We’ve been working for almost twenty years now to improve, update and above all get online our statutory information on the records of English and Welsh manors: the Manorial Documents Register. It’s a great example of how information we are legally required to collect can be opened up and made available to wider audiences. You can find out about the projects we have going on here.
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Manorial documents can be used for a whole range of research purposes, as the manorial system of landholding and administration covered large parts of England and Wales for many centuries, from the Norman Conquest until its gradual decline in the early modern period and final abolition in 1922.
The main element of manorial administration was the court. Manorial courts not only dealt with minor offences and duties owed by manorial tenants, they also recorded changes of land tenure (copyhold tenancy), which makes them a rich source of information about the inhabitants of manorial lands – even quite poor people can be represented, providing a unique window into the lives led by ordinary people. As the smallest unit of local administration, manors dealt with issues that rarely come up in national politics – very human stories, local customs, and also some of the earliest maps of many local areas.