Bring out 99 red balloons because we are here to celebrate the 1980s! The decade that brought us big shoulders, big anthems and even bigger hair is also the decade that brought the fabulous Atkinson, Dacre and Slack solicitors’ collection to the archive. Solicitors’ collections are gold, a kind of magic and we just can’t get enough. This particular collection brought with it a run of Manorial Documents from the Manor of Otley which have us dancing on the ceiling.
Manorial Records are the best around for any manner of historical research. Protected by the Property Amendment Act (1924) and used to prove ownership of estates in the footloose days before national land registration, they bring to life the tenants of the land and the rights and responsibilities of the Lord of the Manor.
While the records that fall under the term Manorial Documents are a fantastic resource they can also be slightly daunting. There is a whole host of confusing terminology and the vast majority are in Latin. But, don’t stop believing in their usefulness, have faith and relax as I stand and deliver some clarification.
The first term to tackle is Manor. In this context Manor refers to an administrative unit controlled by the Lord of the Manor who owned the land and collected rent. A Manor could be any size and had little respect for village or parish boundaries. It was formed by land ownership.
The second vocabulary hurdle to jump is the Manorial Courts; a big area. It takes two types of Manorial Court: Court Baron and Court Leet. Both were presided over by the Lord of the Manor, a sign of the times, which ultimately left him with jurisdiction over the formation of byelaws, the hearing of infringements and offences and the election of public officials.
The Court Baron was responsible for the enforcement of the customs of the Manor and land disputes between tenants which came up time after time. One of the main issues the Baron Court dealt with was escheats – the reversion of land to the crown or Lord of the Manor when a tenant died without heirs or had committed a felony and thereby forfeited their land.
Court Leets dealt with breaches of the common order such as public nuisance. Before the introduction of an organised police force the dominant method of peacekeeping was based on a system called Frankpledge. This was the idea that everyone would stand as security for each other’ behaviour and report any smooth criminals. A key role of the Court Leet was to ensure this system was being maintained by conducting the View of Frankpledge.
Other types of Manorial Documents include maps, rentals (a list of the tenants, their land and how much they paid), accounts, custumals (a survey of the rights and obligations of both Lord and tenants), and extents (an inventory of the entire Manor including land, buildings and tenants services taken to accurately estimate the value of the Manor). The confusing terminology does keep cropping up but don’t run to the hills. With a little guidance nothings gonna stop us now.
Still can’t be sure of the way it is? Call me, we’re right here waiting.