The lease for three lives was the commonest form of tenure on the Dunham Massey estates from the seventeenth century, when it replaced copyhold or tenancy at will, until the mid-nineteenth century. Tenants held their property for the duration of three lives who were named in the lease, rather than for a fixed term of years. It was not necessary for the lives to be related to the lessee, though they frequently were, and lessees often chose themselves as one of the lives. If one of the lives was a child, the lease might, with luck, run for sixty or seventy years, though misfortune might terminate the lease prematurely. In fact, it was common for a tenant to pay a fine on the death of the first or second life in order to make the lease up to three lives again. The lease for lives gave the tenant a fair degree of security, as long as the landlord gave his consent for the renewal of the lease on the death of the first or second life. Many tenements were held by the same family for several generations.
The landlord derived income from leasehold tenure in several ways. Whenever a new lease was granted or a lease was renewed, the tenant was required to pay a substantial entry fine or consideration. On the death of a tenant his heir was liable to pay an heriot for admission to the property. Originally this was the "best beast or other best good", in other words the tenant's most valuable possession, but in the early eighteenth century the heriot was commuted to a monetary payment of between £2 and £5. Annual rents were also payable, generally at Lady Day (25 March) and Michaelmas (29 September).
The leases contain many standard clauses, and from the early 1730s onwards they were pre-printed, with spaces left blank for particulars to be entered by hand. The tenant covenanted to pay the rent and heriot as required, on pain of forfeiture; to keep the property in good repair; to grind all malt and grain at the lord's mills and to pay the toll for so doing; to keep a hound, pointer, spaniel or other dog for the use of the lord; and to do suit of court at the manorial courts held by the owners of Dunham Massey. The tenant also promised not to assign, sell or let the premises without written consent, and not to commit voluntary waste or to fell or crop timber trees. During the lifetimes of the 2nd Earl of Warrington and his daughter, Mary Countess of Stamford, tenants were also required to plant a fixed number of oak, elm and ash trees yearly up to a maximum number, and to protect them from damage. Other specific clauses are recorded in the item descriptions below.
In the earliest leases tenants were required to spend several days each year reaping, ploughing, manuring and performing other tasks for the lord such as carrying turf to Dunham Massey Hall. Tenants were also obliged to serve with the lord in time of war, furnished with a particular weapon. Military service and most labour services were abolished or commuted in the early eighteenth century.
Unless otherwise stated, the lessors of the leases below are: George Booth, 1st Baron Delamer, to August 1684; Henry Booth, 1st Earl of Warrington, August 1684 to January 1693/4; George Booth, 2nd Earl of Warrington, January 1693/4 to August 1758; George and Thomas Hunt, trustees appointed under the will of the 2nd Earl of Warrington, in trust for Mary Countess of Stamford, August 1758 to December 1772; George Harry Grey, 5th Earl of Stamford, December 1772 to May 1819; George Harry Grey, 6th Earl of Stamford, May 1819 to April 1845; George Harry Grey, 7th Earl of Stamford, from April 1845.
As part of the reorganisation of the estates undertaken by George Booth, 2nd Earl of Warrington, the tenements in each township were numbered consecutively, the numbers first appearing in the comprehensive rental compiled in 1701 (EGR11/1/6). This records that there were then 558 tenements in Cheshire and 543 in Lancashire. The numbering system remained in force until the late nineteenth century, enabling a property to be traced through successive leases and entries in rentals and rent ledgers. When tenements were subdivided the separate properties were numbered 1A, 1B1, 1B2 etc.
From the landlord's point of view the long but unpredictable term of the lease for lives had two disadvantages: in periods of inflation rents were fixed well below their true economic level, and the landlord could not exploit the commercial potential of property by developing it or selling it for building purposes without the difficulty and expense of compensating the tenant for the termination of the lease. The letting of the Stamford Estates was therefore reorganised in the 1840s to put it on a more commercial footing. With very few exceptions, no leases for lives were granted or renewed after 1845. When a lease fell in, the property was either re-let for a fixed term at rack rent, or sold on chief rent for building purposes. It was not until the end of the century, however, that the last leases for lives expired.
The present series comprises original leases, which were given to the lessees and were surrendered on their expiry or renewal. They bear the signatures and seals of the owners of Dunham Massey as lessors. The counterpart leases, signed by the lessees, were retained by the lessors. In most cases counterparts were filed separately (see EGR14/3 below). Sometimes, however, when a lease was surrendered its counterpart was placed inside it. In such cases the lease and counterpart are treated as a single item. The present series also contains a few counterparts for which there is no matching original lease.
In the item descriptions below properties are described exactly as they are in the original documents (omitting such catch-all phrases as "and all outhouses, edifices, buildings, commons, common of pasture and turbary, ways, paths, passages, liberties, easements, profits, privileges, advantages, emoluments and appurtenances"). The names of tenants are given in full. The names of lives are recorded only in those cases where the documents are too fragile to be issued to researchers. Leases for lives contain detailed information on field names and rural topography, land use, agricultural practices, urban development and demography. Because of the information they provide on family relationships they are also invaluable to genealogical studies.
The series comprises 15 subseries for the following townships:
- EGR14/2/1: Altrincham, 514 items, 1674-1849
- EGR14/2/2: Ashley, 5 items, 1710-1789
- EGR14/2/3: Ashton upon Mersey, 68 items, 1668-1837
- EGR14/2/4: Bollington, 145 items, 1638; 1681/2-1840
- EGR14/2/5: Bowdon, 119 items, 1662-1850
- EGR14/2/6: Carrington, 308 items, 1681-1838
- EGR14/2/7: Dunham Massey, 507 items, 1678-1844
- EGR14/2/8: Hale, 95 items, 1684-1840
- EGR14/2/9: Partington in Carrington, 55 items, 1675/6-1830
- EGR14/2/10: Partington in Dunham, 18 items, 1704-1823
- EGR14/2/11: Sale, 58 items, 1696-1816
- EGR14/2/12: Timperley, 77 items, 1679/80-1833
- EGR14/2/13: Styal to. Pownall Fee, 7 items, 1719-1811
- EGR14/2/14: Dean Row to. Bollin Fee, 1 item, 1736
- EGR14/2/15: Ashton under Lyne co. Lancs, 1 item, 1725
All items are printed (with specific information inserted by hand) unless otherwise stated. Dating: the span dates above relate to leases and counterparts only; a few examples of other types of record found with the leases (such as letters and notes) date up to the 1890s; the majority of leases date from the period 1700 to 1840.