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Tracing the history of a parsonage


This guide briefly describes the most useful documents held by the Norfolk Record Office (NRO) for tracing the history of a parsonage or other glebe property in the county.

See our guide Tracing the History of your House for other types of records which will be helpful in your research.

J H Harvey, Sources for the History of Houses (British Records Association: Archives and the User series) contains general advice, together with an explanation of the different types of benefice.

  Glebe terriers

These were compiled every few years by the incumbent, churchwardens and older parishioners. They were presented at the Bishop's visitation.

The terriers include a brief description of the parsonage and the parcels of land attached to the benefice, together with any rights, profits, customary fees and income from other sources.

Barns may also be mentioned, while later glebe terriers might describe the building materials used for the parsonage and, more rarely, the rooms.

  • Terriers survive for various dates between c1613-1968 - see list DN/TER
  • For 16th century terriers, see list ANW 15
  • Some copies of terriers may be found among the parish records or in private family collections: see PD lists and the topographical card index respectively

  Tithes and maps

Tithes in kind were commuted for a monetary payment, under the 1836 Tithe Commutation Act.

A tithe map and accompanying apportionment (or schedule) were drawn up for most parishes between 1836 and c1850: see lists DN/TA and DE/TA.

The tithe map divides the parish into plots and will show the location and acreage of the parsonage and other glebe property.

Houses and outbuildings are usually represented and may be distinguished by different colours. For example, red might be used for dwellings, grey for other buildings.

By using the tithe map in conjunction with the glebe terriers it is sometimes possible to identify the location of glebe land which has been in the possession of the benefice for many centuries.

Altered apportionments are usually found together with the earlier apportionments. Most of the maps and apportionments are now available on microfilm.

  Sale and exchange of glebe and parsonages

The incumbent held the freehold to the church, parsonage and glebe. However, he could not dispose of this property without the authority of the Bishop, granted in the form of a faculty.

  • Petitions for a faculty for glebe exchanges can be found among the faculty court papers, c1638-1989: see list DN/FCP
  • Faculties granted by the bishop were entered in the faculty court books 1633-1972, though not all were recorded until the 19th century: see list DN/FCB
  • Deeds of exchange for glebe lands survive for the years 1680-1853: see list DN/GLE

It became easier for incumbents to dispose of glebe property under the Ecclesiastical Leasing Acts of the 19th century.

  • Bishop's consents and other papers (1803-1957) concerning the sale, purchase or exchange of glebe property, including parsonages, may include valuations, surveyor's reports and plans: see list DN/ADR 9.

  Parsonage building

The Gilbert Act of 1776 allowed incumbents to mortgage glebe land. The money raised was used to build new parsonages or outbuildings, or improving existing ones.

A third party, or nominee, would be entrusted with the money and supervised the building work.

  • The mortgage deeds cover the years 1779-1906 and may include nominees' bonds and accounts and occasionally a surveyor's plan: see list DN/PHM
  • For the main series of parsonage house plans, 1788-1947, see list DN/DPL and for strays from this series, 1796-1956, see list DN/ADR 10
  • Deeds conveying sites for new parsonages often include a plan of the site and can be found in the Diocesan Deeds series, c1675-1969: see list DN/ADR 26 and, for a few strays, list DN/AUG

  Upkeep and repair

The parish records can often include documents relating to the building and upkeep of the parsonage (see PD lists):

  • Bills
  • Receipts
  • Accounts
  • Mortgages from Queen Anne's Bounty or the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in the 18th and 19th centuries

Incumbents were responsible for the maintenance and repair of the parsonage and, under the Dilapidations Act 1871, surveyors were appointed to inspect glebe buildings at regular intervals.

  • The diocesan series of dilapidations files covers the years 1897-1955: see list DN/DIL
  • Other dilapidations papers may be with the parish records

A sequestrator was appointed to receive the tithes and other profits accruing to the benefice if a vacancy meant there was no incumbent.

They would also be responsible for the upkeep of the glebe buildings.

Sequestrators’ accounts often show their expenditure on the maintenance of the parsonage.

  • Sequestrators’ bonds survive for 1557-1961 and accounts for 1592-1938: see lists DN/SQB and DN/SEQ respectively.
  • Sequestrators’ papers may occasionally be found with the parish records. References to the building or destruction of the parsonage may be found in the parish registers, though this is very rare: see PD lists.


The Bishop's visitor was not normally concerned with the state of clergy residences, except in cases of significant disrepair.

However, from 1777 printed Articles of Enquiry were sent to the churchwardens containing queries about the condition of the parsonage.

  • Their replies can often be quite lengthy and sometimes include retrospective information: see list DN/VIS
  • Archdeacon's visitations dealt with much the same matters: see ANW and ANF lists

  Non-residence returns

All incumbents were supposed to reside in their parish, but a clergyman could obtain a licence from the bishop or a dispensation from the Archbishop to live elsewhere.

  • This was provided he could give a good reason, such as an uninhabitable parsonage: see lists DN/NRL, DN/NRM and DN/NRN
  • Non-residence returns, 1814-1922, were sent to the Privy Council and often included statements concerning the condition of the parsonage residence: see list DN/PCS.

  Wills and other probate records

Wills proved before 11 January 1858 within the diocese of Norwich are indexed by name, and in the case of the Norwich Consistory Court, by place and occupation.

Probate inventories of the goods of deceased clergy often include references to the rooms in the parsonage and their function.

There are name and occupation indexes to the inventories.

See our guide to wills and probate records  for further details on using and accessing these sources of information.