Herefordshire Record Office
Ewyas Lacy Court Rolls Volume 1, Introduction and Indexes
1729 to 1858
Introduction and contents
Property holding in the Manor of Ewyas Lacy could be Freehold, Leasehold or Copyhold. It could be self-occupied by the ‘owner’ or by another as a subtenant. The Court Rolls held at the Herefordshire Record Office are concerned only with those holdings (farms or sections of unattached land) that were held Copyhold. Details of Freeholds and Leaseholds in Ewyas Lacy are contained in other documents at the Gwent Record Office some of which are also on this site.
Copyhold has its origins in the records of the ancient Court Barons. In the manorial system a Court Baron was a gathering of senior land holders of a manor whose duty it was to ensure that all holdings were held ‘according to the custom of the manor’ and that homage was paid to the Lord of the Manor. The Steward of the Lord attended the Courts and often being the only literate member, became by default the clerk of the court and kept the written records. In this way he was able to exercise considerable influence and power; in time he was able to exercise this power independently of a Jury to the advantage of his Lord.
By the beginning of the 18th century in Ewyas Lacy true Court Barons attended by a Jury were no longer being held and had been superseded by notional Courts held solely by the Steward or his Deputy.
The ‘Courts’ are variously described as ‘Customary Courts’ or as ‘Special Courts’ and are stated as being held ‘according to custom’. However they would appear to be an administrative convenience adopted by the Steward or Deputy Steward of the Lord of the Manor since with a single exception they were held without a Jury being present. Such a Jury along with affeerers, who decided such things as values and fines, were an essential feature of a true Court Baron. Initially the courts were held at Longtown Castle with adjournment to the nearby New Inn, in later days the ‘Courts’ were held at the office of the Abergavenny solicitor (in Monk Street) who held the appointment of Steward. A single ‘Court’ was held at the Bear Inn, Crickhowell, (page 554); this was probably a matter of convenience when other unconnected business was being transacted.
It is perhaps significant that the only true ‘Court Baron’ held with a Jury (see page 366) was convened, following a Barristers advice on the recommended legal procedure to be followed, to evict a lessee who by felling and selling timber was held to have contravened the ‘Custom of the Manor’.
Volume 1 of the Court Rolls of the Manor of Ewyas Lacy is a bound book of approximately 320 sheets of foolscap size paper giving 640 sides of manuscript entries.
The volume contains details of copyholds granted from 1729 t0 1858. It appears to have been started in about 1778.The entries dated prior to this date are copies taken at about that time from earlier separate Roll documents. These early items are arranged in groups by area locations and are numbered as sequential items. After 1778 (at ‘page 134’) a system of referencing by page number, rather than by item number, was adopted. These two reference systems have been retained in these indexes.
The Grantee was usually a single male person and the grant made to him ‘and his heirs’. Re-granting of a holding could therefore be made to widows or jointly to surviving heirs, for example to brothers, brothers and sisters, or to brothers in law. This is sometimes indicated by the differing surnames.
Grants were made for various purposes. The original form, of enabling a local family to securely hold, occupy and develop a property for an extended but indefinite period was common. This could be for land which was newly enclosed out of Common waste or the re-granting of a property on which the ‘lives’ had expired or had been surrendered. Increasingly grants were made to outsiders who held the property as an investment, either to sublet or use as a security for other loans. In some cases a holding was surrendered by an existing holder to enable it to be granted to a nominee; in these cases one can suspect that it was a form of selling one’s holding and an unrecorded bargain of sale may have been involved. Again a holding could have been the subject of a subsequent loan and the property transferred as security on a mortgage arrangement.
Grants made to outsiders as investments may be indicated by the nature and locality of the lives named.
All leases were for a period defined as the life of the surviving person of a group of three as chosen by the grantee. This practice was from the previous system of Copyholds as practiced by earlier true Court Barons of the Manor. Later pencilled later entries are at times annotated on an item, these give the calculation of what the age of the youngest life would be had he or she survived; if the sums indicate an age of much over 100 years then the copyhold can be taken as expired.
The general wording of the grant follows a formula which became established by repetitive usage. It invariably ends with requiring the grantee to observe his homage to the Lord and pay suit of Court but then adds that the suit (i.e. attendance to the Court Baron) is 'respited'. Evidently the Steward did not want his freedom in acting independently restricted by the presence of a jury who may have held differing views?
A problem that the writers of the documents had, and which we have in fully understanding the entries, is of how to identify the location and extent of particular holdings. The general location is usually given by the name of the area be this parish or township, but not without occasional error.
Names given to individual properties only developed over time and often were not current or available at the time of the grant. It is of interest to see the developing means by which holdings were defined and identified. In its first form a holding , often created out of waste common, was defined by reference to its surrounding and adjoining features be these natural features such as rivers, or manmade items such as roads or ways and also the abutting properties usually defined by occupier. It is usual to give these in a clockwise order; that is following the sun. Subsequently the holding may have become known by the name of the family which had occupied it and we get examples such as ‘Bakers Land’ (Newton), ‘Perkins’ and ‘Shaws’, (Sholes) in Craswall and ‘Pikes’ in Michealchurch. Later more general property names came into use, often of a descriptive nature such as ‘Blackhill’ in Craswall, ‘Newhouse’ in Newton and ‘Quarrely’ (the place of Quarries) also in Newton. From about 1830 sketch maps or plans taken from other earlier estate documents came into use (see for example page 403). The Tithe Surveys and maps of the 1840’s became increasingly useful in the identification of holdings.
The size of the holding is sometimes indicated, either as assistance to its definition or as a guide to its value. The size is usually given in acres, sometimes qualified as welsh acres, statute or Winchester acres. These measurements in early documents are usually rough estimations, there being no reason to have accurately surveyed measurements. The ‘acre’ was in its origin a measurement only applicable to arable land (that is land subject to the plough) its application to other forms of land usage; meadow, pasture, orchard and woodland came later and this may be the reason of the Welsh acre being taken as broadly equivalent to four English acres; that is if only arable land, being about a quarter fraction of the total, was originally scored?.
Admittance to a holding was ‘by the Rod’. This involved both parties seizing and holding the Rod (staff or stick) of the Steward. This may have been done physically or it could just be a formula of wording used by the solicitor acting in his capacity of Steward to the Lord. The origins of this practice go back to older times when the transfer of a property was by ‘livery of seisin’, a symbolic gift of property witnessed by others. The virtue of transfer ’by the Rod’ was that it required both parties to be actually present at the transaction and the Rod was witness to this. In some cases where a property was to be held by a person who could not be present, due to living remotely or being ‘too important’ a person to attend, then that person could be represented by a duly appointed attorney. Such attorneys, where they act, are mentioned by name and are usually a local man of substance.
An ingoing lessee was required to make a payment in consideration known as a ‘Fine’ This could be a substantial amount and was determined by the Steward acting to the directions of the Land Agents of the Lord. In this way the practices of the Customary or Special Courts differed from a true Court Baron where such fines were determined by Jury members acting as affeerers and were usually lower sums based on custom. In addition to the ingoing ’fine’ holders were required to pay an annual rent of usually a nominal few shillings and heriot on the death of a tenant ’according to custom’.
It is of interest to compare the practice of these ‘Courts’ with those of the Court Baron and Courts Leet held in a similar period in the neighbouring Manors of Urishay. Court Barons with Juries were being held here as late as 1833 (see gc_ewy_3300 ).
Perhaps the only record we have of the Court Baron to our Manor being held in its true form are in the ‘Survey’ held in 1705 (nw_ewy_2103 )
A major interest in this Manorial Document is not only what is included but perhaps significantly in what is excluded. The areas or parishes/townships of Lower Craswall, Longtown, Llanveynoe and Michaelchurch are well represented. Clodock has only a notional representation, Newton is mainly an area of freeholders and has connections with the earlier estate of Llanthony Priory; it is represent here by a the holding of Far House, (probably with the land which later became separated and known as Shop Vach), and by some minor additions to the freehold farms of Quarrelly, Gywrlodydd and Newhouse together with some other minor parts of what was the Middle Maescoed Common. St Margarets has very little representation. Completely omitted are other areas of what were considered in other places part of the Ewyas Lacy Estate of the Marquese of Abergavenny, for example properties in Walterstone, Rowlestone, Llancillo, The Futhog and the numerous small holdings established on the Lower Maescoed and Upper Maescoed Commons. Perhaps it was considered that these enclosures from the Commons were outside the remit of the Manorial Court?
This index to persons granted a copy leases is arranged by parish/township in date order
Craswall (Lower Division)
For digital images of all pages of this item (PDF files) click below
Note; The PDF files are large at about 4Mb, they are zoomable to facilitate reading but are not searchable.
In the Gwent Record Office (Man/A/151/0032) there is a book recording leases granted in Ewyas Lacy in the period 1660 to 1779.