This year marks the centenary of the Law of Property Act of 1922, through which a type of manorial tenancy agreement called ‘copyhold’ was abolished. This legislative change had a huge effect on the ways in which records associated with manors—or ‘manorial documents’—were held, as they became essential as the only proof of title (claim of ownership) to former copyhold land.
Manorial documents are records relating to the administration of a manor (an estate of land administered as a unit), providing a treasure trove of information about people and places in England and Wales from the twelfth to twentieth centuries. The National Archives defines them as:
“court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents and books of every description relating to the boundaries, wastes, customs or courts of a manor”
“deeds or other instruments required for evidencing the title to a manor or agreements or draft agreements relating to compensation, or any documents which came into being after 31st December 1925”.
The records often hold detailed information concerning the history and customs of a house, family, or region, including practices of land ownership, urban development and agriculture. As manor courts sometimes held jurisdiction over minor offences, they can include useful and often colourful descriptions of crime and punishment.
Following the Act of 1922, a new set of rules was created for the preservation and care of manorial documents, and they became the only type of document (asides from public records) to have statuary protection. As part of this response, The National Archives created the Manorial Documents Register (MDR), an index that gives the location of documents made before 1926 relating to any manor in England or Wales.
Manorial Records at Lambeth Palace Library: A case study
The manorial documents in Lambeth’s collection mostly relate to estates that have been owned by the central organisations of the Church, including the above map of the Manor of Lambeth, which features the palace in its lower left corner. Taking one manor as a case study shows the rich material diversity of these documents, as well as the range of content that can be gleaned from them.
The manor of Boughton (or Boughton under Bleane) in Kent was owned by the Archbishop of Canterbury since at least the 11th century, when the Archbishop was recorded as its Lord in the Domesday book. Searching for ‘Boughton’ on the MDR provides a list of documents relating the manor, the majority of which are held by Lambeth Palace Library. Listed are court rolls, maps, rentals, and surveys dating from the 13th to 20th centuries, just a small selection of which are featured below.
Rentals record the annual rent paid to a Lord (the tenant in chief) by their tenant. The earliest manorial document that mentions Boughton Manor is a 13th-century survey and rental of the possessions of the archbishopric (ED 2068), including information of a number of manors in the form of a roll over 6 metres long. The section on Boughton, like other accounts in the roll, begins with a summary of the rents and fees and the feast days on which they are payable, followed by a survey of the land and a description of its customs.
Caption: Survey and rental (13th century, ED 2068) with leather attachment
Court rolls were produced by a manor’s court, which held regular meetings to discuss the activities related to the manor and its inhabitants. Tenants needed permission from the court to sell, buy, sublet, or mortgage their property. Such actions were recorded in the court rolls, often alongside lists of tenants, surrenders of land, and other general matters. Lambeth Palace Library holds around 120 court rolls for Boughton Manor, dating from the 15th to mid-18th centuries. Details of entries concerning Boughton in these rolls are available to view on our image database (see the list of sources below).
This information was not only kept in rolls but also in loose papers, often copied into the court rolls later on. In the below mid-18th-century example (TH 35) are lists of tenants, detailed information related to quit rent (a type of land tax), and warrants sent to the manor’s constable to hold courts, the latter often officiated with a wax seal.
Maps and surveys
The earliest map of Boughton in the Library’s possession is TD 25, made in 1631 by the map maker William Boycot (fl. 1615-48). Drawings of distinctive buildings and natural features are accompanied by symbols, used with the key on the lower right to show who owned land in Boughton and where. The largest group of manorial maps are those related to the work of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, made from the mid-19th century onwards, after the Commissioners took over the running of the Church’s estates. Within this series are multiple maps of Boughton, including the OS map below annotated in the early 20th century. Many of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ maps are accompanied by parish surveys, providing further information on the estate.
Podcast: Liz Hart, ‘The Manorial Documents Register’, The National Archives: The Manorial Documents Register | The National Archives
Details of ‘Boughton’ in manorial documents, LUNA: Search Results: All Fields similar to ‘Boughton and ED*’ – Lambeth Palace Library
Background on the 1922 legislation, The National Archives: Manorial documents – The National Archives
Glossary of Manorial Terms and Definitions, Kresen Kernow: Glossary of Manorial Terms and Definitions (kresenkernow.org)
 For more images of the palace, particularly the ground plans for the garden (from 16th century onwards), see The Lambeth Palace Garden in the Archives – A Monument of Fame