Introduction

In nearly two hundred parishes in Cornwall there are over seven hundred manors recorded. Staff at Cornwall Record Office have noted these while compiling catalogues of the documents deposited there. The list is not definitive we intend to update this periodically. We would welcome suggested additions and amendments. Specifically the names of manors with the reference numbers of the documents in which they are found and its boundaries.

A history of the manor

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The system of land holding and administration was known as 'the manorial system'. This was already widely established in England by the time of the Domesday survey of 1086. The word 'manor' derives originally from the term for a residence or mansion. It was used very early to describe a unit of local administration based on an area of land. This area comprised several properties owned by one landlord.

In the middle ages, the 'lord of the manor' would himself have been a tenant or a sub-tenant of the Crown. At this time the Crown was regarded as the ultimate owner of all landed property. The lord retained some property for his own use (the 'demesne'). He may not however have lived there. Specified areas were determined as commons or waste. The remainder might be let to 'free' tenants who paid an annual monetary rent. It may also have been let to  'villeins' who occupied lands in return for labour services. Additional dues might include:

  • payments 'in kind'
  • the performance of manorial offices
  • payments upon death or marriage
  • attendance at the manor's court, and
  • the requirement to grind corn at the manor's own mill

Geographically a manor could form a part, or the whole, of a parish. Property could be held in more than one, not necessarily neighbouring, parishes. Although many manors are mentioned in the Domesday Book, new manors were created even beyond the medieval period. A manor may have been subdivided into several manors. Parcels of land or tenements could be annexed to, or disconnected from, their 'parent' manor. The size and boundaries of manors therefore varied, between manors and over time.

In spite of these changes, the manor as a unit of local administration survived from the middle ages to modern times. Its judicial importance had declined by the 16th century. Its significance as a unit of property administration however remained largely unaltered. It formed the basis of estate management for many centuries. Many 19th century leases still refer to the manor of which the tenement formed a part. Usually, the manor also continued to be the basis on which rentals, surveys and estate accounts were compiled.

This can be seen in the catalogues of estate records. There arrangements aimed to reflect the structure and management of the estate. Maps of estate properties drawn in the 18th and 19th centuries depict lands 'in the manor of ...' rather than by parish. It was not until the 1920s that manorial tenure was abolished. This was abolished along with customary services and the duty to attend a manor court.

The earliest manorial documents held by Cornwall Record Office date from the 14th century. This is a relatively late period in comparison with extant records in many other counties. For existing documents relating to a specific manor, reference may be made to the Record Office's 'index to manors' in the searchroom. Reference to the detailed catalogues of the archives of Cornish estates may also be made.

Until the 18th century manorial records were in Latin. This is apart from the brief period of the Cromwellian interregnum when they were required to be written in English. The Latin may be less structured than its classical form. Records are however in a standard format with a considerable amount of repetition of phrases and vocabulary.

Records of tenants were maintained in order to ensure that rents were collected and that services in kind were provided when they fell due. Rentals list the names of tenants, the nature of their tenancy, and the rents and services due. They were not compiled regularly, but still provide information about tenants and properties. Similar records describing the property and the manor may be described as 'extents' or 'surveys'

Changes in tenures, and the payment or non-payment of rents, were entered regularly in the records of the manor court. These were written on strips of parchment which were then rolled up for storage. The documents are known as 'manorial court rolls'. In order for the tenants to have their own record of their tenancy they were given a copy of the entry. This document is known as a 'copy of court roll'. From this derives the description of the tenure as 'copyhold tenure'.

Court Rolls may also contain information about:

  • the 'customs' of the manor (the medieval equivalent of byelaws)
  • local disputes over nuisances
  • trespass
  • petty thefts and misdemeanours or affrays
  • the payment of dues and services, and
  • fines for not attending the court

Separate accounts might be compiled which record information on income and expenditure. These also hold information on the general working of the manor. These may be described in archive catalogues as 'compotus' or 'compoti' (plural).

In a large manor or group of manors the steward might call tenants to the court by a written precept or summons. This would be read out in public or fixed to the church door. Written presentments of offenders might also be made by officers of the manor.

The Law of Property Act, 1922, placed all manorial documents 'under the charge and superintendence of the Master of the Rolls'. It requires owners of manorial documents to ensure that they are:

  • properly looked after
  • not disposed of
  • not destroyed or
  • deliberately damaged.

They may only be transferred to another individual or organisation with the permission of the Master of the Rolls. Their transfer to record offices provides conditions suitable for their safety and preservation. They also provide conditions for consultation by the public for purposes of research. There is no automatic right of access to them and their owner's consent is required for inspection and copying. For records in the care of Cornwall Record Office this consent is usually contained in the formal deposit agreement.

The existence and location of manorial documents is required to be recorded in the Manorial Documents Register. This is maintained by:

The Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts,
Quality Court,
Chancery Lane,
London, WC2A 1HP.

It is arranged by county, manors being listed alphabetically within each county. There is a summary of surviving documents, their location and, where appropriate, their reference numbers.

First published 1990, revised 28th March 2002.