England Leasehold Property, Borough Hall Books, Leases (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 ($).

Leasehold Property[edit | edit source]

Leases[edit | edit source]

Individual leases survive in great numbers, and land owners kept books recording the leasing of their properties. Some are simple rental books whereas other, more complicated properties might be detailed street by street with successions of tenancies within the same family over many years. Typically the records will show:

  • Address or description of the tenement.
  • Date of start of lease. Length of lease, typically for 7, 14 or 21 years or some other multiple of seven.
  • Rent, which may be nominal and remain the same over a long period of time.
  • The fine, a renewal fee paid at the start of a new lease, which could rise dramatically. Secular landlords gradually gave up levying fines after 1660, some finding it more profitable to grant only annual leases and substantially increase rentals to whatever the market would bear, the so-calledrack rents. Ferris elaborates on the situation with rack rents in Dorset. Church property retained fines until the 19th century.
  • The clear value which often goes up sharply, especially in built-up areas.

Some examples in the antiquarian market which have wonderful family history detail are shown here.

Chart: Leases Found For Sale Online

A Bristol Farrier

Indenture on vellum dated 1679, being the lease of a stable on St. Thomas Stroode, Bristol for the use of James Bull, a farrier, written in English on two leaves of vellum.

A Preston Blacksmith
Indenture on paper dated May 1st 1872 between Peter Howard, a brewer and proprietor of the Boar’s Head Inn in Friargate, Preston and Roger Charnley, the local blacksmith, whereby Howard allows Charnley to extend his smithy, adjacent to the pub, in return for rent of one shilling per year.

Taunton Ironmonger and Bookseller

Lease of a tenement called Stepswater near the turnpike between Taunton and Bishops Hall. T. Ackland ironmonger and James Barnicott bookseller to Capt. F. Dickson.

In an indenture dated 24 Feb 1814 the lease of the Red Lion pub for 21 years at a yearly rent of £75 payable quarterly was made between:

  • Jno CRAWLEY of Stockwood, Beds esq.
  • Revd Jno KEET rector of Bishops Hatfield, Herts and Susanna his wife.
  • Sarah HALSEY of Great Gaddesden Parsonage, Herts widow.
  • Josh Thompson HALSEY of Great Gaddesden Place, Herts esq.
  • Saml CRAWLEY of Ragnall Hall, Notts esq. of the one part and
  • Richd BOWEN of High Holborn, parish of St. Andrew Holborn, Middx victualler. of the other part

A plan of the pub (shown below ) was attached to the lease showing the layout, dimensions, and abuttals.

Chart: Plan of Red Lion in High Holborn

Plan of a pub in Holborn, England.jpg

Borough Hall Books[edit | edit source]

Borough hall books contain records of leases of their property, as well as local biographies and lists of officials, and these will usually be in borough archives. The most unexpected items turn up in local records, thus Hawes tells of the details of the Rigby quadruplets recorded in the Norwich Municipal Assembly Book in 1817. It is worth enquiring of local libraries to see if histories of these records have been published, for example the series on New Windsor, Berkshire by Bond (The First Hall Book of the Borough of New Windsor 1653-1725, 1968), Langton (The Second Hall Book of the Borough of New Windsor 1726-1783, 1973), and South (The Fifth Hall Book of the Borough of New Windsor 1828-1852, 1974), and Cuthbert (The Sixth Hall Book of the Borough of New Windsor 1852-1874, 1984).

A special situation occurs in the City of London where the tenants of all the houses on London Bridge are listed from 1381, and records, (in the archives of the Corporation of the City of London), name those involved in maintenance of the bridge including masons, carpenters, shipwrights, paviours, glaziers, labourers, chaplains, timber merchants from Croydon, brickmakers of Deptford, tilemakers of Lewisham and stone quarriers of Reigate (Jones 1952).

Leases for Years and Lives[edit | edit source]

Some leases were for a set time period, for example those for 21 years popular in the east of England, whereas others were for (typically) three lives, more common in the West Country. The records of leases for lives will name the three living people, who were not necessarily related. These would be determined (cancelled) after 99 years unless fresh names were added on payment of a fine as one or more died. The term in survivorship, and estates in fee farm are also used for leases for lives, and the operative phrase is demise grant and to farm let. Some examples of leases for lives from the Isle of Wight are shown below.

Chart: Leases for Lives

22 Dec 1768
Several pieces of land totaling 16acres called Polles near the Newport River in Fairlee Tything, Whippingham formerly occupied by David PATTEN deceased, then Daniel HOLLIS, now Thomas LINNINGTON
By George, Lord EDGCUMBE
To John WHITE of Fairlee esq on the lives of
Himself age 35, Henry ROBETRTS age 36 and Jonathan age 13 son of Thomas DASHWOOD of Whippingham wheelwright
Consideration £36 and surrender of lease of 22 May 1759 to Henry ROBERTS of West Standen, gent on the lives of himself, his son Thomas (now dead) and his brother William.
Rent 16/8d per annum
Heriot £1 .6s 8d

6 Jul 1837
Messuages on piece of land in High Street, Ryde with right of way in common with occupiers to south.
Timber and Mining Rights reserved.
By George PLAYER of Ryde House esq and Mary Ann his wife
To Thomas DENNIS of Ryde painter on the lives of Henry DASHWOOD age 17, John James DASHWOOD age 14 sons of Thomas of Ryde builder, and Henry Stephens age 22 son of John of Ryde grocer.

Young children were generally not named, as the likelihood of them dying was greater than for older children; similarly women of child-bearing age are infrequently named. The named persons did not have to be relatives— sometimes the names of royalty or other notable personages are used. Travers has a wonderful example of being able to distinguish between different men of the same name through their ages at different dates using leases for lives.

The ages and relationships of children given in leases for lives are valuable checks on parish register entries, especially where several children are christened in a batch, where some children are not in the expected source or where there is an error in the register. An example of use of leases for lives in the latter case is given by Janet Hiscocks (Mistakes in Baptismal Registers. The Greenwood Tree (Somerset and Dorset Family History Society) Vol 26 #2, page 58).

Leases for lives were considered more favourable for the lessee than those for a fixed number of years. Some leases combined a fixed numbers of years and named lives, such as the common form in the south west of England combining 99 years and three lives.

There were advantages for both parties: the lessor retained the freehold interest, and the lessee enjoyed greater security of tenure and had the ability to sub-let. Most such leases were converted to simple 90-year ones by theLaw of Property Act of 1925.

It should be noted that although the majority of leases for lives met by genealogists are for leasehold property, there are other kinds. Peskett (Leases for Lives. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol 17 #6, page327-329 + 2 plates , 1973) has an erudite discussion on the development of leases from lives out of copyhold procedures; and also about the earlier form of leases for lives on freehold land.


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.