen status is awarded making this collection of particular interest to genealogists. Many of the documents in this collection are “indentures” or sealed agreements for things like apprenticeship agreements. The original document was made with all copies on the same page of parchment. An “indented” or wavy line was drawn between these copies, which were then cut apart straight through the wavy line. When brought together later these copies could be realigned or “tallied” by matching the indented lines.

Information in this database:

•              Surname

•              Date of indenture

•              Parent or guardian’s name

•              County of residence

•              Master’s name

Trade Directories

Trade directories date from the mid-17th century providing a single alphabetical list of names of merchants and giving the location of their premises. Published by the Post Office, Kelly and White, but also by numerous smaller publishers. Only those who paid were included.

They were arranged alphabetically by the nature of the business with those outside London giving physical, historical, ecclesiastical and social descriptions of each district, together with listings of trades people and of gentry and private individuals; for larger towns, the different trades are listed separately, but that is not the case for rural communities.

The information printed in a directory will be about one year out of date by the time that it is published. They can be found at The Guildhall Library, the Society of Genealogists and at IHGS with various directories available online at,, and

Specialist published sources

For those professional ancestors, such as lawyers and doctors, tracing details for their career following their formal education, there are specialist sources available, including, but not limited to:

Law: Brownes General Law List 1775-97; New Law List 1797-1840; The Law list 1841-1976

Medicine: Medical Directory 1845 onwards; Roll of College of Physicians 1518-2001; Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England by Victor Plarr

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How our ancestors were educated (or not!) (Part 1)

Education records are often an overlooked source for family hstory research, yet they can provide invaluable information. Of course not all our ancestors would have received an education until Forsters Education Act 1870 when Education boards were created and compulsory education for children aged 5 to13 years was introduced, with the 1880 Education Act introducing minimum requirements for children to be able to leave school at 10 years of age.

Prior to this children were frequently employed from very young ages in agriculture and industry, including in the later 1700’s and Victorian times, in the new emerging new industrial factories.

Church schools however have existed for many centuries with their roots in the Monestries educating young monks. Grammer schools were introduced in the 15th Century by both charities, university colleges, companies and guilds.

Charity schools were first etablished in the late 17th century in poorer urban areas providing education free of charge for the “deserving poor” and Sunday Schools were introduced in Gloucester in the 18th century by Reverand Thomas Stock and nationally in 1780 by Robert Raikes.

Following the General Workhouse Act 1723, workhouse schools were also established to prepare pupils for apprenticeships with the aim of that they would no longer be a burden on the parish.

Amongst other schools established were The Royal Masonic Institution for Girls established in 1788, followed by a similar institution for boys in 1798; Ragged Schools providing education for poor children, free of charge; dame schools set up locally by women to education young children; private boarding schools; Quaker schools; and Military schools.

What records may exist and where can I find them?

Alumni Oxonienses Edited by Joseph Foster.

The members of the University of Oxford 1500-1886: their parentage, birthplace, and year of birth, with a record of their degrees being the matriculation register of the university. Some have brief biographical details such as ecclesiastical positions held and family relationships among the alumni.

Alphabetically arranged in five volumes, with volume one available at the British History website and the remaining volumes available online at the Internet Archive website ( Also available through and a selection from various colleges at and

Alumni Cantabrigienses

From the earliest times to 1900 the first part of which comprises four volumes covering the period until 1751 was published between 1922 and 1927. The companion set of six volumes covering 1752 to 1900 and edited by J. A. Venn appeared between 1940 and 1954. Alumni Cantabrigienses contains more biographical details than its Oxford counterpart, often including names of wives, dates of death for example, as well as further reference sources.

School Admission Books

Registers of admissions usually give dates of entry and withdrawal, together with the pupil’s age, residence and father’s name and occupation. Some voluntary schools required a note of whether the pupil was baptised or not. Registers of admissions became mandatory as a provision of the Elementary School Code of 1903, which further required that the records be kept for a minimum of ten years after the last entry made in them.

Secondary school admissions registers usually include educational achievements and may also give details of the pupil’s later career either in secondary education or in employment.

TNA holds a quantity of information on schools, but there is little or no information about named individuals. The Society of Genealogists has extensive holdings of various individual schools. Records at local archives should also be consulted, and online sites including, and

School logbooks

School logbooks were required in government-financed schools from 1863, although they had been in fairly common use from about 1840. They provide details of attendance, accidents and illnesses of both students and staff; they may also contain inspectors’ reports as well as the details of everyday life – weather conditions, state of the harvest, epidemics and celebrations of military campaigns – in fact anything that might impinge on attendance as it could affect their local grant.

TNA holds a quantity of information on schools, but there is little or no information about named individuals. The Society of Genealogists has extensive holdings of various individual schools. Records at local archives should also be consulted, and online sites including, and

Minute books of the school boards

These can provide additional information on the pupils, the teaching staff and even the board members themselves. These books, usually held by the local education authority, may contain correspondence, inventories, building plans and drawings, perhaps even photographs.

TNA holds a quantity of information on schools, but there is little or no information about named individuals. The Society of Genealogists has extensive holdings of various individual schools. Records at local archives should also be consulted, and online sites including, and

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Further records for pre 19th century research (Part 2)

Pipe Rolls 1581 to 1591

Recorded the penalties for recusancy under the 1582 Recusant Act, in particular for failing to attend Protestant services. From 1581 if anyone converted to Catholicism or attempted to convert anyone else to Catholicism, the penalty was death.

A further Act was passed forbidding Catholic education of children.

From 1586 failure to pay a fine would result in a recusant losing land they owned, a penalty which, from 1604 could be imposed in place of the £20 per month fine.

Includes the names and fines imposed on Catholics yearly; largely written in Latin and arranged by county; held by the Exchequer – copies provided to the Chancery.

Available at:

  • National Archives series E372 and E352 (not digitised)
  • Catholic Record Society publication: ” Recusants in the Exchequer Pipe Rolls, 1581-1592 ” by T. J. McCann 12 (not digitised)

An index of Pipe Rolls is also available at the Pipe Roll Society

Inquisitions post Mortem

An inquisition post mortem (or escheat) was an enquiry held from the 13th century until 1660 by the Crown when a tenant-in-chief died to identify the tenant’s heir and ensure he took possession and swore fealty to the king.

They detail the tenant in chief’s manor(s), date of death, name, age and relationship of his heir.

Although the records only applied to tenants in chief, many humbler people are mentioned incidentally in the inquisitions as subtenants, trustees, jurors or witnesses.

A report on the inquest was made to Chancery and there are two types of document: the inquisition post mortem itself and the entries on the Fine Rolls, both of which are in Latin. They date from 1235 to 1649 and are held by TNA in C 132 to C 142, and E 149 to 150.

Indexed calendars of the inquisitions have been published by HMSO for 1235 to 1422 and 1485 to 1509. Published indexes to the inquisitions for certain counties have been produced, particularly by the British Record Society.

Poll Books

Poll books were used to record those who voted, but they are extremely rare prior to 1696. An Act of 1711 required poll books to be deposited with the Clerk of the Peace, so their survival increases after this date.

They list the names of voters, their parish of residence and the candidate for whom they voted. The names of the freeholds and their owners who had the vote are arranged alphabetically, usually by parish, but occasionally by township, ward, or hundred. The poll book states whether the freeholder owns land or a house, or both, and his occupation is given, such as farmer, gentleman, mercer etc. The candidate for whom each freeholder voted is listed, and often at the end of the book there is an index of the freeholders and an analysis of the voting in that year for the county or borough. Sometimes, the specific address of the voter is given and the address of the property that provided the entitlement to vote, if different.

The last general election for which poll books were produced took place in 1868.

Local archives will usually have the most complete set for a county. Many have been published by family history societies. have indexed, and has images of, the collection of the Guildhall Library as well as a small collection from various counties. A small collection from 1830-1837 is available

Electoral registers

Electoral Registers were introduced in 1832 and list the names of electors in general elections, their address and their qualification to vote, arranged in alphabetical order by parish. They have been compiled every year save for 1916/1917.

Electoral registers had to be deposited with the Clerk of the Peace and most are now held by local archives, local libraries and the British Library. A guide to the registers and where they are deposited is found in Electoral Registers Since 1832; and Burgess Rolls by Jeremy Gibson. The British Library collection is available online from 1832-1932 through The electronic electoral register from 2002 to the present day is available on a number of websites, including has a number of electoral registers indexed with images, including for London and Surrey from 1832 up to the middle of the 20th Century.

Monumental Inscriptions

Where legible the name, age and date of death of the deceased is given at the least. An occupation, place of origin or information on military service may also be recorded.

Often families were buried together or in adjacent plots revealing family relationships. They are especially useful in identifying children who died in infancy of whom the researcher may otherwise be unaware.

Recording memorial inscriptions is important because of weathering. Local authority sometimes did this. They retained the original transcripts but deposited copies with the Registrar General. TNA holds transcripts of inscriptions from around 170 burial grounds in series RG 37. Many family history societies have also been engaged in monumental inscription work and have built up enormous collections of transcripts. Some of these have been published and they are listed in Raymond’s county volumes of genealogical bibliographies or in Specialist Indexes for Family Historians.

Indexes and images can also be found at and These projects are ongoing and the websites are continually updated. There is a large collection of monumental inscriptions for various counties in England and a national collection for Scotland on

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Further records for pre 19th century research

Lay Subsidies

Records from a tax levied on movable property rather than land usually raised as and when needed to fund for example, a military campaign. The poor were exempt from the tax as was clerical property.

In the early 13th century it was levied at one tenth of the value in towns, boroughs and the royal demesne, and one fifteenth elsewhere. It was also therefore known as the fifteenth and tenth until its abolition in 1624.

Between 1334 and 1524 only village totals are given because fixed sums were required from each vill (or township) so names of individuals (unless they were aliens), were rarely recorded.

From 1523 taxpayers’ names are again provide with the rate being based on the value of an individual’s moveable goods, their wages or their income from land, whichever was the greater. The Great Subsidy was levied for four years from 1523. It applied to everybody over the age of 16 who had income from land, taxable goods worth more than £2 per annum or a wage more than £1 a year. The rate was 4 pence in the pound (which varied over the years). Since it had a low threshold, many taxpayers were recorded. Roman Catholics and other nonconformists were forced to pay double rates.

They are available at TNA in series E l79 and E359, at County record offices and Local Family History societies.

Poll Tax

A poll tax is a tax on individuals, first introduced in England in 1377. The tax records provide information about people who are rarely, if ever, mentioned in other documents. They sometimes listed the entire household including the children. Parish officials collected and compiled lists of residents over the age of 15 or 16 depending on which year the tax was levied. They can therefore provide names, occupations, parish addresses and family relationships.

The tax was levied in 1377, 1379, 1381, 1513, 1641, 1660, 1677, 1694 and1698. It is thought that perhaps a third evaded payment but despite this, a high percentage of the population was documented. The clergy paid poll taxes in 1377, 1379, 1380, and 1381.

The records are held by TNA in series E 179, those from the 17th century can usually be found in local record offices.

Tudor and Stuart Muster Rolls (16th and 17th Century)

Assessments of adult able-bodied men between the age of 15 and 60 who could be available for service, including the weapons “harness” and armour of the wealthiest, to form a militia to keep the peace and defend a locality.

The earliest records survive from 1522 and are of special significance as they were the result of a covert and duplicitous attempt by Henry VIII’s chief minister, Cardinal Wolsey, to obtain a general valuation that could be used to raise a forced loan. The musters list all landowners with the value of their lands as well as all males over the age of 16 with the value of their goods. Occupations are sometimes noted.

They are arranged by hundred (or wapentake etc) and by parish. Those unfit for service or too poor to possess the necessary weaponry were excluded from the rolls.

Gibson and Dell note the repositories where they can be located and give details of those that have been published. TNA (SP 1, 2, 10, 12, 14, 16,17 and E 101, 36 and 315), CROs and the British Library are the main repositories.

Solemn League and Covenant

The Vow and Covenant was taken by members of the House of Commons and House of Lords.

Solemn League of Covenant 1644 was an agreement in which Scotland agreed to support the English Parliamentarians in their disputes with the royalists and was signed throughout England and Scotland – demonstrates support against Catholics.

Provides names, village, parish and occupation of all those who took the oath and Catholics who refused to sign. Remaining records cover about one third of the country. Available at County record offices amongst parish records

Protestation Oath Returns

Record those swearing the 1641 the Protestation Oath.

Charles I introduced an Oath of Allegiance requiring all men over the age of 18 years to deny catholic beliefs. Those who refused lost most of their estates, both real and personal. Provides names, village, parish and occupation of all those who took the oath and Catholics who refused to sign. Remaining records cover about one third of the country. Available at the Parliamentary Archives, but also at:

•              National Archives series SP282 or El79

•              Society of Genealogy – for some parts of the country

•              London Metropolitan Archives – City of London and various London districts

•              County record offices

Hearth Tax records

A tax of one-shilling half yearly, payable at Michaelmas and Lady Day, on each hearth or stove in a residence. The occupier paid the tax but for empty house the owner was liable.

The exempt were paupers, persons in houses worth under 20s a year, who only had one or two hearths and chattels worth less than £10.  Landlords of exempt leaseholders were liable for paying the tax after May 1664. Charitable institutions such as hospitals and almshouses were exempt as were industrial hearths but businesses with ovens, such as bakeries or forges, had to pay.

The assessments form a directory of names and although occupations are rarely given, descriptions are sometimes recorded. They reveal who was the head of the household at a certain date and an individual’s disappearance can indicate their date of death or migration elsewhere.

Assessments dating from 1662 to 1666 and 1669 to 1674 are held in the Subsidy Rolls of E 179 in TNA. TNA online database provides details of the places covered by the surviving returns, enabling the researcher to find the relevant records.

Some are also available online, and the website contains useful information on the hearth tax and its implementation in each county.

Land Tax records

Land Tax, calculated at the rate of four shillings in the pound, was collected between 1693 and 1963, although the most extensive surviving records are for the period 1780 to 1831. The records consist of assessments and returns that list landowners and from 1772 the occupiers of the property. Until 1831, Catholics were charged double.

It was assessed annually or quarterly on real and personal property of those who had land worth more than 20 shillings annually and also on specific public pensions and salaries. The records therefore give some indication of financial status, specifying the type of land, the amount of assessed and the amount paid. Poorer people were not listed.

The surviving records are listed in Gibson and Medlycott and Mills and most are to be found in CROs or local archives. Some counties’ land tax records are now available on and

From 1798, taxpayers could commute their future land tax to a one-off payment that was equivalent to 15 years of tax, though they were still usually included in the lists up to 1832 because of the voting qualification. The commissioners, therefore, prepared registers listing those that were liable to tax in 1798. These are held by TNA in IR 23

Window Tax

A tax on the number of windows in a property from 1696 until 1834, charged a flat rate of two shillings with a supplementary amount from 1778, according to the property’s rateable value. From 1696 to 1766, additional tax was paid on houses with more than ten windows, on seven or more windows between 1766 and 1825 and those with eight or more windows from 1825 to 1851.

Many people avoided paying the tax that revenue fell by blocking up windows. Sometimes they were then unblocked once the inspectors had gone.

The occupiers were liable to pay the tax, Those who didn’t pay the church or poor rate were excused and some windows were exempt from tax, such as those of business premises that were attached to a residence, or hospitals, churches, chapels, charity schools and workhouses, although they were still assessed but granted an exemption certificate.

Surviving returns are listed in Gibson, Medlycott and Mills and are usually found in CROs, though some are scattered elsewhere, including in series E 181 at TNA.

They usually provide the name of the taxpayer (address if in a town), number of windows and the tax collected. Sometimes occupation was noted.

Militia lists 1757 to 1831

Following the Militia Act of 1757 able-bodied men were conscripted into the militia by ballot although clergy, teachers, seamen, apprentices, peace officers and peers were amongst those excused.

All parish constables were ordered to keep an annual list of every man aged between 18 and 50 apart from those excused. The lists were then organised into hundreds or wapentakes, with each providing one company for the county regiment of militia.

Lists between 1758 and 1831 usually record the names of all men in the relevant age group, including those excused, with occupations and a note of any infirmities.

These lists, together with the militia muster rolls, should be complete annual censuses of all men aged 18 to 50 from 1758 to 1762, and aged 18 to 45 from 1762 to 1831.

Surviving militia lists are usually found in CROs. Gibson and Medlycott list, by county, the location of surviving militia records along with details of any indexes or published lists. The actual service records of officers and those of other ranks will be found at TNA with indexed and imaged militia attestations from 1806-1915 at

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Persecution and toleration of Catholics (recusants)

Year Legislation Associated record sources
1534 Act of Supremacy Refusing to take Henry VIII’s Oath of supremacy and supporting the Pope became an act of treason. Parish registers and Parish chest records If there is a marriage and burial record but no baptism it may indicate a Catholic[1]; some clergy would make a note in the register is a person was a recusant.   Churchwarden accounts Churchwardens were responsible for bringing offenders before the courts and their accounts may provide details of recusants.   Execution records Recusants executed for treason can be found at the British Executions website[2]  (years 1100 to 1964) and at the Capital Punishment UK website:[3]
1549 1552 Act of Uniformity Act of Uniformity Clergy were given one year to adopt the Prayer book or face stiff penalties as would anyone speaking out against the Prayer book[4]: First offence – confiscation of income for a year and 6 months imprisonment;Second offence – 1 year imprisonment with no bail and then stripped of his church position;Third offence – life imprisonment. The 1552 Act introduced a revised Prayer book and extended the penalties to imprisonment for anyone attending other forms of service Quarter Session records­ (discussed below) Churchwarden accounts (as above)  
1554 Revival of the Heresy Acts Which had been repealed under Henry VIII and Edward VI: Richard II’s Letters Patent 1382Henry IV’s Heresy Act 1401Henry V’s Heresy Act 1414 Quarter Session records (see below) A lack of Catholics appearing in these records during this period demonstrates this period of toleration of Catholics.[5]
1559                 Act of Supremacy Reinstated the supremacy of the Church of England repealing the heresy laws Mary I had revived. Act of Uniformity The Book of Common Prayer was introduced, similar to the prayer book of 1552 but retaining some Catholic elements.  Clergy faced stiff penalties for failing to comply: First offence – forfeit their benefice for a year and 6 months imprisonment; Second offence – 1 year imprisonment with no bail and then stripped of his church position; Third offence – life imprisonment. Anyone speaking out against the Book of Common Prayer or attempted to disrupt parish services also faced penalties: First two offences – a fine; Third offence – life imprisonment Anyone failing to attend their parish church for Sunday service or on a holy day would be fined 1s[6] every time they failed to attend[7]. In 1563 the death penalty was introduced for priests who continued to hold mass. Those who continued to defend the supremacy of the pope had their property seized. Churchwarden accounts (as above) Quarter Session records  (see below) Execution records (as above)  
1570 Papal Bull [8]‘Regnans in Excelsis[9] Encouraged Catholics to be a heretic, releasing even those who had sworn the oath of supremacy from allegiance to the monarchy. The bull also excommunicate any Catholic obeyed the monarchy’s orders!  
1571 Treason Act It became high treason to bring any further papal bulls into England and to call the monarch a heretic or schismatic. Quarter Session records (see below)  
1581 Recusancy Act The penalties for recusancy increased: Fine of £20 per month Fine of 100 marks and a years imprisonment for hearing Mass From 1581 if anyone converted to Catholicism or attempted to convert anyone else to Catholicism, the penalty was death. A further Act was passed forbidding Catholic education of children. From 1586 failure to pay a fine would result in a recusant losing land they owned, a penalty which, from 1604 could be imposed in place of the £20 per month fine. Quarter Session records (see below) Pipe Rolls 1581 – 1601 Include the names and fines imposed on Catholics yearly; largely written in Latin and arranged by county; held by the Exchequer – copies provided to the Chancery. Available at: National Archives series E372[10] and E352[11] (not digitised)Catholic Record Society publication: “Recusants in the Exchequer Pipe Rolls, 1581-1592” by T. J. McCann[12] (not digitised) An index of Pipe Rolls is also available at the Pipe Roll Society[13]
1585 Act against Jesuits, Seminary Priests and such other like Disobedient Persons A further act to ‘force’ Jesuits[14] and Seminary priests[15] to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen. Failure to do so within 40 days was an act of high treason unless they left the country. Any person who harboured or knew of the whereabouts of a Jesuit or Seminary priest and failed to inform the authorities, would be penalised: A fine of 200 marks Imprisonment Execution if the authorities wished to make an example of the priest. Any Jesuit or Seminary priest who were or travelled overseas, had to return to England within six months to swear the oath of allegiance (within two days of their arrival) and swear to submit to the Queen, or face the penalties for treason. Once taken the oath, they were forbidden for a period of 10 years to come within 10 miles of the Queen without her personal written permission or face the penalties for treason. If they left England for more than six months their land would be forfeited. Quarter Session records (see below)  
1587 Act against noncompliance Anyone who refused to accept the authority of the monarchy and thus the Church of England and Book of Common Prayer, were not permitted to buy or sell land. Quarter Session records (see below) Pipe Rolls 1581 – 1591 (as above)  
1593 Act for Retaining the Queen’s Subjects in their due Obedience[16] Required all over the age of 16 years to attend an Anglican Church service. Failure to attend for a period of one month would result in imprisonment without bail, for such period as they refused to attend, as would their encouragement to any other person not to attend. If they continued to refuse to attend for a period of three months they would be removed and exiled from England and any other countries within the queen’s realm until and unless they were licenced by the queen to return. Act against Popish Recusants Catholics were no longer permitted to travel more than a five mile radius from their home. The penalty for doing so without permission was a loss of all goods, chattels, lands, tenements, hereditaments rents and annuities due to them during their life. This was however never enforced during the reign of Elizabeth I which ended with her death 1603 when she was succeeded by James I (James VI of Scotland). Quarter session records (see below) Recusant rolls 1591 – 1691 Specific Rolls recording names and fines of recusants in place of Pipe Rolls. Arranged by county, containing: 1. Land seized from recusants, detailing: Name of recusant;Rent due to the Crown;Description of land;Date of seizure;Name of commissioner affecting seizure of land;Memoranda Roll record authorising seizure of land;Name of Crown’s lessee (if any);Arrears;Total debt;Payments made; 2. Goods and chattels seized, detailing: Name of recusant;Amount of forfeiture;Articles seized; 3. Sheriffs charge and final audit 4. Enrolment of new convictions, detailing: Name and address of recusant;duration of recusancy;date of conviction;amount of debt Available at: National Archives series E376 and E377 (not digitised)Catholic Record Society publications: “Recusant Roll No. 1, 1592-3, Exchequer, Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer by M.M.C Calthrop [17]; “ Recusant Rolls no 2, 1593-1594. An abstract in English by Hugh Bowler”[18]; “Recusant Rolls no 3, 1594-1595 and recusant roll no. 4, 1595-1596. An abstract in English by Hugh Bowler”[19]
1604 Book of Common Prayer James I promised to “neither persecute any that will be quiet and give but an outward obedience to the law [nor to] spare to advance any of them that will by good service worthily deserve it”[20] he did made it clear that unity and uniformity of the church was his aim, proclaiming in July 1604 that all clergy were to fully conform to the Book of Common Prayer by 30November 1604.  
1605 And 1606 Popish Recusants Act (Following the Gunpowder Plot) Oath of Allegiance Forbidding Catholics practicing in the legal or medical professions, the military and from acting as guardians or trustees; Calling for them to swear a new Oath of Allegiance to the monarchy denying the authority of the Pope; Making it high treason to obey the pope over the monarchy, imprisoning those who refused to swear the oath. There was an incentive of £50[21] for those who identified priests and members of their congregations The rules also applied to any protestant who took a Catholic wife! Quarter session records (see below) Oath of Allegiance rolls 1606 – 1828 (see below)  
1610 Act extended the Oath of Allegiance To be taken by all Catholics over the age of 18 with penalties including: Imprisonment Loss of rent and personal property Persecution was also financial: £100 fine for failing to baptise a child within one month of birth by Anglican clergy; On marriage any property of the recusant bride would be forfeited; if she had none £100 fine was payable; Married women recusants could be imprisoned until the conformed or their husband paid to redeem them for £10 per month Quarter Session records (see below) Oath of Allegiance Rolls see below)  
` Taxation Charles I introduced a double rate on taxes for Catholics. Lay Subsidy Rolls (cover period 1275 to 1665) Record taxes imposed on moveable property (not land) from time to time. The name, village and parish of a Catholic can be identified as they had to pay double the rate. Available at: National Archives series E179[22] and E359[23];County record officesLocal Family History societies – e.g. West Surrey Family History Society have an ongoing project to transcribe the Surrey Lay Subsidy Rolls.
1626/7 Commission for Compounding with Recusants A commission set up to investigate concealed sources of revenue recusants may have had and any amounts available which could be recovered from poorer recusants. Convicted recusants were targeted by obtaining information from the quarter session records who had to bargain with the commissioners and usually agree an increased rent to lease their land which had been seized from them and in order to pay fines and arrears of fines.    
1643 Oath of Allegiance Charles I introduced a further Oath of Allegiance requiring all men over the age of 18 years to deny catholic beliefs. Those who refused lost most of their estates, both real and personal. Vow and Covenant 1643 Taken by members of the House of Commons and House of Lords – demonstrates lack of Catholics in official positions Solemn League of Covenant 1644 This was an agreement in which Scotland agreed to support the English Parliamentarians in their disputes with the royalists and was signed throughout England and Scotland – demonstrates support against Catholics Protestation Oath Returns 1641 – 1642 Provides names, village, parish and occupation of all those who took the oath and Catholics[24] who refused to sign. Remaining records cover about one third of the country. Available at: National Archives series SP28[25] or E179Parliamentary ArchivesSociety of Genealogy – for some parts of the countryLondon Metropolitan Archives – City of London and various London districtsCounty record offices  
1643 Committee for the Sequestration of Delinquents Estates/ Committee for Compounding for the Estates of Royalists and Delinquents A committee set up at the beginning of the civil war much like the earlier Commission for Compounding with Recusants. Their role was to seize and confiscate land from and/or impose fines on royalists, papists and recusants.  
1648       1650            Blasphemy Act[26] Anyone found guilty of blasphemy and/or heresy would suffer the death penalty unless they renounced. Blasphemy Act This act provided for less severe penalties: first offence – six month imprisonment;second offence – Banished from the country not to return without a licence Act repealing penalties for nonattendance at church It was no longer a legal requirement to attend the parish church. Penalties for blasphemy and heresy still continued. Quarter Session records (see below)  
1660 Declaration of Breda Issued by Charles II promising to bring religious freedom at the start of the Restoration. Although it appears this was not to include Catholics!  
        1661           1662                           1664                     1665 Clarendon Code – a collection of four Acts of Parliament designed to weaken the nonconformist movement including Catholics and Protestant nonconformist sects: Corporation Act Catholics[27] were excluded from official positions unless they swore the oath of allegiance, renounced the Solemn League and Covenant[28] of 1643 and accepted the supremacy of the monarchy. Act of Uniformity Required all clergy to be: ordained episcopally;renounce the Solemn League and Covenant;accept and preach the new Book of Common Prayer Catholics[29] were liable to three months imprisonment if they continued to preach in public or worked as a private tutor or schoolmaster without first obtaining a licence to do so from an archbishop, bishop or ordinary of the diocese. If clergy remained in office or attained office in the Church of England without episcopal ordination the penalty was a fine of £100. Conventicles Act Congregations of more than 5 persons (including the priest!) became illegal, even in private houses. The penalties for breach were: First offence – fine of £5 or 3 months imprisonment;Second offence – fine of £10 or 6 months imprisonment;Third offence – transportation for seven years to a foreign plantation (other than New England) The Five Mile Act Catholic[30] priests were no longer allowed to approach within 5 miles of any former parish or town save to pass through on the road. The penalties for doing so were: Fine of £40 Many were imprisoned for persistent offending resulting from the simple need to make a living! Quarter session records (see below) Oath of Allegiance Rolls (see below) Sacramental certificates (see below)  
1670 Conventicles Act [31] Increased the penalties: First offence – fine of £20Subsequent offences – fine of £40 Quarter session records (see below)  
1672            Declaration of Indulgence Charles II forced this Declaration through Parliament, legally enabling Catholics[32] to practice their religion by allowing them hold mass in private (nonconformists could apply for licences to establish meeting houses). However due to the strength of the continued anti-Catholic he was forced to quickly repeal it with the Test Act.  
1673 Test Act This reinforced the need for civil and military offices (including priests/clergy) to swear the oath of allegiance and supremacy of the monarchy and provide a sacramental certificate confirming they had taken Anglican Communion, which would be signed by the Anglican minister and churchwarden of the parish and further witnessed by two credible witnesses. This act did not apply to MP’s and peers. Thus a second Test Act was introduced. Oath of Allegiance rolls (see below) Sacramental certificates (see below)  
1676 Compton Census Churchwardens and Constables were ordered to provide a list of those attending Anglican services, including nonconformists and recusants over the age of 16 years to the local Justice of the Peace (JP) who then called on each person listed to take the oath of allegiance. If they refused the penalty was imprisonment. The lists became known as the Compton Census. Compton Census Largely numerical providing details of the places of worship and the size of their congregations demonstrating the distribution of religious sects, in particular parishes where Catholicism thrived or died. A small number may contain names of individuals.   Quarter session rolls (see below)  
1678            Test Act This required all members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons to make declarations against transubstantiation, invocation of saints, and the sacrament of Mass, with the effect of excluding Catholics from both houses, in particular evicting the five Catholic Lords from the House of Lords.   Estreat Rolls 1537 – 1837 Record fines and bonds due to the Exchequer following legal proceedings.   Nichil Rolls 1537 – 1837 Record debts due to the Exchequer where the sheriff attempted to collect but there were insufficient funds to pay.   Available at: National Archives series E362[33] (not digitised)  arranged by County
1687 & 1688 Declaration of Indulgence and reissued in 1688 James II was an openly Catholic King and made his own declaration of indulgence, suspending both the Test Act and other earlier Acts restricting religious freedom. James II began a policy of appointing Catholics to positions of power e.g. JP’s, MP’s and Lords-Lieutenants. Records include for example, at The National archives: Series C 216 “Chancery: Petty Bag Office: Admission Rolls of Officers[34] and Solicitors”  
1689 Toleration Act Allowed freedom of worship provided Protestant nonconformists swore an oath of allegiance[35]. Catholics were specifically excluded! The Clarendon Code Acts and Test Act were still in force. Oath of Allegiance rolls (see below)  
1692 Land Tax A double land tax rate was introduced for Catholic land owners. Land tax assessment and records Yearly records of tax imposed on owners whose land was valued in excess of 20s. Catholic land owners can be identified by the rate of tax they paid – double rate. Arranged by county, the records provide the names of the land owner, tenants and occupiers[36]; the name and parish address of the property; rental value; amount of tax due. Available at: National Archives series IR 23[37], IR 22[38] and IR 24[39]County Record Offices – duplicates: often quite difficult to find due to lack of transcription and indexing at local levelGuild Library – City of London records   Quarter Session records / estate papers / parish records Assessments prior to 1780
1696 An Act for the Better Security of His Majesties’ Royal Person and Government Following the attempted assassination of William III, the Solemn Association Oath had to be sworn by military personnel and civil officers of the Crown.   Association Oath Rolls Include those who refused to swear the oath such as Catholics. Many of the records contain original signatures, but they also include marks and listings made by clerks. Available at: National Archives series C 213[40], C 214/8-12[41], KB 24/1[42], KB 24/2[43]County Record OfficesLondon Metropolitan Archives (City of London and various London districts)
1698            Popery Act Enacted in 1700 the Act reinforced the laws against practising Catholics, the penalty for which could be “perpetuall Imprisonment”[44]. Further Catholics were forbidden from inheriting or purchasing land and could face fines for sending their children abroad to be educated. Quarter session records (see below)  
1702 1714            Security of Succession Act Security of the Sovereign Act Officials were required to take an oath denying the right of James II’s son the right to succeed the throne. Oaths of allegiance, test and abjuration roll (see below)  
1715            Papist Act In the wake of the Jacobite rebellion, everyone over the age of 18 was required to swear an oath of allegiance. Catholics were also required to register details of their estates, including documents such as Wills, conveyances of land and/or property with the county Clerk of the Peace. This was further reinforced in 1723 when Catholics refusing to swear the oath of allegiance were now required to register their names and details of their estates at quarter sessions or have their property seized. Seizure of property was overseen by the Forfeiture Estates Commission. Oaths of allegiance, test and abjuration roll (see below) Quarter session records (see below)   Close Rolls Sealed documents: By the Court of Chancery giving order and instructions to royal officials and subject;By private individuals to enrol documents such as deeds of land, wills, leases and quit claims amongst many other documents. Catholic wills should have been enrolled after 1715 and can provide names, addresses, occupations, details of family, land/property etc as set out in their enrolled wills. Available at: National Archives series C 54[45] and also PRO 31[46] (various subseries, for example, PRO 31/7/173  Extracts from Close Rolls) (not digitised)
1753            Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act Catholics were required to marry in an Anglican Church Parish registers – as discussed above  
1778            Catholic Relief Act The first Act towards toleration of Catholics enabling them to own land and freeing them from persecution, repealing the 1698 Act. Land and Property Records including Title Deeds Ownership of land/property and how they were conveyed. Documents will not themselves identify Catholics however where a person has not previously been registered as an owner of land, it may indicate they were Catholic. Records provide name, address, occupation, marital status of vendor and purchaser, description of land or property, family relationships (especially if land has been passed through generations), dates of death, wills and maps are sometimes attached. Available at: The National Archives – various records within division CP including:concords of fines in CP 24/1-CP 24/13feet of fines in CP 25/1 and CP 25/2notes of fines in CP 26/1-CP 26/14entry books recording the public announcement of fines in CP 27enrolments of writs for fines and recoveries in CP 28rules to amend fines and recoveries in CP 30books recording the king’s silver in CP 34 and CP 35recovery rolls in CP 43portions of broken writs of covenant files in CP 50, with the complete files in CP 55files of writs of entry in CP 56concords files in CP 61and enrolments of writs of entry in CP 65County Record Offices – Surrey History Centre has various conveyancing documents relating to individual estates/families.British LibraryLand RegistrySolicitors, (building societies and banks in later years)  Quarter session records Lack of further offences recorded of the nature set out in the 1698 Act reflects this new toleration
1791            Catholic Relief Act The second Act towards toleration of Catholics enabling Catholics to register and open their own chapels. Despite this, marriage and burials could still only take place legally in Anglican churches. Parish registers– as discussed above Catholic Church registers and records Newly opened catholic chapels began registers of baptism, confirmation, marriage and death. Baptisms registers include: Name of child and parents (inc mother’s maiden name)Date of baptism (and possibly birth)Names of godparents or ‘sponsers’ “Double” marriage records may be found: Catholics would have an Anglican service to “legalise” their marriage and have a Catholic marriage service which may be recorded in the Catholic registers. Marriage registers include: Names of bride and groom (inc brides maiden name)Names of witnessesOccasionally – ages of both parties, place of birth for bride and names of parents of both parties. The same principal applies to death/burials of Catholics who had to be buried at an Anglican church yard until 1852 (see below)[47]. Burial registers include: Name of deceasedOccasionally – age, name(s) of deceased wife and children It should be noted that these registers were usually in Latin until 1965. Available at: National Archives(see The Non-Parochial Registers Act below);County Record Offices (Catholic registers at Surrey History Centre appear to begin in the 20th Century (see The Non-Parochial Registers Act below);Diocesan Archives – For my local Diocese of Guildford they are held at the Surrey History Centre (County Record Office);Catholic Record Society – Catholic church registers published for various locations in various series;Catholic National Library – Mission Registers (listing baptisms, confirmations, marriages and deaths) amongst a large collection of Catholic history books and periodicals Quarter Session Records (see below)
1829            Catholic Emancipation Act Removed the majority of the remaining restrictions on Catholics allowing them to take up most public offices including parliamentary seats. Quarter session records (see below)
1836            General Registration Act Finally allowed Catholics to marry in their own churches and chapels although burials were still required to take place at Anglican churches. Civil registration certificates – birth, marriage, death in particular marriage certificate which will provide details of the place of marriage i.e. Catholic church/chapel
1840            The Non-Parochial Registers Act Following civil registration it was requested that the registers of nonconformist sects, including Catholics, be deposited with the Registrar General, however few if any were deposited by Catholics. These registers are therefore likely still be in the hands of the individual Catholic church. Catholic[48] registers deposited both in 1840 and 1857 at the National Archives can be found in: Series RG4: General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857 arranged by County and then alphabetically by placeSeries RG8: General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non Parochial Registers Commission of 1857, and other registers and church records. These registers are also available from
1852             Burial Act Catholics were legally able to establish their own burial grounds. Municipal cemeteries developed during this century and may have also been used for Catholic burials Burial registers of Catholic burial sites As pre catholic registers discussed above

Assizes/Quarter Session Records

Catholics were essentially criminalised. Quarter session records contain perhaps the largest collections of records providing details of Catholics (and other nonconformists) including (but not limited to):

  • Indictments and Presentments – Details of Catholics fined, imprisoned, banished from the country and sentenced to execution;
  • Sacrament certificates (see below);
  • Oaths of Allegiance including lists of those refusing to take the various Oaths (see below) (Chancery Court/Exchequer Court or King’s Bench division records if the person lived within 30 miles of London);
  • Declarations against transubstantiation;
  • Registers of names and estates of Catholics who refused to take the Oath of Allegiance following the Papist Act 1715, arranged alphabetically by county and town;
  • Records of land and property seized for failing to take the Oath of Allegiance and/or registering their names and estates;
  • Certificates of Roman Catholic Chapels and priests following the 1791 Catholic Relief Act

These numerous records can provide names, addresses and occupations of those Catholics prosecuted or who had land seized, or who registered themselves as required. They may include details of family members.

These numerous records are available at:

  • County Record Offices – Surrey Quarter Session records held at the Surrey History Centre include:
  • Session Rolls, 1661-1799, 1889-1915
  • Session Bundles, 1630, 1637, 1701 – 1888
  • Indictments
  • Estreat Books
  • Calendars of Prisoners: Surrey Sessions and Assizes
  • Land Tax Assessment Books
  • Registration of the Estates of Roman Catholics
  • Certificates of Protestant dissenting and Roman Catholic places of Worship and related documents
  • London Metropolitan Archives – Proceedings at the Old Bailey
  • Society of Genealogists e.g. calendars of prisoners, microfiche copies of summary convictions and other court records
  • British Library – including legislation, cases and traditional legal commentary
  • Local newspapers often reported on criminal proceedings

Oath Rolls and Sacramental Certificates

As can be seen from the table above, oaths of allegiance and supremacy were required to be sworn at various times. The oath rolls provide a list of names, addresses and occupation of those taking the oaths and frequently a list of those refusing to take the oaths. Both lists may include Catholics as some Catholics may have chosen to take the oath to avoid criminal proceedings. In particular if a Catholic wished to serve in an official office (military, parliament, courts etc) under following the Clarendon Code.

Those swearing the oath obtained a Sacramental Certificate as proof they had received communion in the Church of England.

Oath rolls began in 1606 and essentially ended with the oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration under the reinforced Papist Act of 1723. The location and availability of Oath Rolls for 1723 can be found in the publication “The 1723 oath rolls in England: an electronic finding list” by Edward Vallance[49].

TNA series C 203/6 includes certificates naming those who failed to swear the oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration as required by the Security of the Sovereign Act 1714.

After the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 Catholics were able to sign a new oath of allegiance which can be located at the National Archives series E169/79 – 83[50] and “The rolls contain the actual signatures of persons taking an oath and most of them state the form of the oath to be taken, together with the authorising statute…While a few of the rolls give places of residence, only one roll (E 169/80) includes full addresses”[51]. These have not been digitised and are only available at TNA.

There is also a wealth of records available at TNA series PC 1 (not digitised) such as:

  • Returns of Catholics for several counties PC 1/20/31
  • Roman Catholics: Lists of Roman Catholics who have taken the oath during 1796 PC 1/37/107
  • Roman Catholic Oaths: List for Westminster, London PC 1/40/130
  • Certificates under 31 Geo III, c 32 (1791) relating to Roman Catholics PC 1/2937
  • Returns of papists who have taken oath in accordance with Act of 31 Geo III PC 1/19/26/2

Sacramental certificates provide the name, address and occupation of the individual, the date sacrament was received, name of the church, name of the minister, churchwarden and the witnesses, and can be found at TNA series:

  • C 224 Chancery: Petty Bag Office: Sacrament Certificates 1673 – 1778
  • KB 22 Court of King’s Bench: Crown side: Sacrament Certificates Files 1676 – 1828
  • E 196 Exchequer: King’s Remembrance: Sacramental Certificates 1702 – 1827

There are also many other records relating to oath rolls at TNA, too many to discuss further and many of which may not be relevant to Catholics as they refused to swear the oaths, save, as stated above, some rolls do also contain lists of those refusing to swear the oath and thus those records should not be overlooked in any search undertaken.

Other records

Returns of Papists (Catholics)

These were censuses taken nationwide in 1680, 1705, 1744, 1767 and 1780 to record the number of Catholics in the country, arranged in dioceses by town/village. These were essentially used to identify Catholics and ensure the penalties in force at the time were imposed, hence lists of names can be found amongst quarter session records. Some of the returns record numbers but others record names, ages, addresses, occupations, family members and how long they have lived in the parish.

The 1767 return has been published by the Catholic Record Society and the 1767 return for London has been published by the Society of Genealogy.

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DNA testing: a brief introduction

DNA testing has grown immensely in popularity in recent years, not least as a result of TV programmes such as Long Lost Family. But how can DNA testing help your family history research and are there any draw backs?

First of all, you need to know why you are testing. Are you testing to find out answers about your ethnicity? Are you testing to find living relatives? Are you testing to try and break down a brick wall in your family history research? Are you testing to find out more about your health and wellbeing? DNA testing can help with all these questions and answering them first will determine the best person/people to take the test, what test to use and which company to test with.

As a genealogist and family historian my main focus for the use of DNA testing is to help you breakdown those family history brick walls and trace your family history further and/or help you to find living relatives. A word of caution must now follow: DNA never lies and can uncover deep rooted family secrets which not all family members may wish to know and may find painful, shameful and humiliating. Be mindful of other people’s feeling if and when sharing surprising information.

But also remember it is just another tool in the family history research toolbox which needs to be used alongside traditional paper record research, and just like paper records, the answers may not be obvious straight away. The number of DNA matches is dependent on other people in the database who have tested, those databases are growing all the time so if a match is not immediately made, keep checking as over time it is increasingly likely there will be one. However, it is also possible because of the way DNA is inherited that a person may test and have no genetic match but still be connected genealogically.

How is DNA inherited and what test should I take?

I am not a scientist and therefore will keep this simple. There are three types of DNA for which tests can be taken:

Y-DNA – Y-DNA passes from father to son largely unchanged and can therefore identify a male line; useful for surname studies, identifying an unknown father and your ancient origins.

mtDNA – mtDNA passes from a mother to her children (sons and daughters) largely unchanged and can therefore identify a maternal line; whilst the test can be taken by both male and females, only females pass it on unchanged.

Autosomal DNA – this is passed from parent to child in varying combinations; this is the most popular DNA test as it traces both maternal and paternal lines and identifies close matches and common ancestors within the first five to seven generations. These are the type of DNA tests I work with on behalf of clients in assisting them with the family history research. The rest of this blog therefore will concentrate on Autosomal DNA.

How is Autosomal DNA inherited?

DNA is measured or expressed in centimorgans (cM) or a percentage of shared DNA. The average or expected and range of shared DNA inherited between generations is shown in this chart:

Knowing how DNA is inherited will help you decide who is/are the best person/people to take a DNA test to solve my query?

Generally speaking, the best person/people to take the test is/are the oldest living members of that family line as they will share a higher cM or % of DNA that you, but of course this depends on their willingness and ability to provide the necessary sample, bearing in mind my earlier caution with regard to deep rooted family secrets.

How do I take a DNA test?

All the commercial DNA tests available require a saliva sample. There are a number of companies with which DNA testing can be undertaken depending on the type of DNA test you require; the mains ones however are:

  • Ancestry – the largest DNA database; tests are limited to Autosomal DNA and provides cousin matching
  • My Heritage – limited to Autosomal DNA and provides cousin matching
  • Family Tree DNA – Autosomal DNA – Family Finder provides cousin matching; Separate Y-DNA and mtDNA tests
  • Living DNA – Autosomal DNA provides cousin matching; Includes Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroup testing
  • 23 and me – Autosomal DNA – Family Finder provides cousin matching; Includes Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroup testing

*haplogroup testing looks at the ancient origins of either the paternal (Y-DNA) or maternal (X-DNA) lines.

Tests are purchased through the various companies websites, testing kits are sent out through the post to you, you then provide the same as per the instructions provided and return the sample in the box provided. The results are usually available in about six weeks and you will receive a notification and details of how to access them. Prices of tests vary between companies with most companies running special offers at certain times of the year which are always worth watching out for.

It is also worth noting that if you test with one company, your raw DNA data can be uploaded to the others, except for Ancestry which does not have that function. My personal preference therefore is to test with Ancestry and then upload the raw data to the other sites to get the most coverage of the DNA databases available. Most site will allow you to do this without require you to subscribe to the site. Note however that if uploading raw DNA data to Family Tree DNA, Living DNA and 23 and me will not provide haplogroup data. For that data testing must be carried out with those companies.

I have my DNA results, now what?

Interpreting your results can be confusing. The range of cM and/or % shared with a cousin match will provide a clue as to how you are related however, as will be noted from the chart above, this is within a range and therefore traditional paper research should be used to confirm the exact relationship.

For example, one of my cousin matches on the Ancestry matches page states they are a 2nd to 3rd cousin sharing 328 cM or 5% DNA. Looking at the chart above, this amount of shared DNA means they could in fact be any relationship in groups D and E. A good pictorial of possible relationships for any particular match which I and many of my colleagues us is the Shared cM Project 4.0 tool v4 which is available to use for free at

When looking at DNA cousin matches, bear in mind it may not be the person whose account a cousin match is linked to may not be the person who has tested but an older generation of their family. The amount of shared DNA and the connection to you share depends on the generation the person testing belongs to in relation to you, i.e., they may be the same generation as you, your parent or grandparents and this is turn can depend on the age their respective parents were when they were born.

For example, when I tested by great aunt a cousin match contacted me believing I was her 3rd cousin 2x removed however of course the paper research did not match this and confused her. When I pointed out that the test was not mine but two generations earlier, she found the link. My great aunt of course was her 3rd cousin 2x removed whilst I was her 5th cousin. This was confirmed after taking my own DNA test which identified the same person between a 4th to 6th cousin match sharing 27 cM or <1% DNA.

How to work with cousin match:

  • Be methodical
  • The GOAL is to identify where the match fits into your family tree
  • Prioritise matches by size, place, common ancestors, where they fit in your family tree
  • Use the size of the match to work out the most likely relationship(s) to you – use to help with this
  • Compare family trees if the match has a public tree
  • For any cousin match look for other matches you share this may narrow down the possible relationships to you
  • Use the tools the website you have tested with have, i.e., if you have tested with Ancestry use their ThruLines feature
  • You may need to expand your own family tree to include siblings of earlier generations to find the common ancestor
  • Build ‘dirty trees’ – a bare bones “skeleton” tree to work out direct ancestors which does not worry about source citations etc but is accurate enough to be a rough working tree to check a family connection
  • Test other relatives, they will share different segments of DNA


  • Note all cousins, particularly the more distant they get, will share DNA with you
  • Do not despair if there are no or few matches to start with the databases are growing daily
  • The bigger the amount of shared DNA the more confident you can be there will be a common ancestor
  • The smaller the match the further back in time you will need to go to find that common ancestor
  • Small matches (especially those under 15cM) can be false matches!
  • DNA alone will not provide the answers – traditional paper research will also be required!

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My ancestor was illegitimate, how do I trace them?

At our local carnival recently I held my first trade stand. I spoke to many people who had started conducting their own family history research using one of the commercial websites only to come up against a brick wall because on one or more of their ancestral lines an ancestor was illegitimate.

When I started researching my family history I came across this very problem on my maternal line. It had in fact always been said that my maternal great grandfather (my grandmother’s father) never knew who his father was, so it was no surprise when I researched that side of my family to find no father was named on either his birth or marriage certificate.

My great grandfather was born Fred Sheard Oldfield in 1892. His mother was Mary Ann Oldfield. HIs birth register entry gave his mother’s maiden name as Turner, thus his mother had been married. So why was his father not on the birth certificate?

Baptism register entry
Marriage Certificate (Parish register copy)

Searching for a marriage register entry for Mary Ann found she had married Tom Oldfield in 1876. They had one child together, Joseph Oldfield born the same year. Joseph sadly died at the age of three in 1880. Tom and Mary Ann were found in the 1881 and 1891 census returns together. The 1891 census return suggested they had had no further children, at least none that were listed with them.

Marriage Certificate for Tom and Mary Ann (parish register copy)

By 1901 I found Mary Ann was listed as a widow, housekeeper to Fred Sheard with my great grandfather, Fred Sheard Oldfield listed as “son” to the head of the household, Fred Sheard. As it was often the case that an illegitimate child was given the name or surname of the father and no other connection to the name “Sheard” had been found it seemed likley this answered the question as to who my great grandfather’s father was.

Searching the wider family of Mary Ann, I also found Fred Sheard boarding with her brother in the 1891 census. So this explains how they met!

But when was Mary Ann made a widow? After all my great grandfather was given the surname Oldfield, his mother’s married name. Had he been given the middle name “Sheard” because of his biological father or for some other reason? Had Fred Sheard simply been a support for her after her husband died and therefore the name had been given to my great grandfather as a gesture of that kindness or similar?

She was listed with her husband Tom in the 1891 census was had been taken on the night of 5th April 1891 and my great grandfather was born on the 12th May 1892. Assuming he was not premature, and there are no records to suggest he was, my great grandfather was conceived in August 1891.

Searching for death record for her husband Tom, found that he died on the 30th November 1895 in the Union Workhouse. This proved that Tom was still living when my great grandfather was born.

Going back to the records, Mary Ann was originally from Kellington near Pontefract in West Yorkshire. Tom was from Huddersfield and West Yorkshire. They married and lived their married life in and around Huddersfield. Mary Ann’s siblings remained in the Kellington area and this is in fact where my great grandfather was born and baptised.

My theory therefore at this stage was that perhaps Tom had become ill and entered the workhouse and Mary Ann had gone to stay with her brother and his family and met Fred Sheard then. Checking the workhouse records, neither Mary Ann or my great grandfather were in the workhouse with Tom in the workhouse however Tom was only admitted a few weeks before his death. There were no entries for him having been admitted in 1892.

So was Tom the father? It would explain why my great grandfather always said he never knew his father as he would have only been three years old when he did and could not remember him. But why would a married father not be named on the birth certificate or baptism register?

All the clues were pointing to Fred Sheard being the father. Mary Ann must have had an affair? I therefore turned to DNA testing.

My grandmother was one of ten children, but by 2019 when I had decided DNA testing was the way forward, only the youngest sibling was still living. My great aunt was very happy to take the test.

The test results found cousin matches to the maternal side of Fred Sheard and through traditional family history research I was able to confirm Fred Sheard was the father of Fred Sheard Oldfield my great grandfather. I was also able to identify the father of Fred Sheard thus taking this line baack a further two generations.

Unfortunately there were no cousin matches in the Sheard side of the family and thus that line has now hit a further brick wall. Using traditional online records, there are several possible families with the same names in the same area and my research really needs to move itno the local archives in West Yorkshire to try and confirm the next genertions but living in Surrey that is not an easy task!

I have however anaged to trace the maternal line of Fred Sheard (the Goldthorpe family) back a further three generations using a combination of the DNA matches and traditional records research. Again a visit to West Yorkshire archives may assist this line further!

Tracing your Illegitimate ancestors

You will probably have found some hints and tips in reading my experience of tracing illegitimate ancestors including:

  • Names – particularly middle names – could it also be a surname?
  • Where was the mother living?
  • Who was she living with in the census returns before and after the birth?
  • Had the mother been working and who for? In particular, had the mother been in domestic service?
  • If there is a suspected father, check if they left a will any any inheritance to the mother or child
  • Who were the neighbours?
  • Are there any connections with the childs name? If so it may be worth research those individuals in earlier census returns, did they have any other connection with the family?
  • Did the mother later marry?
  • Was the mother a widow? If so, when and who did she marry? What happened to the husband?
  • Did the mother have any other children? If so who was their father?
  • Did the illegitimate anestor marry? If so, was a father named on the marriage certificate and can you find any other conenction to that name?
  • Baptism records may include a father not registered
  • Newspapers

In addition, for pre civil registration ancestors, go “off-line” into the archives:

  • Parish records
  • Bastardy records
  • Settlement records
  • Apprenticeship records
  • Ecclesiastical court records
  • Poor Law/workhouse records

If you have a theory as to who the father of your illegitimate ancestors is, as in my case, a DNA test may help confirm your theory. See my next blog about DNA testing, cousin matches and your family history research.

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My criminal ancestor was transported to the US

As noted in my last blog, criminals were transported to colonies in the West Indies and North America between 1615 and 1775 when it ceased due to the outbreak of the American civil war.

Tracing ancestors who were transported to the US is likely to be more difficult that tracing those who were transported in the later years to Australia. If you have found or believe your ancestor was transported to the US from England, the best starting point is the list of men and women included in The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage 1614-1775 by Peter Wilson Coldham which lists 48,000 convicts including details of where each person was tried. This is available online at the Ancestry website.

A detailed overview of all relevant records and published sources held at The National Archives can be found in Bonded Passengers to America, also by Peter Wilson Coldham.

Resources at TNA

Most of the original sources held by the TNA have been published for this period in the history of convict transportation however, the following resources may also be consulted:

Patent Rolls in series C 66*

These include the names and parishes of those transported between 1654-1717.

State Papers Domestic, series SP 35-37 and 44*

These include the names and parishes of those transported between 1661-1782.

*it is from these record that Coldham’s lists of those transported (see the books above) were extracted

Series ASSI 2430 (Assize Court Records)

These include transportation order books dating between 1629 and 1819 for the Western Assize circuit (Cornwall, Devonshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire)

Treasury money books

These are held in series T 53 and include details of contractors employed to transport criminals between 1716 and 1772, detailing the payments made to them by the Treasury, the names of all those to be transported, the ships and their captains.

Transportation Lists

These are similar to the Treasury money books dating between 1747 and 1772 but the records are not complete. These are held in series T 1.

Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies

These include Colonial Office correspondence held in series C 05 dating between 1606 and 1822 which “comprises the original correspondence and entry books of the Board of Trade and the Secretaries of State, together with the acts, sessional papers and miscellaneous records relating to colonies in North America and the West Indies”. They include material covering all aspects of transportation to the American colonies.

Court Records

Once a convict has been found in one or more of the references above, and the Assize court in which they were tried or the Old Bailey has been identified. the court records should be examined for further information on the crime(s) committed and the personal details of the convict. These records are the same as detailed in my previous blog relating to transportation to Australia.

Assize courts

The former Assize Court, York

Assize court records, where they exist, are largely held at TNA although some may be found at local archives (for example searching the Surrey History Centre online catalogue there are various papers from the assize courts which appear to have been provided to the archives from personal collections or as part of the Quarter Session records), however many records were destroyed. Records may be found in various series held at TNA, none of which are digitised and can only be viewed at TNA:

  • ASSI 1 – 54: Records of the Justices of Assize from 1554 to 1971 arranged by circuits;
  • KB 6/1 – 6: Depositions 1836-1886;
  • KB 10/1 – 92: Indictments (London and Middlesex) 1675-1845;
  • KB 11/1 – 107: Indictment (Rest of England) 1676-1845;
  • KB 12/1 – 228: Indictments files for all counties 1846-1926;
  • KB 19/1 – 3: Pleadings

It should be noted that the Palatine courts of Chester, Durham and Lancaster (Lancashire) merged into the assizes system in 1876. Prior to this their respective court records will need to be searched at TNA is series CHES, DURH and PL

Old Bailey and Central Criminal Court

The Old Bailey was essentially the Assize court for the City of London until 1834 when the Central Criminal Court was established. The Central Criminal Court had jurisdiction over the City of London, Middlesex, parts of Essex, Kent, Surrey, crimes committed at sea and abroad.

The Old Bailey was essentially the Assize court for the City of London until 1834 when the Central Criminal Court was established. The Central Criminal Court had jurisdiction over the City of London, Middlesex, parts of Essex, Kent, Surrey, crimes committed at sea and abroad.

Old Bailey trials for the period 1674 to 1935, can also be searched at They may also be searched online at under their series Middlesex, London, Old Bailey Court Records 1674-1913.

Parish registers/records/poor law records

To find out more about the convicts family, what happened to them after the convict was transported and their earlier life, parish registers of baptisms, marriage and burials and parish chest records, should be examined. See my earlier plogs relating to these records.

My next blog will provide some hints and tips for tracing those illusive illegitimate ancestors which can often cause your family history research to hit a brick wall.

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My criminal ancestor was transported to Australia

The banishment of dangerous criminals from England was first introduced by an Act of Parliament in 1597 as an alternative to hanging. Transportation to the US was authorised by a Privy Council Order of 1615.

Transportation as a sentence in intself was not introduced until the Transportation Act of 1717 when criminals could be sentenced to 7 years, 14 years or life transportation as an alternative to prison.

From 1615 to 1775 criminal were transported to colonies in North America, such as Virginia. Such transportation ceased with the start of the American civil war. However, without a sufficient central prison system the transportation system was re-introduced in 1787, this time to the new land of New South Wales (NSW), Australia which Captain James Cook had discovered only 17 years earlier.

Transportation to Australia continued until 1868 during which time in excess of 160,000 men, women and children were transported and the areas colonised included NWS, Tasmania from 1803-1853 and Western Australia from 1850-1868. In finding out whether your Australian ancestor was a convict it is important to know which states and at what times convicts were sent.

Convicts were usually transported to serve a sentence of either 7 years or 14 years. Once their term had been served the individual would be given a ‘Certificate of Freedom’ was free to return to their home country although few did.  A sentence of transportation for life in the case of the most serious offences meant that the individual would never return home, even if they were released early.

Many convicts sentenced to transportation would seek a pardon. “If a convict had been particularly helpful to the authorities (for example, helping them recapture escapees) then a Conditional Pardon could be issued. Very rarely, in exceptional circumstances transported convicts could receive a Royal Pardon, which was an absolute and unconditional pardon”.

Research Plan

Anyone researching their Australian roots, particularly where it is known those roots are not of native Australia (i.e. Aborigines) will first need to trace the origins of their ancestors back to the earliest known in an ancestor in Australia. This should initially be carried out using Birth, Marriage and Death records and census records.

Birth, Marriage and Death records (B/M/D)

Compulsory civil registration began in Australia at different times in different states:

  • Tasmania                                1838    1 Dec  
  • South Australia                       1842    1 Jul   
  • Western Australia                   1841    9 Sep  
  • Victoria                                   1853    1 July 
  • Queensland                            1856    1 March         
  • New South Wales                   1856    1 March         
  • Northern Territory                  1870    24 Aug
  • Australian Capital Territory   1930    1 Jan

However, records of B/M/D were kept prior to these dates, much as in England, in church records of baptism, marriage and burials. As in England, indexes to B/M/D have been prepared and include records before compulsory civil registration was introduced which were created from the church records by the registrars. These records are available online on both the English and Australian versions of the Ancestry website and on the Find My Past website, spanning the years:

  • New South Wales       1788-1910
  • Northern Territory      1870-1910
  • Queensland                1829-1910, 1915-1919
  • South Australia           1842-1922
  • Tasmania                    1803-1910
  • Victoria                       1836-1910
  • Western Australia       1841-1905

Birth indexes are searchable by name, year of birth, place of birth and names of parents; marriage indexes by name, year of marriage, place of marriage and name of spouse; death indexes by year of death, place of death, estimated year of birth, father’s name and mother’s surname.

Copies of certificates would need to be obtained from the appropriate registry office:

The information to be found on the certificate will depend on when and in which state the event took place but largely they followed the style of certificate the same certificates in England.

Census records

Census records in Australia began earlier in Australia than in England. By 1828 many convicts had served their sentences and had settled as free men. They could no longer be compelled to attend the annual musters and therefore the first census was conducted in New South Wales. These are available in two copies – one held in Australia, one held at The National Archives (TNA) in England.

Censuses were then held in 1833, 1836, 1841, 1846, 1851, 1856, 1861 after which they were held every ten years to 1901. The returns New South Wales (NSW), Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia for 1851 through to 1891 appear to have been destroyed in the Garden Palace Fire of 1882. Census returns for the Northern Territory survive for 1881 through to 1921. The records which do survive are again, much like those in England, they are the Collectors books and not the actual household schedules.

The following surviving records can be searched online by name, year of birth and place/territory:

  • 1828 New South Wales, Australia Census (Australian Copy)
  • 1828 New South Wales, Australia Census (TNA Copy)
  • 1841 New South Wales, Australia, Census (including what are now the states of Victoria and Queensland)
  • 1891 New South Wales, Australia Census 
  • 1901 New South Wales, Australia Census 

The census returns include details of where a person was born and therefore the earliest ancestor to arrive in Australia having being born in England (or Ireland) should be able to be located unless of course the earliest ancestor to arrive, arrived during the period 1851 to the end of transportation in 1868. If that is the case, there are census substitutes available:

  • Population Musters of convicts and military (see below);
  • Electoral rolls which began in NSW in 1842;
  • Trade Directories which began in the early 1800’s;
  • Depasturing licenses of grants of land from the Crown to settlers;
  • Rate and valuation books from the later 1850’s;
  • Lists of convicts (see below).

Many of these records are available online at previously named websites and They can also be found in most major archives and libraries in Australia.

Population Musters of convicts and military

Prior to, and beyond, the 1828 census population counts or Musters took place in NSW in 1800 (settlers); 1806 (first complete muster that has survived); 1811 (convicts, including those given tickets of leave, pardons etc); 1814; 1816 to 1821 (convicts); 1822; 1823 (military not included) to 1825 (military not included); and 1837.

And in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) 1811 and 1808 to 1849. 

They contained more information than would be found on an ordinary census, with some early musters list children, wives, and servants:

  • Name;
  • Address;
  • Status (convict, free, military);
  • Sex
  • Ship of arrival
  • Trial date and place
  • Sentence and any other remarks.

So, where an ancestor can be found in the population musters the information found can be used to trace that ancestor back to their origins in England. Where it is identified that the ancestor was a convict the information found in respect of the ship they arrived on, their trial date and place, will help direct the researcher to records held at The National Archives (TNA) and more locally in England.

Lists/Returns of Convicts

If an ancestor cannot be found in the Population musters, they may be found in the Lists or Returns of Convicts. The Convicts Index 1791 to 1873 (“A single searchable database containing certificates of freedom; bank accounts; deaths; exemptions from Government Labor; pardons; tickets of leave; and, tickets of leave passports. There are 140,000+ entries to search”) is available to search for free at New South Wales Government State Archives and Records website provides:

  • Name
  • Alias
  • Ship
  • Year
  • Record type   
  • Date   
  • Remarks         
  • Citation

The same website also contains a Convict Indents (Digitised) Index for 1788 to 1801 which is a fully digitised index containing a list of the convicts transported to NSW. “Early indents provide name, date and place of trial and sentence; later indents usually contain more information such as a physical description, native place, age and crime”

The index to convict indents and ships for New South Wales and Van Diemen’s land from 1788 to 1842 are also available on microfiche at TNA.

The New South Wales Government State Archives and Records website is a good place to start researching convict records in Australia once the first ancestor to arrive in Australia is known, particularly for those researchers living in Australia.

However, there are a vast amount of records available in England for those researchers based in England.

For Queensland convicts the British Convict Transportation Register 1787-1867 can be searched at the State Library of Queensland website:

If an ancestor was in the first or second fleet to be transported, there are published lists of the names of those convicts:

  • “The First Fleeters” by P G Fidlon and R J Ryan;
  • “The Second Fleet Convicts” by R J Ryan

The Convict Transportation Register 1787-1870

Series HO11 held at TNA is a list “of convicts transported in various ships, giving the dates of their convictions. Transcripts of these registers can be accessed via the State Library of Queensland website[12].

The Convict Transportation Register can downloaded for free from the TNA website  and the following can be searched online at

  • Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868
  • Australian Convict Transportation Registers – First Fleet, 1787-1788
  • Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Third Fleet, 1791    
  • Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Second Fleet, 1789-1790

And include the convicts name, date and place of conviction, term of sentence, name of ship on which they sailed to Australia, date of departure date and the name of the colony to which they were sent.

This will help confirm the information which may already have been found in the population muster or lists/returns of convicts. However, it may also be useful where the first known ancestor to Australia cannot be found in the census, musters or list/return of convicts because such records may be incomplete. Where a person is named, for example on a birth certificate as a parent, then the Convict Transport Register can be searched for them. If not in these records, then it is probable that the ancestor was not a convict but arrived as either a free settler or military/naval personnel. 

Settlers and Convicts, New South Wales and Tasmania: Records 1787-1859 

Found in series HO 10 held at TNA this is another list “of the male and female convicts and former convicts in the colonies giving particulars as to their sentences, employment, settlement in the country, the land and cattle acquired by them and other information; lists of pardons granted; lists of convicts embarked for and arriving in New South Wales; general musters and census of 1828 relating to settlers and convicts”.

These records can be downloaded for free from TNA website. These records not only help with tracing the origins of an ancestor in England but may provide further details of their lives after serving their sentence and their then settlement in the country.

Botany Bay, Australia

Other records available at TNA which can be used to identify whether a named ancestor was a convict (not digitised)

  • TS 18/460 – 515: Contracts for the transportation of convicts, naming convicts, with date and place of trial and sentence;
  • HO31/1: Orders of the Privy Council 1782 to 1794 contain lists of convicts for transportation;
  • PC 1/2715: Lists of Convicts embarked on the ship Eden to New South Wales, with correspondence, 1840;
  • PC 1/2716: Lists of Convicts embarked on the ship Tortoise to Van Diemen’s Land, with correspondence, 1841;
  • PC 1/2717: Lists of Convicts embarked on the ship Elphinstone to Van Diemen’s Land, with correspondence, 1842;
  • PC 1/2718: Lists of Convicts embarked on the ship Anson to Van Diemen’s Land, with correspondence, 1843;
  • T 1 Treasury Board papers and T 53 Treasury Money Books also contain ships’ lists of convicts who were transported.

Prison Hulk Records – records held at TNA

  • HO 9/1 – 15: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers

Registers of convicts in the prison hulks, 1802 to 1849, arranged by hulk name.

1811 to 1843 images and indexes can be downloaded for free the TNA website.

  • ADM 6/418, 420, 422: Registers of convicts in prison hulks, with gaolers’ reports 1814 to 1835, each indexed at ADM 6/419, 421, 423 respectively.
  •  to 1831 images and indexes are available at in their series England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935;
  • PCOM 2/105: Portsmouth Prison, Hampshire: registers of prisoners, nos. 1-1477 from Sept 30, 1847 to Apr 18, 1853

Images and indexes are available at in series in their series England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935;

  • PCOM 2/131 to 137: Registers of convicts on specific prison hulks from 1837 to 1860

Images and indexes are available at in their series England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935;

  • HO 8/74: Quarterly returns of convicts in prison hulks for 1842 Dec

Available at TNA only.

These records will provide details of name, age, offence committed, when and where tried, date of transfer to a ship for transportation. This essentially forms a paper trail of the convict’s movements between conviction and transportation.  Many prisoners were initially held on prison hulks awaiting transportation. Not all were in fact transported. The records may not provide any additional information which may have been gained from other record discussed above however they could be used in alternative to those set out above or as confirmation of information already obtained.

Petitions for clemency and pardons

Series HO 17 and HO 18 held at TNA hold original petitions made by or on behalf of convicts asking for a revocation or reduction of their sentences. “Attached to some petitions are related papers and some returns, made by the governors of convict prisons, of convicts recommended for early release for good behaviour”.

  • HO 17 holds petitions made between 1819 and 1839;
  • HO 18 holds petitions made between 1839 and 1853.

There is an index to the petitions which can be found in HO 19 arranged alphabetically giving the reference of the original petition, the place of imprisonment and the outcome of the petition. 

Many have been indexed and digitised and made available at in their series England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935. HO 17, 18 and 19 can be found as subseries and can be searched by name, year and place.

Petitions are most likely to include personal information regarding the convict, such as their age, family circumstances, where he lived prior to his conviction, previous good character, his occupation and any extenuating circumstances.

Newspapers reports

Once the court and/or area is known, before searching the court records it may be worth searching newspaper reports to see what further information may be gleaned about the case and the convict. Newspaper reports often include personal information about those they are reporting on, including age, occupation, where they were from, where the offence was committed and sometimes details of their family. The largest collection can be found at the British Library but there are several websites where newspapers can be searched:

  • The British Newspaper Archive;
  • Find My Past
  • London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes
  • Local newspapers will also be available in the local archives for the area where the trial took place.

Court Records

Once you know the court your ancestor convicts’ trial was heard then the court records can be searched for more information. To be sentenced to transportation, a convict had committed a serious offence which would have been heard in either their local Assize Court or the Old Bailey/Central Criminal Court. 

Assize courts

The former Assize Court, York

Assize court records, where they exist, are largely held at TNA although some may be found at local archives (for example searching the Surrey History Centre online catalogue there are various papers from the assize courts which appear to have been provided to the archives from personal collections or as part of the Quarter Session records), however many records were destroyed. Records may be found in various series held at TNA, none of which are digitised and can only be viewed at TNA:

  • ASSI 1 – 54: Records of the Justices of Assize from 1554 to 1971 arranged by circuits;
  • KB 6/1 – 6: Depositions 1836-1886;
  • KB 10/1 – 92: Indictments (London and Middlesex) 1675-1845;
  • KB 11/1 – 107: Indictment (Rest of England) 1676-1845;
  • KB 12/1 – 228: Indictments files for all counties 1846-1926;
  • KB 19/1 – 3: Pleadings

It should be noted that the Palatine courts of Chester, Durham and Lancaster (Lancashire) merged into the assizes system in 1876. Prior to this their respective court records will need to be searched at TNA is series CHES, DURH and PL

Old Bailey and Central Criminal Court

The Old Bailey was essentially the Assize court for the City of London until 1834 when the Central Criminal Court was established. The Central Criminal Court had jurisdiction over the City of London, Middlesex, parts of Essex, Kent, Surrey, crimes committed at sea and abroad.

The Old Bailey was essentially the Assize court for the City of London until 1834 when the Central Criminal Court was established. The Central Criminal Court had jurisdiction over the City of London, Middlesex, parts of Essex, Kent, Surrey, crimes committed at sea and abroad.

Old Bailey/Central Criminal Court session papers are held Guildhall Library and at TNA in series PCOM 1 for 1801 to 1904 and CRIM 10 for 1834-1912.

Old Bailey trials for the period 1674 to 1935, can also be searched at They may also be searched online at under their series Middlesex, London, Old Bailey Court Records 1674-1913.

Civil registration, census returns, parish records and parish registers.

Once you have found, from any of the resources above, where the convict ancestor lived at the time they were convicted, then further research can be continued in the well-known genealogical record, to find their origins (parentage etc) depending on the period of time:

  • post 1837 – civil registration records
  • 1841 and beyond – decennial census returns
  • pre-1837 – parish registers and records.

The records discussed above represent a sample of records available to help trace an ancestor convicted and transported to Australia. There are numerous other records available both in Australia and England, online and off. The National Library of Australia has a very helpful research guide as does TNA and both should be consulted where such a research task is to be undertaken.

Part 2 will examine researching ancestors transported to the US.

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My ancestor was a criminal, what happened to him?

Surrey sessions and assizes 1848–1880. Calendar of prisoners. Series QS3/4/. Surrey History Centre, Woking, Surrey, England. Tried at: Summer Assizes holden at Guildford

When examining the “Calendar of Prisoners tried at the Summer Assizes, holden at Guildford on Wednesday, the 19th day of July 1899″ William Weller, caught my interest. At the age of 28 he was convicted of stealing a bicycle and sentenced to four months imprisonment with hard labour. The entry provided details of four earlier offences all involved stealing items of what appeared to be minor nature: beef, a chopper, a handbell and a coat. All his previous offences had been tried in the PS.

William was described as a labourer and his offence had been committed in Dorking. Dorking is small rural market in rural Surrey. The parish of Dorking was and remains largely residential and agricultural. Agriculture in the later Victorian years was increasingly difficult to earn a living from due to mechanisation. Pay for agricultural labourers was generally poor but especially low in the south where there was little competition from the lure of the new, industrial areas of the Midlands, North West and West Yorkshire, where wages were higher. 

Having always had an interest in what people commit crime, this made me wonder what had led William to a life of petty crime in his 20’s. Was he typical of the petty criminal of the time? Was there anything in his early years which influenced his behaviour? How effective were his punishments in preventing a future life of crime? Did his life of crime continue into more serious criminal activity? Are there any comparisons between his life of petty crime to today?

Surrey History Centre (SHC) online catalogue and the National Archives (TNA) Discovery catalogue should identify records available for Dorking Petty Sessions, Reigate Petty Sessions and Guildford Assizes to be examined at the relevant archive. Surrey was part of the Home Circuit Assizes which in 1876 combined with the Norfolk Circuit creating the South Eastern Circuit, although Surrey remained unattached until 28 July 1893.

Wandsworth prison records are held at The London Metropolitan Archive (LMA) whose online catalogue should identify appropriate prison records to be examined.

Census returns, civil registration records of birth, marriages and deaths, parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials amongst other records which may be available online will be used to trace his earlier, later and family life and circumstances, using commercial and government websites as well as any other records identified and held at and SHC using their online catalogue.


Local newspapers reports can provide details of crimes being tried and are therefore a good starting point for research Three local newspaper reports describing misdemeanours of William Weller were found using the British Newspaper Archives website:

Alcohol in Victorian Britain

Two of the newspaper reports suggest William’s behaviour was caused or affected by alcohol, causing delirium and his admission to Brookwood Asylum in 1898. Whilst William was not arrested for drunkenness, there is suggested a distinct connection between alcohol and his offending.

Victorian Britain saw an emergence of stronger ales and spirits, in particular gin, and a boom in public houses, with 30,000 new beer houses opening in 1831 without the need for licences. Drunkenness was more often associated with the poorer working classes, who, by the 1870’s spent up to a quarter of their income on alcohol.

The Old Brewery, Newdigate, Surrey c. 1910, Courtesy of John Callcut, Chairman of the Newdigate Local History Society

Dorking Petty Sessions

Unfortunately, the Dorking Petty Sessions register for periods 1893,1895 and 1899 held at Surrey History Centre (SHC) are “unfit for production”. Staff at SHC confirmed the register for 1893 is a book in extremely poor condition, being described as “almost dust” so no further information is available regarding this offence. However, staff at SHC were able to obtain details of his 1895 conviction from the register which differ to the Calendar of Prisoners, the register stating his offence was “stealing a Bill Hook at [an unreadable location], Newdigate”. The complainant was Martin Weller.

A Bill Hook

Reigate Petty Sessions

His convictions in 1894 and 1985 were not found in local newspapers. Reigate Petty Sessions registers are available at Surrey History Centre (SHC) but unfortunately do not include any records for 1894, covering January to May 1893 and January to February 1898. All other registers covered the 20th century.

No.DateName of Informant or ClaimantName of defendant, and age if under 16Nature of Offence or Matter of ComplaintMinute of AdjudicationJustices Adjudicating
1898 Jan 111898 Jan 11James BriceWilliam WellerDrunk & disorderly on the highway at Horley on 4th Dec 1897Fined 5/- Costs 5/-E W Brockhurst, Fred Pawler, Henry Greenhill and Wentworth G Cauley
REIGATE PETTY SESSIONS REGISTER Surrey History Centre; Woking, Surrey, England; Reference 2003/4/1; Page 6

I did examine the register to see what type of information may have been available and in doing so, I found a William Weller convicted on 11 January 1898 of being drunk & disorderly on the highway at Horley on 4th Dec 1897. There are no further details to identify him, and this conviction does not appear in his entry in the Calendar of Prisoners. It is therefore unlikely this is the same William.

Assize records

Assize records are held at TNA and include Indictment Files, Crown Minute Books (Agenda Books), Depositions and Miscellaneous Books. The Indictment files for 1892 to 1920 and Depositions for 1890 to 1912 are few and held nothing for William. The miscellaneous books included a precedent book of documents used in the Assizes, and four detailing offences and sentences covering the 18th century.

William was found in the Crown Minute Book for the Surrey Assizes Summer 1899, held over Wednesday 19th and Thursday 20th July, with a Grand jury of 22 and a Petty Jury of 12. The Grand jury’s role “was to accuse anyone who might be guilty of an offence and to protect others against unfounded prosecution (such as an accusation made out of malice). The grand jury would decide if there was sufficient evidence in a case to put the defendant on trial”; the Petty Jury’s role was to hear “the evidence in a trial and decided on the innocence or guilt of a defendant. After listening to the witnesses and lawyers (if present), the jury would retire, or huddle, and reach its verdict”.

The entry adds no further information.

  4Puts Guilty. 4 cal month William WellerFeloniously stealing a bicycle of the good of Frederick Halliday at Dorking on 4th July 1899 2nd Court receiving

“Puts guilty” suggests when the charge was put to him, he pleaded guilty. “2nd court receiving” suggests he first appeared before the Petty Sessions and his case transferred, possibly due to his previous convictions and the value of the bicycle, to the next available higher court. “Many justices may have, adopted a common sense approach, and sent thieves and other minor offenders for trial at whichever came first” The Assize court was held only 16 days after the offence took place.

Wandsworth Prison Records

The Prison was opened in November 1851. Originally built to house 700 prisoners in separate cells each with their own toilet, however conditions had deteriorated from the 1870’s with toilets removed from the cells to increase capacity and the practice of ‘slopping out’ being introduced, which remained in force until 1996.

Prison life in Victorian times was quite different to today – no early release for good behaviour, no education or rehabilitation programs; hard labour was just that! Some prisoners worked in quarries, at the docks or building roads. Other prisoners ‘worked’ on devices such as the treadmill/wheel, “the prisoner simply walked the wheel…. the treadmill provided flour to make money for the gaol… in later times, there was no product, and the treadmill was walked just for punishment”; or the Crank, “a large handle, in their cell, that a prisoner would have to turn, thousands of times a day. This could be tightened by the warders, making it harder to turn, which resulted in their nickname of ‘screws’”.

Wandsworth prison records are held at LMA although the vast majority cover the 20th century and/or those condemned and executed. For the 1890’s there are Nominal registers of admissions. These A3 size hardback books in good condition are laid out in columns as per the transcription. The registers covering his incarceration in April 1894 were “unfit for production and handling” however it is fair to assume that record would be like those examined.

     Name (surname, Christian Name)Date and place of committalAssizes, session date and placeOffenceSentenceEducationAge, Height, colour of hairTrade/ occupationReligion/ Birth placeNo. of convictions and reference to last entryDate of discharge and remarksArchive ref and page no.
10700Weller Wm23 Mar 1895 Dorking Stealing a bill-hook of 2/-1 C M HLImp23 5.5 D.BrwLabC E Dorking122 Apr 95ACC/3444/PR/01/069 Page 76 Nominal register
10537Weller William7.1.99 Dorking Stealing Coat14 days HL 28 5.6LabC of Dorking220.1.99ACC/3444/PR/01/088 Page 198 Nominal register
17502Weller Wm Surrey Assizes 19/20.7.99Larceny4 C mos HLImp28 5.5LabCE Dorking318.11.99ACC/3444/PR/01/091 Page 240 Nominal register

They do not add much to the information already found. They do confirm that his conviction in March 1895 was for stealing a bill-hook to the value of 2/-, agreeing with the entry in the Dorking Petty Session records. It may be a simple error in the calendar of prisoners, incorrectly noting the offences committed in 1894 and 1895. There is no way to clarify this given the Reigate Petty sessions records are lacking for 1894, the prison records are unfit for production and no newspaper report could be found.

The prison register describes William as 5ft 5in or 5ft 6in tall with dark brown hair. NO other records provide such a description.

A dietary sheet found amongst the prison records, provides details of the different diets for the seven different classes of prisoners based on length of sentence and whether sentenced to hard Labour (HL).

Class 1: not exceeding 7 days.

Class 2: 7 days but not 21 days.

Class 3: HL for a term exceeding 21 days but not more than 6 weeks; those not employed in HL exceeding 21 days but not more than 4 months.

Class 4: HL exceeding 6 weeks but not more than 4 months; not HL exceeding 4 months.

Class 5: HL exceeding 4 months.

Class 6: Sentenced to solitary confinement.

Class 7: Prisoners under punishment for prison offences not exceeding 3 days; Prisoners in close confinement for prison offences under the 42nd section of the Gaol Act.


The diet sheet also included the ingredients for soup (per pint): 3 oz cooked meat without bone, 3 oz potatoes, 1 oz barley, rice or oatmeal, 1 oz onions or leaks, with pepper and salt; and gruel (per pint) 2 oz oatmeal per pint to be sweetened on alternate days with ¾ oz of molasses or sugar and seasoned with salt. “In seasons when the potato crop has failed, 4 oz split peas made into pudding ma occasionally be substituted, but the change must not be made more than twice a week”.


William served three periods of 1 calendar month HL – a Class 3 prisoner with a diet of:

Breakfast:             daily – 1 pint of oat gruel; 6 oz of bread

Dinner:                 Sun/Thur – 1 pint soup, 8 oz bread

Tues/Sat – 3 oz of cooked meat without bone, 8 oz bread, 1/2 lb potatoes

Mon/Wed/ Fri – 8 oz bread, 1lb potatoes

Supper:                daily – same as breakfast

His fourth term in prison was 4 calendar months HL – a Class 4 prisoner with a diet of:

Breakfast:             daily – 1 pint of oat gruel; 8 oz of bread

Dinner:                 Sun/Tues/Thur/Sat – 3 oz cooked meat without bone, ½ lb potatoes, 8 oz bread

Mon/Wed/Fri dinner – 1 pint soup, 8 oz bread

Supper:                  daily – same as breakfast

Brookwood Asylum

The newspaper report dated Saturday, January 14, 1899 states William had been certified insane and sent to Brookwood Asylum whilst on remand. Brookwood opened on 17 June 1867 on the outskirts of the village of Knaphill, four miles west of Woking, Surrey and held up to 650 pauper ‘lunatics’. “Brookwood was the County Asylum chiefly serving west Surrey”.

Brookwood Asylum photos courtesy of Surrey Live website
Brookwood Asylum photos courtesy of Surrey Live website

Their registers of admission are available online. There were two entries for William: 6th November 1897 discharged 28 February 1898 and 30 June 1898 discharged 27 December 1898. Both admissions describe excessive drinking. The newspaper report from July 1899 also states William was “in drink at the time”.

When first admitted, he was also suffering from Pulmonary Congestion for which his symptoms could have ranged from fluid on the lungs or milder chest infection.

Brookwood records held at SHC were examined to find more details about his admission and treatment, including Registers of Admissions; Alphabetical Admission Register; Removal, discharge and death Register; Record of Discharges; Medical Superintendents Private Record of Patients Admitted; Male Case Book No. 18.

Date of AdmissionDate of Reception OrderDate of Continuation of Reception OrderChristian and SurnameAgeCondition as to MarriageCondition of Life and Pervious occupationsPrevious Place of AbodeUnion. County or Borough to which chargeableBy whose authority sentDate of medical certificate and by whom signedForm of Mental DisorderSupposed cause of InsanityBodily Condition and Name of DiseaseDuration of Existing AttackDate of Removal, Discharge or DeathRemoved, discharged or deadObservations
1897 Nov 6Nov 6 1897 William Weller26SingleLabourer Ch of EngDorking (1 week) previous temporary residence Epsom, Newdigate, LeatherheadDorkingH.L Steere, J.PH. Chaldecott 6 Nov 1897ManiaSupposed excessing drinkingPulmonary Congestion (put to bed)3 days28 Feb 1898Recovered 
1898 June 30June 30 1898 William Weller27SingleNo Occupation Ch of EngNewdigateDorkingJ.C. Deverell JPH.J.W. Blakeney 29 June 1898DementiaProbably excessive drinkingFairly good3 days27 Dec 1898Recovered 
Surrey History Centre; Woking, Surrey, England; Mental Health Admissions; Facility: Brookwood Asylum; Facility City: Woking; Year Range: 1897-1899; Register Number: 5; Admission Number: 8747-9242; Reference Number: 3043/5/1/1/11;,

These records suggest a troubled young man with a history of excessive drinking causing quite severe mental health problems with episodes of hallucinations, tremors, confusion, sleeplessness, restlessness, memory loss. The case notes dated on 31 June 1898 state he had stolen a coat which he sold for a drink and that William had early signs of pneumonia later described as bronchitis.

William’s lack of presence in records such as the Patients Money Account ledger and Return of Patients Property book suggest a poor financial position. It does beg the question how did he pay the fine and costs he was sentenced for his first convictions?

His notes state he “usually employed with the brick layers” but he was not employed when admitted the second time. On both occasions he was discharged to “RO” (Receiving Officer). When first discharged he was provided with clothing and a monetary allowance of 10/.  There is no record for any criminal charges following his arrest on 1 November 1897.

During his time in Brookwood, there are no record of him engaging in any activities available or gained any skills to help him gain employment on discharge. Records available of activities/employment within the asylum include the Mat makers/Basket makers shop employment book and the Stewards Reports which detailed those engaged in labouring work. It would be nice to think William attended weekly entertainments including a variety of dancing and singing, occasional theatrical performances and artistes. The New Years Eve 1898 celebration included “The Brookwood Snowflakes”.

The Weller Family and Newdigate

William lived in Newdigate in 1893. The Newdigate guide gives the population in 1851, according to the census return, as 605 “with 212 under the age of 14 and 23 over the age of 70”. Seven family names – Beedle, Burberry, Gad, Horley, King, Taylor and Weller – accounted for one third of the total population, the last name belonging to no less than 43 inhabitants” and was a longstanding family of the village, which can still be found there today.

Newdigate is a rural village about six miles south east of Dorking and 18 mins south west of Reigate. The main employment historically was agriculture which would have been hard work because the land is thick clay “with 21 farmers employing 138 men as agricultural labourers or farm servants”. Many were employed in other occupations which enabled Newdigate to be a self-sufficient village, such as “gamekeepers, wood reevers gardeners, blacksmiths, grooms, wheelwrights, swayers, rat-catchers, bailiffs, thatchers, cattle doctors….bricklayers, tailors, shoemakers, grocers, dressmakers, carpenters, innkeepers, nurses, teachers,…a fellmonger, a charwoman, a general dealer, a confectioner, a brick maker, a rector, a letter carrier, a laundress and a brewer”. In 1923 a brick and tile works opened which is now a nature reserve owned by Surrey Wildlife Trust, however brick making had been taking place in the nearby village of Beare Green since 1830.

The men of the Weller family in 1851, “were mostly agricultural workers living in and around workhouse green”.

By the 1890’s whilst larger houses were starting to be built as a new Victorian middle-class wealth began to inhabit the area, “there was still much poverty and many of the cottages were overcrowded and insanitary. There was a place for everyone, and everyone knew his/her place. The men worked hard with long hours and low pay and the poor doffed their caps or curtsied to the rector and the wealthy”.

William’s early family life

The census returns reveal William was the youngest of eight children to George and Mary Weller.  

Three things are noted. Firstly, William was born after the 1871 census; secondly, he lost his father, George when he was young (between the 1871 and 1881 census); and thirdly, his mother, Mary, became an Annuitant suggesting George had invested during his life perhaps in a local Friendly Society. Searching the SHC online catalogue there were several Friendly Society’s in Surrey but nothing specific to Newdigate.

A search of parish registers for Surrey, found William’s baptism record at St Peters Church, Newdigate on 25 June 1871, with a date of birth as 28 May 1871.

Searching GRO birth indexes in 1871 found three possible entries, two identified the mother’s maiden name. A search for his parent’s marriage record was conducted to find the correct mother’s maiden name for William’s mother. A search on Ancestry identified two possible entries for a George Weller and Mary, one in Sussex the other in Newdigate, Surrey. The family lived in Newdigate, the census returns gave George’s birthplace as Newdigate and Mary’s as Charlwood (a neighbouring village). Checking the bride’s maiden names against the two birth entries from GRO, identified the correct marriage and correct birth for William. His birth certificate gives his date of birth as 27th May 1871.

A search in the GRO birth index for his siblings was undertaken as a further check to confirm the parentage revealing George and Mary had nine children, in 1856 they had a daughter Jane who sadly died in 1858 age 1.

Searching online for his father’s death found he died aged 50 on 24th December 1877 of “Blood poisoning from absorption of fluids in Pig Killing 4 days”. His death being employment related in winter suggests George was a permanent employee of a local livestock farm having security of income, not reliant on seasonal employment.

It is impossible to say what impact losing his father so young (6 years old) had on William, but this could be a factor in his later behaviour. By the time George died, the three eldest children, George, Mary and Mark, were no longer living at home having already married. A search of the GRO marriage records, parish marriage registers and census returns finds all William’s siblings went on to marry and have quite large families themselves, except Martin, who may be the person who accused William of stealing his Bill-hook in 1895. The census returns suggest William attended the local endowed school, originally built in 1660 by George Steere, the then Rector of Newdigate.

By 1838 it had become dilapidated and was rebuilt. By the time William was born it was compulsory to attend school until the age of 10 years old, the headmaster was Henry Hackwood who “had been there since the new building was first opened in 1872 …. His pupils … came mostly from the surrounding cottages and farms, and had little expectation beyond following their parents onto the fields or into service in one of the larger houses”.

The Calendar of Prisoners and the prison records describe William’s education as “Imp” meaning semi-literate. Unfortunately, whilst there are records associated with the school for the 1870/80’s held at SHC there are no registers or other records concerning attendance of children.

William in the 1890’s (enclosure 6)

A search of the 1891 census for a William Weller born in 1871 (+/- 1 year) living in Newdigate, found one result. William was age 19, an agricultural labourer living at Kingsland, to the north west of the village being a row of four old timber-framed cottages (more recently divided into two dwellings) with his mother (a widow “living on her own means”), a brother, a niece, and a lodger. This suggests his mother was living off income other than from employment, such as investments.

Kingsland date unknown courtesy of The Newdigate Guide
Kingsland.  Photograph © 1910 courtesy of The Newdigate Local History Society

A wider search of this census for Newdigate provides details of his accomplices, victims and witnesses.

1893 Offence (by reference to the 1891 census)

His accomplice, David Hall, lived at Parkgate, a small hamlet to the northeast of Newdigate, in 1891, David was 23 years old and a Basket weaver. He was married with a young son and at the time of the census his younger brother, aged 15, was staying with them.

The shop, Alfred Dean was described as a grocer, draper and baker. The Dean family were “the best remembered shopkeepers … ran the stores from the 1890’s until the second world war”; the shop and house being called Wirmwood. They sold “products as diverse as bacon, tin kettles, butter and clothes, and anyone tall ran the risk of knocking his head on the boots that hung from the ceiling”.

Courtesy of The Newdigate Guide

The only “Mr Martin” was Frederick Martin, a neighbour of William, also living at Kingsland. It is not clear where “Mr Martin’s orchard” was located. The population had grown to 684 in the 1891 census and it is likely William was known to Mr Dean and Mr Martin.

The witness, “a man named Lucas” was possibly Harvey S Lucas aged 18, an agricultural labourer living with his mother (a widow) and younger siblings at Kingsland. Harvey is stated as having been born in Newdigate and it is likely William and Harvey had grown up together, hence this Mr Lucas would have easily been able to identify William. There were however several Mr Lucas’s living in Newdigate at the time.

1898 offence (court hearing January 1899 – by reference to the 1901 census)

Albert Monk from whose shed William stole a coat also lived at Kingsland, being a self-employed coal merchant and Fly Proprietor, again someone who William likely knew. Henry Streeter was a young agricultural working living at Parkgate with his parents and siblings and may have been known to William through employment or simply drinking in the pub. The Six Bells Inn, which has existed for as long as records exist, derives its name from the number of bells in the parish church tower, “prior to 1803 when the church had only five bells, the pub was also known as The Five Bells”.

Courtesy of The Newdigate Guide

William may have had an uncle living in Reigate, but no research had been carried out into the wider family.

1899 Offence (by reference to the 1901 census)

Frederick Halliday, if which there was only one living in Dorking, was a retired civil servant in British India, age 65 living at Tower Hill, Dorking with his wife and four servants. Tower Hill was an area of housing development in the 1850’s to 1870’s when the “National Freehold Land Society was responsible for housing developments in …. around Tower Hill”, with detached houses for the wealthier. William would certainly have been out of place in the area.

Life after prison

In the 1901 census, William, age 29 and a general labourer, was living back with his mother and brother Martin.

William then disappears from census records. In 1911 his mother and brother Martin are still living together but no William and no other entries could be found for him. (see enclosure 9). Had he died? A search of the death indexes find he died at Dorking Union Workhouse on 6th October 1901 age 31 years. The cause of death is given as Phthisis which is better known as Pulmonary Tuberculosis or TB, a common cause of illness and death in Victorian England, particularly “associated with persons from the lower socio-economic groups because they were more likely to live in crowded conditions which favoured its spread”. There is no evidence any other family members suffered from TB and it is likely his lifestyle choices and incarceration lead to his illness and death.

William appears to have been a very troubled young man. He had no specific skills which could enhance his life chances and at a young age fell to the perils of drink and a life of petty crime to fund that addiction. How William’s life took such a different turn to those of his siblings may never be known, but his father dying when he was so young may have been a contributing factor as would have been his apparent lack of skill, the difficulties associated with a predominantly agricultural labour force and his penchant for alcohol! Further research into the life of his parents, siblings and wider family may provide further insight.

Continuing the theme of criminal ancestors, my next blog will look at how to trace your ancestors who wer transported to Australia.

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The Crimes of our Ancestors

The criminal records of our ancestors can offer a fascinating insight into changing attitudes to crime and punishment often a result of social and economic influences. The Victorian era saw the end of transportation with prisons beganning to be used as a punishment and not just a place where criminals awaited trial, execution, or transportation.

Crime, criminal behaviour, sentencing and many other aspects of the criminal justice system has changed signifantly in the last 500 years and is still evolving today with the latest Police, Crime, Sententing and Courts Act 2022 commencing on 28th June 2022 bringing into effect Harper’s Law following the long petition by the wife of PC Andrew Harper who was killed in the line of duty in 2019.

What types of crimes?

Many of the crimes of the past continue today and will be familiar, some no longer exist in that they have either been re-named or simply merged into wider categories. So what names of crimes might you find in the criminal records or the past?

  • Murder and attempted murder
  • Felo de se: Suicide – suicide was a crime until the 1961 Suicide Act, it is still a crime to assist someone to commit suicide
  • Manslaugher
  • Infanticide
  • Petty Treason – the crime committed by a servant in killing his master, by a wife in killing her husband, or by an ecclesiastic in killing his superior- this ceased to be a separate offence from murder under the Offences Against the Person Act 1828
  • Cannibalism – no longer a specific crime in England althought it was effectively outlawed by the Human Tissue Act 2004
  • Assualt
  • Bodily Harm (Gross and Actual)
  • Public Disorder
  • Rioting
  • Mutiny
  • Radicalism and Policital movements
  • Robbery
  • Highway Robbery – no longer a specific crime in England, now comes under robbery or armed robbery (the last mounter highway robbery is thought to have taken place in 1831)
  • Grand Larcery and larceny – no longer a specific crimes in England, now more generalised crimes of burglary, robbery, fraud, theft and related offences
  • Theft
  • Smugling
  • Poaching
  • Stealing animals
  • Arson
  • Uttering, Counterfeiting, forgery
  • Rape
  • Sexual assualt
  • Sodomy
  • Obscenity and pornography (publication of images)
  • Bigamy
  • Prostitution
  • Abduction
  • Treason – Until the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 this was the only crime for which a person could still be sentanced to death following the end of capital punishment in 1965. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 ‘reduce’ the sentance to life imprisonment
  • Sedition – abolished in England under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009
  • Espionage and other political crimes
  • Bankrupcy – no longer a criminal offence in itself unless it relates to criminal offences such as fraud
  • Vagrancy

Has sentancing changed? In the era of transportation it was not unknown for such crimes to be punished by transportation, such as these two entries found in the Surrey Calendar of Prisoners, for the Surrey Assizes held at Guildford:

William Jones (Aged 35, who could not read or write) was charged with and found guilty of stealing a chestnut mare on 8th June 1848 and was sentenced to 7 years transportation

Surrey sessions and assizes 1848–1880. Calendar of prisoners. Series QS3/4/. Surrey, England, Calendar of Prisoners, 1848-1902

To put the above sentence in context, horse stealing was a significant crime prior to the introduction of the motor car and prior to 1832 horse theft attracted a death sentence. Following the Larceny Act 1916 the sentence was imprisonment for up to 14 years. Horse theft is no longer a specific crime but would be dealt with as theft for which the maximum sentence of 7 years (Crown Court) or 6 months (Magistrates Court) with or without an unlimited fine.

Richard Amor (aged 20 who could not read or write) was charged with and found guilty of stealing a silver watch from a person on 26th May 1849 and was sentanced to transportation for life

Surrey sessions and assizes 1848–1880. Calendar of prisoners. Series QS3/4/. Surrey, England, Calendar of Prisoners, 1848-1902

Such a crime today would be classed as a Robbery for which the sentancing guidelines state that custodial sentances begin at 4 or 5 years with the most serious of offences such as armed robbery attracting a maximum of life.

Earlier examples can be taken from Peter Wilson Coldham’s book, “Bonded Passnegers to America” available on the Ancestry website:

Robert Allerton convicted at the Lent Assizes in 1770 in Yorkshire for stealing a sheep at Hampnell was sentenced to 14 years transportation on reprieval Bonded Passengers to America (9 vols. In 3)

Daniel Hicks convicted at the July Assizes in 1720 in Hampshire for horse stealing was sentenced to 14 years transportation on reprieval

It must be remembered that whilst prisons, also known historically as “Bridewells” or “Houses of Correction” have existed for many centuries, they were largely used to hold prisoners awaiting execution or transportation, debtors (known as debtors prisons) or those being held on remand. Convicted criminals were unlikey to be sentenced to a term in prison. It was only in the 19th century when Transportation ended that the prison population began to grow.

The increased use of prisons to house criminals brought with it the introduction of penal service or sentencing of a term in prison with hard labour when the Penal Serviture Acts 1853 and 1857 were introduced to replace transportation.

Several new prisons were built in the 19th Century to house the rising number of criminals, “Offences went up from about 5,000 per year in 1800 to about 20,000 per year in 1840”. “Between 1842 and 1877, 90 prisons were built or added to. It was a massive building programme, costing millions of pounds” this included a new prison for Surrey at Wandsworth, which like many built in this period is still in use today.

Wandsworth Prison, Surrey, when it first opened in 1851

Prisons were not the easy option. Facing rising crime, the Victorians believed in punishment and prison sentences were often accompanied by hard labour, even for what would be a petty crime for which an offender today may simply receive a fine and/or community service.

Petty crime was often unplanned and opportunistic stealing small amounts of food, clothing, money, jewels etc, usually tried at Petty Sessions (PS) or Quarter Sessions (QS), occasionally finding their way to the Assize courts, particularly if they were a repeat offender.

See my next blog in which I trace the life of a petty criminal in the late Victorian years who was sentenced several times to prison with of hard labour which I will also discussed further.

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The Central Law Courts of our ancestors

The English Legal system comprises of criminal law and civil law. Civil law encompasses several areas such as common law (established from cases and judgements of the courts), family law, wills and probate, the law of tort, law of contract, law of trusts and equity and so on.

Prior to 1875 different areas of civil law were administered by separate courts: The Court of Chancery, the Court of Exchequer, the Court of Queen’s Bench, the Court of Common Pleas and the High Court of Admiralty. There was no Court of Appeal.

Several other courts had existed in the earlier centuries but ceased to exist before 1875: The Court of Augmentation, the Court of Star Chamber, the Court of Requests, the General Eyre, the Court of Wards and Liveries, and the Palace Court. Away from Westminster there were courts in the Palatines (Chester, Durham and Lancaster) and the court of the Duchy of Lancaster which had the same functions as the central Westminster courts, in their own areas.

The common law courts of the Court of King/Queen’s Bench and the Court of Common Pleas established in the 12th Century had, overall only one means of legal redress, that of financial compensation. This would not solve an issue such as trespass or rights of use of land where what was required was an injunction. Common law courts could also not enforce trusts which by the 14th and 15th centuries were growing in use, particularly in connection with land and inheritance. Courts of Equity therefore began to be established to address the faults with the common law system.

Each court developed at different times and had different functions although there was some overlap between several courts in the types of cases they would hear.

The Courts

General Eyre (12th to 14th Century)

This was essentially the senior criminal court dealing with serious crimes (and some civil matters) which were beyond the jurisdiction of the manorial courts. It was a hearing of the King’s Judges who were sent out from London every few years (an average of every seven but often less frequent) to hear civil cases such as trespass, debts and cases against the Crown; and to hear criminal cases of those accused of felonies, that is crimes which held a sentence of imprisonment or death.

The Coroner was a key figure in General Eyre proceedings, presenting the Justices with rolls of inquests into suspicious or unnatural deaths and collating records of the crimes and events taken place between each General Eyre.

The General Eyre was also responsible for overseeing local administration, presentments made by juries and the general behaviour of the community. Failure to comply with the complex and convoluted legal procedures was punished by the levying of large fines both on individuals and entire communities.

The General Eyre were essentially the ‘eyes, ears and enforcers’ of the Crown maintaining law, order and civility across the country.

High Court of Admiralty (1160 to 1875)

Being an Island, England has a long history as a seafaring nation, little is it any wonder that piracy was once a significant problem and that disputes arose in the maritime industry.

The High Court of Admiralty was established around 1160 and had both criminal and civil jurisdiction, dealing with criminal matters such as piracy and murder alongside civil matters such as the condemnation and sale of enemy ships (‘prize cases’) including those captured by privateers under Letters of Marque first issued in 1293 and abolished in 1856 (although only usually issued in times of war). 

They also dealt with civil disputes such as collisions between ships and the damage caused including loss and damage to cargo; salvage of ships; seaman’s wages; seizures of ships and cargo by customs officers; and chartering of ships.

From the 17th Century, the criminal jurisdiction of the High Court of Admiralty, particularly in cases of piracy and murder, was transferred to Admiralty sessions at the Old Bailey and in 1834 to the Central Criminal Court. In addition, in the 17th Century ‘prize cases’ were heard in separate Prize Courts.

Appeals in civil dispute cases (other than ‘prize cases’) from the High Court of Admiralty were heard by the High Court of Delegates between 1535 and 1833. The High Court of Delegates was a court in which appeals were made to the Crown in Chancery where they were heard by Commissioners appointed by letters patent under the Great Seal.

Also established from the 17th Century were Vice-Admiral Courts in nineteen maritime counties around England and in the British Colonies which represented the High Court of Admiralty in those areas and dealt with local admiralty cases. Appeals from these courts were to the High Court of Admiralty.

Court of the King/Queen’s Bench (12th Century to 1875)

This along with the Court of Common Pleas was the oldest and highest common law court in England, although it did also deal with criminal matters, dealing with matters which either affected the Crown in person on the King/Queen’s peace. They also supervised the lower courts and had a local jurisdiction in Middlesex. The court was presided over by the Lord Chief Justice.

On the Crown side (criminal law) the court would deal with the most severe crimes such as treason, breaches of the peace, highway robbery, felonies and misgovernment. They would also hear appeal cases; were it was claimed there was an error in a conviction by the lower courts.

On the Plea side (civil law) they would deal again with the more serious cases such as fraud, breach of contract, abuse of power by public officials and writs of habeus corpus (seeking freedom from alleged illegal imprisonment).

Being the highest common law court, there was no means of appeal to the Court’s decision in civil proceedings. Until 1830, the King’s Bench acted as a court of appeal for the Court of Exchequer (see below), Court of Common Pleas, Eyre circuits, Assize courts and local courts.

Its own decisions and records were sent to Parliament to be signed off although from 1585 and the creation of the Court of Exchequer Chamber (see below), King’s Bench decisions could be appealed and following the expansion of the jurisdiction of the Exchequer Chamber in 1830, the King’s Bench ceased to be an appellate court.

Court of Common Pleas (12th Century to 1875)

This court developed in the 12th Century from the King’s Council (Curia Regis) evolving from unlimited jurisdiction to a purely common law court. Typical cases concerned land or debt between individuals, cases which did not concern or affect the Crown. It was presided over by the Lord Chief Justice of Common Pleas and a varying number of puisne justices (who were usually Barristers).

The Court of Common Pleas was gradually superseded by the King’s Bench and Court of Exchequer (see below) because its methods and procedures were much slower than those of the King’s Bench and Exchequer courts. But it maintained its dominance in the jurisdiction of real property disputes until 1875.

Privy Council (14th Century to 1875)

The Privy Council developed from the Curia Regis and was a legislative, judicial and administrative body, essentially an advisory court of the Crown.

It was made up of the Crown’s most important officials including ministers such as the Lord Chancellor and Treasurer, bishops and household officials, conducting most of its business through committees (one of which is now the cabinet) which were concerned with matters of foreign affairs, royal grants of land, pardons and tax.

Judicial matters of public order such as treason, rebellion, heresy and petitions received from individuals and communities to resolve local matters, were in time, referred to the Court of Star Chambers (see below) and Court of Chancery (see below) respectively. In those matters, the Privy Council remained the final court of appeal through its Judicial Committee, the High Court of Delegates.

Appeals were also heard by the Privy Council from the Admiralty Courts (see above), the Isle of Man, Channel Islands, Crown colonies, dominions and later Commonwealth Countries.

The Court of Exchequer Chamber (14th Century to 1875)

This was essentially an ‘umbrella term’ used by four separate courts which heard appeals from common law courts – the King’s Bench, the Court of Exchequer (see below) and from 1830, the Court of Common Pleas directly.

Appeals were presided over by four judges belonging to the two courts other than the court the matter had originate in. Where the appeal was to determine an important point of law, twelve common law judges may sit, the matter being referred to the original court once with point of law had been determined.

A judgment of the Exchequer Chamber was usually considered the authoritative statement of the law although further appeal to the House of Lords was possible.

Court of Requests (1483 to 1640’s)

This court was essentially the Court of Chancery for the poor man, also known as ‘the poor man’s court’. It was established to enable those whose cases were below the threshold of £10 set by the Court of Chancery.

The types of cases dealt with included land enclosure disputes, rights over common land, customs of the manor disputes, annuities and marriage contracts. Although its jurisdiction was mainly civil law, it could also hear some minor criminal and admiralty cases.

Its procedures where much simpler and quicker than other courts which made it a popular court, particularly with female litigants who may otherwise be discouraged from bringing a case.

Because of its procedures the court soon became unpopular with common law judges who during the late 16th century became angry at the number of cases being brought before the Court of Requests. The 1590’s was perhaps the start of their downfall when the higher courts began overwriting many of the Court of Request decisions and prevented the Court of Requests from imposing prison sentences.

Court of Star Chamber (1485 to 1641)

This court was established as a committee of councillors to deal with the judicial function of the Privy Council in matters which required the intervention of the Crown (see above). Their role was two-fold: to administer law directly and to supervise other courts.

From 1485 to 1560 the court dealt with both civil and criminal matters; from 1560 it dealt almost exclusively with criminal matters, such as “allegations of official corruption, abuse of legal procedure, alleged perjury, conspiracy, forgery, fraud, trespass, assault or riot” .Usually, they were cases involving prominent powerful individuals who were perhaps otherwise thought to be immune from criminal proceedings because the lower courts would not have the power to convict them.

In Tudor times (1485 to 1603) it also dealt with public disorder and rioting, perhaps such crimes were associated with acts of recusancy, heresy and even treason in the turbulent years after the dissolution of the monasteries and establishment of the Church of England.

The court was abolished by an Act of the Long Parliament in 1641 perhaps reflecting the fact that the court particularly concerned itself with and imposed unpleasant punishments on those who were thought to oppose the Crown.

Court of Augmentation (1536 to 1554)

This court was a ‘short-lived’ court created by Henry VIII following the dissolution of the monasteries to resolve land and property issues raised as a result of the sale of monastic land and to ensure the revenue from such sales was received.

The court had its own chancellor, treasurer, lawyers, receivers and auditors. Their main purpose and the collection of rent. Auditors would appraise monastic property and prepare particulars upon which the Court would then grant a warrant allowing the sale of the property, the Court being responsible for collecting the income from the sale.

Henry VIII established this court rather than having to go through the complex, lengthy procedures of the Court of Exchequer. Following his death in 1547 the court continued until it was abolished by Mary I in 1554 with the Court of Exchequer taking over its duties. This is perhaps not surprising given her attempt to reverse the Reformation.

Court of the Exchequer (16th Century to 1875)

The Court of Exchequer was originally established to oversee the collection of taxes but soon developed into an equity law court dealing with any cases where, it was accepted for the purposes of the law, it could be argued that the case affected or may affect the plaintiff’s ability to pay any debts or taxes he may owe to the Crown thus affecting the Crown’s revenue. Until 1649 “litigants had to have some genuine connection with the royal revenue, as officials or tenants of the Crown”.

This logic meant that virtually anyone could bring a claim in the Court of Exchequer and plaintiffs had a choice of bringing their case in either the Court of Chancery or Exchequer.

A plaintiff may choose to start proceedings in the Court of Exchequer instead of Chancery because it was thought the process in the Exchequer was quicker. However due to its popularity, overtime “its advantages disappeared, and the court became over-burdened”. Thus, from 1841 the equity cases were transferred to the Court of Chancery.

This court was presided over by four Barons who decided cases collectively hearing disputes over title of land, tithes, wills, trusts, mortgages, bonds, manorial rights and debts.

Palace Court (1630 to 1849)

The Palace Court was a minor civil law court which sat in Southwark with jurisdiction limited to within 12 miles of the Palace of Westminster, mainly hearing small debt claims with a value of below £5 (raised to £10 by the Frivolous Arrests Act 1725 and to £20 by the Imprisonment for Debt Act 1827), superior courts heard cases above this value. The figure of £5 was raised to £10 by the Frivolous Arrests Act 1725 and to £20 by the Imprisonment for Debt Act 1827. Its lower limit for the value of claims was 40 shillings. This court was abolished in 1849.

The civil court system since 1875 has been much simplified comprising: The High Court of Justice in London with law administered on a local level in County Courts; the Court of Appeal; and the Supreme Court of Judicature.  There are then the appeal courts: The Court of Appeal, the Privy Council (limited jurisdiction) and the UK Supreme Court.

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Researching an ancestor in the Chancery Courts

This blog sets out to demonstrate what resources maybe available and how they may be used to research an ancestor in the Chancery courts.

The National Archive (TNA) collection of Chancery Records are now largely searchable online at their discovery website and provides a good starting point.

A quick of family surnames, Richardson and Huddlestone, on the (TNA) discovery website for chancery proceedings, being common surnames finds around 4,500 and 500 references respectively. Researching my married surname, Pettyfer, finds only 4 references:

  • “Reference:    C 6/548/132
  • Short title: Pettyfer v [unknown]
  • First plaintiff: Richard Pettyfer.
  • Defendants: [unknown].
  • Document type: bill only.
  • Date:   [1649-1714]
  • Reference:      C 8/321/212
  • Short title: Pierce v Cotterell.
  • Plaintiffs: Edward Pierce.
  • Defendants: George Cotterell, Richard Pettyfer and Thomas Goodlucke.
  • Subject: money, Wiltshire.
  • Document type: bill only
  • Date:   1668
  • Reference:      C 2/ChasI/K27/108
  • Short title: Knybbe v Dean of Windsor.
  • Plaintiffs: Henry Knybbe and Emott Pettyfer on behalf of themselves and other copyholders of Manor of Austy, Warwickshire.
  • Defendants: Dean and Canons of His Majestys Chapel of St George in the Castle, Windsor, Berkshire.
  • Document type: rejoinder only
  • Date:   1625-1660
  • Reference:      C 11/1719/9
  • Short title: Cotton v Cotton.
  • Document type: Bill and four answers.
  • Plaintiffs: Robert Cotton, esq of Gidding, Huntingdonshire.
  • Defendants: Jane Cotton, John Cotton and Elizabeth Stewart Cotton, infants (by John Pettyfer, clerk), Charles Jamens senior, Charles Jamens junior, Mary Jamens, Elizabeth Jamens and Robert Jamens, infant (by said Charles Jamens senior), Dame Mary Burdett, Sir Robert Burdett bart, infant (by Robert Holden, esq), Elizabeth Burdett, Jane Burdett, Mary Burdett, Frances Burdett, Ann Burdett and Dorothy Burdett.
  • Date of bill (or first document): 1722”

I also searched the spelling ‘Pettifer’ and found 55 references; the spelling ‘Pettefer’ found 4 references; and the spelling ‘Pettifor’ found 5 references. These of course should also be checked to see if they are in fact ancestors. These are all cases where a ‘Pettyfer’ is named as a party to the proceedings.

The online searches at TNA can only be by names of Plaintiffs and Defendants. They do not include cases where a ‘Pettyfer’ was a Deponent in a case or made an Affidavit. If it is known that an ancestor was a Deponent or made an Affidavit in a case any record of the deposition/Affidavit would need to be searched on the TNA website by the case name/parties using indexes IND 1/16759 and IND 1/9115 to IND 1/9121 for town depositions, IND 1/14545-14567 for Affidavits covering the period 1611-1800 and IND 1/14575 -14684 for Affidavits covering the period 1801-1875. Country Depositions can only be searched by surname of the parties there is no index.

Further, the references found all concern pleadings: the first two cases appear to have Bills of Complaint only; the second is a Rejoinder; and the third is a Bill of Complaint and four answers. It may be that the cases did not progress further and therefore no other records exist; or it may be that other records have either not been missed from the online listing; or appear under different names if the parties changed perhaps because a party died, married or due to some legal necessity. Cases could be protracted and continue for many years.

Whilst the TNA online index does not appear to limit its searches to first plaintiff and defendant (from my searches above) it may not always correctly identify cases involving a particular surname (most likely due to mis-spelling, simply missing a party from the list etc). Further the descriptions on the online catalogue are not always accurate or full so through viewing the actual records more about the case may in fact be discovered without resorting to further indexes. For example, if a case did not proceed further there may be a record to that effect on the documents; or there may in fact be more documents in the ‘bundle’ of pleadings than is stated in the description.

It is therefore always worth searching the records found in an online search and the physical indexes and calendars at TNA.

A good starting point to search for other records where the date (range) of a case is known is the indexes to the Masters’ Reports (C38) found in IND 1. For example, the second case listed above is dated 1668, I would therefore start a search in IND 1/1937, the index covering that year’s Master’s Reports for Plaintiffs with surnames beginning K – R (the plaintiff in that case being Edward Pierce) and then search the indexes for a period of at least five years.

If records exist, the relevant bundles can be found by searching the indexes for the Masters’ Documents and Master’s exhibits (C117 – C126 (covering period 17th Century to 19th Century) and C103 – C114 (covering period 1234 to 1860)) again in IND 1 locating the relevant index for the appropriate period. These records are particularly useful from the 18th Century onwards.

However, a case may not have been referred to a Master if no factual evidence was required. In such cases, or if nothing is found in the Masters’ Reports, the Decree and Order books may be the next stage. These are found in C33 (1544 to 1875) and are indexed in IND 1 locating the relevant index for the appropriate period, and in calendars on the open shelves at TNA. Taking the same example of the 1668 case, the appropriate index to begin with would be IND 1 1613 which covers book B (surnames beginning L – Z) for 1668 and then search indexes for at least the next 5 consecutive years.

Final decrees could be Enrolled. Enrolled Decrees covering the period 1534 to 1903 can be found in C 78 and C 79. The Anglo-American Legal Tradition website can be searched for online versions covering the whole of the series. For those enrolled during the reigns of Henry VIII to George III the index IND 1/16960A & B can be searched.

There may also be records of appeals against enrolled decrees and those records are now held at the Parliamentary Archives as such appeals were made to the House of Lords but can be search on the TNA discovery website.

Decrees which were not enrolled were also often appealed. These appeals went back to the Lord Chancellor and would be found amongst Ordinary and Appeal Petitions in C 36 (covering the period 1774-1875) which can be searched in the indexes 1/15029-15047 or for period 1876-1925 in IND 1/15048-15282.

For later cases, those between 1842-1880, the best finding aid to begin with may be the Cause books which consolidate “references to decrees, orders, reports and certificates made during the course of a case, together with the names of all the parties to it and their solicitors and the dates of all their appearances”. They are found in series C 32 and are indexed for the period 1860 to 1880 in IND 1/16727-16747.

I have considered above depositions available to search by index at TNA and noted that there is no index to country depositions at TNA although an online search of the case name may find such records. A better finding aid is Bernau’s Index and if no records for an ancestor can be found at TNA online, then this may be the better starting place as they may not have brought or defended a case but may have been a witness.

Bernau’s index can be found on microfilm at the Society of Genealogists (SOG) and at LDS Family History Centres. This is a card index of proceedings and depositions (although many cards refer to ‘correspondence’) in the Courts of Chancery and Exchequer includes about 4.5 million individuals and is particularly useful for Chancery Proceedings between 1714 and 1758 found in TNA series C 11 as the index for this period names every litigant. Bernau’s notebooks for this period, in 426 volumes, also include parties and summaries of the disputes.

The Index is also particularly useful for finding country deponents, listing all county depositions from 1558 to 1649 (TNA Series C 21) and town depositions up to 1800 (TNA series C 24).

The index cards provide a bundle and suit number and the reference should be noted in full as they do not represent modern references at TNA and “you will otherwise be lacking vital clues when it comes to translating the obsolete references given into the modern National Archives references”. To translate the references, Sharp’s How to use the Bernau Index should be consulted. Because the index provides a bundle number, which usually refers to a box of depositions from many different suits, the suit number is provided by Bernau’s index to be able to find a specific deposition within the box, although the names of the parties to the proceedinsgs are not provided.

Another drawback to using Bernau’s Index is that it can be difficult to read and there can be variations in spelling of the same surname. There is also a lack of additional information to be able to distinguish between individuals with common surnames without recourse to the original documents. They are however indexed in alphabetical order by surname and then first name.

The SOG also holds the Great Card Index on microfilm, which is another card index of several million names containing various miscellaneous information, including amongst others, references to Chancery proceedings. If visiting the SOG to search Bernau’s index it may be worth searching the Great Card Index too.

Where a case involves an inheritance dispute, Coldham’s Index is a good finding aid to search first. Otherwise known as the Inheritance Disputes Index, it is available to search online at Find My Past and can be searched by name (including variants), year, county and country. The index (a transcript of the original) provides: the names of the testator, the plaintiff and the defendant; the year of case, place and TNA reference covering the period 1543 to 1714.

The index includes over 26,000 cases concerning wills, bequests, grants of administration, descent of property, identity claims and other testamentary disputes tried in the Chancery Court, with cases typically involving several members of the same family.

A search of this index for the name Pettyfer, including variations, finds one result under the variant surname Pettifor. No first name is given but the other information provided is:

  • “Year  1661
  • Place   St. Martin Le Grand, London
  • Testator first name(s) William
  • Testator last name      Samuell
  • Plaintiff last name      Pettifor
  • Defendant last name   Samuell
  • Case details    Pettifor v. Samuell 1661
  • County            London
  • Country           England
  • National Archives reference   C10/487/193”

It would seem likely that the Defendant is the widow, son or daughter of the deceased. This case is amongst the five listed in my search on TNA discovery website in the name ‘Pettifor’. The entry on the TNA website provides further information as to the parties:

  • “Reference      C 10/487/193
  • Description:  
  • Short title: Pettifor v Samuell.
  • Plaintiffs: Elizabeth Pettifor and Jane Pettifor.
  • Defendants: Anne Samuell, widow.
  • Subject: personal estate of William Samuell, St Martin Le Grand, London.
  • Document type: bill only.
  • SFP
  • Date:   1661”

So, it would appear that there are in fact two plaintiffs and that all the parties are female; the defendant being the widow of the deceased and executor of his estate. Other finding aids at TNA should be searched for further records in the case (as discussed above).

Other finding aids include several volumes published by the List and Index Society and available to purchase from their website[11], including:

  • Samples of Chancery Pleadings and Suits: 1627, 1685, 1735 and 178
  • Chancery: Patent Rolls, 31 Eliz I, 1588-9 (C 66/1332-46)   
  • Calendar of Chancery Decree Rolls (C 78/86-130)  
  • Calendar of Chancery Decree Rolls (C 78/46-85)
  • Chancery: Patent Rolls, Calendar, 30 Eliz I, 1587-1588      
  • Chancery: Patent Rolls, Calendar, 28-29 Eliz I, 1585-1587, (C 66/1271-91) Pt. 2 (with index to grantees)                              
  • Chancery: Patent Rolls, Calendar, 28-29 Eliz I, 1585-1587, (C 66/1271-91) Pt. 1         
  • Chancery: Patent Rolls, Calendar, 27 Eliz I, 1584-1585, (C 66/1254-70), with index to grantees, 23-27 Eliz. I          
  • Chancery: Patent Rolls (C 66), Calendar, 20-23 Jas I           
  • Chancery: Patent Rolls (C 66), Calendar, 18-19 Jas I

There are other volumes which are currently out of print.

Whilst the British Record Society website details several Chancery Proceedings index publications, when the items are opened on the website, they all state “This publication is no longer available”. They are publications generally from the 19th and early 20th Century and are available online on websites such as Internet Archive.

If it is known a case was begun in the years 1627, 1685, 1735 and 1785 it would be worth searching Horwitz and Moreton’s Samples of Chancery pleadings and suits, 1627, 1685, 1735 and 1785 which provides, as the title suggests, an index to a sample of about 1000 cases from the four specified years.

Other finding aids online include Ancestry’s “British Chancery Records, 1386-1558” set which they describe as “an index to the Chancery Court proceedings, which consist of bills of complaint, answers, replications, and rejoinders, from 1386-1558”. This index provides the names of more than 286,500 individuals involved in the Chancery Court proceedings between 1386 and 1558, providing references to the location of their name in the original records, found at TNA in series C 1.

A search in these records produces interesting results for the surname ‘Pettyfer’ and variants, such as:

  • Christopher Petyfrer
  • Place:  Hertford, Hereford
  • Date:   1544-1547
  • Volume:          9
  • Page:               96
  • Bundle:           1150

There were 112 records indexed largely from the 15th and 16th centuries of which in fact only 17 were variants of ‘Pettyfer’ the rest were variants of ‘Bedford’. The surname variants included Petyfrer, Petefer, Petifer, Petyfere, Peytefere, Pitfforde, Pyttford, Pedeford, Paytefere, Pytford. This is a useful tool in finding surname variants to search in other finding aids.

These can be searched online at the TNA discovery website.

The Ancestry website also holds three further searchable indexes to chancery proceedings:

  • A calendar of chancery proceedings: bills and answers filed in the reign of King Charles the First (976 records)          
  • Abstracts of inquisitiones post mortem relating to the city of London, returned into the Court of Chancery (897 records)
  • Index of chancery proceedings (Reynardson’s division) preserved in the Public Record Office: 1649-1714 (523 records)

There were no results from these sets of records when searching for the surname ‘Pettyfer’ or variants.

As is demonstrated above, finding ancestors in Chancery proceedings may not be an easy task, however where records are found, they can be very rewarding for the family historian providing many genealogical details as well as social, financial and historical context to an ancestor’s life.

Chancery Courts are of course, not the only equity court records available. I will provide an overview of the other central law courts in which you may find records of your ancestors which may be found at the TNA in my next blog.

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Where there’s property, there’s a dispute!

Lincolns Inn and the Court of Chancery

One of the most under used resources for family history research are the records of the Chancery and other Equity Courts held at the National Archives (TNA). Why? Because they are often thought to be complex, legalese, difficult to read, large often very large rolls or boxes of documents, and dirty! But they can be full of family, property and local information which may not be found anywhere else or may only otherwise be found by searching numerous other records.

So why use them? Firstly, they are in ENGLISH even before 1733. Yes, there may be palaeography challenges reading the old handwriting but as with any old records, names and places can often be spotted quite easily. Whilst there is legalese in the records, the records are usually of a set format and once that format is known and understood they make for easier reading.

They are also some of the earliest records available and are particularly useful before the inception of parish registers, dating from the 14th Century to 1875.

What are the Equity Courts?

Equity courts developed in the medieval period when the existing common law and civil courts which followed strict procedures and rules of evidence were slow and cumbersome.  Tenants and poorer people were often reluctant to bring claims against their more superior land holders and Lords of the Manors. Seeking better access to justice people started to petition the King directly, which he passed to the Lord Chancellor to deal with.

Equity is about fairness and what is just in all the circumstances, looking morally at what was right and wrong and taking personal responsibility. The court of equity could order an individual to do what they were obliged to do by conscience, such as perform a contract, restore property or even refrain from doing something. Failure to comply meant facing committal for contempt of court. They were able to impose injunctions and not just monetary compensation.

The Courts of Equity could hear cases where much of the paperwork had been lost or was unavailable to the plaintiff, where lowly tenants could challenge the great landowning families, where the dispute did not fit any of the set processes laid down in the common law.

There were several courts of equity:

  • Court of Chancery
  • Court of the Star Chamber
  • Court of Requests
  • Court of the Exchequer
  • Palatinate of Durham
  • Palatinate of Chester
  • Palatinate of Lancaster
  • Duchy of Lancaster

There were two courts of common law:

  • The King’s Bench
  • The Court of Common Pleas

What type of cases were heard in the equity courts?

There were four main categories of case:

  • The case did not come under the jurisdiction of common law
  • The case could be heard under common law but it was felt that no remedy could be obtained
  • The common law was being used oppressively or fraudulently
  • Cases brought on the grounds of forgery or duress

Expanding on these, the type of cases that did not come under the jurisdiction of common law included:

  • largely family disputes!
  • The case concerned a trust or a mortgage
  • Cases where discovery was required. Discovery is used in the sense of ‘uncovering’ or revealing information. This might be in the form of supplying a copy of grant of land, or accounts, or copy of a will
  • An injunction could be sought by the plaintiff to prevent the defendant from carrying out an action such as cutting down valuable trees on a property which the plaintiff believed should be his
  • The plaintiff was not in possession of the relevant documents to establish his title to lands or property
  • If a creditor died before a debt was repaid, the executors of the deceased creditor could not be sued under common law, but the plaintiff could bring a case against the creditor in the Chancery Court
  • An agreement had been made verbally with no supporting documents
  • Plaintiff might be too poor to afford common law courts
  • Plaintiff might be a weak person compared with the defendant, such as a case where a tenant was bringing a case against a mighty landlord
  • Plaintiff feared local corruption or a prejudiced jury
  • Plaintiff was afraid of being harmed by the defendant
  • Plaintiff could not recover money which the defendant had improperly deprived him of under the common law
  • Where the plaintiff was owed money by the defendant, but the defendant might have obtained a release or receipt from the plaintiff by fraud

The Chancery court generally did not deal with dispute involving less than £10 or where a common law remedy was available.

The type of people involved in Chancery cases.

The questions to ask is, would or did they make a Will? Would they have been entitled to an inheritance under a Will? If yes, they are the sort of person you might find in a Chancery case:

  • Landowners
  • Yeoman farmers
  • Merchants
  • Skilled craftsmen
  • Servants
  • Manorial tenants
  • Women
  • Children

You may also find others who caught up in proceedings as witnesses. Women feature quite frequently in Chancery proceedings such as: 

  • A widow claiming her rightful income from a marriage settlement, particularly if the children who inherited the land were from her husband’s earlier wife.
  • A claim brought against a widow who took possession of all her husband’s property on his death, during the minority of her children, and then refused to release it to the eldest son (or other child(ren)) when he/they reached the age of 21.

Others may be associated with the dispute but not part of it:

  • Close relations bringing cases on behalf of children.
  • Agricultural labourers and husbandmen can be referred to as tenants of small pieces of land.
  • Servants are often chosen as deponents with their evidence providing information as to how long they had been in the plaintiff/defendant’s service.

What are legal and Chancery Records?

The records are known as the pleadings and include:

Bill of Complaint

The process starts with the plaintiff bringing a Bill of Complaint. Although a lawyer wrote this, it often contained the actual words of the plaintiff and so brings this person to life for us.

The name of the Chancellor can be an important clue as to the date of the bill as this is not always given. The lawyer’s name would usually be written in the top corner of the bill. The bill contains the plaintiffs name, quality or occupation, place of abode, the nature and circumstances of the complaint (repetitious and full of legal jargon) and finally, a citation of the names of those complained against.


In response the defendants then produced their Answers. Again, a lawyer wrote these, but often contained the actual words of the defendant. They give the defendants name and although not required to state their residence, this often becomes clear for those living outside of London by means of a subscribed certificate stating where the answer was sworn.

The Bills and Answers are usually sewn together although have now become separated. They are large and can be fairly repetitive and full of legalese requiring much concentration to understand them, but the information provided makes it worthwhile.

Many cases do not progress beyond this stage, indeed many do not get beyond the initial Bill of Complaint which would often act to frighten the defendant into acquiescing. It should also be borne in mind that the dispute could settled out of court, in which case no further records will be found after this point.

Some cases however do continue.


Occasionally these would be followed by a Replication where the plaintiff reiterates his case, adding some new information in response to the defendant’s answer. The defendant then had the opportunity to reply to this in a Rejoinder.

The above Chancery Pleadings can be found at TNA in series C 1 – 16 which are searchable at the TNA’s discovery website


The next stage was for both the plaintiff and the defendant to draw up a written list of questions, or Interrogatories, for their chosen witnesses to respond to. Each witness would answer only those questions that were relevant to them, such as ‘were you present when the document you are being shown was written and were you a witness’ or ‘have you always paid rent to the lord of the manor’ for the piece of land in question.

These can be found in series C 25 at the TNA.


Witnesses (deponents) gave evidence before the commencement of a trial to bolster the allegations of the plaintiff or support the defence of the defendant. Along with the pleadings, they are the most useful and accessible Chancery records for the genealogist. They can provide information about the case not included in the pleadings and contain useful biographical information such as a deponent’s name, age, residence, occupation, how long they had lived in the area, who they worked for etc. The first question was usually how long they had known the plaintiff/defendant. Some of the answers would invite a yes/no response or “I don’t know” so in order to interpret the depositions correctly, the interrogatories need to be read.

The witnesses were interviewed near their home, usually in an inn, and the answers to their questions were written down by the clerk as Depositions. They are arranged by Country depositions (taken outside London) and Town depositions (taken in London).

They can be found at TNA in series C 21 – 22 (E134) for Country depositions searchable by the parties names and C 24 (E133) for town depositions searchable online. There is also a register of Affidavits in C 41.

Depositions can also be searched in Bernau’s Index available at SOG (see further below).


Documents could then be submitted to the court as Evidence to help the case of either the plaintiff or the defendant, such as a will or a marriage settlement.

Masters Papers

The Master (the senior lawyer hearing the case) might then summarise the case in a Master’s Report which would be submitted to the judge to help him make the correct judgement and can be found at TNA in series C 38 and 39 covering the period 1544 to 1892.

Masters’ Documents contain the affidavits, examinations of witnesses, estate accounts, wills, birth, marriage and death certificates, abstracts from parish registers, summaries of deeds of title, notices of auction, draft Masters’ Reports and written objections by parties. Few cover dates much earlier than the 18th century but from then onwards, they seem to have been regularly preserved. They can be found at TNA in series C117 to C126 covering the 17th to 19th centuries.

Masters’ Documents contain the affidavits, examinations of witnesses, estate accounts, wills, birth, marriage and death certificates, abstracts from parish registers, summaries of deeds of title, notices of auction, draft Masters’ Reports and written objections by parties. Few cover dates much earlier than the 18th century but from then onwards, they seem to have been regularly preserved. They can be found at TNA in series C117 to C126 covering the 17th to 19th centuries.

The collection of private papers that were supposed to be claimed by the parties at the end of a suit form the Masters’ Exhibits. Though they were mainly documents, they were sometimes objects produced by the Master to supplement or verify other evidence. They could include account books, rent rolls, estate deeds, indentures, diaries, personal and business correspondence, bonds, newspaper cuttings, prayer books and bibles, often of an earlier date than the actual suit. These can be found at TNA in series C103 – C114 covering the period 1234 to 1860.

Masters’ Accounts concern the estates administered by the Masters during the often lengthy course of suits whilst the ownership was in dispute in Chancery. Estates would also be in Chancery care if the owner was a ward of court with the administration remitted to trustees who were supposed to provide annual accounts to the Master. The Masters would then report to the court on these matters, with pertinent documents, such as a will or title deeds, attached. These can be found at TNA in series C 101 covering the period 1750 -1850.


During the case the judge might issue Orders or Decrees. These might be to command the defendant to submit his answer, or they might be to admit a new plaintiff or defendant to the case, or they might be to give the final judgement. Sadly, from our point of view, the final judgements are quite rare.

Decrees and orders prior to 1733 may be in Latin. If the case did not proceed after the bills and answers had been filed, no orders will be found.

They are usually found in large volumes and calendars would need to be consulted to help locate the correct records. Many entries are purely administrative however some can provide a summary of the case, with details of other orders, petitions, affidavits and masters’ reports.

They can be found at TNA in series C 33 from 1544 to 1875 along with Decree Rolls in C 78 and 79.

Other finding aids

Bernau’s Index

The Bernau Index is a card index naming over four million parties and witnesses who appeared in Chancery and other courts, although it covers only a minority of Chancery cases. It can be difficult to read and there can be variations in spelling of the same surname. The lack of additional information makes it difficult to distinguish between individuals with common surnames without recourse to the original documents. They are however indexed in alphabetical order by surname and then first name.

It can be consulted at the Society of Genealogists (SOG) and LDS Family History Centres on microfilm. How to use the Bernau Index by H. Sharpe (SOG, 1996) is an essential guide to using this aid and articles in Family Tree Magazine are also helpful for this purpose.

Coldham’s Index

Where a case involves an inheritance dispute, Coldham’s Index is a good finding aid to search first. Otherwise known as the Inheritance Disputes Index, it is available to search online at Find My Past  and can be searched by name (including variants), year, county and country. The index (a transcript of the original) provides: the names of the testator, the plaintiff and the defendant; the year of case, place and TNA reference covering the period 1543 to 1714.

The index includes over 26,000 cases concerning wills, bequests, grants of administration, descent of property, identity claims and other testamentary disputes tried in the Chancery Court, with cases typically involving several members of the same family. This is based on the pleadings found in series C 6, 7, 8, and 10

Local record repositories

Very occasionally Chancery records have survived in local record repositories as part of a private family archive. If you cannot easily get to London to look at the main collection, it is always worth looking locally. The means of getting at these will depend on the quality of the local catalogue.

Chancery court records are one of my favourite resources for researching family and house history, particularly prior to the 19th century. They are not the easiest records to manage due to their size but can be well worth it. One tip, they are also very dirty so wear dark clothes when examining them!

Below are the details of a set of proceedings, amongt several, I recently examined for a client research project, which illustrates the family relationships which can be uncovered from these records.

C 8/143/2 Atfield v Atfield (James Atfield, Robert Atfield, George Rempant, Rice Justice, John Roake and Richard Roake (infants) are all co-defendants) (Pleadings) (1659)

These records comprise of five documents (all about A2 in size) all of which have damaged and have much missing text. It appears to be a complaint brought by Elizabeth Atfield through her guardians (she being under the age of twenty one years, against John Roake, Richard Roake the younger and Ryce Justice, in respect of property in Bagshot.

First document

This document, which is undated, concerns is an appointment of guardians for John Roake and Richard Roake who were also both infants, being under the age of twenty years and thus unable to answer the complaint themselves. Five people are named John Kensington, John Wise the elder, John Wise the younger, Edward Willis and Anthony Thomas who are given the authority to appoint a guardian for them as they see fit and such guardian is given authority to answer on behalf of John and Richard Roake and to examine Elizabeth Atfield, through her guardians.

Second document

This is dated 12 June 1659 and appears to be the Bill of Complaint brought by Elizabeth Atfield through her guardian, however a combination of the damage to the document and the handwriting make it difficult to determine its specific contents.

Third document

This document being dated (missing day) April 1660 is the answer of Rice Justice and provides some background into the Atfield family, confirm that John Atfield was the great grandfather of Elizabeth Atfield and a younger John Atfield was her grandfather who conveyed to Rice Justice a messuage, tenement, barns, garden and outhouses in which Rice Justice was living. Unfortunately, the date of the conveyance is missing from the damaged section of the document.

Fourth document

This document, dated 2nd May 1660, is the “several answers of Henry Edwards” did not know of any deeds or settlement between John Atfield (Snr), John Martin and Edward Rempant that John Atfield (Snr) did leave premises to his son John Atfield (Jnr) who occupied the premises without any interruption. It appears there were marriage settlement made by John Atfield (Snr) and Henry Edwards on the marriage of John Atfield (Snr’s) daughter, but not having the money to pay he sell to Henry Edwards and his wife Lydia, a messuage in Bagshott, Surrey which was occupied by John Kensington and a piece of parcel of land called Jackmans Meade and land in the Common Field called Hull Fields in Windlesham, subject to payment of £215 by James Atfield, upon payment of which the said properties would be transferred to James Atfield.

He did not know of any other deeds or conveyances that John Atfield (Snr) had made to John Roake, Richard Roake and Rice Justice but does know that James Atfield did enter the premises in question following his grandfather’s death and still remained there at the time of the answer being made.

Fifth document

This answer dated 20th April 1660, is the “several answers of Richard Roake the younger and John Roake infants” by their father Richard Roake, in which it is confirmed that Richard Roake the younger and John Roake were the grandchildren of John Atfield (Jnr) and great grandchildren of John Atfield (Snr). John Atfield, the grandfather, who held the premises detailed in the Bill of Complaint, did on a date in 1655, convey property in Bagshott, Windlesham and Wellingcroft (leased to Humphrey Street) to himself for his life (subject to the lease to Humphrey Street) and then to Richard Roake the younger. Further he settled and conveyed a property called Quart Pott by deed also dated in the year 1655 to John Roake (whilst this part of the answer is missing, it is assumed this is the meaning given it says “not settled on the other Defendant Richard Roake). They have no knowledge of any other conveyances, deeds, settlements etc which John Atfield made.

My next blog will demonstrate the resources available and how they may be used to research an ancestor in the Chancery Courts.

Chancery Courts are of course, not the only equity court records available. I will provide an overview of the other central law courts in which you may find records of your ancestors which may be found at the TNA in my next but one blog.

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