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Guide reference: Legal Records Information 1
Last updated: 30 January 2012

1. Why use this guide?

If you are researching a particular area in England and Wales before the 1920s this guide will tell you what sort of information exists and where to find it.

You may wish to start your research by consulting our introductory research guide on Manors.

If you are looking for the ownership and location of manorial documents for England and Wales, the best place to begin is a search on the Manorial documents register. Refer to the research guide Using the Manorial Documents Register and how to find manorial lordships for information.

2. Essential information

There are no manorial records held by The National Archives to view online.

The manor was essentially an administrative unit of a landed estate, varying in size from a few acres within a single parish to manors covering several whole parishes. The manorial system never covered the whole country and so we may not hold records for the area you are researching.

The National Archives only hold manorial documents that at one time or another had been in the Crown hands or from another source, for example submitted as legal evidence.

Manorial records are private, rather than 'public' records and those for any given manor may be held in several different locations, either in private ownership as well as national and local records offices.

There is no comprehensive topographical index to The National Archives' holdings. Instead, manorial records are arranged by document type i.e. court rolls or survey, scattered across various departments which include SC, DL, C and LRRO. Published finding aids may be used to locate full document references.

3. Court rolls (c.1200-1954)

3.1 What are they?

Court rolls are the records of those courts which provided justice at the local level and should not be confused with the records of the central law courts at Westminster.

Court rolls record the proceedings of public, franchise, manorial and other local courts. The principle courts were the court baron and court leet.

The court baron was the court of the chief tenants of the manor. It was responsible for the internal regulation of the local affairs within the manor.

The court was attended by all those free tenants whose attendance at court was a condition of their tenure, and by customary tenants. Customary tenants, the most significant of which were copyholders, held land by an agreement made at the manor court which was entered on its roll, a 'copy' of which was regarded as proof of title.

A court leet exercised the peace-keeping jurisdiction of the sheriff's twice-yearly tourn of the hundred courts.

3.2 What information do they provide?

They contain a wealth of information, often  about the lowest members of the social hierarchy, and concerning local issues,  including:

  • cases of transferring property rights, notably copyhold tenure
  • occupation of land at a given time
  • the enforcement of law and order, including cases of minor disputes and debts, theft or petty assault
  • the regulation of agricultural affairs such as the allocation of strips of land
  • the enforcement of bye-laws about common land, ditches and crops
  • the enforcement of labour services
  • the election of local officials
  • the obstruction of highways and watercourses
  • the name of the lord of the manor

The variety of business conducted in manor courts declined from the 18th century as the courts became increasingly concerned with the surrender of and admittance to copyhold land. Land was continually being converted into leasehold which reduced the amount of copyhold land.

3.3 Main sources

Manorial court rolls are in series SC 2 and DL 30.

Other record series that have been identified as holding court rolls include series ADM 74, C 116, C 171, CRES 5, CRES 34, CRES 35, DURH 3, E 315, F 14, J 90, LR 3, LR 11, MAF 5, PRO 30/26, SC 12, TS 19 and WARD 2.

3.4 Using published finding aids to locate document references

For pre-1700 court rolls consult the published work, the List and Index of Court Rolls (Lists and Indexes VI, Kraus Reprint, 1963). Use the place index to locate the area you are researching. Search under 'General series' for series SC 2 and 'Duchy of Lancaster' for series DL 30.

The publication also includes a few entries from other record series such as E 315 and DURH 3 which are noted in the left hand margin.

Use the Union place name index to Court Rolls, which is on open access at The National Archives for finding other court rolls at The National Archives.

See also M Ellis, Using manorial records (PRO, 1994) for more guidance on locating document references for manorial records. 

3.5 What format do the court rolls follow?

The heading of a court roll usually gives the type of court, the day of the week and date expressed with reference to a saint's day, the regnal year and possibly the name of the official presiding over the court.

There is no set pattern for the recording of the business of the court. However, essoins (excuses) will typically be listed first, followed by the names of the jury, and then presentments.

During the medieval period the proceedings were generally written on parchment rolls. It became increasingly common from the 16th century onwards for court rolls to be written in book form.

Very often a court roll or book will include the proceedings of more than one manor.

4. Manorial accounts (c.1200-1851)

Accounts of income and expenditure by the steward, bailiff or other manorial officials are known as 'minister's accounts'.

4.1 Main sources

Manorial accounts are in series SC 6 and DL 29. Accounts for manors temporarily held by the Crown may be in series E 372, E 364, or E 199. For accounts from Crown manors, see LR 6-LR 7 and LR 12.

4. 2 Using published finding aids to locate document references

Consult topographical arranged lists published in the List of Ministers' Accounts (Lists and Indexes V, VIII, and XXXIV, Kraus Reprint, 1963) and Supplementary Series II (Kraus Reprint, 1967) for series SC 6 and DL 29. 

Accounts of royal officials who took control of the possessions of the dissolved monasteries in the 16th century in the same series are listed and indexed in the List of the Lands of Dissolved Religious Houses (Lists and Indexes Supplementary Series No. III, vols. 1 to 7, Kraus Reprint 1967).

Read Ellis, Using Manorial Records (PRO, 1994) for further information on manorial accounts.

5. Rentals, custumals, surveys, extents and maps (c.1200-1851)

5.1 Main sources

Written descriptions of the manor, its tenants, customs, rents, and valuations that have survived in series  SC 11, SC 12, DL 29, DL 42-44, E 36, E 142, E 164, E 315, E 317, and LR 2.

The series E 317 includes parliamentary surveys of crown manors taken after 1649 which lists the names of tenants. Few manorial or estate maps survive for the period before 1600.

5.2 Using published finding aids to locate document references

Use the List of Rentals and Surveys (Lists and Indexes XXV and Supplementary Series IV Kraus Reprints, 1963 and 1968) to locate full document references to the main sources above.

5.3 Other sources

Occasionally, extents of manors may also be found amongst the records of Inquisitions Post Mortem, also available in The National Archives. Refer to the research guide Landholders and heirs in inquisitions post mortem 1236-c1640 for information.

6. Owners of the title Lord of the Manor

There is no central record kept of present owners and the purchase of a title does not entitle the purchaser to claim any manorial records not expressly included in the sale. The Manorial Society of Great Britain may be able to offer some further advice.

The Victoria History of the Counties of England may provide information on the history of ownership of particular manors.

Lists of owners in 1925 and subsequent correspondence with owners are in series HMC 5.

7. Crown manors

The department descriptions in Discovery, our cataloguea search tool with descriptions of tens of millions of documents from the UK central government, law courts, and other national bodies, for LR, LRRO and CRES provide more information.

The records of manors which came to the Crown for brief periods are more likely to be in the department SC. Duchy of Lancaster manors are in the department DL.

8. Further reading

Until 1733, the records are likely to be in Latin with difficult handwriting, so first time users should begin by consulting one of the guides to their interpretation listed below.

Some or all of the publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives' bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives' library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

E Gooder, Latin for Local History (Longmans, 1982)

P D A Harvey, Manorial Records (British Records Association, Archives and the User No. 5, 1984)

R E Latham, 'Hints on Interpreting the Public Records, IV, Ministers' Accounts', The Amateur Historian, Vol. 1, No. 4 (1953)

B P Park, My ancestors were manorial tenants (Society of Genealogists, 1990)

D Stuart, Manorial Records, an introduction to their transcription and translation (Phillimore, 1992)


 

Guide reference: Legal Records Information 1

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