Archive for Manorial Documents

Tied to the land – serfs from manorial history

Through our manorial research we often come across references to serfdom, the ancient custom where people were owned by the lord of the manor. Though a complicated picture unfree people at this time largely fell into two types – villeins or bondsmen, who were unfree tenants that had some rights of inheritance over their home and land, and serfs, who were personally unfree. Some had far fewer rights and freedoms than others, and these are often hard to define as manorial structure differed from manor to manor.

After the Black Death the remaining workforce was in demand, and both groups were able to acquire better rights. This meant that in most places these sorts of ties to the land and the lord died out. However serfs could still be found in the 14th and 15th century in Woodhorn, Seaton, Hurst, Newbiggin and the barony of Mitford. These people formed the backbone of the manorial system, but leave very little trace in the historical record. However in the course of our research for our Manor Authority files (see this previous blog for how this is done) we sometimes find their names given, a fantastic insight into ordinary people’s lives in the medieval period. We will be looking at examples we have come across that help explain the lives of unfree serfs and bondsmen in Northumberland’s manors, and show what services to the lord of the manor were expected of them.

A representation of a medieval manor


Some serfs were made and some were born. Roger Maudut claimed Ralph le Lorimer as his ‘nief’. This is a term for a type of serf, from old French, and is often Read more

Private stocks and gallows – crime and punishment in the Manor

We have covered a little about how law and order was kept by the manorial system when we looked at customs in a previous blog, but what about crimes that broke laws, not just customs? The manorial court or court Leet met around twice a year and dealt with minor boundary issues and scuffles. Most manor courts, though not usually recording such punishments, seem to have kept stocks, pillories and tumbrels for punishing those guilty of smaller crimes. Stocks trapped the prisoner around the ankles, while a pillory held them around the neck and wrists. In both the prisoner would be further subjected to abuse and refuse thrown from the crowd. The tumbrel was a two-wheeled manure cart, which would be used to transport the prisoner and perhaps tip them into a pond – the practice often referred to as ‘ducking’. Tuggal Manor was fined 1 shilling 8 pence in 1683 for not keeping a pair of stocks. Presumably they would have been a common sight as you travelled around the country, and some towns like Berwick still have theirs on display.

From an engraving of Defoe in the pillory in the early eighteenth century, SANT/BEQ/15/4/40. Daniel Defoe was pitied for his charge of seditious libel, and the crowd threw flowers, a vast improvement on their usual weapons of choice.

However in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries a manorial court could, with royal permission, become a franchised law court dealing with more serious cases, and we have found evidence of a few of these as we have been researching the manor authority files. The whole picture of medieval law is too complex to delve into in a short blog post, but the various parts of the machine can be grouped into three types of legal administration: the central courts of law; different types of smaller courts held by itinerant commissioned justices as they progressed around the country; and permanent local franchise courts. The franchise of the legal responsibility for a particular area might be given by the crown to a hundred, borough, or the feudal courts of the Court Baron or manorial court. Some lords held the ancient right of ‘infangthief’ and ‘outfangthief’, where if they caught thieves from within or from outside the manor red-handed on their land, they could try and fine them. Those whose manor was franchised held royal permission to maintain a gallows and tumbril to execute anyone found guilty. This was possibly a hangover from the Anglo- Read more

A peppercorn at Christmas and other presents

Christmas as we understand it today has formed within the last two centuries, and is quite alien to the localised traditions of the medieval and Tudor periods. Though the religious importance of the day was celebrated, everyday business often still carried on. Documents still had to be signed, assizes and courts held, and yes, unfortunately even rents had to be paid at Christmas. This marked one of the four financial quarters of the year. The financial New Year began on Lady Day (25th March), with Midsummer (24th June), Michaelmas (29th September) and Christmas (25th December) forming the quarters. Rents, tithes, charity and other payments could be due quarterly, half-yearly or annually on these or other specified religious days. For example in 1296 the tenantry of West Chirton township annually paid 3s at Martinmas and Whitsuntide for fine of court, 1s 3d cornage at Michaelmas, one mark every seven years at Easter and Christmas, and 3s 4d on St Barnabas’s day.

However rents were often paid in supplies, or items that were more like presents. In the compilation of our Manor Authority files we often come across these payments in kind, so here are some of the more seasonal gifts we have spotted. If you have come across any others we would love to know.

Some of the rents we have come across – a peppercorn, chickens, cinnamon and a feast.


These payments in kind were often made in edible commodities, such as the 11d., and a pound of pepper paid yearly by Robert Freman for land in Hadston. The services of tenants in Bywell were also worth £14 13s 3d and 4lbs of pepper.

Though pepper was an important commodity, we more commonly find payments of a single peppercorn. If you wished to give your son a house on one of your manors you needed some form of payment to be given to ensure you both had rights as landlord and tenant. Even a tiny sum ensured this, which gave birth to the ‘peppercorn rent’, where a property would be given in exchange for a single peppercorn annually. It was often used to provide family members with entitlement to property. John Salkeld, in his will in 1623, gave his new house at Rock to his son Thomas, who was required to pay ‘a peppercorn yearlie’ to his older brother John, the new owner of Rock. Thomas Forster rented a number of tithes and properties in Carham and Wark to his son for a peppercorn in 1711.

A peppercorn was paid by Elizabeth de Felton for part of ‘Thresterton’ (Thirston), and by Walter de Edlingham for an area of Edlingham. The request of a peppercorn was sometimes followed by ‘if demanded’, showing this was a symbolic gesture.


Unfree tenants often paid part of their rents through the year in crops, and this includes chickens. In Fenwick the eight bondmen paid sixteen hens to the lord of the manor, with the five cottars required to pay five hens. They also gave eggs at Easter. In Acklington a fowl (or a penny) was paid every Christmas by the bond tenants in addition to the rest of their rent, while the inhabitants of Thirston gave the Acklington park keeper a ‘wod henne’, to allow them to gather wood there through the year. In the sixteenth century Chatton’s bailiff also received a wood hen, allowing locals to take firewood from the lord’s wood, including an oak tree as a yule log. Free tenants in Thirston also paid a rent of hens and nuts at Christmas in the fourteenth century. In 1717 a description of Edward Riddell’s estate described the East Farm in Great Swinburne as let to four tenants for £95, a goose and a hen each year. Unfortunately the estate register does not say what time of year this was paid, but perhaps this was Edward’s Christmas goose.


Though spices have become closely connected to our traditional Christmas cooking, they have been an important commodity for longer than you think. In around 1280 Gilbert de Withill purchased land at Dunstan and was required to pay the overlord a pound of ‘cummin’ annually at Alnwick fair. Isoud and Aviz the widow held 12 acres in Felton for a pound of cumin, and this continued to the rent for this land later, likely in fealty to Mitford Castle. A pound of Cinnamon was paid, fittingly, by ‘William the cook’ for the two bovates of land he held in Belford. Heaton manor was held at different times for a payment of a sparrowhawk, or a rose, but  after the land and the manor were divided into separate moieties Robert of Ryal paid Margery of Trewick a pound of cumin for land there and a root of ginger for the manor.

A festive feast

In return for his land Liulf of Middleton Hall was required to give four ‘waitinges’ yearly in 1154 to his lord Patrick I earl of Dunbar. Waitinges were where a leaseholder provided the lord and his household with hospitality, usually on feast days.


Though not quite a Christmas jumper, Titlington was granted for one robe at Christmas with 100 shillings and four quarters of corn and barley. Robes were also received at Christmas by the foresters of Rothbury Forest in addition to their wages.

We hope to put up more of these unusual rent payments that we have found soon, let us know if you have come across any. All of the above were sourced from the Northumberland County Histories series and Hodgson’s History of Northumberland, which are invaluable sources to our manorial research.


St Andrew’s day – Scottish law in Northumbrian manors

As Northumberland is the most northerly English county the history of its manors is tied very closely to Scotland and its history. War has shaped the fortunes of many manors, but this is also the case with cooperation between the two countries. The connection between them is local, not just national, and Northumberland’s manors have played a role in that history. The whole picture is far too detailed and interesting to deal with in a short blog post, with so many wars, conflicts, rebellions and raids, but we can look at what impact the relationship had on the way manors were run and the terms they used.

Wark-on-Tweed manor has a fascinating cross border history, and has changed between being English and Scottish at different times in its history.

Wark-on-Tweed manor has a fascinating cross border history, and has changed between being English and Scottish at different times in its history.

Early in manorial history many manors were owned by the Scottish Kings and noblemen. For example in 1279 the kings of Scotland rented two thirds of Bellingham Manor to the Bellingham family by a Serjeanty, or condition, where the Bellingham family acted as the king of Scotland’s forester in Tynedale forest. Eleventh and twelfth century conflict between the countries changed this ownership. The king of Scotland’s portion of the manor was seized by Edward I during war with Scotland and was later given with other lands to Edmund earl of Cambridge, later duke of York, by his father Edward III. Edward III forced the Scottish king and nobles to give up the southern counties of Scotland in 1334, and nobles forfeited their estates in England, including Patrick V earl of Dunbar whose manor of Middleton Hall was granted to Henry Percy.

Warfare damaged the crops in many manors, bringing no income for the lord of the manor and famine for the inhabitants. A number of manors were expected to provide soldiers and equipment in peace and war, such as Corbridge which had to provide one man! A lawsuit of 1579 over a small holding at Burton shows that land tenure in Northumberland still came with a requirement to serve in protecting the border. Peles and other fortified dwellings were often built by the lords of manors for safety. Even manors a good distance from the border were vulnerable, with Longhoughton described as ruined and waste after wars in 1368, and from cattle raids in 1573. Border reivers operated from both sides of the border, and watches would be kept for reivers in many places. One example from the Order of watches in 1552 shows a night watch was kept between Hitchcroft in Shilbottle to Rugley in Alnwick by ten men from Shilbottle, Whittle, Sturton Grange, Birling, High and Low Buston, Wooden and Bilton townships.

However it is the everyday business in manorial documents that show the connection – Scottish law and terminology was sometimes applied across the border. We have below a few Scottish terms we have found in the manorial records.

We found ‘Grassum’ was paid in what is known as the West Water manors (the manors of Melkridge, Henshaw and Ridley & Thorngrafton). This was paid every 21 years from 1758-1885 for some of the leasehold tenements, and recorded in one book for the purpose (ZBL 66). Looking at a few Scottish law sources this can be a sum paid by a tenant at a renewal or grant of a lease, or a single payment made in addition to a payment such as rent or feudaty. It might be comparable to the English term premium. It is hard to say why Grassum would have been paid there, or for how long the practice was carried out. The key may be right back in the early history of the manors, when they were owned by the Kings of Scotland and leased to a number of noble Scottish families such as the earls of Athol and earls of Badenoch.

As covered in a previous post, there were numerous jobs associated with the manorial court, and Scottish roles were similar to many in the English manor courts. For example in Norham, now a small English village on the banks of the River Tweed overlooking Scotland, we find the Scottish term ‘Land liners’ used. Within Scottish burghs, as in the English equivalent, Boroughs, the inhabitants (burgesses) were entitled to a ‘burgage plot’ of land. Whilst in an English manor a ‘fence-looker’ would check the legality of such boundaries, in Scotland and Norham, the term ‘land liner’ was used for this official who measured out and checked the size of the burgage plots.

Our project is continuing to compile the history of each manor at a time and through doing so will be continuing to post about the interesting terms and stories we find.



The Northumbrian County Histories Volumes I, V, and XV have been of great use in the preparation of this blog, as have The Concise Scots Dictionary and Law Basics: Glossary of Scottish Legal Terms (O’Rourke and Duncan).

Fancy letters and famous faces

Having previously looked at marks made by clerks and residents of the manors, we will now look beyond the doodles to decorative letters and drawings that are works of art in themselves. Though these had been commonly used in the medieval period their use declined through the centuries, and by the seventeenth century were reserved for a few areas of written texts, such as the legal documents like deeds. In those occasions where they remained they became less about the content of the text and more for decoration. as we go through our manorial documents we often come across examples that are eye-catching.

Below is a nice example of a letter done with shapes and swirls.


One that is a little more complicated…

1729 indenture of lease and release

More complicated still…


Or this one, from a document of Charles I, which takes it further…

Char II exemplification cropped

This is so stylised it becomes difficult to make out the ‘C’ it represents.

However, many examples contain drawings. In the medieval manuscripts these are known as historiated initials and inhabited initials. A historiated initial relates to a picture in the letter that relates to the text, where an inhabited letter is purely decorative. The below sixteenth century example is an inhabited letter, which includes a rather unusual face. Perhaps he goes back to earlier traditions of the psalter and other illuminated works.


We start to see images of the monarch used in some documents such as deeds, and these historiated initials are very skilfully and professionally done. The monarch would be depicted in a cartouche, often attached to the first letter of their name. The earliest example we have come across is James I:

James I

James is shown on his throne next to a stylised ‘J’. Under his cloak he appears to be shown in medieval dress. His shoes are certainly of a much older style, quite unlike the decorative heeled shoes he is usually depicted wearing. Next to the image are the symbols for England (rose), Scotland (thistle) and Wales (fleur-de-lis) joined together, illustrating that the three countries were united by his rule. The swirls turning to leaves may also hark back to an early style of decorating pages.

Next we have James’s son, Charles I.


We can see Charles I in a cartouche, surrounded with ornate patterned decoration and a panel showing roses, unicorns, and other emblems of state, with swirling rose leaves filling the space. The letters are also very ornately decorated. The image of Charles is very well drawn, and shows him with the crown, orb and sceptre.


We have also come across Charles’s granddaughter, Queen Anne. This, like many decorated examples, is an ‘Exemplification of Recovery’, which recorded the breaking or ‘barring’ of an entail (a passage of land solely down the family line), so that the land became fee simple and could be mortgaged, sold or willed to someone not in the entail. They became obsolete in 1833, but were often highly decorated with the monarch’s image and seal to show authenticity.

Queen Anne, from an Exemplification of Recovery, 1710.

Queen Anne, from an Exemplification of Recovery, 1710.

Here we see Queen Anne in a cartouche, with her hair elaborately curled and wearing a chain of jewels. The pearl necklace she wears is perhaps the one still owned and worn by the royal family today.

Detail from the same Exemplification of Recovery, 1710.

Detail from the same Exemplification of Recovery, 1710.

Further along the top of the same document we see a great deal of detailed decoration. The swirling leaves in Charles I’s decoration have grown to become huge scrolling acanthus leaves, which support a rose, and cover much of the top section. Between the leaves we have the Royal coat of arms of Great Britain. This has Queen Anne’s own motto beneath it – ‘Semper Eadem’, meaning ‘always the same’.

These are some examples we have come across in our research, but there are a great many more in our collection, including this beautiful and ostentatious deed from the reign of George II. The decoration transforms an ordinary legal document into something fantastic and beautiful, and gives an added value to the claim that it upholds. We will be keeping our eyes peeled for more monarchs and interesting letters as the project continues.



It’s our custom – day to day life in the manorial documents

We can learn a lot about everyday life in the manor by looking at how it was organised. Using manorial documents we can identify individuals and look at what ‘customs’ (rules) they were required to live by, and how they bent or broke the rules that their manor imposed. You could be ‘presented’ before the manor to be ‘amerced’ (fined) for anything from large offences like cheating buyers at your market stall, to not having your chimney in correct repair or cutting back a tree hanging into a neighbour’s garden. Between different manors these rules could be strikingly different.

The customs were upheld by a number of different officials. A Bailiff or Reeve (paid and unpaid versions of the same post) took on the day to day running of the manor. He might be assisted by a barleyman (‘byelaw man’ in charge of upholding the bye laws of the manor), Pinder or pounder (in charge of impounding livestock), lookers (into a particular area, such as fencelooker who examined boundaries and fences), among other roles depending on the needs of the manor. We find evidence of these officials in the manorial documents.

NRO 672/A/3/87 first page giving details of Hexham manor, the names of the borough Jury and the Afeerors.

Part of the first page of NRO 672/A/3/87 giving details of Hexham manor, the names of the Borough Jury and the Afeerors.

To show how customs worked we will take Hexham manor as an example. In Hexham we have an excellent series of what is known as the Borough Jury books (often spelt ‘burrow books’) from the seventeeth to nineteenth century which give ‘presentments’ (judgements of cases) jurored by a group of the townsmen known as the four and twenty. These books list other roles like the common keepers, market keepers, waits, affeerors, and scavengers. Affeerors were appointed from among the tenants to ensure amercements (fines) were kept fair. Waits were watchmen, often required to sound the hour. The (often female) scavengers swept the market and maintained street gutters in the town, fighting against the piles of rubbish (also ashes, thatch, weeds, gravel, bark and stones) Hexham’s townspeople were presented for leaving.

Detail from NRO 672/A/3/87 giving the names of the Scavengers.

Detail from NRO 672/A/3/87 giving the names of the Scavengers.


Other roles can also be found:

Read more

Leaving your mark – strange signatures in the court documents

In the course of looking through some of the manorial sources we are using on the project we see a lot of different types of handwriting. Some are beautifully practiced and elegant, others scribbled and hard to decipher. Examples like the one below from Morpeth in 1659 show how different letters can look to modern eyes, but with time and patience they can be worked out.

Sant/BEQ/28/1/1 cropped image.

This however is the handwriting of educated clerks and court officials. Most of the rest of the population would have been illiterate, so it would be required for them to give a ‘mark’ of some description. For more affluent classes this may be shown by a seal, but in most cases a simple ‘X’ would show they had been present and gave their agreement to the document being signed. However more complicated marks could be devised by an individual to identify themselves. Such identifiers are found in other areas of medieval and post-medieval life. Masons’ marks on stone would identify who had prepared each block, and would often be passed down families, with additions by each generation. Likewise potters would mark the underside of their work to show its provenance in their workshop. Though we have featured the document below previously, this is a good example of a document signed by numerous people with their own marks.

ZBL 2/13/21 p.2 cropped image of a presentment.

There are several ways these men have chosen their mark. John Roddam (1st line) has taken the ‘R’ from his surname. Conversely Ridley Havelock (4th line) has used the initial ‘R’ from his first name, and the same can be found with ‘T’ for William Taylor (6th line) and Thomas Pattason (8th line). William Ransom (last line) uses a bold ‘W’ of two crossed V’s like witches’ marks, and perhaps Thomas Smith’s (10th line) began as a ‘T’, but was added to. The ‘N’ of Nicholas Ridley (2nd line) is reversed, and William Coulson (12th line) could be an inverted ‘C’, or reflect a horseshoe or other device. The others seem to be choosing marks unrelated to their name, similar to simple marks like the masons’ marks.

We are keeping our eyes peeled for interesting examples like these as we look through the manorial documents we hold, and were excited to share a recent discovery that has given us much discussion and food for thought. In the image below we see a ‘H’ used by Humphrey Heatherington like the previous examples, and John Heatherington’s half-cross is much like that used by John Reay (11th line). A squiggle also represents a mark or signature used by William Marshall. However our favourite is that used by John Riches, a doodle perhaps symbolising a hook, or even a bird.

NRO 324

We would love to be able to work out what it means, if anyone has any suggestions please let us know! In the meantime we will keep looking for other interesting examples.

NRO 324 cropped image.


Domestic pigs and dusty feet: the smaller courts of Pannage, Woodmote and Piepowder.

The Manorial Documents Register (MDR) records documents produced in the honour courts. An honour is an administrative unit based on a number of manors, the tenants of which owed suit to an honour court in addition to, or in place of, the normal manor court. As explained in one of our earlier blogs the two main types of manor court are the Court Baron and the Court Leet. However there were other smaller courts dealing with specific types of business, these are not recorded on the MDR but it is useful to be aware of their function.

Pigs in woodland

Pigs in woodland

The Forest Court had jurisdiction over woodland and was sometimes called the Woodmote or Swainmote Court. The Court of Pannage dealt with the business of releasing domestic pigs into the forests to feed on acorns, beech mast and chestnuts. This was often a right or privilege given to local people or in some places pigs were customarily presented to the lord of the manor. In some areas of the country a unit of administration existed between the shire and parish, this was called a Hundred and had its own court. In Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire the Hundred Court was referred to as the Wapentake Court.

ZHE 2/2, reference to the Piepowder court highlighted.

ZHE 2/2, reference to the Piepowder court highlighted.

The Court of Piepowders was held in a borough on the occasion of a fair or market.

This document from the Allendale papers mentions a Court of Piepowder in 1685. The court had unlimited jurisdiction over events taking place in the market and tended to deal with disputes between merchants, theft, and acts of violence. The court was held in front of the mayor and bailiffs of the borough or the steward, if the market or fair was held by a lord. The jury comprised of three or four men and punishment ranged from a fine to the pillory. Trials were short and informal. If the court ruled against the defendant and the defendant could not pay his property could be seized and sold to cover the costs.

These courts existed to administer speedy justice over people who were not permanent residents of the place where the market was held. The name referred to the dusty feet (in French, pieds poudrés) of travelers and vagabonds, and was only later applied to the courts which dealt with such people. Court members themselves also wandered around the fair rather than sitting on a bench often getting their feet dusty in the process. In modern French, the word pied-poudreux is still occasionally used for travelling beggars.

Murder, marriages and manors: researching ownership for the Manor Authority files

In order to determine which places in Northumberland are actually manors and which aren’t we gather supporting historical evidence, and we write this up into a Manor Authority file. Every potential candidate will have one of these by the end of the project, even if it only contains a short sentence to confirm that it isn’t a manor. We use the documents discussed in previous posts and local history sources approved by The National Archives, such as the Northumberland County Histories, Hodgson’s Northumberland, Raine’s North Durham (which covers Bedlingtonshire, Norhamshire and Islandshire), and trade directories. We scour the histories for references to the manor, its description, owners and how it was passed through different hands and families. Our aim is to provide a complete account of the manor, with no gaps in ownership. However as being lord of the manor brought an income and social position these can also be fascinating stories of murder, abduction, forced marriage, theft of property and estates being squandered by profligate heirs. It isn’t always a simple case of an owner being ‘to the manor born’, you could become lord of the manor through marriage, purchase, or be rewarded with one for service to the monarch. We hope to relate some of the tales we have uncovered in future blog posts. Below we have given the example of the Manor Authority file we compiled for Ford.


Ford Parish

Alias: Foord

Geographical extent: Includes the townships of Ford, Kimmerston; Catfordlaw; Broomrigg; Flodden; Crookham; Ford; Ford Westfield ; Gatherick

Honour/Lordship details: Barony of Muschamp

Ownership:                                                                                                                            The manor of Ford was originally part of the Barony of Muschamp. By the late 13th century it was owned by the Heron family and remained in their possession until the mid-16th century. During this time it was passed mainly from father to son, with William Heron owning it by 1520. By 1557, the ownership of the manor was disputed between the Heron and Carr families because of the marriage of Thomas Carr to Elizabeth, daughter of Sir William Heron. The disagreement was brought to a head in 1558 with the murder of Thomas Carr. The manor then passed to the Carr family and remained with them until the early 18th century. In the 1660s, the manor was in the possession of three sisters of Thomas Carr – Margaret, married to Arthur Babington; Elizabeth, married to Francis Blake; and Susan, married to Thomas Winkles. By the early 1700s, Francis Blake had bought out the other sisters to become sole owner of the manor. He died in 1717 and the manor then passed to his grandson Francis Delaval, the child of Mary Blake and Edward Delaval, on the understanding that he assumed the surname Blake – becoming Francis Blake Delaval. The manor remained with the Delaval family until 1822 when it passed on the death of Susan Delaval to her granddaughter, Susan, Marchioness of Waterford. It remained with the Waterford family during the remainder of the 19th century. In 1907 the Ford Estate and manor were sold to Lord Joicey and have remained with Joicey family since this date.


View of Frankpledge with Court Baron – referred to in the first extant court roll – 1658


NRO 1216/A7/8 – Ford Manor Court Rolls

Northumberland County History, Vol. XI, pp.341-410

Kelly, E.R, (1914), Kelly’s Directory of Northumberland

Ford Village

BRO 0426/1037 – Ford Village around 1929


Anyone can request to see original documents like the manor court rolls in the Northumberland Archives searchroom, see our website below for how to visit.

You can also find many of the history books and directories we use online, using the following links.

Hodgson, Mackenzie and the County Histories can be found at:

Scott’s History of Berwick can be accessed using:

Trade directories are available through the University of Leicester’s special collections:

For pictures, maps and other digitised images for Ford, many of which come from our archives, try Northumberland Communities:


Beyond the court rolls – other manorial documents

In our first post we looked at some of the court rolls, and in the second how the courts worked. We will now explore some of the other documents that we commonly use to determine whether a place is a manor, and what else we can find out from them. From the documents we can learn more about agriculture and diet of the period, crime and the way criminals were treated, urban growth and industrial development, and land, house or property ownership. There is excellent scope for local history studies from these documents and the detail they give of land boundaries and the individuals who held them. There is also huge potential for genealogists – though you may think they would only provide information about the landed classes, some court rolls and other documents list the names of those renting or holding land by service. Here we have divided up the documents we use thematically.

Geographical documents

ZCR M-02 (AWARD) Survey of CrasterSurveys – as you would expect, these are descriptions of the manor and its boundaries. This can be very useful when trying to identify what land was owned by whom. They often also detail the customs of the manor, which often differed from place to place.

ZCR/M/2: Survey of demesne of Manor of Craster, Northumberland


Terriers – a survey arranged topographically, showing you the manor field by field or where open fields existed, strip by strip.

Maps – from the sixteenth century this survey information is commonly laid out in the form of maps. These marked out the boundaries, adjoining manors or parishes, and topographical features. Unlike the terriers these would be done to scale, and became increasingly accurate as time went on. 

NRO 452-E-3-3-1-2 Blanchland boundary rollBoundary roll – Description of the manorial boundary, though not a full perambulation.

NRO 00452/E/3/3/1/2: Blanchland Bounder Roll, Northumberland.

Perambulation – A long description of walk around the boundary, detailing local landmarks.

Land holding and ownership

Rentals – the names of all the tenants of the manor, however they held it, with a description of what they held and how much they paid, and what form their payment took. Payments could be in the form of money or produce. If they were expected to provide services it would say what these were. These weren’t as frequent as accounts or court rolls and sadly don’t always survive.

Custumals – The survey of rents, services owed by the tenants to the lord of the manor, the rights of the lord, the obligations he owed, and the customs of the manor. These would need to be examined occasionally, and everyone reminded of what these were to avoid confusion. Often the customs or rents changed, for example if services or produce were exchanged for payments of money.


Extents – An often earlier form of rental, a valuation and description of everything on the manor, such as the manor house, mills, demesne land (much like a ‘home farm’, the land near the manor house farmed for the lord), tenant’s rents and services.


ZCO IX-5 1 cropped imageSurrenders and admissions – The transferral of copyhold land from one owner to the next was done by one owner ‘surrendering’ his or her claim to the lord, who then ‘admitted’ the next tenant. This would be written down in the court roll, and the new tenant would be given a copy of what was written, hence this being called ‘copyhold’.

ZCO IX/5/1: Enclosure Act for Ovingham, Bywell St Peter and Bywell St Andrew.

Enclosure Awards – Enclosure was the practice of taking areas of unused land, strip fields or common and dividing them into privately owned fields. This would be done through private act of parliament up until about 1800, after which public acts were made possible, and from 1845 Commissioners were appointed to oversee the process of enclosure and issue enclosure awards. The awards detail how the land was divided and who the owners were.


Court papers

Presentment ZBL 2-13-21Presentments – lists of the matters to be dealt with by the court, such as disagreements between tenants or disobeying the manor customs, often drawn up beforehand by the jury. They might often be included in the court roll. ZBL 2/13/21 has some interesting examples including those brought before the court for offences such as ‘speaking scandalous words’ of someone or ‘wrongful mowing’ of someone else’s meadow.

ZBL 2/13/21: Presentments at Melkridge

Suit rolls or Call books – like an attendance register of everyone who owed suit to the court or attended the court. In some places these could be resident books, not only of the tenants but of everyone who lived in the manor. They might be kept within the court books.

Customs of the manor – a list of the individual customs of the manor, such as how many animals an individual could feed on the common

Stewards’ papers

 Accounts – These would be kept by the steward or bailiff of the manor, usually annually at Michaelmas (the 29th September), and marked the income and outgoings of the manor. For example ‘charges’ or income from the rents, money from sale of produce or fines; and ‘discharges’ or expenditure from purchasing livestock, repairs or labour.

Appointment of bailiff – a bailiff was a manager for the day-to-day running of the manor appointed by the lord. In some cases the role would be unpaid, with one of the tenants being elected annually to serve as ‘Reeve’ or ‘Greave’. This document would detail the bailiff’s appointment in the role.

Notice of court – letter to the lord notifying him of holding the court, or a notice often posted on the church door, giving the date, time and location of the court.

Correspondence – between the lord and the steward over various court matters.