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.
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.
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 cases are mainly held in series HCA 8-11 and 30-32 with records of prize appeals in series HCA 41, 42, and 48.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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, 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)
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.
In 1294 Edward I suspended the General Eyre replacing them with the Assizes although isolated Eyres did still continue until 1374.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
“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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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: https://www.onthemarket.com/details/9688824/.
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:
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;
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;
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 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, the other is a record of his burial 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, 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:
Deed of Exchange dated 15 March 1968;
Conveyance dated 14 February 1975;
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, 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) 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”.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or go to my contact page to book a zoom or telephone call.
This week it’s all about words and phrases found in genealogy, family and house history research beginning with the letter G.
GABLUM – Rent/tax
GAIR – An outcrop on limestone on uplands; a bright green grassy ares surrounded by bent (stiff wiry course grass) or heather; an irregular strip of green land running down side of a moorland hill
GALILEE – A porch or chapel at the entrance of a church
GANNER/GANGER – Beggar or poor hawker or a combination of both
GAN-WIFE – Female pedlar selling pins, laces, nick-nack, tin ware, brushes and othr domestic items from a basket
GARBA – Sheaf of corn
GARCIO – Boy, servant, groom, page
GARDINUM – Garden
GARNER – A small barn for storing corn
GARTH – Enclosure, yard or garden attached to a house
GAUDEO/IRE, GAVISUM SUM – to use, to possess, to enjoy the use of, to enjoy, rejoice
GAVELCORN – service for redering a bushel of produce such as corn, for each VIRGATE
GAVELKIND – System of inheritance under which property was inherited equally by all sons, a widow receiving half instead of one third of her dower and under which a tenant could alienate his land at the age of 15 years
GELDUM – Tax, geld
GEMINI/E – twins (m./f.)
GENER – Son in law
GENEROSA – Lady, gentlewoman
GENEROSUS – Gentleman
GENITUS – Begotten
GERMANUS – Close blood relative, sibling
GERSUMA – Fee paid on inheritance of freehold land by a daughter
GESTUM – guests portion; allowance of meat and drink
GIBBETING – Hanging of executed criminals on public display as a deterant to others
GIRDLER – Maker of leather belts and girdles
GIRSOME – Fine payable on renewal of a lease
GLEBE – Land within a parish for the use of the parish priest
Wills and Administration records can be another great source of information for family historians. A Will, will often name family members and their relationships along with property both real and personal. Such records can be used for research from today in the 21st century and can survive back many centuries.
Where to find Wills and Administration records and what you will find depends on the period in which you are researching, in particular whether before or after 1858 when the jurisdiction for the probate changed from Ecclesiastical jurisdiction to the civil jurisdiction of the newly created Court of Probate, the Principal Probate Registry.
National Probate Calendar
Basic details of Wills and Administrations since 12th January 1858 can be found in the National Probate Calendar (NPC). This is a central calendar (or index) compiled annually of all Wills and Letters of Administrations since 1858 when the Principal Probate Registry (PPR) was introduced, the PPR holds the national annual Calendar indexes from Probate Registries in England and Wales. It is therefore a central record and it is no longer necessary to search individual probate courts.
The calendar will provide the name of the deceased, occupation, date of death, place of death, date of probate, the registry in which the probate was granted, the value of their estate and who probate was granted to.
They can be searched where a death record cannot be found, although of course not everyone made a will and a grant of administration may not have been required in all cases (such where the estate was limited to jointly owned property or only had no real property).
As stated above, before 1858, Wills and Administrations were the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts, most commonly either the Prerogative Court of Canterbury or York; the Bishop’s Consistory/Commissary Court; or the Archdeacon’s Archdeaconry Court. But they could also be proved in Deaneries presided over by the Rural Dean or in Peculiars (a parish or groups of parishes which were outside the usual ecclesiastical jurisdiction such as a Lord of the Manor, Abbeys and Monasteries and anyone who had acquired ecclesiastical jurisdiction when they purchased land from the Abbeys and Monasteries following their dissolution.
The court in which Wills were proved depended on the value and location of land held by the deceased.
In theory a will should have been proven in the lowest court however, over time, as the value of property increased[i] and the bona notabilia £5 rule (which was set in 1604) remained the same, it became increasingly common for wills to be proven in the PCC or PCY. It was also the case that the PCC and PCY were often more efficient, discreet and looked after their records with more care. Probate therefore may not have been granted in the expected lower court! Searching for an ancestor’s will may not therefore be straight forward!
During the civil war and interregnum between 1650 and 1660 the lower ecclesiastical courts ceased to operate. The PCC was replaced in 1653 by the “Court for the Probate of Wills and the Granting of Administrations” (CPWGA). This court ceased in 1659 and in 1660 the PCC and ecclesiastical court system were restored. The records of the CPWGA were then merged with the PCC records
Before 1882 only males, spinsters and widows over the age of 21 years could make a will, married women could only make a will with the consent of her husband. Wills can provide family relationships often naming wives, children, siblings, aunts, uncles amongst other relations. They also provide an insight into the wealth of the family and location of a property they held.
Will and Testament
Today we use the term Last Will and Testament referring to one document which more commonly is simply referred to as a Will in which an individual can leave both real and personal property on their death. However, originally these were two separate documents dealing with different types of property. A Will dealt with real property (realty) such as houses (tenements and hereditaments) and any land or buildings etc was associated with it. It also included rivers, hedges and woodland. A Testament dealt with personal property (personalty), often referred to as “goods and chattels”, which could include personal goods, clothing, bedding, furniture, crockery, plate, jewellery, livestock, grain, tools etc.
Before the Statute of Uses of 1535, only land which had been “purchased” could be left be Will, land which had been inherited could not, inherited land had to pass under the laws of inheritance. Purchased land would also pass under the laws of inheritance if no Will had been made, i.e., the owner had died intestate. If there was no heir, the land would revert to the Lord of the Manor. It must however be remembered that at this time all land was owned by the Crown and those who “purchased” property held the freehold tenure to the property that is that they held it free from any services to the Lord of the Manor or Crown, other than an annual rent.
The Statute of Uses stopped the practice whereby one person could own the property but another had the right to use it, meaning that anyone who had the right to use property also had the right to hold the freehold tenure and had a right of possession. The Statute paved the way for the development of Trusts.
The Statute of Wills 1540 enabled those who held freehold land to devise all their land by Will and those who held land under military tenure (i.e., they performed military service in return for land) to devise two thirds of their land by Will (military tenure was abolished in 1662). Those who held land by other means, such as copyhold, could not devise the land by Will until 1815 and land held in fee tail (that is to a specific line of heirs) could not be devised by will until 1925 when the manorial system and copyhold tenure was abolished by the Law of Property Act. Copyhold land however could be surrendered to the use of a tenants Will with the agreement of the Lord of the Manor and such entries will frequently be found in Manorial Court records. This meant that a tenant could leave by Will the use of the property usually to themselves and then their heirs.
Types of Will
Sworn Will – this is the more common type of Will which would have been handwritten (typed today) and sworn by the testator (person making the Will) and confirmed by two or more witnesses.
Nuncupative Will – this was an oral will, which up until 1838, could be made for personal property (a Testament) in the presence of reliable witnesses, their wishes would be written down by the witnesses who swore to its contents in a probate court. They were often made by those who believed they were dying and had not previously made a valid Will. This practice is now usually limited to combatants on active service.
Holographic Will – is a will written entirely by the testator him/herself and not witnessed by others. This kind of will was usually presented to the probate court by witnesses who could swear to its authenticity.
Original Wills made be found at local archives amongst family or estate papers. Many records of Wills and Testaments before 1858 can be found online at commercial websites such as www.ancestry.co.uk and http://www.findmypast.co.uk. These Wills are usually not the original Wills but the copies created by the relevant probate court. Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) registered Wills are available in PROB 11 at the National Archives discovery website and can be downloaded for a small fee (currently £3.50 each).
For other probate courts, they can be found in local record offices, some of which may have also been made available online such as Wills proved in the Surrey Archdeaconry Court which are held at London Metropolitan Archives but are available at www.ancestry.co.uk under their “London, England, Wills and Probate, 1507-1858” collection, such as this Will of Henry Roake of Horsell for which probate was dated 17th September 1746:
Probate Act Book 1526 – 1858
These are registers of the grants of probate (wills proved in court) with separate Books for each probate court. For the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) these can be found in series PROB 8 at TNA also at http://www.ancestry.co.uk; for Prerogative Court of York (PCY) they can be found at the Borthwick Institute and at www.findmypast.co.uk.
For other probate courts, they can be found in local record offices.
They record each probate granted and include the name of the deceased, occupation, date of grant of probate, and the executor’s name. They can include facts about a deceased which are not given in his will such as his parish, whether he died married, unmarried, widowed etc, his trade, profession or status or that he belonged to one parish but died in another. It may also tell us that an executor died before him. They will include renunciations, when an executor does not wish to act the court would appoint a successor. They will also include details of a successor in the event of an executor’s death.
The books often contain unregistered wills (wills not proved in court) and vital additional information not found in the will itself.
From 1529 to 1782 executors and administrators were usually required to prepare a probate inventory, which was a list of the deceased’s personal or moveable goods, assets and chattels, not including real estate or land.
They would include cash (‘money in his purse’) and clothes (‘his wearing apparel’) and then proceeded around the house from room to room listing and valuing the deceased’s movable goods, before moving outside to list the contents of agricultural buildings, livestock and crops growing in the fields. Anything that was not movable was omitted, so even things like cooking utensils and curtains and goods would often be identified by room, thus providing evidence of both rooms and room use. However, it is impossible to tell whether all the rooms in the house have been listed, unless there are internal inconsistencies (e.g., a ‘chamber over the buttery’ but no ‘buttery’). They provide an excellent insight into an ancestor’s life and status.
The objective of the exercise was to ensure that any unpaid debts owing at death could be paid.
They are likely to be found attached to the will at county record offices. Inventories filed with wills proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury are housed at The National Archives and those filed between 1660 and 1782 are searchable online via TNA’s Discovery Catalogue.
Letters of Administration
These were granted, usually to the next of kin, to allow the administration of a deceased’s estate when they died intestate. They provide the deceased’s name, address, occupation and date and place of death, the name address, occupation, relationship to the deceased of the administrator. The value of the estate will also be given. The details of beneficiaries are not provided. They therefore contain less information genealogically than a Will.
Before 1858 they will be found in the records of the relevant ecclesiastical court, usually in local record offices, or the records of the PCC (at TNA) or PYC (at Borthwick Institute, York). Gibson’s guide and Phillimore’s Atlas and Index to Parish Registers should be consulted to find the relevant ecclesiastical court and record office.
Administration (Admon) Act Book
These are registers of the grants of administration (where a person had died without a will) covering the period from 1559 to 1858. There are separate Admon Act Books for each probate court. For the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) these can be found in series PROB 6 at TNA also at http://www.ancestry.co.uk; for Prerogative Court of York (PCY) they can be found at the Borthwick Institute and at http://www.findmypast.co.uk. For other probate courts, they can be found in local record offices.
They record each letter of administration granted and include the name of the deceased, parish of residence, occupation, date of grant, the name of the administrator and their relation to the deceased, and the dates on which the inventory and accounts are to be returned. They will also include renunciations, when an administrator no longer wished to or was able to act (e.g., died) the court would appoint a successor.
Records for Wills and probate can provide details of several generations of a family and relationships between local families. They are particularly useful where real property is being passed through the generations and there are a number of people with the same name. Identifying the property in a Will can identify the correct family members. The contents of the Will can also provide an insight into the relative wealth of the family.
Wills and probate records are one of the documents that really must be examined if they can be found for your family members. They were not restricted to the wealthy land owners as they would be used by those less well off to ensure personal property passed to whom they wished it to be, particularly important if passing property to females (wives, daughters etc) as they were often restricted in their rights to property and inheritance until the 1882 Married Women’s Property Act.
Manorial records and Wills and probate records leads nicely to my next blog topic, that of title deeds.
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