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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

Enrollment of Deeds

This is the registration or recording of a conveyance, title or lawful act on an official document called a roll, as it consisted of pieces of parchment (membranes) stitched together and rolled up for safekeeping. Some rolls have been calendared (summarized) and printed and the originals can be found in the National Archives—see their research guide L7:

  • ŸClose Rolls of the Court of Chancery. There are calendars and indexes of this huge collection but they do not appear to have been filmed, research has to be done at TNA.
  • Ÿ Plea Rolls of the Court of Common Law.
  • Ÿ Memoranda Rolls of the Court of Exchequer.
  • Ÿ King’s Bench.

Others are in records of local courts such as:

  • County Clerks of the Peace records at the county Quarter Sessions (records at county archives).
  • Cities and boroughs had their own customs and enrolled their own transfer and lease deeds, the fees for which augmented their resources. Their records are often more complete than other places.

Obviously registration and enrollment cost money and the 1535 Statute of Enrolments was increasingly ignored until by 1706 it was effectively dead. An exception is transactions relating to estates of Roman Catholics which were fully enrolled between 1714 and 1791. Those deeds which were enrolled usually have good lists and indexes and show full names of the parties and their county. Enrollment ensured that a permanent record was kept, (and also that the crown made some income!) but the necessity for enrollment was abolished in 1925.

Land Registration

David Hey (The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History, 1996) states that neither land registration nor national surveys have been popular in Britain and no national record of land ownership of transactions was kept until the late 19th century. Even today, there is no complete record of land ownership for the whole UK (Hey). There are records for the two major upheavals in land ownership:

  • ŸDomesday survey of 1086.
  • Dissolution of the Monasteries (1530s) and subsequent sales by the crown to private individuals.

The only major national surveys, which are all incomplete, are:

  • Voluntary Land Registry started in 1862 in London but failed as only just over 5,000 deeds had been registered by 1899.
  • Return of Owners of Land of 1871-1876.
  • Bateman’s 1883 work on the great landowners.
  • The Land Registry commenced in 1891 and compulsory land registration in 1899.
  • Valuation Office Records of 1910-1915, (dealt with under the section on Taxes on Land).

Some useful information for family historians can be found in local statutory registers for freehold land:

  • The Bedford Level. In 1663 a local registry was established for a recently drained area in the East Anglian fens known as the Bedford Level. All conveyances by indenture, except for leases under seven years, were recorded until 1920 and these 132 volumes are at Cambridge CRO.
  • Yorkshire—a registry for land in the West Riding was started in 1704 so that manufacturers of cloth could borrow money against their freehold lands. J.T.M. Nussey (The West Riding Registry of Deeds: An Introductory Guide) wrote a guide booklet to the West Riding Registry of Deeds in Wakefield and there is an illustrated article by Vivien Teasdale (Registry of Deeds, Wakefield. Family Tree Magazine Vol 20 #9, page 16-18). Similar registries were inaugurated in the East Riding in 1708 and the North Riding in 1736. These do not include the city of York, leases under 21 years or copyhold land. The Yorkshire registries are virtually complete, with over 2 million deeds registered and indexed, and lasted until about 1970.
  • Middlesex Registry, including Westminster but not the City of London, was created in 1708, with similar restrictions as Yorkshire but more details recorded; it closed in 1938 and records are at LMA (London Metropolitan Archives) who have a research leaflet about it. It, too, is complete, having over 2 million deeds registered.
  • There are registries for the Isle of Man and Jersey, and also for Scotland where the law is very different from England.
  • Borough registries all over the country also exist although most cease by the 18th century.
  • Early records (from 1227) for other parts of the country are scattered among State Papers, especially the Close Rolls of Chancery and the Plea Rolls of the Courts of Common Law. County archives have leaflets about what they hold amongst Quarter Session and other papers.

Further details on the above records and their whereabouts can be found in TNA research guide L7.

Return of Owners of Land 1871-1876

These listings of holders of one acre or more of land are arranged by county and derive primarily from rate books but are known to have inaccuracies (Hey). An analysis of this New Domesday of the UK (except London) showed that 7,000 owners controlled four-fifths of the land, a subject which David Hey discusses in more detail.

The returns list:

  • Owners’ surnames in alphabetical order.
  • Owner’s address, but only the town, village or area in a city.
  • The area of land owned in the county (in acres, rods and poles), but not where it was located.
  • Estimated rental value.

They do not list the specific location of the land but can be used together with other contemporary sources to elucidate this. The returns are of obvious use to descendants of landowners, but also to those who worked for them, as they give clues as to where the estates were and where their records may be held. The returns are available in many formats, those at FHL are given in the chart below. John Bateman’s (The Great Landowners of Great Britain and Ireland) 1883 reassessment is more accurate but only deals with the greater landowners.

Chart: Returns of Owners of Land at FHL

COUNTY AND DATE
MICROFORM or BOOK
Bedford 1873
FHL fiche 6359315(1)*
Berkshire 1873
FHL fiche 6359316(1)*
Buckingham 1873 FHL fiche 6359317(1)*
Cambridge 1873 FHL book 942.59 R2r
Chester (Cheshire) 1873
FHL fiche 6359318(1)*
Cornwall 1873
FHL book 942.37 R2o
Cumberland 1873
FHL fiche 6359319(1)*
Derby 1873 FHL fiche 6359320(1)*
Devon 1873
FHL book 942.35 R2r
Dorset 1873
FHL book 942.33 R2r
Durham 1873
FHL fiche 6359321(1)*
England and Wales (excluding London) 1873
FHL film 1696632
England 1871
FHL film 0897298
Essex 1873
FHL film 6359322(2)*
Essex 1873
FHL film 6393987(1)*
Gloucester 1873 FHL film 6359323(2)*
Hereford 1873 FHL film 6359324(1)*
Hertford 1873
FHL book 942.58 R2r
Huntingdon 1873
FHL film 6359325(1)*
Kent (excluding London) 1873 FHL book 942.23 R2r
Lancashire 1873
FHL book 942.72 R2r
Leicester and Rutland 1873
FHL film 6359326(1)*
Lincolnshire 1873
FHL book 942.53 R2ra
Middlesex (excluding London) 1873
FHL book 942.21 B4r v.13
Monmouth 1873
FHL film 6359327(1)*
Norfolk 1873
FHL film 6359328(1)*
Northampton 1873
FHL film 6359329(1)*
Northumberland 1873
FHL film 6359330(1)*
Nottingham 1873
FHL book 942.52 R2r
Oxfordshire 1873
FHL book 942.57 R2r
Shropshire 1871 FHL book 942.45 R2r Q book
Somerset 1873
FHL film 6359331(1)
Southampton (Hampshire) 1873
FHL film 6359332(1)*
Stafford 1873
FHL film 6359333(2)*
Suffolk 1873
FHL film 6359334(1)*
Surrey (excluding London) 1873
FHL book 942.21 B4r v.10
Sussex 1873
FHL film 0990141, FHL book 942.25 R2r
Wales (12 counties excluding Monmouth) 1873
FHL book 942.9 R2r
Warwick 1873
FHL film 6359335(1)*
Westmorland 1873
FHL film 6359337(1)*
Wiltshire 1873
FHL film 6359336(1)*
Worcester 1873
FHL film 6359338(1)*
York, East Riding 1873
FHL film 6359340(1)*
York, North Riding 1873
FHL film 6359339(1)*
York, West Riding 1873
FHL film 6359341(2)*


The Land Registry 1891

A register of land owners, whose title is guaranteed by the state and thus simplifies the sale (transfer) and mortgage of such land, was established in 1891 and was supposed to be compulsory from 1899. The Land Registry has information on about 16 million of the estimated 22 million property titles in England and Wales. The Land Registry Property Map indicates which are registered and which are not. Leases of 21 years or less are not recorded. Information noted includes:

  • The Property Register gives the geographical location and extent of the property with a plan.
  • The Proprietorship Register notes 
  • The quality of the title and whether it is absolute or not.
  • Name and address of the registered proprietor (owner).
  • The Charges Register has any registered charges (mortgages) or other types of burden secured on the property.

There is an Index Map but no indexes by name, and information only dates from first registration of the land. Details are available from HM Land Registry, 32 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PH and there are 23 Land Registry Offices in England and Wales where the public can freely inspect the entries and maps, and obtain copies by mail. For a detailed history of land registration (to 1966) see the article by Hogg (Registration of Title to Land. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol 15 #6, page 212-221), and interesting discussion in Michael Armstrong’ Family Tree Magazine column.


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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

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

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