These extensive manorial court records deal with many aspects of estate administration and community life in great detail in the early modern period, from ca. 1503 onwards (with copies of some earlier material), and with tenancy transactions overa much longer period, into the twentieth century. Although the records in Durham begin only in the early 16th century, there is another overlapping series of Durham bishopric Halmote Court rolls among the Durham Palatinate Records in The NationalArchives (TNA) in London, under reference DURH 3/12-28. That series runs from 1348 to 1619, and microfilm copies are available in Durham of thoserolls in the TNA set which predate the start of the Durham set. The exact relationship of the two overlapping series has yet to be ascertained.
Copyhold, which evolved from medieval villein tenure, was commonly an hereditary tenure. Provided that copyholders, or others holding land according to manorial custom, paid their rents, performed the customary services and observed the customsof the manor, their estates would pass on their death to their heirs, if they claimed them. Copyholders might sell or mortgage their property, but the transaction had to be registered in the Halmote Court. In the case of a transaction such as amortgage which did not involve the absolute alienation of the holding, a defeasance stating the purpose of the surrender and the conditions under which it would be voided was also recorded in the court roll. The records of surrenders and admissionsto holdings give a description of the property, often with details such as field names, mention of buildings erected on the land, and names of adjacent landholders. They therefore provide a rich source for the study of local communities, for tracingthe history of property, and for the information they provide about humble people, who would not have made a will and have left little trace in other sources. Because of the hereditary element in copyhold tenure, the records of surrenders andadmissions often give information in considerable detail on family relationships.