Manorial Documents

The records noted in the Manorial Documents Register of the National Archives of England include court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers and other documents relating to the boundaries, franchises, customs or courts of a manor. Title deeds are not included in the Manorial Register Index.

The national Manorial Documents Register is the official register of manorial documents for England and Wales. The MDR is maintained on behalf of the Master of the Rolls. The Register contains information about the nature and location of surviving manorial documents. As of 2012 the Manorial Documents of Cornwall have not yet been added to this index. Nevertheless the Cornwall Records Office has provided their own online searchable index. These original documents have not been digitized and await transcription. They can only be viewed in their original form at the Cornwall Records Office at Truro. For access to the online catalogue of the CRO go to

Manorial documents have statutory protection under the Manorial Documents Rules. They are defined in the Rules as court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents and books of every description relating to the boundaries, franchises, customs or courts of a manor. Only those types of document defined in the Rules as manorial documents are noted in the Manorial Documents Register. Title deeds and other evidences of title are not defined as manorial documents and are therefore not included in the national Manorial Document Register. However, since the Cornwall manorial documents are not yet part of the national MDR, they do contain title deeds which may be of importance to the family historian.

Manorial records are important as a source of relevant genealogical information in the pre-parish register period before 1550’s. Valuable data that may shed light on the lives of our ancestors by manorial records include the following; – – – vital dates, family relationships, location, occupations as well as the role played by our ancestors in the local community.

Vital Dates: Although manorial records do not record births, marriages or deaths as such, they may contain vital dates about individuals, including approximate dates of death and relationships. The key records here are those recording changes of tenancy on the death of a tenant: presentments of changes of tenant in a court roll or court book and admittances which give the names of the deceased and incoming tenants and their relationships (son, daughter, brother, etc). Call books and call lists may also be part of manorial records. These are useful in that they note ‘dead’ or mort (= ‘dead’) beside the names of tenants who had died recently. However, full lists of deceased tenants were seldom made every year. The lists were frequently out of date and the note that a tenant had died was sometimes made several years after the event.

Location & Occupation: Manorial records can establish the presence of, location of, and occupation of our ancestors within a given parish. Since manorial documents are records of the operations of land holdings, they provide details of property held by tenants of the manor. Many of our Sambell/s ancestors were agricultural labourers on a variety of manorial properties throughout the parishes of southeast Cornwall and western Devon.

Property Holdings: Surveys and terriers give descriptions of landed property and the names of tenants. A terrier is a topographic survey field by field which may identify acreage, crops and the name of tenants responsible for the care of that parcel of land. However, it should be noted that tenants often worked lands outside of their home parish.

Community Involvement: Where tenants were resident in the manor, much information can be found about the role played by these individuals in the local community. Lists of jury members and manorial officials (reeve, constable, ‘barleyman’, ‘hedge looker’ etc) identify those who took a leading role in local affairs.

Court Proceedings: Presentments and orders give the names of those who offended against local byelaws or committed minor crimes (presentments concerning slander can give a vivid picture of the insults our ancestors hurled at each other!). Civil pleas, where individuals brought cases of debt and trespass against their neighbours, shed light on economic links between members of the manorial community.

Literacy: Another area in which manorial records can bring us closer to the lives of our forebears is in providing direct evidence for levels of literacy in local communities. Original presentments, and jury verdicts are often recorded in the hands of local people, rather than professional clerks or lawyers, and these sometimes bear signatures or marks. Handwriting can provide vivid evidence of levels of education and familiarity with the written word.

Reference Sources: The above information was gathered and adapted from the following sources: • the Cumbrian Manorial Records website at

• the National Archives of the UK as it relates to the Manorial Documents Register at


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