What is a manor and what are manorial records?

Ahead of Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July, we begin a manorial mini-series exploring what these fascinating documents can tell us about Essex in the past. In this first post Archivist Katharine Schofield writes for us about what a manor actually was…

A manor was essentially a unit of land.  Manors were at the heart of the post-Norman Conquest feudal system whereby all land was owned by the King.  He rewarded his followers (or tenants-in-chief) by giving them land which they held in return for military service to the King.  They in turn rewarded their followers (or tenants) on the same basis.  At the bottom of the structure was the knight’s fee, the amount of land considered sufficient to finance the service of one knight.  Domesday Book, produced in 1086, shows the beginnings of this system and is arranged by manors rather than towns or villages.  It is for this reason that a number of places appear in it more than once.

Manors and parishes rarely coincided.  Domesday Book, for example, records three manors in the parish of Takeley, owned by Eudo Dapifer [the steward], Robert Gernon and the Priory of St. Valéry in Picardy.  By the time that the Revd. Philip Morant wrote The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex in 1768 there were four manors in the parish – Waltham Hall, Colchester Hall, St. Valerys or Warish Hall and Bassingborns which could trace their ownership back to the three Domesday manors.  Manors could also have land in a number of different parishes; for example, records of the manor of Berechurch or West Donyland in Colchester included property in Old Heath and on East Hill and St. John’s Green, all in other parishes.

The lord of the manor owned everything in and of the manor – the crops, animals, mineral, hunting and fishing rights and also the tenants, who could be bought and sold and who owed days of labour and items of produce to the lord.  The lord would either keep the land and farm it using the labour of his tenants or he would rent the land, retaining jurisdiction over it.

Among the earliest deeds in the Essex Record Office are a small number of early 13th century grants where named individuals, with their belongings and descendants, or chattels and issue [catallis et sequela – underlined in red below]), are sold or exchanged for land.

Grant by Thoby Priory of William le Beggere to Barking Abbey, c.1202-1201 (D/DP T1/1582). William had originally been purchased by the Priory from Robert de Saincler. In return for this grant, the abbey gave the priory land in Mountnessing.

 

As tenants were considered part of the property, the lord was also entitled to customary dues which would be paid as compensation for the loss of income that the tenant or members of his family would bring.  These included payments which were required when a son was sent to school or entered holy orders, as well as ‘merchet’ which was paid when a daughter married and ‘chevage’ paid to live the outside the manor.

The territorial rights of the lord over the tenants and their lands were enforced in the manorial court – the court baron.  Some, but not all, manorial lords also had jurisdiction over minor criminal matters in the court leet.

The rights of manorial lords did not change significantly over the centuries, but the nature of the manor did.  Some rights ceased to be exercised and others became more important.  It is estimated that the Black Death of 1348-1349 killed around a third of the national population and possibly as much as half of the population of East Anglia.  This ultimately led to lords being unable to find tenants willing to work the land as they had done previously, and the labour dues of tenants being commuted to rents or quit rents.  This, in turn, meant that records which commonly appeared in the early Middle Ages disappeared to be replaced with rentals.  Similarly by the 18th century the business of the manorial courts was mostly taken up with the admission and surrender of land by copyhold tenants.

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Manorial survey of Castle Hedingham by Israel Amyce, 1592. This survey book includes written descriptions of pieces of land illustrated with maps. (D/DMh M1)

The Manorial Documents Register (MDR) was established in 1926, the year after manorial landholding (copyhold) was abolished, to record the location of documents and ensure that they could be traced if they were required for legal purposes.  The two main types of manorial records listed by the MDR are:

  • Court records – court rolls, later books, estreat and suit rolls, stewards’ papers, admissions and surrenders
  • Assessment of land and financial records – surveys, extents, custumals, accounts (or compoti), rentals, and quit rents

As well as the records listed by the MDR, the Essex Record Office holds many deeds of copyhold properties and of the manors themselves.  Manorial titles remain and still retain some rights, including the extraction of minerals and fishing and any remaining rights must have been registered with the Land Registry before October 2013 if a lord intends to continue enforcing them.

Over the last few years, the ERO has been contributing to a major update to the Manorial Documents Register, improving the catalogue and getting information online to make these useful and fascinating documents more available to researchers. Even if you don’t want to attempt reading the earlier Latin documents, from 1733 they were kept in English, so there may well be information contained within them of interest to your research in family history, house history, or local history. Essex through the ages on 12 July marks the completion of our contribution to the project, and celebrates the improved accessibility of these records for researchers.

Whether you are interested in using manorial records in your own research, or just want to enjoy hearing experts talk about them, join us for Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July 2014 to find out how you can discover centuries of Essex life using these fascinating documents. There are more details, including how to book, here.

Conservation: cleaning a 629 year old seal

To accompany The Fighting Essex Soldier: Recruitment, War and Remembrance in the Fourteenth Century conference on 8 March 2014, Dr Jennifer Ward is preparing a display of documents for our Searchroom. We are in the process of preparing the documents for display, which has included cleaning a beautiful wax seal from 1384 which has survived remarkably intact.

This seal belongs to an indenture between Thomas Holland and Richard II concerning the governorship of Cherbourg, made in 1384 (D/DRg 1/62). Thomas Holland (1350-1397) was earl of Kent and Richard’s older half-brother, and the seal is his badge.

Thomas was the son of another Thomas Holland and Joan, ‘The Fair Maid of Kent’. After her first husband’s death in 1360, Joan married Edward, Prince of Wales, known as the Black Prince, son of King Edward III.

Richard was the second son of this marriage, born in 1367, although when the elder boy, Edward, died Richard was thrown into the direct line of succession to the English throne. His father died in 1376, and his grandfather Edward III died in 1377, making Richard king at the age of just 10 years old. Richard was ultimately deposed in 1399 by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. Richard was imprisoned and it is believed he starved to death in captivity.

His elder half-brother Thomas Holland was one of Richard’s councillors, and acquired great influence over the young king. Thomas had spent his early career from 1366 in military service abroad, in Spain and France, under the Black Prince. He received gifts of money and valuable jobs from Richard once he was king. In his later career, his military experience was used to help suppress the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, and then as governor of English-held Cherbourg from 1384.

This indenture (more on which in this post) assigned Thomas £4,000 a year as governor of the castle and town of Cherbourg in consideration of his providing sufficient garrison and artillery.

Our Seax description for the seal takes a little unpicking: ‘Seal of the earl: a hind couchant regardant, wearing as a collar a crown from which is suspended by a chain a shield of the arms of England.’

The hind, or deer, is described as ‘couchant’, which means an animal which is lying down but with its head raised, and ‘regardant’, which means an animal with its head turned backwards to look over its shoulder.

The seal has been cleaned using a detergent applied with a small brush, which is then cleaned away with cotton wool dipped in water. The aim of this was to remove the worst of the surface dirt; the dirt from the front of the seal came away easily, although the dirt on the back was more ingrained.

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A special box is now being made to protect the seal, and it will be on display in the Searchroom from January to accompany the run up to The Fighting Essex Soldier: War Recruitment and Remembrance in the Fourteenth Century on Saturday 8 March 2014. More details here.

PS Essex Library card holders can access biographies of all of the people mentioned in this post on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

The Fighting Essex Soldier: the background

Ahead of The Fighting Essex Soldier: War Recruitment and Remembrance in the Fourteenth Century on 8 March 2014, we asked one of our speakers, Dr Jennifer Ward, to fill us in on some of the background of what Essex society looked like in the 1300s.

With the conference on The Fighting Essex Soldier: War Recruitment and Remembrance in the Fourteenth Century being held at the ERO on 8 March next year, we shall all learn a lot about warfare and the ways in which most Essex people were involved in the wars.  2014 marks a significant anniversary in the history of Scottish warfare, since it marks the defeat of the English at the battle of Bannockburn.

Much of the history of the fourteenth-century wars with Scotland and France can be reconstructed from documents and books in the ERO.  Society was hierarchical, and leadership was undertaken by kings and nobles.  The great Essex lords – the de Bohuns of Pleshey and Saffron Walden, the FitzWalters of Little Dunmow, and the Bourchiers of Stansted Hall in Halstead – were all involved.  John Bourchier was unfortunate enough to be taken prisoner by the French in 1370, leaving his wife to raise his ransom and to take charge of his estates.  William de Bohun, earl of Northampton, was one of the commanders at the battle of Crecy in 1346.

All lords had their retainers who wore their livery and received fees.  In 1315, Sir John de Northtoft became the retainer of Sir Thomas de Vere (D/DCw T46/2).  He was to receive two robes a year at Christmas and Pentecost, a saddle to match those of Thomas’s other knights, and a yearly fee of £4.  The arrangement was to last ten years.  Retainers were used for peacetime and/or wartime duties.

D/DCw T46/2

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For the Hundred Years War, the Crown raised cavalry by drawing up indentures with military leaders, specifying how many men they were to bring, their pay, and the terms of their military service.  An indenture of 1384 between Richard II and his half-brother, Sir Thomas Holland, earl of Kent, (D/DRg 1/62) laid down the details of Thomas’s governorship of Cherbourg.  He was to have as large a fighting force as he thought necessary, was to have all ransoms and profits of war, and he was to be paid £4,000 a year by the king.  A later indenture of 1417 between Henry V and Sir Roger Fiennes (D/DL F15) provided for Roger to serve the king for a year with ten men-at-arms.  Again, pay and conditions of service were laid down.

D/DRg 1/62

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Seal of Richard II

Seal of Thomas Holland, earl of Kent and Richard II’s half-brother

Reverse of seal of Richard II, complete with medieval fingerprints

Reverse of seal, complete with medieval fingerprints

D/DL/F15

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Infantry, including archers, were recruited by commissioners of array in each county.  Many Welsh contingents of archers served in the wars.  Merchant ships were used for transport, and were confined to the ports if a campaign was being planned.

During the fourteenth century, the gentry of the county became increasingly prominent in local administration and justice, as well as serving in the wars themselves.  Sometimes they fought as young men, and took on administrative tasks as they grew older.  They served as commissioners of array, as keepers of the peace, and from the mid-fourteenth century as justices of labourers and justices of the peace.  It was essential for the king’s peace to be kept in the county while the king was campaigning abroad.

Moreover, much money was needed for the prosecution of the war.  England, unlike many other European countries, had a national system of taxation, with each levy of taxes having to be agreed to by parliament.  Parliament, comprising the king, the nobility, and the commons made up of two knights from each county and two burgesses from each town, grew rapidly in importance from the reign of Edward I onwards.  The taxes were originally levied on people’s movable goods, but from 1334 each village or town had to pay a fixed sum.  The assessment for Boxted survives (D/DRg 1/35), and here the 1334 tax was levied on landholdings, both small and large.

D/DRg 1/35

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Most Essex people were affected in some way with the wars, and the 1340s and 1350s brought great victories at Crecy and Poitiers.  However, in 1348-9, the Black Death reduced the English population by at least 0ne-third, and the court rolls for Essex show that many villages and towns suffered severely, such as Blackmore and Margaretting (D/DK M108, D/DP M717).  There are signs in the court rolls of increasing peasant restiveness after the Black Death.  This culminated in the Great Revolt of 1381, sparked off by refusal to pay the third poll tax.  Men of Essex were no longer willing to pay taxes and put up with serfdom in an era of population decline and military defeat.

 

Find out more at The Fighting Essex Soldier: War Recruitment and Remembrance in the Fourteenth Century on Saturday 8 March 2014. More details here. Dr Ward has curated a display of documents to accompany the conference which will be in the Searchroom from January-March.

Your favourite documents: Deed of the Royal Essex Forest, 1252

As part of our 75th anniversary celebrations this year, we recently asked you, our users, to nominate your favourite ERO documents. Thank you very much to those of you who have sent in nominations so far – today we bring you the next in a series of your favourites.

Today’s nomination comes from Richard Morris, one of the Verderers of Epping Forest, a post that has existed for nearly 1,000 years to protect and administer the forest. Richard’s nominated document is D/DCw T1/1, a deed of the Royal Forest of Essex dating from 1252.

Deed of the Royal Fores of Essex, 1252(D/DCw T1/1)

Deed of the Royal Fores of Essex, 1252. It is just possible to make out the remains of the enthroned figure of Henry III on the partially surviving seal (D/DCw T1/1)

This is one of the earliest surviving deeds of the Royal Forest of Essex, later Waltham Forest, of which Epping Forest is today the remaining fragment, albeit still covering over 6,000 acres.

The deed, dated 1252, refers to the restoration from King Henry III to Richard Muntfichette of the office of bailiff of the Forest of Essex, which he had lost when the infamous Robert Passelew was Judge of Forest Pleas.

The signatories to the deed, which includes part of the Great Seal of Henry III, include the Earl of Gloucester, the Earl of Norfolk (Marshal of England), William de Valence, the King’s brother, and the Earl of Albermarle.

The deed is one of the most important concerning the history and administration of the Forest of Essex.

Thank you to Richard for nominating this early document concerning one of Essex’s most notable historic landscapes.

If you would like to nominate your own favourite ERO document, we would love to hear from you. Simply download this form, and return it to the Searchroom desk or by e-mail to hannahjane.salisbury[at]essex.gov.uk. There are also paper copies available at the Searchroom desk. Nominated documents may be featured on this blog or in displays at our open day on Saturday 14 September 2013.

Stories from the stores: what’s in a wax seal?

One of the joys of working in an archive is the potential every day holds for coming across something beautiful or interesting in our collection. Last week’s star find was a medieval deed, D/DRg 6/5, or more specifically, one of the wax seals attached to it.

The document was in the Conservation Studio with a group of other similar documents all in need of a bit of attention and better storage to protect their fragile wax seals.

The deed dates from 5 April 1462, and is part of the collection of Charles Gray of Colchester, an eighteenth-century lawyer, antiquarian and MP, and major figure in Colchester’s history. Gray assembled a large collection of medieval deeds relating to Colchester, catalogued as D/DRg 6 and D/DRg 7; the earliest dates from 1317 (D/DRg 6/2).

This particular deed grants land to William Gerard, Chaplain of the Chantry of Joseph Elianore in the church of St Mary-at-the-Walls in Colchester. Chantry chapels were endowed by individuals who left money to pay for a priest to pray for their souls to help them on their way to heaven; in this case for the soul of Joseph Elianore, a Bailiff of Colchester, and various members of his family and other associates.

The land which Gerard was being granted was 4 and a half acres, with buildings on, next to the highway leading across New Heath, bordered on the north by ‘Magdleyngreene’, on the south by land formerly owned by Robert Gete and now by John Stede, on the east by land owned by John Auntrous, and on the west by the lane leading towards ‘Bournepond Mill’ or ‘Boornemelle’.

As we mentioned recently, this is one of the advantages of using deeds in your research; they can list who owns not only the piece of land in question, but the land around it, and sometimes even previous owners.

The document has two wax seals attached to it, one very small, one medium sized. Seals were a form of security, often used to hold a letter or envelope closed, so that it could not be opened or tampered with until delivered to the intended recipient. Wax seals were also attached to the bottom of documents, as in this case, when they served as a means of authentication.

The larger of the two seals attracted our attention because the impressions in the wax are so deep and the imagery so detailed. A little investigation showed it to be the second Common Seal of the Borough of Colchester.

The obverse of the seal shows St Helena, the patron saint of Colchester. St Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, was believed to have been born in Colchester, the daughter of King Coel. She reputedly travelled to the Holy Land, and found relics of the True Cross and the burial place of the Magi, which is why Christian iconography depicts here (as here) with the cross.

Below St Helena are the borough arms, which were granted by Henry V in 1413. These again reflect St Helena’s influence, showing the True Cross and the crowns of the Magi. On each side of St Helena are niches containing angels holding shields; on the left bearing a cross, and on the right the fifteenth-century royal arms. In the niche above St Helena is a half-length Christ. The reverse of the seal shows a medieval depiction of a castellated town, with a river in front of it crossed by a bridge.

Both seals attached to the deed have been cleaned by our Conservators with a mild detergent called synpernoic A7 and distilled water, before being stowed in their own custom-made cushioned bags. These little bags are made from Tyvek with a polyester wadding. The materials are cut to size, and then heat sealed around the edge. The whole document is then wrapped in acid-free manilla before being stored in one of our special archival quality boxes.

 

Stored in protective wrappers in our climate-controlled repositories, this 671 year old document – and its wax seals – should survive for many years to come.

Work Experience in the Conservation Studio at ERO

Hello readers!

My name is Jillian and I am currently studying on the Masters program in Paper Conservation at Camberwell College. In order to gain more experience and improve my technical skills, I have been undertaking work experience at the ERO, one day a week since July 2011.

Hard at work in the Conservation Studio

During this time I have undertaken a wide variety of projects, from repairing mould-damaged documents, badly damaged photographic material, and architectural drawings, to cleaning parchment and wax seals, and more recently carrying out a large scale map lining using the map wall.

Cleaning a seal

 The photographic project in particular was very interesting as my background is in photography. The photograph in question was torn into several pieces, had missing areas, and had areas of the gelatin emulsion that were folded back on themselves. Treatment for this object included humidification and flattening, stretch lining, infill repairs, gelatin consolidation, and finally housing.

The badly damaged photograph before conservation work

The photograph during the humidification process

The photograph after conservation work was completed

All of the projects I have undertaken so far have helped my technical ability and confidence grow immensely. I have also now experienced first hand specific techniques and treatments that I had previously read or heard about, but had not necessarily been able to carry out at University.

Work experience at the ERO has been, and continues to be, immensely useful and worthwhile, and ERO conservators Tony and Diane, continue to be fantastic in sharing their expertise, and providing advice and support.

If you are interested in finding out more about some of the projects and work I have undertaken, please feel free to have a look at my website.

http://www.jilliangregory.co.uk/

Conservation project: conserving the Takeley deeds

Conservation is a vital part of our work at ERO. Our conservators work to protect and conserve documents, to ensure their survival for years to come.

One recent project has conserved a collection of 42 early medieval deeds relating to the manor of Colchester Hall in Takeley (document references D/DRu T1/1-42). These deeds are special for many reasons; they all date to before 1250, many have intact seals, and notes made in Arabic numerals on the back of the deeds are an early example of the use of this numbering system in England.

In the last line of this note, it is possible to make out an 8 and a 3 – an early example of the use of Arabic numerals in England. The 4 is from a later cataloguing system.

Unusually for such early deeds, over half still have their original seals attached, and the cleaning has made it possible to pick out detail on the seals which had been lost beneath accumulated dirt.

One of the seals half-way through the cleaning process

Tears in the parchment have been repaired using patches of goldbeater’s skin (a membrane made from calves intestine), applied with a gelatine adhesive. The patches are applied with a tissue backing, which is then removed, leaving an invisible repair.

Removing the tissue backing from a parchment repair

The deeds were stored in cramped and damaging conditions, folded up in acidic envelopes, and even in an old manicure set box. The deeds have now been stored flat, with each being treated to its own custom-made board. 

A deed in its former storage, folded up in an acidic envelope. Left for long enough the acid in the paper would damage the deed.

 

A deed in its former storage in an old manicure set box

The newly-conserved deeds are on display for the next three months in our brand-new cases in the Searchroom.

The conservation project was possible thanks to the Newton Bequest, made by Ken Newton, former County Archivist and medieval historian, and his wife Mildred.