Manorial Records

  • Reference
      GB 133 EGR2
  • Dates of Creation
      1347-1920
  • Language of Material
      Language: before 1733 all the manorial court records were written in Latin  (except for the years 1651-1660). However, the proceedings of the courts tended to be written in English  from the late sixteenth century onwards.
  • Physical Description
      Physical composition: all items are single sheets of paper unless otherwise stated. Conservation record: Many of the manorial records were found in very poor physical condition, having been stored in a damp environment for many years. They were found under a blanket of mould, which had severely weakened and decayed both paper and parchment. In 1992-5 a major conservation project took place on the records, funded by the Pilgrim Trust, the National Trust, the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and the Radcliffe Trust. Bundles that had been tightly-folded or rolled up were carefully opened out, using a steam pencil to release consolidated material. Mould was brushed off in a fumigation cabinet. Flaking and peeling ink on seventeenth-century parchment rolls was consolidation by spraying with a parchment size solution. Loose fragments were re-attached to paper documents with small strips of Japanese tissue. The treated material was then encapsulated in Mylar polyester wallets.

Scope and Content

The Stamford Estate Office in Altrincham housed an outstanding collection of manorial records for the several courts held by the lords of Dunham Massey. They constitute an extremely valuable source for local, social and economic historians. Particularly well represented are the court leet and view of frankpledge for the barony of Dunham Massey, the court baron for the manor of Dunham Massey, the court leet and view of frankpledge with court baron for the manor and fee of Bollin cum Norcliffe (Wilmslow), and the court leet for the borough of Altrincham. The latter was singled out by the Webbs as a remarkable example of a lord's court that had usurped all the civil powers of the parish and its vestry, and contrived to carry out the whole civil government of the town. Source: Sydney and Beatrice Webb, English local government from the Revolution to the Municipal Corporations Act, vol. 3: the manor and the borough (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1908), pt. 1, pp. 166-70.

The manorial records consist of the following types of document:

Extents: an extent is an elaborate form of medieval estate survey in which every item is given a valuation, being the amount that could be got for the item annually, were it to be leased out. Three examples survive for the barony of Dunham Massey, 1347-1411 (EGR2/1/1). In accordance with usual practice, the extents have been treated as manorial records, while post-medieval surveys and rentals are to be found with other estate papers from Dunham Massey Hall and the Altrincham Estate Office (EGR11 & EGR14).

Accounts: five manorial account rolls exist for the barony of Dunham Massey, 1362-1417 (EGR2/1/2). Like extents, they are a product of the introduction of demesne farming on estates in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. This required detailed record-keeping in order to ensure that the officials who administered the estates were fully accountable to their lords. Post-medieval estate accounts are to be found with other estate papers from Dunham Massey Hall and the Altrincham Estate Office (EGR11 & EGR14).

Court rolls and verdicts: the earliest records of court proceedings are written on parchment rolls that were evidently copied from paper drafts compiled during the sessions of the courts (see EGR2/1/3, EGR2/5/1/1, EGR2/6/1/1 & EGR2/8/1). Throughout their history the records of proceedings were compiled in a standard format: each session begins with a heading giving the name of the court, the date and location of the session, the names of the lord and his steward, and a list of jurors; the business of the court is then recorded. At some time in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century the practice of copying the draft records of proceedings into parchment rolls appears to have been abandoned, and thereafter the court books and bundles of paper records (termed "verdicts") were intended to stand as records of the court in their own right, although there are a few parchment rolls from as late as 1669 (see EGR2/1/3 & EGR2/1/4 for further discussion on the subject). In many cases the verdicts were clearly compiled during the sessions - they are written in a fast cursive hand with frequent corrections, deletions and additions - although the headings were often compiled beforehand. On other occasions, however, the verdicts appear to have been written up in a fair hand after the session, to be received at the next session; this is a subject that requires further research.

Suit rolls: lists of tenants who owed suit of court, recording their attendance, essoins or non-appearance. All but one of the suit rolls within the archive are in volume format. A roll would generally be used for several years, the list of suitors being amended as changes in tenancy took place. Suitors' names are written down the left-hand side of the page, with marks against them indicating their attendance, essoins or non-appearance.

Estreats: extracts from the court rolls recording fines imposed on suitors for non-attendance and other offences, with an order from the steward to the bailiff to levy the fines. It is likely that estreats were drawn up after every session of the court at which fines were levied, but few have survived, possibly because once the fines had been paid they served no further purpose. Almost all estreats were compiled on parchment rolls.

Other records: these include appointments of stewards (EGR2/1/12/1-3), a copy deed of partition (EGR2/1/12/4), a file of distraint orders (EGR2/1/12/5), lists of constables (EGR2/1/12/6-7), jury list books (EGR2/1/12/8-9), copy verdicts (EGR2/1/12/10 & EGR2/6/5/2), a copy of Altrincham borough charter (EGR2/6/5/1), lists of members of the Altrincham court leet (EGR2/6/5/3-4), and a proclamation of Altrincham fair court (EGR2/7/2/1).

Administrative / Biographical History

An excellent introduction to the manorial system and its records is provided in P.D.A. Harvey, Manorial records (London: British Records Association, 1984), upon which this present brief account is largely based; see also Giles Jacob, The compleat court-keeper: or, land-steward's assistant, 3rd edition (London: E. Nutt & R. Gosling, 1724); Sir William Scroggs, The practice of courts leet and courts baron (London: J. Nutt, 1714); Sydney and Beatrice Webb, English local government from the Revolution to the Municipal Corporations Act, vol. 3: the manor and the borough (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1908); F.J.C. Hearnshaw, Leet jurisdiction in England especially as illustrated by the records of the court leet of Southampton (Southampton: Southampton Record Society, 1908).

The basic form of manorial court was known as a court baron. By the sixteenth century the existence of a court baron (curia baronis) had come to define a manor, which in the medieval period had meant simply a unit of estate administration: the manor was held to be a lordship or territory with a court held by prescription, at which the lord exercised jurisdiction over his tenants. They were obliged to do suit and service (secta, sectatio), that is to attend the court, although they were permitted to excuse (essoin) themselves on up to three consecutive occasions before they were fined. Within the framework of local custom the court baron regulated the tenure of villein or customary tenants, admitting them to their holdings, accepting the surrender of their holdings, enforcing the terms and obligations of their tenure, and ensuring that they paid in full the rents and customary services that were demanded of them. Free tenants owed suit of court as well, but they were not subject to the same degree of control. The court baron also had wider oversight of the rural community: it controlled the cultivation of open fields, protected common rights from abuses and encroachments, elected local officials, and settled minor disputes between suitors.

A court leet (curia leta) was a manorial court that had been granted wider powers, including jurisdiction over minor criminal offences and what was known as the view of frankpledge (visus franciplegii). This was a relic of a pre-Conquest system of mutual sureties, whereby every male over twelve was required to be a member of a tithing group (decenna), a body of ten men who were responsible for each other's lawful behaviour. This system had disappeared by the late thirteenth century, but the view of frankpledge continued to enforce the formal requirement of belonging to a tithing-group.

The owners of Dunham Massey held several courts for their manors in Cheshire and Lancashire. These included the court leet and view of frankpledge for the barony of Dunham Massey, the court leet for the borough of Altrincham, a court leet and view of frankpledge with court baron for the manor and fee of Bollin cum Norcliffe in Wilmslow parish, a court leet and view of frankpledge for the manor of Warrington in Lancashire, a court leet and a court baron for the manor of Ashton under Lyne in Lancashire, and courts baron for the manors of Dunham Massey, Carrington, Ashton upon Mersey, Hattersley and Stayley.

The jurisdiction of the barony court extended over the townships of Ashton upon Mersey, Bollington, Bowdon, Carrington, Dunham Massey, Hale, Partington, Sale and Timperley, and tenants in Agden, Ashley and Baguley did suit and service at the court leet. Tenants in Altrincham, Ashley, Bollington, Bowdon, Hale, Timperley and part of Partington also owed suit of court at the court baron for the manor of Dunham Massey. Tenants in Carrington and the other part of Partington owed suit of court at the court baron for Carrington, while the court baron for Ashton upon Mersey was attended by tenants in that township and in Sale.

Further information on the history and records of the court leet for the barony of Dunham Massey, the courts baron for the manors of Dunham Massey, Carrington and Ashton upon Mersey, the court leet for Bollin cum Norcliffe, Altrincham borough court leet and fair court, and the court leet for Warrington is given in the introductions to the relevant sections below. A single court roll survives for the court leet of the manor of Warrington, which was sold to Thomas Blackburne esq in c.1762; all other records for the manor were presumably transferred to the new owner at that time. There are no records for Hattersley, Stayley or Ashton under Lyne within the Dunham Massey Papers (but see the section on Related Materials below for information on records held elsewhere). The manor of Hattersley was conveyed by the 7th Earl of Stamford to John Chapman esq in 1858. For information on Stayley and Hattersley see George Ormerod, The history of the county palatine and city of Chester, 2nd edition revised by Thomas Helsby, 3 vols (London: George Routledge, 1882), vol. 3, pp. 864-8. For information on Ashton under Lyne court leet and court baron see Winifred M. Bowman, England in Ashton under Lyne (Altrincham: John Sherratt & Son, 1960), pp. 579-97; Sydney and Beatrice Webb, English local government, vol. 3, pt. 1, pp. 113-5; William Glover, History of Ashton under Lyne and the surrounding district (Ashton under Lyne: J. Andrew, 1884), pp. 344-51.

In the post-medieval period the courts met once or twice yearly, though additional sessions were sometimes held to hear civil actions, known as pleas between parties (placita inter partes). All the courts of the Booth family, and later the Earls of Stamford, in Cheshire and Lancashire were presided over by a single steward (senescallus) appointed by the lord during good will and pleasure (see EGR2/1/12/6-7 below). The following gentlemen are known, from the evidence of court rolls and verdicts, to have served as stewards of the courts:

  • Robert Booth (1534-6)
  • Robert Leigh (1539-43)
  • Robert Tatton (1544-66): appointed deputy steward by Sir Edmund Peckham in 1544 (EGR2/1/12/1); he is recorded as deputy steward of Dunham Massey court leet, 1544-54, and steward, 1561-6, and steward of Dunham Massey court baron, 1546-65.
  • Peter Warburton, Richard Leigh and Thomas Arderne (1582): stewards for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was guardian of George Booth (1566-1652) during his minority.
  • George Parker (1582-8)
  • John Vaudrey (1595-1601)
  • John Carrington (1603-30)
  • William Rowcroft (1631-57)
  • Robert Tipping (1658-63)
  • William Worrall (1663-81)
  • John Houghton (1682-91 & 1706-15): see below.
  • Thomas Hunt (1692-3)
  • Richard Drinkwater (1694-1704)
  • William Shaw (1710-27): presided over the court baron for the manor of Carrington as deputy steward in 1710-11 and as steward in 1712-15; he presided over the court baron for the manor of Dunham Massey as deputy steward in 1711 and as steward in 1712-15; John Houghton continued to serve as steward of the courts leet for the barony of Dunham Massey, the borough of Altrincham, and the manor and fee of Bollin cum Norcliffe until 1715; from 1716 William Shaw was steward of all courts.
  • Isaac Shaw (1728-60): steward of Dunham Massey court leet in 1761 also, thus overlapping with Isaac Worthington.
  • Isaac Worthington (1761-1814)
  • Hugo Worthington (1815-39)
  • Legh Richmond (1839-61): Griffies Roscoe and Henry Hall sometimes deputized for Richmond and Payne in 1858-64.
  • Arthur Frederick Payne (1862-6)
  • Henry Hall (1867-c.1905)

The main business of the courts consisted of presentments. These were reports or answers made in response to specific questions put by the steward. Most presentments were made by the jury (iuratores, also termed an inquest), a body of tenants that varied in number from about a dozen to eighteen. In the case of the court leet for the barony of Dunham Massey there were three juries, known as great or grand inquests, composed of freeholders, tenants at will (later leasehold tenants) in Dunham Massey, and tenants at will (later leasehold tenants) in Hale. Other presentments were made by township officers such as constables, bylawmen (also known as barleymen, birlagii) and common-lookers. The court might impose a penalty (pena) on an offender who had failed to abide by a previous order, but it was more common to levy a smaller sum known as an amercement (misericordia): the offender was said to be at the lord's mercy. Suitors were also amerced for failure to attend court. The amounts of amercements were fixed by affeerors (afferatores) appointed by the court at the end of the session. In order to compel people to attend court or to comply with the court's orders, the steward could instruct the bailiff of the court to distrain upon their goods and chattels.

Arrangement

i) Original Arrangement of Documents

The manorial records were found intermingled with estate papers at the Altrincham Estate Office, principally in cupboards and boxes in a first-floor store room. They were found in considerable disarray, and many items were in poor physical condition (see above). One or two items carried reference numbers, which appear to have been part of a more general numbering scheme for the papers at the Estate Office.

ii) Present System of Arrangement

In accordance with the principle of provenance the records for each manorial court have been kept separate. Thus the records of the court baron for the manor of Dunham Massey form a distinct sub-subfonds (EGR2/2), within which are three series of material: court books and verdicts (EGR2/2/1), suit rolls (EGR2/2/2), and estreats (EGR2/2/3).

The subfonds EGR2 contains records for the following manorial courts:

  • EGR2/1: Court leet and view of frankpledge for the barony of Dunham Massey, 1347-1905
  • EGR2/2: Court baron for the manor of Dunham Massey, 1546-1871
  • EGR2/3: Court baron for the manor of Carrington, 1624-1854
  • EGR2/4: Court baron for the manor of Ashton upon Mersey, 1759-1851
  • EGR2/5: Court leet and view of frankpledge with court baron for the manor and fee of Bollin cum Norcliffe, 1557-1839
  • EGR2/6: Court leet for the borough of Altrincham, 1450-1920
  • EGR2/7: Altrincham fair court, 1683-1852
  • EGR2/8: Court leet and view of frankpledge for the manor of Warrington, 1633

Acquisition Information

Five parchment rolls (EGR2/1/1/1-2, EGR2/1/2/1 & EGR2/1/2/3-4) were transferred on deposit by the National Trust from Dunham Massey Hall to the John Rylands University Library on 12 September 1978. The remainder were transferred from the Altrincham Estate Office in several accessions, in April 1981 and on 14 November 1990, 31 January 1991, 21 February 1991, 24 January 1992 and 23 November 1994.

Custodial History

Little is known of the custodial history of the manorial documents, the vast majority of which were found at the Stamford Estate Office in Altrincham. None appear in the inventory compiled by Dr Henry Guppy of the John Rylands Library in 1922, listing the records that had been removed from Dunham Massey Hall to the Ashton under Lyne Estate Office in the second half of the nineteenth century. It is possible that the manorial records had remained at the Altrincham Estate Office throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Related Material

Manchester Central Library: M95, Chapman Family Archives: court book for the court baron for the manor of Hattersley, 1612-46; suit rolls for the manor of Hattersley, 1689-99, 1721-79; charge book or directions for holding the court baron for the manor of Hattersley; sale of the manor of Hattersley from the Earl of Stamford to John Chapman, 1858.

Sheffield Record Office: Arundel Castle MSS, rental for Hattersley and other manors, 1613.

Cordingleys Chartered Surveyors, Ashton under Lyne: records of the court leet for the manor of Ashton under Lyne and the court baron for the manor of Stayley (details not known).

Information on related materials was kindly supplied by Ms M.E. Ellis, Curatorial Officer, Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts.

Related materials concerning the court leet for the manor and fee of Bollin cum Norcliffe (EGR2/5) and the court leet for the borough of Altrincham (EGR2/6) are described below in the introductions to the records of those courts.