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.


Manorial Court records: for family and house history research

Manorial records, in particular those of the manorial courts, are one of those under used, often shied away from, record sets which can be really useful for both family history research and house history research. I think one of the reasons they tend to be overlooked is the myth that they are all in latin and are more relevant to the medieval period, but this is SO WRONG!

Yes it is true to say that before 1733 manorial court records are written in Latin and can be difficult to read, even the later ones in english. It is also true to say they can be very useful in tracing family members pre-parish registers although even then they have their limits as they will only record those who were copy/customary tenants of the Lord of the Manor. So not eveyone will be found in them.

However, their use extends into the 20th century, yes the manorial system was only abolished 98 years ago by the Law of Property Act 1925 and copyhold/customary tenancy was abolished 3 years prior to that by the Law of Real Property Act in 1922. They can therefore be particularly useful for tracing ancestors post the introduction of parish registers where the registers have not survived. They can also be useful in determining the different family units where there are people with the same name.

What was a Manor?

As suggested above, the manorial system has its roots in the medieval period. It dates back to the Anglo-Saxon system of the local Hundred courts and the village chief known as the thegn.

The Normans, following their Conquest of England, developed the system further a system which continued until it was finally abolished by the Law of Property Act 1925.

In its simplest terms the manorial system was a system of administration of land under a Lord of the Manor who held land directly from the Crown as “tenant in chief”.

Originally the Lord of the Manor was granted land usually in return for military service. He would be obliged to provide an agreed number of trained armed men to fight in the crowns army. From the 13th century however the need for such military might was greatly reduced and the provision of military men was replaced with a payment known as Scutage.

There were also ecclesiastical lords who provided ecclesiastical services to the crown rather then miliary men.

Lords of the Manor could grant their Knights land in return for their service these would be “mesne” lords i.e. not holding directly from the crown.

The Lord could also grant land within his manor to tenants, most commonly as copyhold tenants i.e., by copy of the manorial court roll in return for services to the Lord such as working manorial land and fealty, or sworn loyalty, to the Lord although over time the feudal system of people owing services to their “superiors” died out and by the mid to late 17th century was replaced by monetary payments. Such tenants represented the larger part of the population by this period.

Such land could be inherited (by custom of the manor or from the mid-16th century by enrolling a copy of the tenants will in the court records), bought and sold, sublet and mortgaged subject to the agreement of the Lord of the Manor.

As stated above, Copyhold land continued until it was abolished in England and Wales by the Law of Real Property Act in 1922 which required copyhold tenure to be converted into freehold on the payment of compensation to the Lord of the Manor (enfranchisement). The Lord of the Manor retained rights over the land which was converted to freehold before the manorial system with finally abolished by the Law of Property Act 1925.

Manors varied greatly in size and often spanned parish and county boundaries and may be spread over different locations.

What were the manorial courts?

The manorial courts were essentially the central administration for the manor.

The Court Leet, usually held every 6 months, was responsible for minor criminal offences which occurred on the Lords manor such as breach of the peace. In particular it was responsible for the effective working of the system of Frankpledge in which areas were divided into groups of 10 or 12 households known as tithings whose members were responsible for the good behaviour of each other. This system began to decline from the 14th century with the emergence of the Justices of the Peace following the Justice of the Peace Act 1361, the developing criminal justice system and the introduction of Quarter Sessions.

The Court Baron was responsible for regulating and administering the affairs of the manor. 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. Freehold and leasehold land was less likely to be recorded in the court records because these did not need the permission of the Lord of the Manor to be conveyed. Lists of freeholders and leaseholders however may be found in court records particularly when the Lord of the Manor changed. The court baron was originally held every three weeks, although its sittings became increasingly infrequent during the 14th century, and by the 15th century it was often convened only twice a year and even less frequently in more recent centuries.

What are the records?

The records of the Court Baron are the most useful for family history research although Court Leet records should not be over looked. These consist of Court rolls or books depending on the period.

Most records pertain to land transfers of copyhold land, so called because they hold property by copy of the court roll/book –  the transfer would be recorded in the manorial court roll or book and a copy would be provided to the tenant. The types of entries include:

Surrenders and Admissions
Conditional Surrender
Surrender to Will
Death and inheritance

Whether the records are in court books (from about the mid to late 18th century) or court rolls (earlier records), these records usually begin with an entry in the margin detailing the type of entry e.g. admittance, surrender, death etc, and the names of the parties involved.

Also often given in the margin will be the “Fine” that is the fee paid to the Lord of the Manor for the admission to the land and the rent to be paid.

Anatomy of an Admittance and Surrender

This is an admittance from 9th October 1835 in the manorial court book for the Manor of Shere vachery and Cranley (aka Cranleigh) and is quite typical of the entries you might find setting out:

Names, address and occupations of parties

Description of property which beings “ALL THAT COPYHOLD OR CUSTOMARY …”

Details of the surrender which would usally in effect be conducted between court session by the Court Steward and witnessed by two other copyhold/customary tenants

Who is being admitted “TO THE USE OF …” and “TO HAVE AND TO HOLD … by copy of court roll at the will of the Lord according to the custom of the manor”

Amount of Rent and any other customs and/or services due to the Lord of the Manor (usually set out in the Customs of the Manor)

BY THE ROD – a rod/staff would be held out to the new tenant by the steward as a public sign that he had been admitted.
HERIOT– confirming there was also a payment to be made to the Lord on the death of the tenant
FEALTY – oath of loyalty to the Lord of the Manor

Surrenders and admittance could be made between family members for example one entry I found stated it was made

“in consideration of the natural love and affection which he the said George Holden has and beareth for his son David Holden of Cranleigh …Plumber and Glazier”

Surrey History Centre; Ref: G85/6/46

What was a conditional surrender?

A conditional surrender was a secured loan or mortage taken out against the property. The court roll entry would be similar to any other admittance save it would include the terms:

“….Subject nevertheless to and upon this express condition…”
“Shall well and truly pay or cause to be paid unto [name of grantor] the sum of £xxx on the [date due] next ensuing together with interest on the same at the rate of xxx pounds per centum per annum clear of all taxes and deductions whatsoever (and being the principal and interest money as are mentioned to be secured to the said [name of grantor] by a certain Indenture bearing date the xxxx) then this surrender to be void and of no effect otherwise it is to remain in full force and virtue”

Although the pay back date was 6 months it is often found that these conditional surrenders where not enforced if not repaid on the day specified. I have found many where they have been repaid years later and often by an executor the death of the grantor or indeed the grantee whose executors may wish to enforce the surrender to raise the funds for the distribution of the deceased’s estate.

Entries of death and proclamations

Surrey History Centre; Ref: G84/10/16

When a tenant died, an entry would be made in the court roll/book and a first proclamation would be made. That is declaration for those with an interest in the land (heirs) to attend court and claim the property. There could be up to three proclamations made which would take place on three consecutive courts until someone came forward, and if no one came forward the property fell back to the Lord of the Manor. In the case of a death, the Lord of the Manor would then be free to admit anyone who so wished to be admitted.

A tenant may have surrendered the property to the use of the Will, in which case the will would need to be proved and then brought before the court for the heirs to then be admitted to the property. If the tenant had not so surrendered the land, inheritance would be in accordance with the custom of the manor which in England was generally the eldest son but each manor may have had their own customs. Documents setting out the “Customs of the Manor” may have survived but if not many of these can be inferred from how the manor was managed in the court records.

In either case, where the heir comes to court to claim the property, an entry will be found. That entry will state their relationship to the deceased and in the case of a will, the terms of the will may be included in the entry. Thus providing evidence of family relationships.

Manorial records for property history

Because admissions and surrenders provide the names of both parties (i.e those surrendering and those being admitted) along with a description of the property, which particularly in older records can include details of neighbouring properties and their owners and occupiers) the occupation of a copyhold property can usually be traced back as far as the records survive, which in some cases could be to it being built and the use of the land prior to it being built on.

This can of course mean trawling through the the records backwards to find the previous entries, however this is made easier where the court records have the entries in the margins. Beware though, as the further you go back, margin entries my not exist and a thorough read through the documents may be necessary.

One tip though is that sometimes entries also contain details of when the person surrendering had been admitted making the research process much easier!

Even going back into latin records knowing the name of the previous tenant makes it much easier (subject to your paleaography skills) to pick out names.

My tips for using Manorial Records

Most relevant for copyhold/customary land holders
Start with later records in EnglishSurnames/full names often in margin
Manorial Court books are often indexed
Latin lessons at
Useful Latin terms to known
University of Nottingham glossary of terms
Cumbria Manorial Records website

How do I know my ancestor was a manorial tenant?

The most likely way is through them refering to copyhold or customary land in a will. What if there is now will? Did you ancestors live in the same place for generations? Were they farmers? Yeoman? or similar? If so then they may well have been copyhold tenants.

Manorial court records are some of my favourite records to use for both family and huose history. If you have found a copyhold/customary tenant in your family then these records where they survuve could prove invaluable to your family history research.

If you would like my help researching your manorial tenants contact me

Oliver House, Cranleigh: a potted history

Oliver House (aka 93-97 High Street), Cranleigh is a C16th Grade II listed property with Victorian alterations (although the listing describes it as C17th). My research into the property and its owners and occupiers took me all the way back to within 70 years of it being built!

Cranleigh (or Cranley as it was known until the mid 19th Century) is now said to be the largest village in England. It is located within the Weald valley approximately eight miles south of Guildford in the County of Surrey close to the border with West Sussex.

Saxon settlements in the surrounding villages of Shalford, Chilworth, Albury, Shere, Gomshall, Wotton and Abinger. Cranleigh however does not appear to have been a settlement and was not mentioned in the Doomsday book in 1086.

Cranleigh was part of Blackheath Hundred which in 1086 was held by six manors although only five were enumerated. The parish of Cranleigh fell within three of these manors: Shere Vachery, Bramley and Gomshall. What developed as the central village was part of the Manor of Shere Vachery which as held by the Bray family from 1498 with the Bray estate continuing to exist today mainly in and around the village of Shere. Some key dates in the development of Cranleigh are:

On contacting the local history society I was told “little is known about the owners/occupiers up to the nineteenth century when census and parish records are available…filling in the gaps should prove to be quite a challenge. A challenge I was more than happy to take on!

National Library of Scotland Surrey Sheet XXXIX; Surveyed: 1871, Published: 1874

“Oliver house” is said to be so-named following the visit by Oliver Cromwell to the village in 1657 and the belief that some of his men lodged at the property (no records!) The neighbouring cottage to the west is known as Cromwell Cottage.

Whilst paper records do not appear to survive the timbers from the oldest part of the property were dendrochronology dated in 2008. The report found three precise felling dates in the winter of AD 1559/60 and that the timbers were probably sourced relatively locally and describes the property.

“The original floor plan was of three and a half bays with a central smoke bay. It was built of substantial scantling timbers, jowl posts and curved down braces, one of which remains. The entrance into the smoke bay remains today”

It was known from census returns that Oliver House was once the home of the Holden Family – a family of timber merchants whose property included a timber yard and other substantial land and renowned for building bell frames from local oak, exporting them to Australia and Russia.

The man in the top hat is Ebenezer Holden pictured with some of his workmen next to one of the famous bell frames courtesy of Bygone Cranleigh by B Seymour and M Warrington, Phillimore, 1984

Land Tax assessments provided the clue to the earlier owners. 1830 George Holden owner/occupier of house and garden; 1824 first entry for George as owner/occupier; 1821 first entry for George as occupier. Owner was “Hunt” -the only entry for “Hunt” in these assessments. 1820 the owner/occupier was a James Champion. Searching neighbouring parishes found a Richard Hunt and family in Shere who appeared to be significant land holders. The search turned to Surrey History Centre for any possible deeds between for the names Hunt and James Champion.

I found a deed dated 30th September 1820 Conveying the freehold from James Champion to Richard Hunt “of Shere, Timber Merchant”. This in turn enabled me to trace earlier deeds for the property, tracing the ownership back to the early 17th century. The first of those deeds was was a Lease and release dated 1st and 2nd June 1714 Between Arthur Foster of Bramley And James Harmes of Rudgwick. This deed detailed the ownership of Oliver House through four generations of one family spanning the 17th century from which I was able to research the family and prepare this family tree

London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section, Clerkenwell, London, England; Reference Number: DW/PA/5/1631; Will Number: 105

John left a will dated 6th June 1631, proved at the 8th September 1631 at the Commissary court held at Guildford, in which he detailed only one property in Cranley (in which he lived) which bequeathed that property to his son Richard with a proviso that if Richard died without Issue the property should go to his eldest daughter Jane. All his children were in fact under the age of 21 when John died. I haven’t yet found any records for Richard but it can be inferred from the terms of his will and the information in the deed from June 1714, that Richard died leaving no surviving children and the property went to Jane then passing to Arthur Foster (snr & jnr).

The deed dealt with the rightful heir of John Smallpeece, Arthur Foster, agreeing to effect the legal papers to formalise the ownership of James Harmes who had, it appears, been the legal owner for sometime. Perhaps the original paperwork had been lost?

Although the deed of course does not name Oliver House (a name most likely adopted following alterations in the 1870/80’s) by following the trail of deeds and the evolving description in those deeds it is most likely this property is what later became known as Oliver House.

Only three months later in September 1714 James conveys the respective properties to their occupiers John Harbroe and Richard Worsfold. The property this time is described in very similar terms.

Richard Worsfold married twice having five children (four sons and one daughter) to his first wife who sadly died in 1713. It is possible he had a further three children with his second wife but it is not clear from the parish registers whether it is the same family. He died in 1764; Buried 3rd July 1764, Cranleigh; Will dated 20th April 1764; Proved Prerogative Court of Canterbury 23rd July 1764 stated

“I give and devise all that my messuage or tenement and Freehold estate….in Cranley now in my occupation unto my Grandson Richard Worsfold his heirs and assigns”

His Grandson Richard was the son of Richard seniors eldest son Thomas.

No deed or other record was found for Richard the grandson conveying the property but sometime between 1764 and 1777 he must have conveyed it to James Champion because the next deed found was a mortgage dated 18th November 1777 between James Champion of Wisborough Green, Sussex, Carpenter and his son James Champion junior of Cranleigh, Carpenter And Sarah Smith of Loxwood, Sussex, Spinster for the Sum of £100.

From 1780 to 1821 James Champion appears in Land Tax records for Cranleigh (earlier records do no survive). Researching the Champion family produced this family tree – note the dates in BOLD.

There was a Remortgage dated 18th September 1815 Between John Rapson, executor of the estate of Sarah Smith, James Champion of Cranley, Carpenter and Robert Boughton of Wonersh, Miller for the Sum of £200. The deed confirms the death of Sarah Smith and that James Champion senior died intestate in 1813 BUT James Champion (1) described as ‘senior’ in the 1777 deed died in 1798 leaving a will.

So we have three generations of James Champion ownership: James (1) (‘Senior’ in 1777 deed) died in 1798; James (2) (‘junior’ in 1777 deed) buried at Cranleigh on 22nd February 1812 age 88; James (3) party to 1815 deed.

Next was a bargain and sale dated 30th September 1820 between (1) James Champion “of Cranley, Carpenter”, (2) Robert Boughton “of Wonersh, Miller”, (3) Richard Hunt “of Shere, Timber Merchant” (4) George Potter “of Guildford, Gent, a Trustee appointed on behalf of Richard Hunt”. The deed recites the 1777 mortgage and the 1815 remortgage and the description of the property is again virtually the same. freehold was conveyed to Richard Hunt (in trust). Sum stated £250 (including the outstanding mortgage stated to be £210 7s 7p).

Although no deeds survive conveying the property to George Holden, given the name Hunt only appears in the Tax assessments for Cranleigh for one property and the dates coincide with this last deed in 1820, there is little doubt this and the series of deeds concerns Oliver House.

Oliver House early 20th century (date not known) Cranleigh Through Time by Michael Miller (Amberley Publishing) 2013 page 15

The ownership and occupation of the property was brought forward through the 20th century up to date using census returns, electoral registers, wills, newspapers to a name a few of the resoures.

Looking at the history of the property there is a common theme as to the occupations of is owners/occupiers. John Smallpeece was a Taylor and in 1966 No.93 once again became a Taylors shop (although more recently has been a charity shop).

The property remains on the market today being sold as commercial premises and is currently under offer. It will be interesting to see what happens with it.

There is so much more I found out about this property and its owners, but I hope this gives you a flavour of the history that can be uncovered with some forensic genealogy detective work.

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 –