England Tithe Records (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Land and Property Records including Manorial Documents and Maps  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Tithes[edit | edit source]

Tithing was the centuries-old, mainly rural, system of a 10% levy in kind on land, stock and industry for the upkeep of the local Church of England incumbent. It applied to farms and also gardens and small pastures within urban areas, and the bulk commodities (hay, grain, wood) were stored in huge tithe barns. Here we are concerned with tithe commutation to monetary payment and the resulting apportionments and maps.

There had always been disagreements about the system, particularly since the Reformation when laymen who bought former monastic lands became recipients of tithes (tithe owners), with non-Anglicans’ objections and with mass movement away from rural areas into towns. By the 19th century some areas had adopted a cash system based on the prevailing price of corn (wheat) and termed corn rents. However inequities and anomalies abounded and the system had become unworkable. In the early 1830s there was an economic slump, high taxes and agrarian uprisings and all these factors forced parliament to update the system

Tithe Agreements and Awards[edit | edit source]

The Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 converted all tithes into an annual monetary payment called the tithe rent-charge. England and Wales were divided into 14,829 tithe districts typically parishes, except where they were large when they were divided into as many as 20 districts, and in the north of England where the parish divisions called townships were used. Assistant Tithe Commissioners travelled around the country holding meetings of interested parties. They examined the previous seven years’ tithes paid, the rents, and the acreage and quality of land (indicated by what it was used for) and apportioned the new tithe rent-charge amongst the land-owners proportionately. The tithe was now a set amount and no longer a tax on yield, which would encourage better farm management practices.

The results were called a Tithe Agreement if all parties agreed, and a Tithe Award if the decision was adjudicated by the commissioners. These agreements or awards contained the surveys and apportionments and were produced from 1838-1854. Some urban parishes did have tithe awards and their surveys and apportionments are particularly useful in determining the nature of workshops and factories.

Tithe Surveys (Maps)[edit | edit source]

In preparation for the commutation a very detailed, large-scale map called the tithe survey was drawn up in each district by the parish commissioners. Every field and building was numbered, measured and assessed, and crops grown noted. Not every parish had a tithe survey, as some had had tithes eliminated during the redistribution of land due to a previous Enclosure Act, especially in midland counties or were exempt from tithes, as happened in large tracts of Westmorland, Lancashire and Gloucestershire (see Kain and Prince’s Tithe Surveys for Historians, 2000). Altogether perhaps a quarter of English parishes were not surveyed, but virtually all Welsh ones were; Ireland and Scotland did not come under the same legislation.

Tithe maps contain much more detail than enclosure maps, with dwellings coloured red and other buildings in grey, with churches and mills often depicted. Parish, township and property boundaries are depicted, as are field names, rights of way and land use. Foot gives illustrations of the conventional signs for land usage, but these were not always used. The most accurate ones, about 16% of the total, are termed first class maps and can be distinguished by bearing the seal and signatures of the Tithe Commissioners. They are the rural equivalent of the large scale urban maps of the 19th century, and for many places they are the earliest large-scale map. There is considerable variation in the size, scale and accuracy of tithe surveys of different parishes and counties.
However, the family historian will be more concerned with comparing maps of the same area of different dates and should never rely on the information provided by the tithe map alone. The tithe surveys were done in the same period as the 1841 and 1851 censuses, and the major expansion of publication of trade directories, thus each gains value when used in conjunction with the others. Kain (An Atlas and Index of the Tithe Files of Mid-19th Century England and Wales , 1986) provides an indexed atlas of surviving tithe maps and Kain and Oliver (The Tithe Maps of England and Wales: A Cartographic Analysis and County-by-County Catalogue , 1995) is an extension of this work which includes lists of map makers, tithe commissioners and county maps of district boundaries.

Tithe Apportionments (Schedules)[edit | edit source]

The tithe apportionments are much more standardized than the maps and show:

  • The land-owners.
  • Occupiers (owners or tenants).
  • Acreages given in ARP (acres, roods and perches) where 1 acre = 4 roods and 1 rood = 40 perches.
  • Names of farms and fields, the significance of the latter is discussed by Evans and Crosby.
  • Type of cultivation (arable, grass, meadow, pasture, common, wood, coppice, plantation, orchard, hop-ground or market garden) or lack thereof (road, wasteland, mine etc.).
  • Type of building (cottage, mill, barn etc.).
  • Annual rent-charge due.

All of this data was cross referenced to the named and numbered fields and buildings on the tithe surveys. The waste lands can be distinguished as they were given no numbers.

The apportionments are arranged alphabetically by owners of land, each subdivided by occupier and plot, as in the example below. Note that:

  • Some people will appear as both owners and occupiers of their own or other peoples’ land.
  • Some owners do not occupy any land.
  • A person may occupy land belonging to more than one owner.
  • Plotting the lands occupied by all members of the family, including in-laws, is most instructive in understanding how their lives intermeshed.
  • Plotting patterns of land ownership and of occupiers gives information about the social and economic structure of the community

Chart: Tithe Apportionment Book Hadlow, Kent FHL film 1701919
The five columns are headed:
1. Number
2. Name
3. Description
4. Clear (in ARP = acres, roods and perches)
5. Total (in ARP = acres, roods and perches)

1 acre = 4 roods
1 rood = 40 square perches (also called rods or poles)
1 perch = 16½ feet

LOWLANDS FARM – Thos MARTIN esq Prop and Occupier
Hodswell Orchard

Turnpike field
2a 3r 24p
2a 3r 33p
- - -
- 1r 34p
Great Lowlands
23a 1r 29p
23a 2r 14p
Gilbert’s Green
4a 0r 30p
4a 1r 16p

30a 2r 3p
31a 2r 9p

0. 1r 33p

32a 0r 2p

PARKER’S GREEN – Mrs MAY Proprietor Elizth CHEESEMAN Occupier
- - -
- 2r 23p
Hop Garden
6a 2r 11p
6a 2r 34p
Shoulder of Mutton
1a 1r 13p
1a 1r 31p
Barn field
3a 0r 12p
3a 0r 32p
Barn and yard
- - -
- - 14p
- 1r 15p

12a 1r 29p

Tithe payments continued until 1936 when they were replaced by annuities, but these ceased in 1996.

The census lists all the families and where they lived; the tithe apportionments and maps are complementary as they show more about the actual houses and farms they lived in and amongst, although don’t necessarily list all of the sub-tenants. If one tracks the census enumerator’s route through the village on the tithe map one can identify the actual homes of these sub-tenants. Take note of the name of the building; it could well be a tied cottage (one that was tied to the man’s job) and the building may well be named for his employer. This was an extremely common situation and can lead you to estate employment records and perhaps photographs.

Finding Tithe Awards and Agreements[edit | edit source]

Three copies of tithe awards/agreements were made. One copy was lodged with the Tithe Commissioners and will be in TNA in four series:

  • IR 18 Tithe Files 1836-1870.
  • IR 29 Tithe Apportionments.
  • IR 30 Tithe Surveys (maps, mostly copies).
  • IR 77 Tithe Surveys (maps, some originals).

In the series numbers the second part of the number indicates the county and the third part the piece number and for one parish it is the same number in each series. Thus for Fifield (piece 59), Oxfordshire (27) the references are IR29/27/59 for the apportionment and IR30/27/59 for the map.

The second copy went to the diocesan office and many of these are now housed in county archives. These are the least worn copies. The third copy belonged to the parish and may still be in their hands (perhaps in the rectory, vestry or someone’s loft or attic), or deposited at the county archives as well. Tithe maps and schedules are large and unwieldy but filming in sections makes them more easily accessible. Find them in the FamilySearch Catalog under ENGLAND – COUNTY – TOWN – LAND RECORDS or TAX RECORDS.

Catalogues of holdings can be obtained from county archives either online or in printed form, for example:

  • Bedfordshire has a catalogue of enclosures, maps and tithe awards.
  • Kent Archives Office has listed its tithe maps and awards 1812-1888, and 1836-1938. It has now repaired them all and put them on CD available at libraries and for purchase; unfortunately the CDs only contain the maps and not the accompanying awards.

Some examples of available tithe maps include:

  • Gloucestershire Tithe Maps for many districts 1831-1846 on four films FHL films 2093195, 2092985, 2093081, 2093083.
  • Seymour describes his family’s lands in Dorset using the 1845 tithe map, OS maps, certificates and censuses.
  • 11 films (starting at FHL film 0992671) of Surrey tithe apportionments are listed on the FamilySearch Catalog.

Many illustrations and discussion can be found in Evans and Crosby (Tithes. Maps, Apportionments and the 1836 Act: A Guide for Local Historians, 1997), Kain and Prince (Tithe Surveys for Historians, 2000), Munby (Tithe Apportionments and Maps. #20 in Short Guides to Records edited by Lionel M. Munby, 1972), Pearl (Parish Sources Part II The Tithe Survey: the Domesday of the 19th Century. Family Tree Magazine Vol 7 #6, page 4-5) and Hindle (Maps for Historians, 2002). As the tithe maps and apportionments were used by the central government until 1966 their copies are at TNA, and they contain many later amendments, but these notes are not on the copies held in county record offices.

TNA also has the Tithes Documents Register, a list of the parish and diocesan office copies extant. Diocesan copies are usually still in county archives, but parish copies may have strayed into private hands or be lost. Those ordering films of tithe documents should note which of the three copies was filmed. Further details can be found in Foot and in TNA research guide D41.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Land and Property Records including Manorial Documents and Maps offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.