England Land and Property
England Land and Property
You can use land records to learn where and when an individual lived. They often reveal the names of a spouse, children, heirs, other relatives, or neighbors. You may find where a person lived previously, his occupation, or other clues for further research.
The records in this section usually pertain to transactions among the wealthy class. If your ancestors were poor, search the records described in the "Court Records" section of this outline.
The first land survey, known as the Domesday Book, was compiled in 1086 by order of William the Conqueror. Tenants and subtenants are listed along with a description of their land holdings. The survey covered all of England except the city of London and the counties of Cumberland, Durham, Rutland, Lancashire, Northumberland, and Westmoreland. However, parts of these counties are included with the entries of other counties. Many libraries have the following published edition:
Morris, John, editor. Domesday Book. 35 Volumes. Chichester, England: Phillimore, 1975–. (FHL book 942 R2d.)
Records of landownership and transfer are difficult to find. There was no national system of registration before 1862. Yorkshire and Middlesex began recording deeds as early as 1708. Deeds provide the names, addresses, and occupations of the parties mentioned, a description of the property, and the date and terms of the sale.
The original records for Yorkshire are in the East, West, and North Yorkshire County Record Offices. The Middlesex records are in the Greater London Record Office. You can find microfilm copies of some deeds listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - LAND AND PROPERTY
From 1204/5 until the late 19th century, letters to wealthy individuals from the Crown were folded (closed) and impressed with the Great Seal. They contained deeds, transfers of land, and records of charities, coinage, armed forces, wills, and so on. These letters are in the Public Record Office. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of a few. Look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND - PUBLIC RECORDS
ENGLAND - TAXATION
GREAT BRITAIN - PUBLIC RECORDS
GREAT BRITAIN - TAXATION
Enclosure Records and Maps
Enclosure was the process of enclosing agricultural lands with boundaries such as fences, walls, hedges or ditches. Enclosure allowed land to be farmed by one individual rather than being shared by a community. Common lands were abolished and replaced wiht assigned allotments of land--strip farming.
A landowner's decision to enclose was usually driven by economics:
- The need to consolidate holdings
- To improve the return on his investment
- To introduce new ideas in crop or livestock raising.
Enclosure also enabled urban development. Little enclosure took place on heathland, moorland, or in industrial areas.
There were three types of enclosure:
- Informal enclosure (with no legal documentation)
- Enclosure by formal agreement
- Enclosure by Private or General Act of Parliament.
For more information on the types of enclosures, the enclosure process, and the availability of records and maps, click here.
Informal inclosures have taken place since the Iron Age. The Black Death in the 14th century led to the collapse of the feudal system and the amalgamation of abandoned farms with working farms. Aerial views of land still show the outlines of old enclosures.
The Black Death and the resulting depopulation also led to the conversion of arable land to pasture land. The fear of famine arising from this situation caused the British government to appoint a Royal Commission of Inquiry in 1517, and some landowners were charged with unlawful enclosur. Records of these can be found in Chancery records.
The dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530's led to the distribution of these lands to those in the King's favor. This in turn lad to the creation of Tudor estates with mansion houses and surrounding buildings, deer parks, and formal gardens--all informal means of enclosure of lands once held in common. Estate records can contain lists of tenants.
In 1607, a mob of some 3000 angry men and women tore up new enclosure hedges and fences and filled in ditches. There were called the 'Levellers.' Their protest led to a Royal COmmission enquiry into the high incicence of enclosures in the counties of Berkshire, Buckingham, Huntingdon, Leicester, Lincoln, Northampton, and Warwick. Northamptonshire was the worst with over 27,000 acres informally enclosed in the 30 years prior to 1607, affecting more than 118 towns and villages.
Enclosure by formal agreement began about that same time. This was to ensure that enclosures were legal. Enrollment of formal agreements can be found in manorial records and in Chancery Court records. Some agreements were merely a way of laying legal claim to land as a guard against future spurious claims.
Enclosure by Parliamentary act began in the late 17th century. This was more popular in the south, where there were large agricultural holdings, than in the north of England, which was more concerned with industrial expansion and where there were vast tracts of moorland which would never be enclosed. There were two aspects to Parliamentary enclosure:
- the consulidation of holdings by enclosing the open fields
- enclosing of common lands.
Strip farming was replaced with fenced fields and common lands further vanished.
Enclosure by Parliamentary act enabled a landowner to:
- Confirm earlier informal/formal enclosure
- Improve the quality and quantity of his land
- Settle disputes about tithes and about boundaries
The Process of Parliamentary Enclosure
The process of Parliamentary enclosure included the following:
- Landowners and usually the vicar would agree to enclose their lands.
- Public notice of intent was posted on the church door or in a local newspaper.
Inquisitions Post Mortem
When a person who held king’s land died, an inquest was held to establish the date of death, the identity and age of the heir, and the extent of the lands held. These records began during the reign of Henry III (1235) and continued until 1660. The original records are in the Public Record Office (see the "Archives and Libraries" section of this outline for the address). A few copies are in the Family History Library. Look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND - LAND AND PROPERTY
Manorial records include information about land transfers and rent payments for tenants of the manor. See the "Court Records" page for information about manorial records.