Manor and manorial records

A manor was an estate belonging to an individual, the lord or lady of the manor, or an organisation such as a hospital, school or college. A parish usually contained more than one manor and a manor often had land in several parishes. Originally manorial tenants paid their rents in a combination of money, things (hens at Christmas, eggs at Easter) and services (ploughing, cutting hay or corn), but later all rents became money payments.

Running a manor created many records including:

  • court rolls or court books, recording land transfers
  • surveys, describing the lands in a manor
  • rentals
  • accounts.

Using manorial records

Manorial records can be used to study many subjects, but are often underused. Early records are usually in Latin, but will be in English from 1733 onwards and, apart from some technical vocabulary, should be as accessible as any other records of a similar date.

Early manorial records can be used for studying the lives of ordinary people at a time when few other sources for this exist and you can find out a lot about individuals by looking at the records of a particular manor in detail. For example, court leet records often give the names of people who were fined for illegal brewing. They could also be fined for all sorts of other things, like fighting, leaving dunghills in the road, not trimming their trees or letting their pigs wander on the common!

Family history: Manorial records are full of names and are a rich source for family historians. For the medieval period, they may be the only source available and from the 16th century onwards they can provide additional information about people named in the parish records. If a particular property was handed down through one family, the court rolls will provide a record of this and can be a means of overcoming gaps in parish registers.

House history: Rentals, surveys and entries in court records can help in tracing the history of someone’s house. They may provide detailed descriptions of the property and, if you can identify the house concerned, even brief rentals may help in compiling a list of owners.

Local history: Court records, surveys, accounts and even rentals are full of property descriptions and minor place names and sometimes these can be linked to manorial maps. They may provide information about the crops which were grown and even the animals kept on the manor.

To search for Kent manorial documents by manor, parish or document use the Manorial Document Register on the National Archives website here.