Manorial records can be an interesting resource if you’ve taken your family history back to the 1700s or even earlier.
They aren’t an ‘easy’ resource to work with. You can spend a couple of hours working through the minutiae of a court record book without finding anything relevant to your family at all. A lot it is about the transfer of fields, the upkeep of fences, and petty rows between neighbours.
There’s no ‘copy/paste’! And no ‘hints’ to help you.
But you can find little nuggets that make your ancestors seem more ‘real’ as people. And even if they aren’t name-checked, you can get an idea of what their lives would have been like.
Manorial records – Hutton-in-the-Forest
In 1735, John Fenton took of Henry Fletcher, lord of the manor of Hutton, a messuage and tenement at Nether Scales.
John Fenton was the sitting tenant, but the previous lord of the manor, Thomas Fletcher had died, with Henry Fletcher his heir.
It was actually a bit more complicated than the usual ‘the lord is dead, long live his son the new lord’.
Henry bequeathed Hutton to Thomas Fletcher, Esq. of Moresby, a remote relation, (and first cousin on the mother’s side.) Sir Henry’s sisters commenced a suit in chancery for the estate, which was at length compromised, it being agreed that Thomas Fletcher should enjoy Hutton and some other estates for life, and if he died without issue, (which was the event,) that Henry Fletcher Vane, Esq. second son of Catherine, eldest sister of Sir Henry Fletcher, by her deceased husband Lionel Vane, Esq. should have and enjoy the whole.
You can read more about the manor of Hutton here.
A nice little earner
However, for the tenants of Hutton manor, the finer points of who became lord and why were probably not of upmost interest.
Because they were probably more concerned about the cost.
As I’ve said, John Fenton already rented property at Nether Scales: he paid 8 shillings and 1 penny a year rent for it.
But in 1735, he had to pay a whopping £8 1 shilling and 8 pence ‘fine’ to the new lord of the manor simply to stay put.
Next entry in the court book is that of widowed Catherine Fenton, who rented a messuage and tenement at Upper Row, Hutton, for 4 shillings and 2 pence a year.
Thanks to Thomas Fletcher dying and Henry Fletcher becoming her landlord, she had to pay a ‘fine’ of £4 11 shillings and 8 pence.
And there are pages of these. Every tenant had to pay a fine simply to stay put. The fines ranged from 3 shillings, to more than £13.
It was nice little earner for a new lord. And every tenant (if they could still afford it) would no doubt drink him a resounding toast of: “a long and happy life”. Simply because when the new lord died, they’d have to pay another fine to the next one.
It wasn’t something peculiar to the Fletcher family – it was the custom everywhere.
Bereaved and out of pocket
Henry Fletcher actually lived until 1761, at which point his brother Walter became lord of the manor, so the tenants had a 26-year break from ‘new lord’ fines.
However, rewind to 1736 and there is an entry for Mary Wilkinson, widowed sister of Catherine Fenton.
Within less than a year of paying the ‘new lord’ fine, Catherine had died. And Mary, in order to take over her property at Upper Row, had to pay another £4 11 shillings and 8 pence for the privilege.
As a very rough guide, that was something like two-three months’ wages for an Army corporal or an agricultural labourer.
You can find a glossary of terms used in Cumbrian manorial records at this Lancaster University page.