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).