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Manor records - further sources

  Introduction

The most important record produced by the manor is the court book or roll: these are described in our other guides on this subject.

The manor also produced many other forms of document however. Some of the most important are described here.

  Rentals, surveys and extents

These are records made by the lord to show what was going on in his manor. They each have a different purpose:

  • A rental lists the names of the tenants and the amount of rent they paid. Sometimes they also describe the property that the tenant held. More recent rentals are often in tabular form, with the rents paid by one tenant over several years set out on one page.
  • A survey is a list of all the property of the manor including land, buildings and rents. It usually includes an account of the boundaries of the manor. Surveys were often drawn up by jurors at a special Court of Survey and they are usually in English from the 17th century onwards.
  • An extent is a survey describing all the property of a manor and giving it a value in terms of what it is worth as an annual rent. They normally follow a set order: first the manor house, then the demesne land, then the tenants’ rents and services.

The principal use of these records for those interested in family research is that they act as lists of the names of the copyhold tenants of a manor at a particular date. They are especially useful if the manor court books are lost or do not have personal names indexes.

For historians they can provide all kinds of information about the size of landholdings, the value of land and details of farming practices.

  Custumals

A custumal is a survey of all the obligations owed by tenants to the lord of the manor, including rents and other services such as working in the lord's fields at harvest. These services vary greatly from manor to manor.

In the early Middle Ages people living on a manor had to do all kinds of direct labour for their lord and a custumal can give a fascinating picture of what life on a medieval manor was really like.

By the second half of the 14th century it became usual for the tenants to pay money rents to their lord rather than work for him. The lord would then hire labour as and when he needed it.

Later custumals are much shorter, often just a few lines long, and are commonly recorded in the front of the manor court books rather than as separate documents.

There could be important differences in the customs of different manors which could continue unchanged for centuries. For example, at the manors of Shelfanger and Bressingham it was the custom for the eldest son to be admitted on his parent’s death, but at the manors of Banham and Kenninghall the custom was for the youngest son to be admitted.

These four manors are close together and were owned for centuries by the same lord – the Duke of Norfolk – but the different practices within them continued throughout the ages and were recorded in their custumals.

Because custumals use many words not commonly found in other records, they can be difficult to use.

  Steward's or bailiff's accounts (compotus rolls)

The lord of the manor, especially if he had several manors, would use bailiffs or stewards to run the manor for him.

They would record their expenses on the demesne part of the manor (for example maintaining gates and fences, buying in stock) and their receipts (from sale of stock and corn, from rents, etc).

These accounts do not necessarily list tenants’ names so are not normally of great interest to genealogists. Custumals and bailiffs’ accounts are key sources, however, for people interested in farming practices in the Middle Ages.

  Other documents

The manor can produce many other kinds of documents, such as appointments of manor officials (such as constables, haywards, ale-tasters etc) and various lists of names of tenants, etc.

They may give further clues as to when a person or family were tenants of the particular manor.

  Maps and plans

It is very uncommon to find a map or plan showing the boundaries of a particular manor.

Those we do hold at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO) are included in our online catalogue and can also be found listed in the Maps Index (on cards) in our searchroom.

Inclosure Maps sometimes show which manor pieces of land are in - references to these can also be found in the online catalogue and in the Maps Index. Many can be seen online via Map Explorer

  Language

All the formal records of the court will be in Latin before 1733, except for the Commonwealth period between 1653 and 1660. However, the content and form of the record is exactly the same.

If you have worked your way through almost 200 years of manor court books, from 1925 back to 1733, you will probably be familiar enough with the style of the entries to make sense of straightforward admissions and surrenders.

You will find that when the entry is quoting from a document (such as a will) which was written in English, the scribe does not usually bother to translate it into Latin.

Therefore chunks of English will appear among the Latin text of the court book.

A further difficulty is that in some words several letters are left out, so that at first you may not even know what the word is meant to be.

Obviously if the entry involves something more complicated than a simple admission or surrender, then it may include words you are not familiar with.

The best short book if you decide you want to learn some Latin is Latin for Local History by Eileen A Gooder. This has an excellent word list which may well include the word you want.

Latin dictionaries are also available on the searchroom shelves. Although our staff will be happy to help with a word or phrase you do not understand, they usually do not have time to translate longer pieces of Latin for you.

We have a translation and transcription service for which we charge an hourly fee – see our price list for details. We also issue a list of local researchers, which includes the names of people prepared to undertake transcriptions.

You should also bear in mind that if the name of the manor has a word like ‘Abbey’ or a phrase like ‘of the Queen’ in it, then this will itself be in Latin before 1733. Again these will present few difficulties after a little practice.

  Dating

People who have used parish registers will be aware that before 1752 the year did not run from 1 January to 31 December but from 25 March to 24 March.

Therefore, the year given in the court book for a court held between 1 January and 24 March will be a year earlier than the date as we would give it today.

For example, a court dated in the record as being held on 8 February 1709 will actually have been held on 8 February 1710 by our current system of dating.

The best way to record this in research is to give the year as given in the record, followed by a stroke (/) and the year as now reckoned.

For example, if you refer to a manor court held on 11 February 1702/3 everyone will understand that the date of the court is given as 1702 in the record but that you have appreciated that this is 1703 by modern computation.

Medieval court rolls are commonly dated by the year of the current king or queen and by the nearest saint's day.

These can be translated into modern style dates with the aid of a reference publication such as C R Cheney (ed) Handbook of Dates for Students of English History.