1. Registration of title to land, from 1862
When the Land Registry was first set up in 1862, registration of title to land was voluntary. From 1897 compulsory registration was gradually extended throughout the counties of England and Wales. Registration of changes in the ownership of land in all England and Wales only became compulsory in 1990. Now, every time a property changes hands, the change of ownership should be recorded by the Land Registry. The Register is open to public inspection at the Land Registry's district offices. Title is only registered when land changes hands: if it has not, it will not have been registered.
2. Some local registers
Before 1862, there was no central registration of title, although local deeds registries (not just for title deeds) existed, with their records still kept locally, for:
|Area||Date range||Local register office|
|Middlesex||early 18th century - c1940||London Metropolitan Archives,|
40 Northampton Road, London EC1R 0HB
|Yorkshire (parts only)||early 18th century - c1970||West Yorkshire Archives Service,|
Newstead Road, Wakefield, WF1 2DE
|The Bedford Level||17th century onwards||Cambridgeshire Record Office,|
Shire Hall, Cambridge, CB3 0AP
Property transactions in some cities and boroughs were also sometimes recorded in the municipal records, held locally.
3. Enrolments of deeds in the courts of law, 1227-c1930
Although there was no compulsory central registration, many purchasers of land chose to try to register their title with the records of the courts of law, both central and local, if necessary using a fictitious legal dispute to do so, or simply paying a fee to have it enrolled among the records of the court. After 1535, conveyances of land by one particular method, known as Bargain and Sale, had to be enrolled by one of the central courts of law, or with the locally-kept records of Quarter Sessions. Before 1733, they are likely to be in Latin and they can be legally complex. They may occur in many different series (although Chancery was very popular). There is no single overall index of names or places.
|C 54||Chancery Close Rolls|
|CP 40||Court of Common Pleas: Plea Rolls|
|CP 43||Court of Common Pleas: Recovery Rolls|
|JUST 1||Eyre Rolls|
|KB 27||Coram Rege Rolls, King's Bench|
|KB 122||Judgement Rolls of King's Bench (after 1702)|
|E 159 and
|Memoranda Rolls of the Exchequer|
|E 13||Exchequer Plea Rolls|
|E 315||Miscellaneous Books of the Exchequer|
|CHES 29-30||Plea Rolls of the Palatinate of Chester|
|DURH 13||Judgement Rolls of the Palatinate of Durham|
|PL 2||Close Rolls of the Palatinate of Lancaster|
|PL 15||Plea Rolls of the Palatinate of Lancaster|
4. Enrolment in Chancery
From the 13th century, the backs of the Chancery Close Rolls (C 54) had been used to enrol private deeds, for a fee. From 1536, all conveyances of land by means of bargain and sale had by law to be enrolled by one of the law courts or by the local clerk of the peace (although this requirement could be avoided by using other methods of land conveyance). The clerks enrolling on the Close Rolls took on a very large part of this business, and the Close Rolls swelled in size, from an earlier figure of one or two parts a year, up to 50 parts a year.
After the Land Registry was set up in 1862, registration of deeds on the Close Rolls dwindled. Private deeds continued to be enrolled on the Close Rolls until 1903, when the series of Close Rolls was replaced by the Supreme Court Enrolment Books in J 18. From 1850, the enrolment of deeds poll of change of name became frequent, and from 1930, little else was enrolled.
5. Indexes to deeds enrolled in Chancery
There are separate indexes, available only at The National Archives, for grantees and grantors (buyers and sellers), named for the Chancery Offices where the indexing took place. These are not in general what we would call indexes: sorting is usually by initial letter only, so you may need to scan through several pages of entries. If you run into problems, look at the list of C 275. Once you find a likely entry, you will need to look at the C 54 list to convert the old reference given in the index.
|1227-1509||Calendars of Close Rolls (printed)||Open access|
|1509-1837||Name indexes to grantees (buyers) and sometimes places - Rolls Chapel||C 275/12-85 : Open access|
|1837-1848||Name indexes to grantors (sellers) - Rolls Chapel||C 275/85-88 : Open access|
|1573-1902||Name indexes to grantors (sellers) - Enrolment Office||C 275/89-169 : Open access|
|1903-||Name indexes to grantors (sellers) - very few||Open access|
|1559-1567||Calendar of enrolled deeds||IND 1/9455-9457|
|1689-1820||Deeds enrolled for safe custody||C 275/205|
6. Private conveyances: the final concord
The most common device was the final concord, an agreement between purchaser and vendor sanctioned by the court which was drawn up as three copies, one of which, known as the 'foot' of the fine, was kept by the court. Feet of fines are in CP 25/1 and CP 25/2 and cover the period 1182-1833. Those for the Palatinate of Chester are enrolled in CHES 32; those for the Palatinate of Durham are in DURH 11 and those for the Palatinate of Lancaster are in PL 18.
7. Private conveyances: the common recovery
Another fictitious legal dispute, in use from the 15th century and often used to break family trusts that had been set up to prevent an heir selling off the family property, was the common recovery, whereby the purchaser claimed that the land had been his all along and that he was taking legal action to 'recover' it. Before Easter term 1583, recoveries are enrolled on the Plea Rolls of the Court of Common Pleas in CP 40. From 1583-1835, they were enrolled on a separate series of Recovery Rolls in CP 43. Contemporary finding aids may note the names of the parties in the case; the county and the relevant membrane number within the roll. Recoveries for the Palatinates of Chester, Durham and Lancaster respectively are in CHES 29-30; DURH 13 and PL 15.
8. Further reading
Nathaniel Alcock, Old Title Deeds (Phillimore 2001)