Introduction to manorial records
Manorial Records are held by many archives and record offices, often within landed family and estate collections. They are protected under the Law of Property Amendment Act 1924, to ensure their preservation.
There are many different types of manorial record, and they range in date from the 12th century until the 1920s. Because of this they can sometimes be a challenge to use. The information provided within this skills unit, then, aims to assist researchers in their understanding and interpretation of manorial records.
Throughout the unit, illustrative images are taken from the collections held by Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham.
This unit was written in September 2005.
What are Manorial Records?
Manorial Documents are defined by the Manorial Documents Register as 'court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents and books of every description relating to the boundaries, wastes, customs or courts of a manor' - basically, then, they are any documents which were generated by the internal administration of a manor.
Of course, this leads on to the question, 'what was a manor?' Traditionally, many people have defined the manor as a geographical unit of land. This definition, however, can be misleading. It is better to think of the manor as an administrative unit of a landed estate. It could vary in size from a few acres within a parish, to many square miles within several parishes. In some cases, the bounds of a manor may have correlated with the boundaries of a village; sometimes a single village may have been part of several manors; in other cases a manor may have been a group of scattered lands and farmsteads interspersed with the lands of other manors. The important aspect, then, was the administration. Tenants paid rent and service to the lord of the manor, they had to abide by the customs of the manor, and the succession of their land was governed by the manor court, which often also acted as the local court of law for routine offences. Manors were an important feature of local communities.
See the glossary for definitions of different manorial terms.
Why are manorial records found in family and estate collections?
Britain's major landed families held vast amounts of property all over the country. Naturally, some of this would have been copyhold, or manorial land. In some cases, the head of the family would even have been lord of the manor.
Because there was no central registration of ownership of lands, it was essential that owners could establish proof of their title to property. Manorial records were an important element in that proof. For that reason, then, they can often be found within family and estate archives.
Next page: Different types of manorial record