England Copyhold Property, Sales, Purchases, Mortgages, Rentals (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 ($).

Copyhold Property[edit | edit source]

Copyhold was the ancient form of manorial tenure where property was held either directly from a lord of the manor or from one of his tenants. Copyhold land transfer was recorded in the manor court rolls and a copy serving as his title deed given to the purchaser, hence the term copyhold. To transfer property it was first surrendered to the lord who then admitted the new tenant, upon payment of a fee, termed a fine, except in cases of inheritance where it was a smaller sum called a relief. Inheritance of copyhold and how to find copyhold records have been discussed under the section on Manorial Courts Baron; here we look at other forms of transfer. Steel (1980) notes that there was no copyhold tenure in Cornwall, it being part of the Duchy of Cornwall.

Sales and Purchases[edit | edit source]

These were termed surrenders, where the purchaser was admitted to the use and behoof (benefit) of the property upon payment of the fine.

Mortgages on Copyhold Land[edit | edit source]

Early mortgages were very different from modern ones because receiving interest for a loan was prohibited asusury until 1571. So the lender took possession of the property and collected the rents until the loan had been repaid. Thus some simple mortgages occur where the copyholder surrendered his property to the use of the mortgagee who became the customary tenant as long as he paid the capital and interest within the year. Mortgages are termed conditional surrenders in the court rolls but the mortgagee (creditor) was not admitted to the property, that is he didn’t own it but merely received the rents. Upon repayment a warrant of satisfaction was then given to the mortgager (debtor). There are many more complex mortgages in manor court records and these are difficult to understand without legal assistance. A simple one is shown below.

Chart: Conditional Surrender

                               Manor of Chipping Barnet and East Barnet, Hertfordshire
                                                             17 April 1770

Acknowledging satisfaction of £0..9..4
AT THIS COURT Richard MAUND acknowledges satisfaction on a Conditional Surrender made by Thomas KNOWLTON deceased and Elizabeth his wife to the said Richard MAUND dated the 13th day of April 1762, by the direction of Richard PRIOR, and also acknowledged satisfaction on Another Conditional Surrender made by the said Thomas KNOWLTON deceased and Elizabeth his wife to the said Richard MAUND dated the 9th day of April 1765, by the like direction of Richard PRIOR.

   [signed]                         Richard Maund, Richd Prior

Those lending money (the mortgagees) on a single house or farm in the 17th-18th century were usually local, well-to-do yeoman farmers, craftsmen in towns or widows with money left by their husbands. From the 19th century more of the professional classes such as solicitors, bankers and gentlemen, and later building societies were the source of monies to those needing to raise cash for improvements or other ventures.

Rentals[edit | edit source]

Many copyholders subleased their land to others; if these were for a year or less then they were rarely recorded at court baron. However, longer rentals, typically for seven, 14, 21 etc. years are normally recorded and the appropriate surrenders and conditional admittances are outlined.

A court record will often show a series of events involving different kinds of conveyance taking place on the same day. The example below shows:

John Walter selling (by surrender and admission) four properties (subject to a mortgage from George COOK) to Joseph Biddle.
Joseph Biddle then selling the last-mentioned property to the Overseers of the Poor (David Willis and Sidney Moss). [Long Ditton poorhouse opened in 1791 so perhaps this was the land needed for it?]
Ann Cooke acknowledging receipt of £64 to clear the mortgage on the last-mentioned property.

It will also be noted that mention is made in the fifth line here of a surrender taking place out of court, and indeed this is what commonly happened and the court just registered the conveyance.


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.