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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Land and Property Records including Manorial Documents and Maps  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Contents

Ancient and Modern Domesday

A selection of the more important land surveys is given here to indicate what is available, but it is recognized that few genealogists will actually find ancestors in the early materials. All of these except monastic cartularies have been nicknamed The Second Domesday in their time!

Domesday 1086

Domesday Book is England’s oldest and best known public record. In 1066 William of Normandy defeated the English under King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and confiscated most land owned by English nobles. This he distributed amongst his followers and nearly 20 years later commissioned a survey of ownership of land and livestock which was published in 1086 in two books known as Great and Little Domesday, according to their sizes.

Little Domesday covers Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex in great detail, whilst Great Domesday covers the rest of England except London, Winchester, Northumberland, Durham and much of north west England in lesser detail; only a few border areas of Wales are included.

The Commissioners, who were major landholders including Bishops and Knights, presided over areas unfamiliar to themselves and compiled answers to such questions as:

  • The name of the place, who held it before 1066 and who holds it now?
  • How many hides (a land unit of about 120 acres)?
  • How many plough teams owned by the lord and his men
  • How many villagers, cottagers and slaves?
  • How much woodland, pasture, mills and fishponds?
  • Is there a church?
  • How much revenue was due to the king?


Chart: Examples from Domesday Book

Land of Alfred of Marlborough
SURREY, Woking hundred
Alfred holds SEND from the King, and Reginald from him. Karl held it before 1066. Then and now it answered for 20 hides. Land for 10 ploughs. In Lordship 2 ploughs, and 8 slaves; 14 villagers and 10 smallholders with 6 ploughs. A mill which pays 21s 6d. A church; 5 fisheries which pay 54d; meadow, 100 acres less 16; woodland at [supporting] 160 pigs.
Of this land Walter holds 1½ hides, and Herbert 9, of villagers’ land. In lordship 2 ploughs, and 7 slaves; 1 villager and 16 smallholders. A mill which pays 2s.
Total value before 1066 £20; now, the lordship £10, the rest 110s [£5.10.0].


Land of St. Peter’s Abbey, Winchester
HAMPSHIRE, Bosmere hundred
The monks hold HAVANT from the Bishopric of Winchester. They always held it. Before 1066 it paid tax for 10 hides; now for 7 hides. Land for 7 ploughs. 20 villagers with 6 ploughs. 2 mills at 15s; 3 salt-houses at 15d; woodland at 10 pigs. The value is and was £8.


Now the bad news – Domesday isn’t much use for family historians since only a tiny fraction of us will ever get back that far, and it only lists the land-holders, so it is by no means a complete census of the population. However, we should know about it and what it contains. Those interested in Norman ancestors should read Camp’s My Ancestors Came with the Conqueror.

Reference material for Domesday includes:
TNA research guide D1.

  • An excellent general guide by R. Welldone Finn (Domesday Book: A Guide, 1986) and full Latin transcription with English translation edited by Morris and published by Phillimore (Domesday Book. In the series History from the Sources). This is the easiest edition to consult.
  • Among the best of the 900th anniversary volumes are Hallam’s two books (Domesday Book through Nine Centuries, 1986 and Domesday Heritage- Towns and Villages of Norman England through 900 Years, 1986) and Wood (Domesday; A Search for the Roots of England, 1986).
  • The chapter in Franklin (Some Mediaeval Records for Family Historians: An Introduction to the Purposes, Contents and Interpretation of Pre-1538 Records Available in Print, 1994 )is very practical with a good section on the mediaeval manor and pitfalls in using Domesday.

Monastic Cartularies

A cartulary is a register of lands and privileges granted by charter. Although the details of the possessions of an abbey, monastery or nunnery are only of general background interest, there may be a good deal about the benefactors. The genealogist can find between four and eight generations of certain families, resident all over southern England and dating from 1086-1285, in the cartulary of Canonsleigh Abbey near Tiverton, Devon edited and indexed by Vera London.

Hundred Rolls of Edward I – 1279

The Hundred Rolls are the equivalent of Domesday taken almost 2 centuries later in 1279. They are in Latin plagued with abbreviations and the few that survive were transcribed (but not translated) and published by the Record Commissioners in the early 1800s. Some have been translated into English and published since then; Bullwinkle (The Hundred Rolls of Edward I. Shelford Magna in the Hundred of Thriplow. Journal of the Cambridgeshire Family History Society Vol 8 #7, page 237-242.) has the complete record for a village in Cambridgeshire with an interesting commentary.

The Hundred Rolls are part of a series of inquests (the term meant any inquiry, not limited to coroners’ inquests) into feudal holdings made during the 200 years after Domesday to detect any encroachments on the king’s rights. It was the most extensive to date, with details even of sub-tenants and their holdings, and even enquired as whether the sheriffs were taking bribes or oppressing the people beyond measure - shades of Robin Hood! A translated extract is shown below.


Chart: Extract from 1279 Hundred Roll of Shelford Magna, Thriplow Hundred, Cambridgeshire (from Bullwinkle)

Concerning the villeins (serfs)
Nicholas Dilkes holds 15 acres of land with messuage, t rod of meadow and performs 144 works a year and reaps 2 acres for this ‘duty’, fed by the lord and ½ acre as loveboon [an extra tax] without food, and the work is worth 6s 6d per year.

Soneman, William Aylmer, Roibert King, Richard Bude, John Wlay, Hereward Samar, William Blize, Henry Godfrey, Richard Hockele, William King, William Samar, Thomas son of Walter, John Samar all perform the same things in all as Nicholas Dilkes.


Examples of transcriptions of the Hundred Rolls are those by Stone for Oxfordshire and Gaydon for Bedfordshire, both available in microform. Similar surveys include Kirkby’s Inquest for Yorkshire during the reign of Edward I, with a transcript in Latin and English introduction and footnotes by Skaife (in microform).

Valor Ecclesiasticus – 1534

During the dissolution of the monasteries Henry VIII sent out commissioners to survey and value all benefices, including religious houses and Oxford and Cambridge colleges. The result was called the Valor Ecclesiasticus and taxes on these holdings now went to the king rather than the pope. Records, including originals for most of England except the counties of Berkshire, Rutland and Northumberland and the dioceses of London and York, as well as various summaries, are at TNA and a transcript was printed in 1810-1823 (see TNA research guide D14). Maps are included, and names of the houses’ officials may be given; Aidan Lawes (The Dissolution of the Monasteries and Chantries. Sources in the National Archives. Genealogist’s Magazine Vol 27 #11, page 483-491) discusses the various records from this period of Reformation.

Parliamentary Surveys – 1646-1660

Parliamentary Surveys of the nature and value of crown, bishops’ and dean and chapter lands and perquisites were taken during the Inter-regnum period prior to their sale for the benefit of the Commonwealth. They describe the lands, but do not usually include a map, and give the name of the tenant-in-chief and sometimes others, particularly local office-holders, and occasionally the descent of holdings by tenants. Pound transcribed the Parliamentary Survey of the Duchy of Cornwall 1649-50. Further information on the confiscations, sales and restorations of crown, church and royalist lands can be found in TNA research guide D68 and in Newton, who describes the scattered nature of their present location.

National Farm Surveys 1940-1943

The National Farm Surveys were begun shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War in response to an urgent need to increase the production of food within England and Wales owing to the drastic reduction of imports of both food and fertilizers. In order to increase the area of land under cultivation the Ministry of Agriculture appointed County Agricultural Executive Committees who had authority to:

  • Inspect property.
  • Direct ploughing-up of grasslands.
  • Direct what was grown.
  • Take possession of land or terminate tenancies if farmers were inefficient.
  • Organize mobile groups of farm workers.

The first survey was taken between June 1940 and early 1941 and farms classified as A, B or C according to their possible productivity and wartime initiatives taken as outlined above.

A second survey was ordered and taken between 1941 and 1943 with the purpose of longer-term planning, and was known at the time as the Second Domesday Book. All farms and small holdings of five or more acres including market gardens, horticulture and poultry establishments were surveyed resulting in three types of records:

  • A map of the each farm showing its fields and boundaries, using 5", 12 ½" or 25" Ordnance Survey maps as a base.
  • A primary farm record which stated:
  • Owner’s and occupier’s name.
  • Conditions of tenure and occupation.
  • Nature and state of the farm including its fertility, adequacy of equipment, water and electricity supplies, degree of weed and pest infestation.
  • Management efficiency of the farm.
  • Farm census return on 4 June 1941 containing:
  • Statistics of crop acreages and livestock numbers, including small fruit, vegetables and stocks of hay and straw.
  • Number of farm workers.
  • Rent payable.
  • Length of occupancy.

Holdings of one to five acres had a different survey, but they accounted for less than one per cent of the total area of grass and crops. The farmer had to complete forms with information and was interviewed by the surveyors. A significant change from the first survey of 1940-1941 was that the A, B and C categories now referred to how the farmer managed his resources, rather than the innate possible productivity.

These records provide a good description of 300,000 farms and other agricultural and horticultural holdings with details of just about every tree and animal. They are primarily of use to family historians with ancestors on the land at this time.

The records are now at TNA in various MAF series which are listed in TNA research guide D106 (which includes a sample farm survey and map), and explained in more detail by William Foot (Maps for Family History, 1994). They do not appear to be held on microfilm by the FHL.


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Land and Property Records including Manorial Documents and Maps offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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